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

Sophia de la Cerda

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Sophia was even more convinced that her ideas had been awful when Nicolette reminded her that she had asked for suggestions. It didn't occur to her that her German straightforwardness might seem pushy to her friend. The French seemed to coat everything with flowery compliments, and while she found their way of speaking enchanting, she wasn't able to emulate it. Perhaps that was why Nicci was able to charm everyone she met. Flattery and lovely words came naturally to her.


Although Esteban had asked her to run his idea by the Lady of Misrule, that wasn't why she had wanted to meet with her. She had just wanted to spend time with a friend whom she hadn't seen in months, which seemed like an eternity to her. Sophia had no ulterior motives, hoping only to enjoy the morning in pleasant and delightful company.


Their differences seemed to disappear when they stepped into the curiosity shop. They were like children in a candy store, entranced by everything they saw. “We could do that,” she agreed. “But who would we give it to?” Sophia intended to buy a gift for her husband, but she was easily distracted from that goal by the object that Nicci pointed out to her.


{OOC: I wonder what they're looking at too.}

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The curiosity that the ladies were looking at was what could have been a broach but for its sheer massivity. It was a bejeweled octopus with curling tentacles. Indeed, it looked like it could have belonged to some pirate queen, for who from England would commission such a thing made! If one were to put it on their dress, it might stretch from bosom to navel sparkling different colors! Or maybe it was actually a statuette?


Near that there was a fat man done in some green stone (jade). There was a chess set carved in ivory set on the pelt of something large and spotted which was laid out on a table behind the counter. On the same pelt was some sort of pipe or candle snuffer done in gold that was over a foot long.


The shrunken head was still there but not in the same spot. The book was what was truly gone.


(Apologies! Since I'd yet to post here for you both, it missed getting in my rotation )

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Everything was new to Sophia, who had just stepped into this shop of wonders for the very first time. She knew she would have to come back, for it would be impossible to see everything in one visit unless you stayed all day. And she had other engagements to attend to. She was sure that Nicolette had plans as well.


The diminutive singer was completely captivated by the jeweled octopus. She thought that it was a statue for it looked much too heavy to wear and would have been too big for her anyway. But she could set it on a pedestal in her drawing room and her friends would exclaim over it when they came to visit. If she and Nicci shared it, they could take it on alternate weeks so that both of them would be able to enjoy it.


She turned her gaze to the other items, and her attention was caught by the beautiful chess set behind the counter. Esteban enjoyed playing chess and had once promised to teach her. Maybe with such a gift, he would make good on that promise and then they would have a reason to spend more time together. Sophia enjoyed backgammon; she thought that she would like chess as well.


“Look behind the counter,” she suggested to Nicolette. “I think that chess set might be a perfect gift for my lord husband. I wonder how much they want for it.”

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"It must be the only one in the entire world." Nicolette was marveling of the tremendous quantity of jewels. It would be an astounding conversation piece, of that much they both knew, though that did not stop Mlle Vauquelin from asking, "What would you do with it?"


Yet as Sophia drew her attention towards the chess set, Nicolette glimpsed the shrunken head. It was in a different cabinet, moved. Her eyes flared as they had done when she'd first seen it; it's marvel and allure just as strong as it had first been.


"A game of chess would make a perfect gift for a politician." Nicolette agreed, squeezing Sophia's hand as she did, "a game of cunning and strategy, and too, you can play it together. He might come to love you more as he teaches you the games plots."


While Nicci still adored the bejeweled octopus, it was the shrunken head that she wanted to fully examine. Although. Then again. Look at that candle snuffer. "Mon dieu, look at that! How it shines, how long it is." she wanted everything. No not quite everything, the little fat man of jade did nothing for the french chit.


"But look Lady Toledo. There is the shrunken head I told you of. I wonder if I can afford it?" she could not remember asking of it's price last time. "I wonder if we would be allowed an account?"


Perhaps she could go halfsies in the octopus, and put the candle snuffer and shrunken head on account. Louis would understand when he received the bill. It was not like she was buying more shoes (like Lisa, who had a closet overflowing of every possible style). These items were unique items. Treasures really. Investments even.



Ooc: squee!! What fun!!

