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Curiouser and Curiouser | 28/12, morning- Xmas 1677

Sophia de la Cerda

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Somerset Mansion


A spacious home made out of fashionable geometric shapes with details in sculpting, and the walls painted terracotta and white. The front lane was dotted with white gardenia's, blooming early. The entry was covered in vines with little white blooms and two hanging baskets with fresh spring flowers in different shades of pink.


The mansion was three stories high, with enough room to house guests and hold several events. Downstairs one would find the parlour, the study, the dining room, the library and of course the garden room filled with a multitude of ferns and a jasmine brush. In the back a large lawn and a teahouse that looked small and frivolous.


On the second floor there was a Master bedroom and a Ladies bedroom, both with a walk in closet. The walk in closet of the Ladies bedroom had recently been expanded. The third floor housed the guest rooms and the old nursery. Servants stayed in the attic.


When her carriage stopped in the driveway, Sophia waited for the driver to open the door and assist her out. If she and Mistess Vauquelin had not been going shopping, she would have preferred to walk. The exercise would have warmed her up a bit. Even wrapped in her white fur cloak, a matching hat on her head, and her hands encased in white leather gloves, she was freezing. She had thought she was becoming accustomed to cold temperatures, but apparently she was wrong. The only time she felt warm when she was outside was when she was in the company of a handsome gentleman to heat up her blood.


Beneath the cloak, she wore a crushed velvet gown in hues of violet, teal, and amber, shot through with golden threads. Her underskirt was of amber silk and the long puffed sleeves were trimmed with golden ribbons and violet fabric rosettes. Rosettes adorned the modestly-cut neckline as well. Around her neck she wore a golden necklace with a small teardrop shaped amethyst in its center and matching earrings in her ears. Her hair was arranged in an updo held in place by amethyst-studded golden combs, and long fat ringlets streamed over her shoulders and down her back.


She was glad that Nicolette had suggested that they go to the Curiosity Shop. Sophia looked forward to what they would find there. She could not even imagine what sort of wonders it held. As she stepped out of the carriage, she wondered if her friend was ready or if there would be a fire inside that she could warm herself by while she waited.

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Nicolette was all ready and waiting, and saw the Toledo carriage from the window. Thus she was already upon the porch as the lady was getting out. "Happy Christmas Lady Toldeo!" she called across the snowy landscape that was the Basildon front garden, with a great smile and a wave.


She too was wearing her white furs, the colour had been her most favorite of the two sets gifted to her (though she tried to love the Fox fur equally), for she thought the white looked especially fine with her hair colour, also white fur in white snow seemed so romantic. Nicolette did enjoy a little romance in a day.


"Would you like to come inside for a drink?" she thought to ask, since Sophia had not sent a servant to fetch her from the house. Or perhaps she needed a convenience stop (it was entirely possible that Sophia was pregnant, and everyone knew what that did to a ladies bladder).


Meanwhile her maid Daisy was exiting the house and wrapping her red scarf around her neck, when she heard that she might need to go make some hot chocolate instead. So there she paused, awaiting instruction.

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Nicolette emerged from the house as soon as Sophia's feet touched the ground. She waved back, noticing that Nicolette was wearing white fur too. Her dark hair contrasted nicely with it, while the young Baroness' own tresses were almost as light as her cloak. Compared to the Frenchwoman, she probably looked like a ghost. She had a silver fox fur cloak as well, but she had not worn it yet this season.


“Happy Christmas to you too, Mistress Vauquelin,” she replied with a warm smile. A drink sounded tempting, but she was afraid that if she had one now, she might have to pee while they were shopping, which was always awkward. “I am ready to go if you are. I would not mind a drink when we return, if we have the time."


Looping her arm with her friend's, she began walking back toward the carriage. "Congratulations again on becoming the Lady of Misrule. Have you planned any mischief yet?"

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"La, we are like sisters." Nicolette crooned happily as she approached.


Now some ladies might be less pleased at finding themselves dressed near identically to another woman - Nicolette of stricken circumstances had never needed to worry about that. Then this, the very first time it happened (well the furs were very similar even if there was differences in style), she felt a joy that she was not Courts 'poor cousin'. She was holding her own in fact!


"After suits me too, I must admit I am quite excited to see what the Curiosity shop has in store." Motioning her maid to follow, Nicolette then slid her arm through Sophia's. The German seemed very warm, easing the Frenchwoman's hidden concern that this was a Weslleyan trick.


"Aha, but have you not heard my first Mischief ruling? For the ladies that bid at the Bachelor auction to use resources other than money to bid." she grinned of that. "Have you ever met Lord Herbert? He is petrified of marriage, and yet with collateral such as his, his head is undoubtedly upon the block. Ah, but anyhow, I thought the poor dear might at least have his own choice at that function. For, with curious bids to be placed, mmm... like I can imagine one lady might bid daffodil bulbs, and another might bid sweet pea seeds... I have also ruled that the bachelors themselves to determine whose is the highest bid."


Reaching the carriage she waited for Sophia, of seniority in rank if not age, to enter first.


"But, it seems as though you might have a suggestion for a Misrule yourself?" Nicolette had come to this deduction after reading Sophia's letter, her hunch being now confirmed as Sophia launched directly to the topic. "What would you suggest?"

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Sophia beamed when Nicolette professed that they were like sisters. She thought that she was talking about the closeness of their friendship rather than the way they were dressed. There were only so many colors that furs came in. She didn't think it strange that they were both wearing white. It didn't seem as popular as the darker-colored furs, but it was far from uncommon.


She considered the Frenchwoman a very dear friend and would have been surprised had she known that Nicolette suspected that she was allied with Mistress Wellsley against her. She was on nobody's side but her own and she liked both ladies equally well. The diminutive Baroness was not even aware that they were at odds with each other. When the three of them had shared tea during the summer, she had been too anxious about hosting her first party to notice any animosity between them.


“So am I. I had no idea such a place existed. Thank you for inviting me. I wonder what we will find there. I am always looking for interesting decorations for the Embassy. It is so plain now. Or perhaps I shall find something for myself or my lord husband.” Or Lord Chatham, she added silently to herself. It would be nice to present him with a gift at their next meeting.


“No, I do not believe I have met Lord Herbert,” she confessed as the coachman helped her into the carriage. Anna was waiting inside and there was plenty of room for Nicolette and her maid. Karl was, as usual, riding beside the driver. It was a good vantage point from which to see any potential threats to his mistress and her guest.


The carriage began to trundle down the road. “Yes, I do have a couple of ideas, but I am curious about the bachelor auction. It sounds like fun. If I was still single, I would have loved to participate. What do the ladies get if the gentlemen accept their bids?"


{OOC: Sophia can't reveal her own ideas until another thread progresses a bit further.}

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“Well last time I was there, there was a shrunken head." it had facinated Nicolette at the time, "it wasn't even in a jar, but just sitting there on the shelf, as though someone might buy it and use it for the head on their walking stick. But Lord Langdon didn't seem interested. If I was a gentleman -- if I was daring gentleman, I think I might do just that to see what reaction it would receive at court!"


"Of course, you ought not get it for your husband though. Ambassadors have their image to think of. Being a daring gentleman is not a part of that." Nicci giggled a little at the thought. "Are you still ecstatic of your marriage Lady Toledo?" Once upon a time Nicci had warned her not to marry, but then she had, and seemed to be the happiest wife in England as a result.