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“It has to be custom made,” Sophia agreed, marveling at the way the jewels sparkled in the muted light of the shop. She doubted that the two of them could afford it even if they pooled their money together, but that didn't stop her dreaming of the way it would look in her house. “I think I would set it on a pedestal in my drawing room whenever I had visitors so that they could exclaim over its beauty. The rest of the time I would keep it in my music room and gaze at it while I practice singing. What would you do with it?”


Nicolette agreed that the chess set would be a perfect gift for Esteban, and the blonde Baroness smiled when she squeezed her hand. “That is what I was thinking too, and he did promise to teach me how to play. It would also impress his friends if he invites them over for a game.” She was quite set on purchasing the chess set now, and hoped it would not cost too much.


Yet there were other wonders to draw her attention as well. Sophia studied the golden candle snuffer when her friend brought it to her attention. “Maybe it is so long because it is used to put out the candles on chandeliers,” she mused. That was a servant's responsibility, though, and who would buy something so grand that would only be used by their staff?


While Nicolette was not interested in the statue of the little fat man, it intrigued Sophia. There was something calming about it which she couldn't quite define. She longed to run her hands over the smooth surface of the green stone, even though the notion of caressing a portly male figurine was vaguely disturbing and probably improper.


Her eyes widened when Nicolette called her over to the cabinet which held the shrunken head she had written about in her letter. Sophia was quite curious about it and had been hoping that it had not been sold. Unfortunately, it didn't hold the same appeal for her as it did for her friend. She found it ugly and a bit frightening. “It is certainly unique,” she breathed. “Do you want to give it to someone or keep it for yourself?”


Her gaze traveled around the shop. “I hope it is allowed.” How splendid it would be to have an account here! As usual, she didn't consider the possibility that her husband might not agree. Sophia wanted everything she had seen so far, except for that dreadful wizened little head.

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Nicolette agreed fully to it's application to impress, "What manner stories ought be woven around it's coming into our hands. It deserves a tale grander than merely buying it at a London shop..." she looked to Sophia, wondering how flexible with the truth she dared to be.


"But I would set it as center piece at the dinner table, with a candle perched on each extended tentacle. Oh, or imagine it it could be hoisted? What a spectacular chandelier it would make."


"La, it is the fates moving with us." she declared quietly as Sophia revealed that she and her new husband had even discussed chess, "...shall you buy the fur also, they look like a set."


"Or perhaps so a dwarf can use it?" Nicci pondered, as the girls wondered why the snuffer stem was so elaborate and long. But Soph made a good point, for it was far too fine for just anyone to use it. "Ooh I know!" Nicci chimed in happily, "It is for a fine lady to use, so she does not have to get out of bed to put out her candle." the idea sounded less likely after she had spoken it. Air did not suit all imaginations ideas, some shriveled and died upon the first breath given them. "Unless it is not a candle snuffer at all, but it is a spoon to dip into narrow necked jar, like, perhaps a jar of pickles. How else would someone get the last one out?" which after being spoken, sounded quite possible still.


There would be no fights for dibs over the jade man or shrunken head.


"I would keep it for myself." it was in part the heads ugliness that appealed to Nicolette. The extreme of it was a marvel in her mind, she loved how ghastly it looked, how it made her feel a little sick, though she had to keep looking at it because it was so very awful. A grin and glint of eyes had Nicolette add, "I don't think it something you could give someone without them taking it rather poorly."


"Do you want to ask?" Nicci suggested.

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“Very true. Maybe we could weave an exciting tale about rescuing a mysterious stranger who gave us the octopus out of gratitude and told us that it would bring us good luck?” Things like that happened all the time between the pages of the books Sophia devoured. “It has to have been given to us if we don't admit we bought it. If we say we found it, some enterprising courtier might claim it belongs to them.” The young Baroness had no qualms about lying as long as her lies didn't harm anyone.


Both ladies had entirely different ideas as to how to display the bejeweled treasure, but all of them would show it off, which was the point in purchasing such an unusual item. “It would look fantastic as a chandelier, but then nobody would see it unless they looked up.” Sophia rarely noticed chandeliers, perhaps because she was so petite or because staring up at so many bright candles hurt her eyes.


“It's like it was meant for him,” she agreed. “And yes, I shall buy the fur as well. They do seem like they were meant to be together.” It looked like a rug but it was much too fine to be stepped on. It could be draped across a table like it was here and the chess set could be placed upon it when it wasn't being used.


Sophia laughed when Nicolette suggested that the candle snuffer could be made for a dwarf. “Or me,” she added, making fun of her own height … or lack therof. “Maybe it comes from some far-off land where everyone is as short as I am.” Her friend's next supposition was so appealing that she clapped her hands together. “Yes! That is what I would use it for. Sometimes I read long after my maidservant has retired, and I freeze when I get out of bed to put out the candle. I also bump into things on the way back.”


They might have to fight each other over the long golden pipe, assuming that it really was a candle snuffer and they could both afford it. Or perhaps they could share that too, The blonde Baroness couldn't see herself trying to get anything out of the bottom of a jar. That, too, was a servant's job.


She wondered why Nicolette was so enamored of that hideous head, but to each her own. Even looking at it was disturbing, and yet still her gaze kept returning to it. “It depends on who you give it to.” Another laugh and her blue eyes sparkled. “I can just imagine the look my lord husband would give me if I presented it to him.” Perhaps he would think it sent a message: Quit watching me so closely or else.


Sophia lowered her voice so that only Nicolette could hear. “We should not ask right away. First we need to find out how much things cost and then we must pretend that we have that much to spare and more. The shopkeeper will think we are very wealthy. He will be sure he is going to make several sales, until we start talking about how we might not really need the items after all. That gives us the chance to negotiate for a lower price. Once a price is agreed on, we can ask for an account unless he offers us one first.”


Sophia's father had been a shrewd businessman, but he had never discussed those things with her. Everything she had learned had come from covertly eavesdropping on conversations between him and the partners and associates who visited their home. Whether her suggestions were sound or would work remained to be seen.

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The man that came out from the back room was the same that Nicolette had encountered before. He had noted their arrival, but had stayed a moment to see what they might look at prior to appearing. Merchants also had their tactics, and it was also rare to have customers so very early.


A servant scurried out after him, placing some more wood in a small hearth that kept the shop warm. It was bitterly cold, especially for a man who did not hail from England. He had only gone in the back to set the boy to task for not better preparing the fire.


"Good morning. A bit early for such fine ladies to be about the streets of London." Indeed, most fine ladies did not leave their house before the afternoon. Mornings were a time of prayer and also of business dealings for men.


He did not, as of yet, recognize Nicolette.

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"Yes a gift from a stranger... though of the octopus, perhaps that each tentacle has a blessing it might give, and soon people shall flock to us wanting to touch this one or that one." Although, so bejeweled as it was, it was unlikely that any but Dukes and Kings could afford it.


The Frenchwoman was in quick agreement that the chess set and the fur looked like a set, it seemed only sensible that Soph purchase both. Yet of the candle snuffer, if that is what it was, there was more discussion and laughter. "You are not quite as short as that!" although her companion was indeed rather undersize (of height, not girth, for a tiny lady she had ample cleavage!) She did like the idea of using it to put out her candle while staying in bed though. "Then you must buy that too."


Although many things appealed, Nicolette only truly wanted the ugly shrunken head.


Jokes and wise cracks aside, "Precisely." she need of why one could not gift an item like this. "but I shall give it a good home. I shall start my own curiosity cabinet." the French woman's tone was quite serious of that.


Yet how to pay. Her young friend had an opinion upon the idea, while to Nicolette it seemed counter intuitive, she was content to defer because it got her out of having to be the one to ask for store credit. "Very well." she nodded, even as a warm greeting of shopkeeper entering drew their attention.


"Happy Christmas." Nicolette smiled towards the man, his features familiar despite the greater quantity he now wore. It seemed he was feeling the cold. She turned to look to Sophia, allowing the young Baroness to reply to his greeting...

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Sophia wasn't certain if she liked the idea of courtiers traipsing into her house hoping to be blessed by a bejeweled tentacle. “Saying that the tentacles are blessed will bring unwanted attention. The news will spread fast and everyone in London will be lining up before our doors wanting to touch it. I think its purpose should remain mysterious. Let the people who see it come up with stories about it. I'm sure they will be quite amusing.”


She studied the long golden pipe. “Sometimes I feel as short as a dwarf. The only time I see the top of a gentleman's head is when he bows to me.” She was by no means thin. Her figure was fashionably curvy and her bosom was more than generous. “If it really is a candle snuffer, then I shall buy it.” Hopefully, she would be able to afford the chess set, the rug, and the candle snuffer and have enough money left over to buy something for Lord Chatham.