Settling into the seat opposite, Nicolette fussed a little arranging her furs once again. "Lord Herbert is rather adorable in a paranoid sort of way. Isnt it charming when gentlmen fret so at being caught by ladies, it quite as though they think us a most daunting breed. La, but his companion Lord Ashburnam is somewhat braver, though in that way that has me think he'd go right up to the edge of a cliff till the pebbles tumbled, before backing off. For the thrill, the rush. I dont think he actually wants to marry either. Why, in fact, I don't think I've met a single gentleman lately who does."


"Did your Lord Toledo want to settle down?" She wondered upon that, "or did you 'catch' him, with some of those ladies 'daunting skills' that Lord Herbert so fears." she grinned upon completion of the thought.


Upon her idea for the bachelor auction, Sophia then asked a most apt question. "Heavens, I hardly know." Nicci replied with a laugh. "I wonder who is organising it? I heard about the event when season begun, but really there has been nothing more said about it. Lord Herbert did not even know there was to be one. I do hope it goes ahead... mmm, but I don't think the ladies who bid need to be unmarried. It is the gentlemen who are being bid on that are 'bachelors', I should think quite anyone at all might bid for their services in some manner or fashion. But really, I am only guessing. But if it was me to arrange the auction, I would allow the greatest number of bidders possible. Don't you agree?"



{OOC: Ok! Sidestepping that question then for now!}

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Nicolette had mentioned the shrunken head in her letter and Sophia was intrigued by her description. “I hope they still have it. I should like to see it.” She chuckled at the thought of it being used as for the top of a walking stick. “If I was a gentleman, I would do it too. It would be funny if it became a trend and shrunken heads were in demand. I wonder where they come from. It sounds like something the savages in the New World would do.”


She laughed again at the thought of Esteban with such a cane. “It would make people more afraid of Spain. They would think that if the cross the Spanish, they might end up with their head on a cane. I do not think that is the impression my lord husband wishes to make.”


The Frenchwoman had been present when she had practically begged Lord Kingston to let her marry Esteban. She could not claim that it was simply an arranged marriage. “I am content, I suppose,” she answered with a soft sigh. “He is not cruel to me. But …” She lowered her voice. “In your letter, you mentioned that the Curiosity Shop had a device that sensed icebergs. If it was held within a few feet of him, it would probably explode. He is much cooler emotionally than I thought he would be. Maybe it is a Spanish trait.”


Sophia remembered meeting Lord Ashburnam last spring in the King's presence chamber. He had not seemed very daring to her. “I do not think most gentlemen wish to marry. And I do not see how a lady can trap them into it. Are not all marriages arranged by families? I thought ladies used their feminine wiles to become mistresses, not wives.


“And no, I did not catch my lord husband. He caught me. He painted such a lovely picture of what our marriage would be like, and I believed every word of it. Except for his lack of affection, it has turned out well enough. I do like being the wife of an Ambassador and although he is distant, he is kind.”


She gazed out the window thoughtfully as Nicolette spoke about the bachelor auction. Sophia had thought that it was her idea and part of the mischief she was in charge of. But someone else seemed to be organizing it. Her friend was just able to decide on what the ladies could bid.


“If it was up to me, the ladies would get a kiss or perhaps a dance. Fathers will not allow their unmarried daughters to participate if there is even a hint that something scandalous might take place. Husbands may be more likely to let their wives bid on gentlemen if the reward is something harmless. Gentlemen can kiss married ladies under the mistletoe and any gentleman can dance with any lady.


“I think if the prize is more than that, no one will show up but libertine widows. Fathers and husbands will not want their daughters or wives to even watch, in case they get any improper ideas. It will be interesting to see how it turns out. Unfortunately, I doubt my Lord Toledo would allow me to bid unless married men were auctioned as well and he agreed to be one of them.” She leaned toward Nicci and grinned. “He would be surprised when I didn't bid on him. Who would you like to bid on and what would you want your prize to be?”

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"Though as soon as it became cliche I would choose something different." Nicolette chimed in, perhaps revealing a little of her nature.


"He is rather reserved." of Lord Toledo she ventured. He was definately not the sort of man who took any risks, "I suppose he would prefer to err on the side of caution. Mmm... I used to be like that too. Why, I challenge you to ask anyone in Versailles about me, and none would even know I'd been there. It was fear in my instance. I did not want to be looked at too closely - for one, I am Huguenot, and for the second... well the lime light has a way of burning." she spoke thoughtfully, eyes meeting Sophia's with an easy maturity.


Content? The claim of 'contentment' in marriage, was the same as revealing discontentment for the young lady who'd had such dreams. Nicolette remembered how giddy Sophia had been prior -- while there was satisfaction to being now proved correct, it was a pity that it was at Sophia's expense.


Squeezing Soph's hand she murmured, "It is their complacency I think, that married men treat their wives so coldly. At least you are in good company my friend, for I think every marriage ends out the same." Nicolette had warned her prior, but at the time Sophia had been reluctant to believe it. "Yet fortunately, you are not without other means at your disposal hmm? Like, I dare say he became quite passionate after your performance at the opera?" Nicolette asked with a knowing wink. She imagined that Sophia's performance had been purposely to ignite her husbands fire.


"Arranged by families?" Nicolette chuckled of that, "Lady Toledo, you are not so naive! Why, ladies have every power to influence who they shall marry, did you not demand for your own guardian to accept Lord Toledos suit? One day when I shall marry, it shall be completely of my own choice of spouse! La, though for Princesses and Queens is it a different story." she added the later as an afterthought.


"Yet as for our feminine wiles, they might be used in just any arena as we wish. Why I'd even dare say that Gentlemen enjoy our applying them all manner of ways frequently with ingenuity and abandon to the attainment of all of our goals." she laughed brightly of that.


"Perhaps you find out who is organizing it then, and you can put your own suggestions forward?" Nicolette replied, having lost interest in the subject with her own part settled. Besides, the subject seemed to be paining Sophia, who seemed to be missing being a bachelorette in the very worst way.


"Yet back to Lord Herbert, I was thinking that he'd been grand fun to play a prank on, with his worst fear being so plain. Yet how might it be done? Perhaps everyone should start congratulating him of his match well made, and let him to fret of who they could be talking about? Or should we send in rsvps to his wedding? Or... bribe the vicar to announce his banns at next Sundays service?"

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“So would I. I would rather start trends than follow them.” Sophia thought of telling Nicolette about the idea she and Diana had come up with at the ball for flame-themed clothing, but she knew that her French friend was not wealthy and didn't want her to feel bad if she was not able to have a new gown made. The trend would be more successful if more ladies were involved, and she would definitely include her when she was sure her financial situation had improved. Perhaps it had already. Not everyone could afford furs.


'Rather reserved' was putting it mildly, and Sophia nodded at Nicci's assessment of her husband's character. “He is staid and dignified, as were most Spanish gentlemen I met in Madrid. Fun must be a foreign concept to them.” All but Juan. Juan was perfect in every way and in truth, she had expected Esteban to be more like his master. That his personality was the polar opposite had never ceased to disappoint her. All her husband and lover seemed to have in common was their nationality and their commitment to their country.