“The shrunken head would be a good centerpiece for a curiosity cabinet.” Maybe Sophia should start one herself, perhaps in the Embassy to show off exotic items from the New World and other Spanish territories. She wondered if anything in this shop had come from there. “And when you meet a gentlemen you do not fancy who will not leave you alone, you can show the head to him. He will never bother you again.”


The young Baroness noticed the boy hurrying to the fire to put more wood on it before she saw the shopkeeper. For the first time, she realized that she was not as cold as she usually was. The shop was kept quite warm.


His voice alerted her to his presence, and she turned toward him. “Happy Christmas,” she echoed Nicolette. “Shopping in the morning has many advantages. The shops are not crowded and you can purchase exciting new things before anyone else beats you to it.”

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"As you wish, ladies," he replied, with a nod, content to leave them to look at things in the shop until they needed him.


In addition to the strange things, there were also some harder to find books on a shelf behind glass, although many of them were in Latin, Greek, or other languages. There were some in English or French. Some were non-fiction, some were novels, some had been banned or burned at one point, others obscene*.


In a prominent position was a small thing, looking more like a pamphlet than a book, bearing the title Epistre tres Utile. Another Bovo-Bukh was also placed faceplate out instead of spine.


(OOC - if you're interested I'll let you know some other titles or if there's different bizarre things, I can describe more of the shop...You have but to look!)

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"Oh that is the best idea." Sophia suggestion that visitors come up with their own stories for the octopus met with approval and a sunny smile, "You are quite good at this aren't you!"


Nothing could be done about height, so Nicci shrugged away Sophia's lament of lack of... she moved further down the cabinet looking at the other oddities there.


A small nod was given to Sophia's affirmation of starting a cabinet, though she sighed when her friend again suggested something inappropriate. Nicci would never marry ever if people begun to gossip that she shrunk heads of any that displeased her! "I suppose you are right, it will only cause me ruin." She so wanted the shrunken head, but at every turn Sophia, an example of a courier, came up with ugly stories from it that would malign her hopes for a bright future.


Reluctantly she left it's proximity, and made an effort of looking at the rest of the shops exotica.


A book that was partly burnt seemed strange. Behind glass, though Nicci hardly wanted to touch it lest she soot her gloves, but tipped her head to try read the title. If not for herself, then there were three persons she contemplated giving gifts that were especially thoughtful (& hopefully not too expensive). A book might seem a little dry for those that ranked so high in her esteem, it would need to be of something very special to be worthy.


A thought occurred to her. "Have you any miniatures?" she turned to ask the shopkeeper.

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Sophia smiled brightly at Nicolette's praise. “The thought just occurred to me. I am glad you like it.” She suspected that they would not be able to use it, for the more she studied the octopus, the more certain she was that only the very wealthy could afford it. Even if the two ladies pooled all of their money together, it would probably not be enough. Maybe when Juan returned to London, she could convince him to buy it for her and if he did, she would still share it with her friend.


When she suggested that the shrunken head might chase away unwanted suitors, Nicolette looked so disappointed that she immediately regretted her words, which Sophia had hoped would amuse her. “It was supposed to be a jest. I should quit trying to joke in English. It never turns out well.” She forced herself to look at the head again. “Most gentlemen would likely find it fascinating. You should buy it if you really want it.”


The books drew Sophia's attention as well. If she couldn't afford the chess set, then a rare book would be a fine gift for her husband. Of the two noticeably displayed, one was French and the other had strange markings on it that only partially resembled letters. What kind of language was that? Others she couldn't see well enough to tell what language they were written in. She made a mental note to ask the shopkeeper if there were any written in Spanish.


She wandered over to another cabinet and peered inside, but her attention was diverted when Nicolette asked about miniatures. Maybe a miniature painting would appeal to her husband or to one of the friends she was now thinking of buying gifts for. Small items might not be as expensive as larger ones.

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"Miniatures?" the shopkeeper parroted, raising a brow.


"Do you mean the small painting in a pendant sort of miniatures?"


There were also miniature carvings and all sorts of miniature things, so he did not wish to assume what she meant. She had something of an accent, so it seemed ill-advised to assume her meanings. Miniatures could mean any sorts of small things.


Or perhaps she meant more miniature heads. He had seen her looking at the shrunken head after all.