Sophia found it hard to believe that Nicolette had ever been quiet and restrained. She was so lively now, so full of enthusiasm. Perhaps being Protestant in France was comparable to being Catholic in England. If so, she could understand why she had kept a low profile. “And now you are known by everyone in court as the Lady of Misrule.” The petite blonde narrowed her eyes playfully. “I think you enjoy the spotlight more than you care to admit. It has its disadvantages, but it is still impossible to resist, at least to me.”


Nicolette seemed to understand marriage quite well. Maybe that was why she wanted to avoid it. Sophia squeezed her hand back. “I think you are right. Once a gentleman is married, he takes his wife for granted for he knows that she belongs to him and the thrill of the chase is gone.”


She sighed sadly at the mention of the opera. “No, the opera had the opposite effect on him. He thought my performance was scandalous and that I had acted like a harlot. It was as you just said: the spotlight burned me. He yelled at me the next day and told me that I had made him a laughingstock and that he would be shunned.


“I challenged him to wait and see what happened at the ball. I did not think that anyone would believe that I was the character I played on stage. Nobody avoided us or treated us like pariahs, just as I had predicted. He is still angry at me, but now I think it is because I was right.”


Nicolette was lucky for she was old enough to choose her own husband. “Lord Kingston was against me marrying a Spaniard. He probably only agreed to the match because he wanted to be free of me. I confess that I was not a very obedient ward.” The young Baroness still didn't know why he had finally agreed. Maybe Don Juan had something to do with it, or perhaps Lord Cumberland. She had told the German Prince that she wished to marry Esteban but he had made no promises to help her.


“I guess I have not learned how to use my feminine wiles.” Her blue eyes widened. “Perhaps you can teach me? I would love to have the power to influence gentlemen to assist me in achieving my goals, but I have no idea how.” Sophia was naturally flirtatious, but she had not learned to use that attribute to its full advantage. She was still innocent in many ways.


Nicolette did not answer her question as to who she would want to bid on at the bachelor auction. Since she kept mentioning Lord Herbert, she assumed that she was interested in him. “Since I do not know him, I do not know which method would be best. Will you introduce me to him? He was invited to my banquet, so perhaps that will be a good time. I confess you have made me curious about him. Is he tall, dark and handsome?”

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"I am sure they still know fun." Nicolette could not fathom that any gentleman might not appreciate flirtation - why Lord Ablemarle was one such example. He never ever responded to Nicolette's ceaseless efforts, but she still thought, no, knew, that he enjoyed her trying. As he stood there seemingly ignoring her, she supposed she could feel his senses tingle. And one day, he'd weaken to her persistence, perhaps he'd meet her eyes. "It might simply be that he is not sure how to proceed, for fear of a great wave of passion that they hold contained might be almost fearsome, even to themselves."


Nicolette blinked of that thought, and then smiled across to Sophia, "Imagine how ferocious his passions might be once loosed. Why, you might be left panting in utter bewilderment!" the frenchwoman giggled of that.


Yes, she was encouraging Sophia not to give up yet, but to keep chipping away at her iceburg of a husband. Nicolette was wise to the ways of the world enough to know, that if Sophia did not melt him, some other woman would. Why, even she herself might give it a try just for the challenge - but that would be being no friend to Sophia. (It was her higher judgment that did not dally upon that prospect.)


"Isn't it grand!" she crooned of her new title as it was restated. "I have always wanted to be addressed as a noble woman, and here I am a 'Lady', yet without any of the impediments." it was more perfect than she could have dreamed. "Yes, you are correct." she conceded as Sophia called her out upon enjoying said lime light. "Though my status is but one season, I hope to make the very most of it, so that when I return to being a mere Mistress I shall do so with my ambition utterly sated."


Perhaps it was partly due to her method of watching at Versailles, spectating rather than being center stage, that had her gain such a broad understanding of relationships though she herself had never married - for indeed, at 24 she had a set of very specific viewpoints.


"Perhaps you can bring the thrill of a chase back into your lives still?' Nicolette wondered, looking to Sophia who simply seemed despondent of it all.


Revelations of how he'd reacted to her Opera antics brought Nicolette to a pause. Sitting in quiet a little while, she reached across to squeeze Sophia hand. "Then I suppose you have a choice to make don't you." understanding eyes slowly blinked, a small smile of compassion upon her face.


Sophia spoke of Lord Kingston then, and of his advice that she'd run against. "So, you now wish that you had listened to him?" in Nicolette's experience Francis vision was exceedingly clear.


Yet Lady Toledo's question at that point caught Nicolette by a surprise. "La." her lashes fluttered, and she chuckled leaning back into her seat. Her eyes danced as she looked to Sophia opposite. "Well, then tell me what your goals are, and..." Mlle Vauquelin knew very well that she'd be able to help Sophia if she wanted to, the question in her mind then was how would she herself in turn benefit? One of the first lessons young Sophia would need learn, was that nobody did anything for nothing.


"Hmm..." Nicolette meanwhile kept raising Lord Herbert for the exact opposite reason. Each time she'd mentioned him. Sophia had changed the subject, which make Nicolette wonder in turn why. Ironically, now that Sophia came to ask for an introduction to him, Nicolette's interest in talking about him waned. "Oh I don't expect I shall converse with him again, he was simply there while I was talking to the King. And the King seemed to take sport in teasing him."


"He's hardly a Lord Ranelagh however."


But Sophia mentioned her banquet, which caught Nicolette's attention away. "Perhaps the night of the banquet shall be a turning point in your marriage?" she considered, as it was a grand responsibility for Sophia upon her husbands, even Spain's behalf.

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Some of the ladies she had met in Madrid had known the meaning of fun. Shopping with Esteban's mother had been an enjoyable experience. The gentlemen, though, had held themselves aloof. Maybe it was because she was the wife of one of their Prime Minister's closest friends and they didn't want to anger either one of them. Sophia could not remember how they had acted toward their wives during the ball she had attended. Her eyes had kept wandering toward Juan, and she had been nervous, as she always was before a performance. Juan had asked her to sing at that ball.


She almost wished that Nicolette was right and that Esteban did have feelings for her that he was trying to repress. However, she knew that wasn't the case. If he was passionate for somebody, that somebody was not her. Sophia often wondered if he had a mistress or if he had left the woman he loved behind in Madrid. Or maybe he preferred other men. He didn't fancy her at all. “I would not mind that at all, but I do not think it will ever happen. Maybe he believes he must hold back in order for me to conceive an heir. Once he has a son, maybe he will change.”


Nicolette did seem to love her new role. “You are so lucky. You can be a lady and be applauded for causing mischief instead of being shunned for it. I can think of no one more suited to the role. People will be talking about this Christmas for many years because you will make it so much fun. And you get to reign for the rest of the season. My reign as May Queen lasted for only one dance.”


“Hmmmm.” Her gaze turned thoughtful when Nicolette mentioned bringing the thrill of the chase into Esteban's life. What if she refused him when next he came to her bed, and pretended disinterest in everything he spoke to her about? Would he think that he needed to put more effort into their marriage or Juan would be displeased with him? It was something to implement later, perhaps, when she was not planning to cheat on him. Turning her eyes back to Nicolette, her smile was more hopeful. “Maybe I can.”