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"No no, do not apologize." Nicolette cooed softly, "between you and I we might laugh, but the friends of court laugh differently. It is best that I step cautious, even if I am not an ambassadors wife." she squeezed Sophia's hand, smiling of their conversation before.


She did not need to ask her question to the shopkeeper twice, for all that he managed to exist in the background, he was attentive.


"No, not the pictures, but tiny things. Like... well you shall not have anything like it perhaps, but a tiny flag, or a tiny cannon? Oh, or perhaps tiny men, or maybe tiny ladies too." Nicci's gaze slid to her diminutive friend, and grinned of the last.


"Mmm.... we love your shop, Mr Keeper-of-special-things... what is that smell in the air? It is something special too I think." she motioned to Sophia to come closer. Surely her friends had some questions about the things she liked too.

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“If you want it but still wish to be cautious, you could mention it to your friends and see what there reactions are. If they are intrigued, you can come back for it. If they are disgusted, then it would be best to stock your curiosity cabinet with other things.” Sophia squeezed Nicci's hand in return. This was a grand adventure they were sharing this morning.


Nicolette seemed to be looking for miniature sculptures rather than paintings. Maybe the shop contained some miniature scenes, such as castles or battlefields or a tiny replica of London. She stepped forward when her friend motioned her closer. “Your shop is fascinating,” she echoed. “I love everything I have seen so far.”


She wanted to ask about the chess set but she didn't think she should show her interest so soon. If she wanted to get a good price, she would have to be casual with her inquiry. “I was just looking at your book display. Would you happen to have any rare books in Spanish? Or fascinating items from the Spanish part of the New World?”


Sophia realized that it might seem odd for a lady with a distinct German accent to be asking about books in Spanish.

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"I may have some tiny cannon or soldiers of various sorts somewhere. Small sets such as that are common for the young boy, either lead or wooden?" the shopkeeper said to Nicolette, raising an eyebrow as if to ask if she wished him to look. Or rather have the boy go look who had finished stoking the fire.


"No Spanish. Not enough people around here who could read such a thing." French was more common and books were more common in Latin or Greek for the schooled types. He did not cater to the nobility.


"ANd thank you for the compliments, ladies," he replied, with a bow and a small smile.


"Perhaps the scent of things from different lands or the herbs in the hearth to drown out the smell from the street?" he replied, unsure of what scent they were referring to.

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Sophia kept talking about it. Nicolette hardly even cared what people would say about the head, but she did care about what people might say about her, if they knew she had the head. Privately she resolved to buy and keep it in secret. No one must know.


Expression brightening at his reply in the affirmative, "How tiny, this big?" she held up her hand with a distance between fingers held, perhaps two inches. "If they are this big, then I shall want them yes." she moved across to the shop keeper now, her browsing fairly much done. Though Sophia was captivated by the books now, and was asking about them.


While her friend was looking the other way, Nicci motioned to the shrunken head then to herself, and then touched a finger to her lips that he knew she wished the purchase to be secret. "We are also dazzled by the Octopus, it is paste of course?" she asked.


Nicolette did not understand why Sophia was being so shy of asking about the items she wanted to buy, and could only imagine she'd become somehow shy of following through with her plan (perhaps it was the shopkeeper exotic skin tone?) "How much?"


The plan that Sophia had made was to find out how much thing cost, pretend as though they had all that money to spare, and then start changing their minds and put things back - which would ha the Shopkeeper offer them a special deal to buy everything.


Sophia might have become to shy to ask, but lucky for her, Nicci was not.

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Sophia wasn't interested in miniature soldiers or cannons. “If you have any miniature paintings, I would like to take a look at those.” Perhaps she could find a few that would please her friends.


She sighed when the shopkeeper informed her that he didn't have any books in Spanish, not that she was surprised. He didn't say anything about curiosities from the New World, so perhaps nothing in the shop came from there. It was probably difficult to do business with savages who would rather eat you than engage in trade.


Her eyes traveled back to the chess set on the fur rug and so she did not see Nicolette's silent exchange with the shopkeeper. When her friend mentioned the octopus, her gaze turned to the fascinating bejeweled statue. “Yes, it is beautiful.”


Sophia had not forgotten her plan. In truth, she didn't really know how to put her own idea into action. She had never asked about prices before. The young Baroness had simply bought what she wanted without considering what it might cost. The items in this shop, though, were so unique that she didn't think they would come cheap.