Sophia nodded when the conversation turned to Lord Kingston. “Yes, I wish I had not caused him so much trouble. Now I know that he only wanted the best for me and was trying to protect me, but at the time, I thought he was being unfair by putting so many restrictions on my freedom. I did not know the expectations placed on unmarried young ladies after having lived in Venice for nearly five years. I wish I could take back some of the things I said and did. I hope he he has forgiven me."


As Nicolette leaned backward, Sophia leaned forward. “I would be eternally grateful for your assistance. There are so many things I wish to achieve.” Another thing she had not yet learned was that all favors came with a price, but even if she had known, she would be willing to do anything for Nicci that she asked in return.


“To start with, I want to sing for the King again, and I want him to request another performance of the opera. I also wish to speak with Lord Buckingham about having an opera house built in London. I want both of them to attend my banquet as well as other important gentlemen and ladies. And I want to be the Queen's friend.” A lyrical chuckle escaped her lips. “I doubt my feminine wiles will work on her.”


Her head tilted to the side. “I need to learn how to influence gentlemen without making them think that I want to sleep with them. I do not fancy either the King or Buckingham, and I am married. If I do get the chance to converse with them, I do not want them to get the wrong idea about me.” She was attracted to older men, but neither the King nor the Duke appealed to her romantically. Sophia was already the mistress of a Prince whom she loved with all her heart.


Was the reason that Nicci didn't want to introduce her to Lord Herbert because she thought that she would be a threat to his affections for her? It was a fleeting thought, chased away by her friend's admission that she had spoken to the King. “Do you know His Majesty well?” she asked, her eyes lighting up. “Perhaps you can mention me to him and let him know how much I want to sing for him. I think he has forgotten that I exist.”


Nicolette was thinking along the same lines concerning the banquet. “It is what I wish for, that he will see what a wonderful hostess I am and be proud of me. It will be a daunting task. I hope I will do well and it will not turn out to be the disaster of the century."


Sophia grinned mischievously. “So what are your goals for this season? I have already told you some of mine.”

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Nicolette fell silent then, and regarded Sophia. Could she truly be this forlorn? "Well you must not get down about it, for if you intend to turn him about it shall take every ounce of your joie de vivre." said she, "Pfft, you shall have as many babies as you desire once you get this first matter sorted." In Nicolette's spectator-ship of relationships, she'd never seen a husband fall in love with his wife after the birthing of a son, rather, that sort of man then saw his wife as surplus to his requirments.


The entire matter seemed to be crushing the previously effervescent woman's spirits - as she now looked over the fence at Nicci and thought the grass so much greener. Nicolette could feel the rueful envy in her friends tone. "Just one season." the pucky french woman gave a grin, "well yes that is the 'official' duration of the role, but mark my words I shall own the title for a good deal longer." meeting Sophia's eyes she wondered if she understood that message. If Sophia had only been May Queen for one dance, it was because she'd accepted such a short term in others eyes.


Finally the Baroness' vision begun to turn around. "So shall you choose to conform to his vision of what a perfect wife shall be, or will you lay out your own path, and let it be for him to keep pace with you?" Nicci grinned, "Let him chase you to try keep within your lime light - though of course your limelight needs to be of the sort he wants to share."


"I can only guess that he must have married you for your popularity, and so you must continue upon that social vein. Allowing him enough crumbs so as to follow after you if he will. Men can be so... well thick headed really. You shall need to make it quite plain what you desire from him, and that you want him with you really. The trick part is how to reveal all this while allowing him to think he's still the one in charge."


Of Lord Kingston, Nicolette could not imaging him to hold any grudge. "I am sure he has forgiven you."


And so Sophia revealed her array of goals, and with a crocodile smile Nicolette listened.


"It is quite a collection." at length she said. "Though you cannot discard the application of wiles upon ladies like Her Majesty also. What we are considering after all, is far more than mere flirtation, of which you are quite accomplished in already. Remember, I have seen gentlmen flock to you. By feminine wiles, we might really mean a certain flexibility of speaking point, which is such a glorious pleasure open to us ladies. Mmm... but tell me what you have done thus far to achieve your goals?"


"I know him barely at all." she had the unqualified pleasure to announce of the King - it was her intent to change that situation that gave her such pleasure in stating it's opposite. Laughter was then loosed at Sophia request, "My darling Lady Toledo, I would never be so artless as to simply ask. The games of court need to be played out in their fullness, why your goal is worthy indeed, but far better won when coming as His Majesties own clever idea. Ours is not to baldly ask, ther is no sport in that. No, but we must cleverly lift that desire into his mind, and then to act happily surprised, delighted, at the gentleman's suggestion." She looked at Sophia then, wondering if the young woman could appreciate that concept. Perhaps this was part of her problem with Toledo?


Sophia had a great deal to learn. Perhaps a test was in order to measure if she would make an apt pupil. Nicolette quietly wondered to herself what that might be... and further, would she get out of this.


As to goals, Nicolette had many. "Well I wish for gifts of jewels, of ribbons and lace - as well as invitations to all the best events. I would like to be called upon to make a tonic for someone important. I would delight to fill my dance card even before the ball is upon us. I want to watch the stars through the telescope at Greenwich. And of course I intent to invent the most fun mischief's that shall delight English hearts. And..." Nicolette paused then, as the never far away thought of Davina loomed again. "... And I want to win the contest between Mistress Wellsley and I. I simply must."

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Sophia had not realized how depressed she sounded. This was supposed to be a fun excursion and she felt guilty for burdening Nicolette with her marital problems. Unfortunately, she didn't believe vivacity was the key to winning Esteban's approval. He seemed to see her natural charm as a curse instead of a blessing. She believed he would be happier with her if she was demure and quiet and stayed in the background instead of embracing the limelight and shining beneath its glow.


She was envious of Nicci, but not because she wanted to be single again. The Frenchwoman was so much more experienced than she was and she seemed to know exactly what she wanted out of life and how to get it. Sophia still felt lost and confused a lot, but she did it under a facade of confidence. Nicolette really was sure of herself, as evidenced by her plans to keep her title well after the Christmas season was over. She had that luxury, as she didn't have to answer to a husband or guardian and could cause all the mischief she wanted.


Sophia had been so new to court when she had been crowned the Queen of May that she had barely known what it meant. Her understanding of English culture and the language itself had been very poor. If she was given an honor now, she might be able to milk it for all it was worth the way Nicci intended to do with hers. She didn't think that anyone had actually forgotten the May King and Queen. They had just not had any official duties, and Lord Beverley had seemed as bewildered as she.


Nicolette had given her a bit of hope for her marriage and the petite singer listened eagerly to her advice. “I do think he married me partly for my social skills and I have already used them once to give him an opportunity to begin changing England's perception of Spain. He protested at first, but I brought him around to my way of thinking. If I can find more ways to improve the relations between the two countries, he might began to value me more. I think I did quite well in letting him believe he was in charge. I left the choice up to him.


“What I was thinking of doing was pretending I don't care for him anymore. Then he will have to try to charm himself back into my good graces. If he thinks he cannot have me, then he will want me more.” Her gaze met her friend's. “Or is that the wrong way to go about it?”


Feminine wiles could work on ladies too? In a way, she supposed she was already trying to woo the Queen. Giving her a gift from her homeland had been a step in that direction, as had meeting with Lady Mountjoy. If Her Majesty's closest confidant spoke well of her, maybe she would want to spend more time in her company.


“I have done nothing yet,” she said sadly. “I do not know how to begin. It is difficult to enchant people who do not know that I exist. I would like a chance to speak to Lord Cumberland again too, but I have no idea how to bring myself to any of those gentlemen's attention. I was hoping that my performance in the opera would have some perks, but nothing positive has yet come of it."


So Nicolette didn't know the King well. She seemed like the kind of lady he would find attractive, but maybe she didn't fancy him any more than she did. Sophia was a bit confused when her friend laughed at her request, but as she explained, everything began to sink in. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “So the secret to influencing a gentleman is to get him to believe that what I want was his idea all along?” She grasped Nicci's hand and squeezed it. “You must teach me how to do this. It is a foreign concept to me. We Germans are very direct. We simply ask for what we want. Now I see that I have been going about so many things in the wrong manner.”


Nicolette's goals were far more comprehensive than hers, but no less difficult to achieve. Sophia wished that she was as popular as Nicci thought she was. Then she could help her with some of them, such as introduce her to courtiers who would shower her with gifts or find somebody who had an affliction that could be healed with herbs. As for mischief, she already had a few ideas.


“You have a contest with Mistress Wellsley?” she asked in surprise. “What kind of contest?” She imagined it was something like getting the most gentlemen to kiss them under the mistletoe.

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Perhaps Nicci saw more sadness than she would have, upon account of Sophia's situation seeming to be what the Frenchwoman feared the most. Quite possibly she read more into causal comments due to her own forebode.


"Hmm, but since you are not Spanish yourself, it only seemed like..." Nicolette paused, likely Sophia would not want to hear the rest of that thought. "Your Opera was not about Spain was it." she suggested, waiting for Sophia to look inwardly, and admit that truth. Nicolette saw it as a woman goading her husband, which was what she'd earlier said.


"Do you know what his vision is?" Sophia wanted to change peoples attitudes to Spain, but perhaps her husband was happy the way things already were.


It was all getting very weighty, and Nicolette was hardly a politician.


Sophia suggested that she ignore her husband to make him chase her, "Hmm.. do you want to chase those that ignore you? Or do you chase those that invite your interest?" Nicci coached.


She listened to the young ladies complaints. "Lord Cumberland can hardly fix your marriage." she murmured, "and he is a rather proper gentleman. Your performance at the Opera shocked many people, quite possibly they do not know what to say of it. They are not sure what was your intent. Like, it seemed... a little like... you wanted to seduce the King. Does that mean that you want to be a libertine, how can proper people reply to that? Do they scold you and take you under wing? But you are married, and it is the role of your husband to do that. I think, Lady Toledo, that court is waiting to see how Lord Toledo handles this, as a cue to how they might handle it too. People are sheep remember, they wait for someone else to take the lead, and then they follow.


"If you do not want to wait and accept, then your choice is to strike out the path, lead the way and let a reeling court try fathom it, perchance they might follow suit. Ignore their nastiness, there is never a shortage of nasty people there is no placating them, and do what makes you happiest."


"Yes, men do love to be in that role; the benevolent benefactor who knows all. Clever ladies know how to suggest ideas to them, without saying as much." Sophia clasped her hand, and Nicci gave a reassuring squeeze back in return. "mmm... like you could begin by bribing the orchestra to play one of the opera tunes during the pause between dances at the ball. It might tickle a memory to a mind. It might make others start talking about the Opera again. But with that talk, my dear, may come some curly conversations remember. Truly, I did think you were trying to seduce the King. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But still."


Nicci had not really meant to mention Davina. Davina was Sophia's friend, and Nicci knew better than try swing her against the Queens Lady in waiting, especially when Sophia wanted to become a lady in waiting too. "M-hmm." she nodded anyhow, "The game is: I try to talk to the King, and she tries to stop me." In a nutshell.

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“The opera had nothing to do with Spain. If it had, he might have been angrier, thinking that I was mocking his country by my behavior. I was just playing the goddess Diana as she had been written, flirtatious, capricious, and vengeful.” Sophia was probably not getting Nicolette's point. “He knows he cannot hold me to the same standards as a Spanish lady. They are given much less freedom than wives here in England. His idea of 'proper' is simply different than mine.”


She thought about her friend's advice. “Maybe he is an exception. Flirting doesn't work on him. It is impossible to seduce a man who has no interest in you. He treats me more like a child than his wife. I really have no idea how to get through to him.”


Sophia shook her head. “He does not speak to me about what he hopes to achieve. We rarely talk at all except when he is chastising me. I plan to ask him about his goals once I learn more about politics. Lord Maldon is teaching me. Maybe my lord husband will be pleased when I can discuss his favorite subject with intelligence and understanding. Perhaps that is what he wants from me.”


As for the reaction to the opera: “At the ball, I met some proper courtiers and they did not hold my performance against me. Not even the ladies. In fact, the Duchess of Ormonde and Lady Gowran are coming to dinner tonight. They were both very friendly."


Her laugh was bitter. “I hope that everyone does not take their cues from my lord husband or I will be ignored forever. Do they not follow the King in his opinions? He did not look at me once at the ball. If he thought I was trying to seduce him, he would have at least spoken to me. I believe he knows that I was just playing a part. As for Lord Cumberland ...” she grinned. “I do not expect him to help my marriage. I want him to recommend me to his niece as somebody whose friendship would be beneficial to her. I think my lord husband would be happy if I cultivated a relationship with the Queen.”


Sophia had never considering manipulating people before, which is what it sounded like Nicci was suggesting. It was an appealing notion, one that she could try to put into play with both men and women. Lead them around to her way of thinking in a roundabout way so that they would believe they had always thought that way. “I do not think that playing a tune from the opera would be wise at this point, because it will call the wrong kind of attention to me. What I need is another chance to sing, a chance to redeem myself by singing hymns or arias that have nothing to do with seduction.”


She didn't understand the competition between Nicolette and Davina. “So the two of you are playing a game trying to stop each other from talking to the King?” Her gaze met the Frenchwoman's and she smiled slyly. “Do you fancy him?”

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"It might have seemed like that to you. But how does court know that one performance is your effort to change peoples views of Spain, and then your next performance is not poltical? Now that you are an ambassadors wife, Every Thing you do is a reflection on not only your husband, but upon the Country he is representing."


"La, but you have already told me how you can 'get through' to him. He wants you to be prim and proper. That is the choice I said you had to make earlier. Remember?" Nicolette understood that Sophia was so young as to only think of one moment, not of the greater picture. So young. Too young really. I'd have made a fine ambassadors wife.


"You are really rather fortunate. A match of prominence, a fine house and means to run it, fine clothes, and you are only 16. You have achieved so very much already, by the time you have reached my age, you shall want for nothing." Really, Sophia wanted for nothing already, the means to give more performances, and win her husbands esteem was all there right in front of her.


Whereas Nicolette's tally of her 24 yrs had amassed two furs, three necklaces and one set of earrings, and was now living on the charity of her cousin. The french woman was entirely uncredentialed to be a tutor.