Now that Nicolette had made the first inquiry, perhaps she could ask about the chess set now. But first, she wished to know the price of the octopus. If it cost a small fortune, she would most likely not be able to afford the chess set. Unless the shopkeeper wanted to impress the Spanish Ambassador. Maybe he came from a country that had good relations with Spain.

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"There is a bookshop called Alstons which might have books in Spanish. And miniatures are oft done of one's family or lover," the shopkeeper said. "Such personal sorts of items are not very sellable, so I do not have any of the small portraits. Perhaps someone who deals more in art might have something of that sort," he replied to Sophia. "Or you might think to commission an artist to do one personally. Being so small, they can probably be done quickly.*"


He could tell that both ladies had different accents. The little blonde was unfortunately looking for things which were not of much interest to the average, wealthy Englishman looking for something strange or new which was more his clientele. Nor were miniature paintings very novel to sell in a store such as his. The merchandise he was more likely to have were things not found elsewhere.


"And yes, the little soldiers and such are very small. Fit for a child's hands or models," the shopkeeper said. He turned to give a few words to the boy to go look for them in the back. It might take some minutes to find (and to dust off).


He grinned at the games of ladies as the French sounding one made a mention to the shrunken head. He thought she wished to make it a gift for the other foreign lady and thus the secret. He nodded his understanding.


"Ah yes, the octopus. It is said to be modeled after a giant, ship eating creature. It came from the Carib, where I am told it was a bejeweled piece for a pirate's woman. It has many pins on the back to afix it to the front of a dress," he revealed to the ladies. It would stretch from tit to tit and down to navel. It was very large. "Do you wish to see it?" It was surely not made of plaster with all those jewels. One could not risk it falling, breaking, and scattering that much worth all over a floor for greedy people to grab.


"A small fortune, but simply a trifle for proper ladies such as yourselves." He would rather they get a good look at the finery and expense of it before giving the large price.


"Is there anything else you wish to see whilst the boy is finding the soldiers? Any of those other books of interest to you, though not in Spanish?" Since Nicolette was doing much of the speaking, he looked to her first, taking her for more the ringleader. She also seemed to have more of a taste to the sort of oddities he carried. He then quirked an eyebrow at Sophia to include her in the question too.


(OOC - Might I suggest querying George H? Perhaps he can recommend one of his artists or even George himself? I'd rather PCs get involved in things which they have established themselves than random NPCs! )

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"Ooh perfect." for in fact it was precisely that purpose that her idea for a gift was considered, for the person of her current affections was a modelmaker himself. "But, can I see the cannon too?" for now she came to think of it, she knew someone who'd like that too.


Nicci felt like she was in a gold mine! Would Louis get so upset really, if she put things upon a tab in his name? Perhaps his irritation would be tempered if she brought him a gift too.


The down side of a secret purchase of the shrunken head, was that he'd not haggled price at all. But. It was worth it. For sure.


"And please, call me Mistress Vauquelin." she smiled, "I am cousin of Lord Basildon." angling towards gaining credit, she thought to name drop earlier than later. She almost introduced Sophia too, but was not sure how that would fit with her plans. Nicci had already blown the plan for herself, but perhaps Sophia could pull that off for herself still.


He told of the octopus, a tale that hardly sounded embellished at all. (Perhaps the piece itself was embellishment enough!) He explained that it could be worn like a brooch, and had pins on the back, Nicci could barely keep her face straight as he asked if they would like to see. "Oh yes, my friend would love to try it on." Her eyes flared, and she bit her lip as she played a prank of diminutive Sophia.


"Well now that you ask." the Frenchwoman tried to be sensible, though was becoming quite excitable indeed. "I was trying to read what the title of the burnt book was. It is terribly scandalous? Is it banned? "


Louis probably would not want a burnt book, or would he?

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Sophia had been hoping for miniature paintings of exotic locations, not the sort of thing that you could have commissioned in London. But it seemed that this shop didn't carry anything of the sort. There were many other items that had caught her interest and there were likely others that she had not yet seen.


She didn't think miniature soldiers sounded very unusual either. Didn't most little boys have sets of soldiers to play battles with? She remembered seeing some simple wooden ones in the shop in Germany where she had bought the Christmas Pyramid for the Queen. Maybe the ones sold here were more elaborate.