Perhaps Sophia was rethinking choice of tutor too? She found a way to show Nicolette wrong about proper circles biases. Nicolette said nothing, 'corrected', though cynicism had her suspect the proper woman was visiting the Toledo's upon her own agenda. Time would tell. "Well, you have no need of my help, this I can see."


So Nicolette suggested a way to bring desires to hear the opera again into Courts mind, but with a warning that made the flighty blonde recant the idea. Changing her goal now to wanting to sing church hymns or perhaps arias. Still, Nicolette was starting to understand Sophia enough to realise that in a few minutes time she'd have forgot, and would be wanting to sing her opera again. "Well I am sure that would make your Lord Husband very pleased." of singing in church she smiled.


"There, you are already graduated from my class. You have no need of any further lessons from me." Nicolette absolved herself of the responsiblity of tutor.


She wanted to meet the longsuffering man, coming to feel an empathy with his impossible task. Sophia would never make a Proper Society lady, she was far too flamboyant and free.


"But enough of that, are you going to Lady Kendishall's party, I think that is going to suit your thirst for enjoyment very well." Nicolette's best friend was libertine by nature, which seemed far more likely to suit Sophia style.

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Nicolette was right, of course. Everything she did now reflected on Spain. The opera had been a success and her performance had pleased the King. Esteban had been generous to share his wife's talent with London's nobility. Maybe Sophia was already changing England's perception of her husband's country in a positive way. There were always those who would resent foreigners in general and others who found fault in everything, but they were in the minority. Nobody had treated her poorly because of the opera, and she didn't believe Esteban had been ridiculed for it either.


Still, she did need to remember at all times that she was an Ambassador's wife and act properly, at least in public. She believed her involvement in charity work would improve her image, and that there would be other opportunities that she could take advantage of. From now on, she would have to think before she spoke or acted, so that she would not ruin the progress she had already made.


It was also true that she was fortunate to have achieved so much at only sixteen years of age. Now Sophia felt guilty about burdening her friend with her problems. She had absolutely no right to complain. But … “By the time I am your age, I could be dead. Or my lord husband could die and leave me penniless. Now, though, I should count my blessings and be grateful for everything I have.”


Again, she squeezed Nicci's hand. “Thank you for putting things into perspective and for giving me ideas on how to get what I want. I have learned much from you already, and I hope you will continue to give me such excellent advice. You are so creative and perceptive that I am sure your destiny is much greater than mine.”


Sophia had the potential to become a paragon of respectability. Yet she also had the potential to become an unrepentant libertine. At the moment, she hovered between the two extremes, too young and inexperienced to choose. She still didn't know who she really was and was having a bit of an identity crisis. Capricious to a fault, she acted on her whims and rarely thought of the consequences. In a nutshell, she was a typical teenage girl who was just beginning to discover that the world didn't revolve around her.


Nicolette said nothing more about her contest with Mistress Wellsley and expertly dodged her question about the King by changing the subject to Lady Kendishall's party. “Yes, I will be attending, accompanied by my lord husband. Are you planning some mischief there?”

{OOC: Sophia can now reveal her own ideas for mischief.}

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"Ha. Well yes." Nicolette gave a mirthless laugh, "I am alive, I have achieved that much."


Perhaps Sophia was too young to be able to see it, but Nicolette's jealousy of her achievements was plain enough to read. Oh how things changed. Six months ago she'd been warning the dazzle-eyed lady away from marriage, and now Sophia was down of marriage while Nicolette so envious of the stability and safety.


"Perceptive? Oh, I do not know that... I know I empathise with the people I meet, the people I watch, and I seek into their thoughts wondering what they want, what they need. Perhaps that is what you mean." For all of that, it seemed like Sophia might still want her advice anyhow.


Her own spirits slipping, Nicolette became quieter. If only she could help herself.


"No, it's Lady Kendall's party, I have nothing planned." She replied, having not considered intruding on Caroline's plans. Her mind only half on the subject, as she found a yearning to see Lord Daventry again. He was such a lovely and good man, she liked how she felt around him. She did not feel so old, did not feel so futilely desperate, or so lost. Perhaps Lord Daventry could help her to find her own Ambassador to marry. Or maybe not. Ambassadors did not grow on trees. Absently she went on to ask, "Why?

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If Sophia didn't see that Nicolette was envious of her, it was probably because she was jealous of her friend's liberty to do whatever she wanted. If she had not tasted forbidden freedom in Venice, she wouldn't know what she was missing, and would not crave it. Marriage gave her stability, but she also felt trapped by all the unwritten rules of propriety that a wife must abide by.


Since she had wed Esteban, she had only been happy when she was with Juan, who gave her all of the love and affection that her husband withheld. She needed him now; she always needed him. Being proper wouldn't be so difficult with him to return to every evening, knowing that they would share the most exquisite pleasures in each other's arms. Sophia often wished she was married to him, but not because he was a Prince. Even if he had been a penniless commoner, Sophia would still have fallen in love with him.


“Oh, so you anticipate the wishes of others and give them what they want so that they will help you in return? I have never thought of doing that before.” Such a thing was difficult to comprehend to a young lady who had always believed she was the center of the universe. Maybe that was the key to becoming more popular at court. “I think I shall try it.” Sophia smiled gratefully. “You are teaching me so much today.”


So the authority of the Lady of Misrule did not extend to private events. “I was just wondering,” she said with a shrug. “I have an idea or two, not for Lady Kendishall's party, but just for general mischief. My lord husband suggested this one: What if you named two languages … one that would be used to ask questions, and the other used to answer them? Such as asking a question in French and answering it in German. After a few rounds, it could change to two other languages. It might even help improve relations between different countries because everyone would have to work together and share their knowledge.”

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"Yes, I try to make others happy, with time perhaps I might find favors though them. Although." Continuing to slump, Nicci could see the problem with her method. "Although just as easily you might end an entire life given away.”


If asked, Nicci would assert the authority of the Lady of Misrule extended everywhere, but she did not intent to upset her best friend.


Sophia shared the first suggestion, one that had come from her husband. Nicolette could not help but smile of it, hearing his politics. "But he hoped for Spanish, yes?" Actually, he'd been less specific, as Sophia then revealed he thought to share the game with many nations languages.


"He sounds like a kind man." Nicolette commented, wondering if Sophia had perceived that of her husband too. "I like this game, I think it would be a kindness to him to have static languages chosen, Spanish, and yes your German. I cannot choose my own tongue, for that would look like a french plot which people all hate."


"And what else do you suggest?" she asked quietly.

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“People will remember you when you make them feel good about themselves.” Nicolette didn't seem as confident and optimistic when it came to her own chances for happiness and Sophia wanted to reassure her. “They will be willing to do you favors, and will let you know when they see an opportunity that they think you should take. You will see. Sometimes it just takes time.”


Actually, Esteban had suggested a game where the only two languages used were French and Spanish. Sophia had expanded on his idea by including other countries. “Yes,” she grinned, “he is hoping that one of the languages is Spanish. And he is very kind.” Just not very affectionate. “He is going to be the best Ambassador that Spain has ever sent to England.”