“Ohhhh!” she breathed when the shopkeeper explained the origin of the octopus and that it was able to be worn on top of a gown as a very large brooch. Nicolette claimed that Sophia would want to try it on, and she grinned at her. It was if she had read her mind.


“Indeed I would,” she agreed. She had worn heavy costumes during her opera days, and didn't think it would weigh so much that she would tumble forward. And if it fit well, she was certain that Don Juan would buy it for her if she couldn't afford it herself.


The shopkeeper seemed to think that they had plenty of money, so perhaps the ruse she had outlined would not be necessary. She felt confident enough now to ask about the chess set, and after Nicolette inquired about the burned books and the shopkeeper looked at her, she smiled disarmingly. “I'm interested in the chess set behind the counter and the fur it is sitting on as a gift for someone special. And that long golden tube. Is it a candle snuffer?”



OOC: She's already asked George for two portraits and there's something else artsy she wants from him too. She just hasn't asked about it yet.

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Yes, Mademoiselle Vauquelin," he replied, politely nodding in respect. "You may see all of the pieces. They are very finely done, none of these newer creations but something more artisan." Toys of the like were common if made commonly, although toy soldier of such quantity were usually only of the more affluent. A poor child was lucky to have one toy which got quite beat over-use and age.


They seemed rather smitten with the idea of the broach, so he took it in his hands so they could look at it.


The shop keeper did not need to think over what prices he gave, so he replied to Sophia cordially, "50 for the chess set and 30 for the fur. They are both from the far east and not easy to come by."


He then handed the broach to Nicolette to do the honours for the other lady. It was not his place to be touching so many intimate places or near them.


"The Middleton satires or the Rabelais?" He asked, thinking those both perhaps equally likely to be the book of query. I believe the satires were burned by the church some long time ago. Rabelais is," he paused, "not the stuff for proper ladies." Although with their behavior he was not entirely sure how proper they were even if they were fine ladies of some nobility.

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He uttered her name politely, and the Frenchwoman smiled, knowing it was her cousins name that resounded in his mind. "Oh I have no doubt that they aren’t exceptional." that anything in this shop was common place was impossible. But then Nicolette already knew of his high standards - he'd refused her love potions upon the account that there was more than one of them. No, anything here was highly exclusive!


The prices he said were high, but not out of the question, and for such rare pieces seemed a bargain! Nicci said naught of it, though her eyes flared approvingly to Sophia, silently 'cheering' her to accept. Meanwhile she took the brooch, and moved towards fastening it.


Sophia was so willing to have it placed, that Nicolette discovered she felt a little jealous. The prank had entirely backfired!


"There, it is on." she stepped back to look. My, but it was striking! If a lady wore that to a ball, everyone would look, everyone would talk, everyone would marvel. (Mlle Vauquelin wanted to try it on too now.) "I don’t think it suits you… maybe it would look better on me?"


The shopkeeper could not recommend any book more highly than to say it was not the stuff they should have. Immediately it became forbidden fruit. "Oh, but we are not thinking to buy it for ourselves, are we?" again she resisted saying Sophia’s name, Sophia would reveal it when she was good and ready. "But as a present for a very worldly sort. Mm... what is it about exactly?" the title 'Rabelais' sounded like a Jewish rabbi, how saucy could that be really? Really, it sounded so dull compared to satires. Nicci did like satires usually, usually Satires were a good giggle, even if a bit moralistic at times. That it had been banned by the church must mean it was slightly heretical. "....and which religion banned the Satires?"

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“So eighty pounds for both the chess set and the fur?” Sophia asked. The prices were a bit steep and would take all the money she had with her and then some, but she thought her husband would be pleased with such lovely and unusual gifts. Perhaps she could take the rest out of her redecorating fund if the shopkeeper was not willing to give them credit. Or she could try to barter with him if she decided to buy other items as well.


There was a reason that Sophia withheld her name. What if the shopkeeper was from a country that was hostile to Spain? He would raise the prices out of spite. She would reveal it in time, but for now, she preferred to remain mysterious.


Her eyes glittered as brightly as the jewels on the octopus brooch as Nicolette fastened it to the bodice of her gown. Sophia could tell that Nicolette was jealous by her remark. “I wish to see how it looks on you too. I will fasten it to your gown when I take it off.”