She was pleased that Nicolette liked the game and planned to tell Esteban about it. “He would like that,” she said when her friend suggested that the only two languages be Spanish and German. “Maybe it is something that can be played at the banquet at the Embassy if you would like to cause some mischief there.”


As to her own idea: “Something theatrical, with masks. Maybe courtiers can perform while hidden behind masks and everyone will have to guess who they are. They could even do funny things. Maybe they would have to do whatever you say as long as they are wearing the masks. You could tell them to balance on one foot or jump up and down. There are lots of possibilities. I have quite a few masks that I brought back from Venice with me.”

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"I hope that this will happen in England." Back home. Back home she'd been too reticent, back Home she was forgotten even when stood in front of others. She did her best to dare now, though it scared her more than she wanted anyone to know.


And perhaps she was making a little difference at least? For Sophia now volunteered good things of her husband, now claiming he'd be the best Ambassador to Spain ever. It was a big chance from her earlier sentiments, it was like she was beginning to understand his vision. "Well, I hope too he shall be the happiest, with you at his side."


But while Sophia suggested that game for her own party, Nicci shook her head. "At the banquet Spain shall already have prominence in people's minds, you do not need to force it. No, this question and answer game shall be best elsewhere, leave it with me." she smiled.


Sophia's idea was not a mischeif, but an event. Nicolette did not have money to put on a masquerade. She held her smile in place though (that was how she always reacted in this situation), and she nodded her head. "But I think you would like a mischeif for your own party no?" the frenchwoman tipped her head, "some manner of fun that shall bring surprised laughter, and a thrill that you yourself did not even imagine..." Nicolette knew exactly what Sophia would most enjoy, so perhaps a twist on that, and something that involved everyone.


"...mmm, what if, at your party, the guests may all supply a verse of poetry, upon a theme. Two lines that rhyme. Then we jumble them together, and give them to you to sing for us - and while you sing, the ladies might act out the lyrics for the gentlmen." Nicolette slowly thought the idea through out aloud.


"Though that is not really a mischeif is it."


"What if to speak something your sentence must start with the same word the other ended upon?"

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“I think there are more chances here,” Sophia mused, a thoughtful expression on her face. “If I had stayed in Germany, I would have married some boring German nobleman and lived an unexciting life on his estate. I might have sung at parties, but I would never have sung for a King or performed in an opera. And I certainly would never have become a foreign Ambassador's wife. I never wanted to come to England, but now I am glad that I did. There will be chances for you too.”


She smiled sanguinely when Nicolette expressed her wishes that Esteban would be happy with her. “I hope so too,” she replied. Now he saw her as a necessary inconvenience, but in time he would realize that she was much more than just his master's lover and that she could be of help to him, a true partner in his ambitions. Sophia didn't think they would ever fall in love, but perhaps he would become proud of her.


And now she had done something else that would please him. Her friend had agreed to the game that he had suggested. “I am glad you like my lord husband's idea and I will tell him that you plan to use it.”


Her own idea was pretty much ignored. Maybe it had not been a very good one, or it did not fit Nicolette's concept of mischief. She suggested something else that was much more mischievous and would indulge Sophia's love of singing and then another game that was also intriguing. She thought it fortunate that the Frenchwoman had found the ring. Nicci was going to make the best Lady of Misrule in the history of England.


“The second one would work better at the banquet. I like it a lot. You could say that the sentences must make up a story. That will be more challenging. I think your first idea would be good for the next ball. I could give you the lyrics to an aria and you could remove all but the first word. The lines of poetry would have to use that word to start with and I could sing the new lyrics to the original tune. Perhaps there could be other games that showcase the talents of other courtiers as well.”


The carriage was slowing down. Sophia looked out the window. It appeared that they had reached their destination.

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Either way, Sophia had aroused Nicolette's interest in Esteban, who was not looking forward to the party for added reasons. She simply had to conduct her own experiment upon his frigidity - could he be as immoveable as Duke Ablemarle for instance?


There would be a fine line to walk obviously, for as interested as she was to test him, she was not intending to cuckold (or was that henold in a womans instance?) her lady friend.


“I have other plans for the next ball." Nicolette declared cheerily, delighted that Sophia would take up the offer of the second idea for herself. "La, but I would not dictate what people talk about, the game is that they navigate the inconvenience of a verbal rule. That shall be challenge enough I am sure. Besides... you shall learn that the more instructions you give people, the more they resist and sulk. It is better to be as vague as possible, so that they are free to innovate of games and make their own fun for themselves."


"Ah, but you see my dreary wisdom Lady Toldeo, this is what happens when you have attended as many court events as I." Nicci truly felt so very old in compare to Sophia starry eyed outlook. Nicolette remembered being like that too.


"Oh look, we must be here." Nicolette looked out the window with Sophia as the carriage slowed to a stop at the address shed given. "I hope it is still here, I'd not even thought it might not be until now. But this is definitely the address I remember that bottle shop across the road."




OOC: I'll pm Frankie, geep, we should have thought to do that earlier?!

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Her addition to Nicolette's suggestion was rejected as well, but Sophia was not in the least bit upset. It would have been difficult even for a highly trained performer like herself to sing a jumble of verses without practicing first, whether they were set to a familiar tune or whether she sang a capella and made up the tune herself. She had, as usual, jumped at an opportunity to sing in front of the court. Now, she realized that she probably would have failed miserably. Nicci was so much wiser than she.


She leaned forward eagerly when her friend said she had other plans for the next ball. “Can you tell me what they are or must they remain secret? If I can help you in any way, I hope you will let me know what I can do. I would have made a dreadful Lady of Misrule, but I would love to participate in your schemes.”


And yet another lesson learned. Never be too specific when organizing a game. Nicolette seemed so skilled in social situations. “I do not think it is dreary at all. You have been able to learn by observing the mistakes of others so you do not make them yourself. I am so afraid that my banquet will be a disaster because it is only the second event I have organized. You would be better at it. You know better than I what people want."


Sophia's excitement grew as the carriage stopped. “I hope so too. I am eager to see what kinds of things it sells.” And even more eager to buy whatever she found interesting. The door opened and the driver was ready to assist both ladies out of the carriage.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Perhaps it would have made Sophia feel better if she knew that Nicolette had dismissed all her cousins ideas at first also. She was rather jealous of her hard-won-honor, and was not about to give her rule away to just everyone who asked for it. Sophia's suggestions were taken as just that, there was only one person who might expect to be obeyed in this, and that was her patron Buckingham.


"You shall know soon enough." Nicolette replied mysteriously of her plans for the next ball, "suffice to say that hopping shall indeed be required, though not upon foot."


"Ah, but I have already set my deputies, Ladies O'Roarke and Kendishall." She explained to Sophia, who pushed and pushed, wanting to be a part of it all. Nicolette was wary of course, partily after the advice from Francis, and partly from the fact that Sophia was a friend of her enemy Davina. "But perhaps you did not hear, I did not see you during the announcement at the Ball?" Some few had approached Nicci to congratulate, but most had seemed to be in a state of shock.


"Hmm, I am not sure." She placated then as Sophia expressed her nerves of her pending party, "My experiance is only of my own viewpoint, and I have never aspired to be a planner of parties, much to my cousins disappointment." Louis had wanted her to be much involved with his event last season, but Nicci had all but dipped out, leaving him to arrange it all by himself. "From my viewpoint people like to settle in and talk with each other at first, and then some while later, when the initial excitement of the gathering fades, they look for a distraction. If the host does not provide it, the more daring guests will provide it for themselves, which might not be what the event planner had hoped. Then after the distraction, guests are content to talk of it as the freshly inspired topic... and likely enough find satisfaction of the evening at that point, and might start to consider returning home, or to their next gathering they had scheduled for the evening. Although, I have noticed that in England there is usually just one party per night, rather than a full series of entertainments to take us through to dawn." Versailles was a smorgasbord in that regard - dining, dancing, gambling a nightly routine that Le Roi cleverly managed to fill his courtiers lives completely. Grumbling or dissent? There was no time for it!


Oh, but there was the Shop. Nicci was glad of wearing her sensible boots as she stepped out onto the icy cobbles. "I hope he has a fire inside." she waited for the rest to dismount before heading through the deceptively dreary doorway. Her eyes flitted about, looking for the exotic shopkeeper, and then with small steps she took herself to the cabinet where the shrunken head had been kept - her gloved hand pressed the glass as she leaned in to better seek it. Breath held. It had been sold by now, surely?

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Hopping, but not on foot? Was that even possible? Sophia had excellent balance and was extremely flexible. Whatever her friend had planned, she thought she would do well at it, unless it included hopping on top of a gentleman, which her straight-laced husband would never approve of, even if that gentleman was him.


She had heard Nicolette name her deputies and had thought she was clever to pick widows who were free to do as they pleased instead of married ladies or debutantes, so as not to anger husbands or fathers who might oppose more risque types of mischief. “I was there,” Sophia confirmed, “and I think that Lady O'Roarke and Lady Kendishall are splendid choices. I am glad that you did not choose me. My lord husband would never have allowed me to accept such an honor, particularly so soon after the opera. My turn to shine was during the performance. Now it is your turn to take the spotlight.


“But anyone can offer suggestions and participate in the mischief you come up with, ja? That is all I wish to do.” It was all she could do, and the latter only with Esteban's permission. She would never be free to do as she wished unless he passed away. And then Juan would probably just marry her to another of his associates.


Sophia wished no ill will toward her husband. If not completely happy with his dour nature and his lack of affection, she was mostly content. He was kinder and gave her more freedom than the spouses of some ladies she knew. And she didn't believe he had a mistress, which was often a source of distress for many wives. In truth, she would not have cared if he did. She was the mistress of his master and complaining about his own infidelities would have been hypocritical.


Nicolette had quite a lot to say about parties, and the petite German nodded her understanding. “Thank you again for such sensible advice. The banquet will come first and after everyone has finished eating, the entertainment will begin. And maybe later, a game or two.”


Her eyes widened when her friend described the night life at Versailles. Sophia was a young social butterfly who needed very little sleep. Partying until dawn every night would be absolutely delightful. “I hope I can visit one day. It sounds wonderful.” Going to France was a long shot, considering that Spain and France were bitter enemies, and if they did go, Esteban would most likely forbid her to stay out all night.


The young Baroness followed Nicolette out of the carriage. It looked as if the shop was still there. “I hope so too.” The carriage had been quite warm with four women inside, but the chilly wind had hit her as soon as she stepped outside. She walked very carefully after her friend so as not to slip upon the icy road.


The shop didn't look like much on the outside, but the interior was far more intriguing. Sophia looked around her with wide blue eyes, taking it all in, while Nicci went over to a cabinet and peered inside.

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Sophia talked of how the Opera was her turn to shine, and being the Lady of Mischief was Nicolettes. Nicci tipped her head, trying to understand her point, as Sophia then reasserted that she wanted to do Nicci's role for her. "But when it is your ideas, then it is like you are the Lady of Misrule, yours are not my idea and people will know."


She wanted to say how she would not (could not) hop up on the stage and sing in the opera instead of Sophia - to try make Sophia realise what she was trying to take from her. But Sophia did not seem to understand. She was young, she wanted everything for herself, that was how the young and spoilt were. As Sophia matured she might start to appreciate other peoples perspectives, that was not something that Nicci could teach her in a brief carriage ride.


"It is exhausting." Nicolette agreed, "but nobody gets up early, so it hardly matters. Night-time is the finest time to do anything, there is more drama to it. It must be something to do with the bright of lights and the dark of shadows." she smiled...


Conversations stopped as they entered the shop, as ever there was a lot to see. "Oh come here Lady Toledo, look at this here!" Nicci's breath had misted the glass, that her fingertip now tapped clear spots upon as she pointed at the object behind. "It must be very valuable I am sure, everything here once belonged to important people, why this was probably a gift from a maharaja, or a part of a pirate queens treasure. Come and see lady Toledo,..." she took a breath then to ask, "have you much money to spend?"

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Sophia was not trying to take Nicolette's place as the Lady of Misrule. If she had found the ring, she would have given it to somebody else. But if she had accepted the role, she would have welcomed suggestions from other courtiers. Nicci seemed almost offended by it. “I think people would be pleased if you used their ideas. They would feel as if they were contributing to the festiveness of the season. And they will be grateful to you for it.”


However, if she wanted to come up with everything herself, that was her prerogative. Sophia would keep her ideas to herself from now on. Maybe her concepts were truly dreadful, and Nicolette didn't want to disappoint her by telling her so.


The young Baroness was usually full of ideas, but not all of them were good. Convincing her step-uncle to let her sing in the place of a sick singer so that the show could go on had not been one of her best suggestions, and if she had known what the repercussions would be and that she would have to live with them for the rest of her life, she might not have pleaded with him until he finally gave in.


So in Versailles, it seemed as if they slept all day and partied all night. In the winter, she wouldn't mind so much, but in the warmer months, Sophia liked to be out in the sun. She still wanted to visit, but she didn't think she'd want to live at the French court if there was nothing to do during the day.


If not for her noble demeanor, the petite blonde's mouth might have dropped to the floor as she slowly turned in a circle. It was a place of strange and marvelous things, and nothing looked the least bit familiar. Now she knew what it was called the Curiosity Shop, for she was curious about everything it held.


Nicolette called her over to the cabinet, and she practically skipped over to it. She could probably spend hours in here and never get bored. Peering through the glass, her eyes widened. “Ohhh,” she breathed. “It does look like it must have belonged to royalty.” A pirate queen was not actually royalty, but in her own world, she would be. “I have some money,” she answered, “but I don't know if I have enough to buy that.”

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"I did say I would use one of your ideas, you wanted the one for your husband's function." Nicolette reminded her, "I did ask you for your ideas, remember this?" she said softly, trying to remind Sophia that she had already been biddable. There just came a point when rather than offering suggestions, Sophia seemed just pushy instead. She'd been suspicious of Sophia's desire to meet today, and now this seemed to be what was behind it, which was not very different to what Nicolette had suspected at the start. Still, if roles reversed, Nicolette would have done the same.


But then the girls became utterly distracted from their sisterly petty bickering and jealousies, as the wonders of the Curiosity Shop absorbed.


"My Cousin has given me a little too..." Nicolette spoke of her own purse, "perhaps if we pooled our money together?"




OOC: teehee, I am looking forward to a mod post to find out what the girls are ogling at! lol

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