She turned to the shopkeeper. “Do you have a mirror so that I can see what it looks like?”


Sophia was only mildly interested in the burned books. They would not appeal to her husband, but maybe Lord Chatham or Lord Maldon would like one of them. She nodded when Nicolette claimed they did not want to keep them. “No, not for ourselves,” she agreed. “But they would make excellent gifts.”


Nicolette asked about the content of the books and Sophia awaited the shopkeeper's answer. She could think of nothing to add.



OOC: I didn't describe how the brooch fit Sophia or how heavy it is because I didn't know if that was for me to determine.

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"Indeed, my lady," the shopkeeper replied to Sophia. "They are both of very rare materials. Not just any fur or chess set but something which will make others' eyes wide with jealousy."


The shopkeeper pointed to a bronze-framed mirror decorated with mermaids. With Sophia's bosom pushing out the top of her dress, it was not as easy to see the detail of the brooch to full effect because of the angle it was forced to sit on the fabric. The top far forward from the bottom. Her height did not truly help either, for most eyes were at an angle far above her own. It was still very becoming.


"Rabelais is a humanist with a rather, erm, bawdy side. The work is a novel and has much gore and crude vulgarity. It is more, I think, something a gentleman would enjoy." Or perhaps he simply did not know these two ladies very well!


"Middleton would be familiar to an Englishwoman," he said tentatively. "He was quite the playwright. Along lines with Johnson and Shakespeare. The Archbishop of Canterbury of the time ordered it publicly burned during his attach of the satirical verse and prose."


(OOC - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gargantua_and_Pantagruel - Rabelais...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcynicon:_Six_Snarling_Satires - Middleton)

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Nicolette recalled Sophia's 'haggling' strategy, and understood her to be on track.


Meanwhile she (who'd blown any scheme when she'd purchased the shrunken head without any mention of money at all) now was at a liberty to shop on whim.


And the brooch. Oolala!


"We had wondered to sharing it maybe." Nicolette confessed to the Shopkeeper as Sophia moved in front of the mirror. A mirror, that now noticed, was rather fine also. "But how can a piece like that be shared?" it was far to much of a personal statement. Outlandish at that, some would say Gaudy.


Nicolette could tell that Sophia wanted it for herself also. "Do you think Lord T... ah, the gentleman will like it though?" Nicolette almost gave away Sophia's identity then, but caught herself in the nick of time!


As to the books, Nicolette nibbled her lower lip, her eyes sliding to the side to view Sophia's expression upon them. "Perhaps you are right, better for a lady to purchase something prettier, like that mirror there." She strategically said.


Nicolette was tickled pink of the outing, having already bought the thing she'd truly wanted - though a cannon for Arthur, miniatures for Francis, and a book for Lord Buckingham too would be nice. And, she actually might buy the mirror for Louis as a tease of his vanity -- he'd be still laughing as he received the giant bill (wouldn’t he?).

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Her husband didn't seem like the type that would want to make others envious, but surely he would appreciate such an extravagant gift. If he invited friends over to play chess, they would be impressed and appreciate his good taste.


Sophia admired the mirror as she stepped in front of it. It was beautiful, but the mermaids reminded her too much of water. She already had a full-length mirror in her bedchamber, but it was much simpler in design.


She forgot all about water when she saw her reflection. The brooch didn't fit perfectly because of the size of her bosom. Her large breasts had once embarrassed her until she had discovered that gentlemen adored them and that they made ladies jealous. During the last year, she had seen them as an asset, but now she wished they were smaller. There was a large gap between the octopus and her torso because it did not conform to her body. Still she thought it looked magnificent and she was more determined than ever to have it.


“We could still share it,” Sophia told her friend. “It will look different on you than it does on me. It might even start a trend. Other ladies might split the cost of jewelry and take turns wearing it.”


She was glad that Nicolette caught herself before she revealed Esteban's identity. “I think he would like it.” In truth, he might consider it gaudy but Juan would love it. She imagined showing it to him while wearing nothing else. The petite Baroness didn't consider that there would be no way to fasten it upon her bare skin.


A book of banned plays sounded intriguing, but not as much as the octopus. “Do you have any other mirrors?” she asked. “Or more fascinating pieces of jewelry?” Although she didn't mind sharing the brooch, if Nicolette found something she liked better, she could have the bejeweled octopus all to herself.


"And how much for this brooch?"

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