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An unexpected visit [Dec 30th, late morn]- Xmas 1677

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The Mansion of Buckingham

At the end of the Pall Mall street, wedged between St. James Park and St. James Square, stood a large mansion… the Buckingham mansion as it was now known was drawn up of fine white marble and sandstone, with clear Baroque geometry. Inside cherubs in a blue sky was fitted over the white plaster. Each room held a different color and nothing was short of lavish. The mansion was square, but inside the servants still had the habit to refer to the left as the west and right as the east wing; the west wing dedicated to the Duke's chambers, and the east wing deserted for he had send his wife to her father in the country, long since grown bored with her behavior which was an impediment on his fun. Paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt and Lely were displayed in the large hallway, created to impress the visitor, an enormous marble staircase drawing in the eye.


The front garden was filled with various flowers, although it was mostly greenery now. In the back, there is a long walk designed by a garden architect, so that the duke could walk and find intimacy with his private guests at every turn. A large fountain in the middle sprouted moist into the air.

It was late morning when a liveried carriage with the coat of arms of the Melville family arrived at the Duke’s grand house pulled by six dark grey horses. The wind had subsided with dawn, and the day was warmer, turning snow and ice into mush under the hoofs of the many horses passing by. As a footman opened the door for him, the Sottish viscount alighted from the carriage, thanking God for the warmth. If the day had been like last night, perhaps I would not have bothered to leave the warmth of Melville House.


The Scot was dressed in a steel-gray velvet justacorps decorated with silver thread in starburst patterns, matching breeches, and a quilted brocade waistcoat in blue and green shades. Over that ensemble, he wore a circular black velvet cloak lined with chinchilla fur. On his head was an old-style cavalier hat, a token of respect for the house he was visiting, adorned with a trio of peacock feathers in matching shades to his waistcoat.


Walking briskly, with William his manservant in tow, the military man approached the door, and knocked, as William hurriedly tried to keep pace with his master, while at the same time making sure the items he carried did not fall. KNOCK! KNOCK, KNOCK!


When the door was opened, the viscount asked, “Is Lord Kingston receiving? Please tell him that Lord Melville would like to have a word”.

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Done with his typical morning routine of sparring with Tommy, Francis had been in his rooms warming up, wiping up, and changing his shirt. When he heard a carriage outside, his thought was either that the duke had an early appointment (where some sycophant was there to talk to his uncle whilst Buckingham pedantically replied whilst dressing) or that it must be for him.


He had his man toss a justacorps on just in case.


A few moments later, this proved a prudent action as one of the servants came to tell him that a Lord Melville was hoping to be received.


Francis accompanied the servant back down the halls and down the stairs...


Meanwhile, the man at the door had invited Duncan inside to wait while he sent the servant upstairs to Francis. The house was warm and well-lit, a marker of a house that gave little care over cost for the place was quite large.


"Lord Melville, I had to come see myself if it was truly you, for I had not heard much of you of late despite thinking of our conversations quite often." Perhaps the way he said it 'conversations' came out as meaning a bit more than conversations. "Will you sit with me in the library? I find it one of the warmest rooms in the house in such abominably cold weather."

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As he was invited to come in and sit, Duncan removed his cloak and hat, offloading them to the man who opened the door. That was not everything thee man received, though. William the manservant also presented a waxed walnut case, containing two Venetian glass carafes in bright colors and stoppered with viridian colored wax. “A small token of respect for his grace”, the viscount said. The carafes contained a very fine old Armagnac from an obscure, but very reputable producer. The other, larger, item remained in William’s care. Although it was rectangular in shape, it was covered with a black muslin, so what it was was not readily apparent.


Meanwhile, the Lowlander entertained himself admiring the paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt and Lely that were displayed in the large hallway. Not only lavishness, but also extremely good taste. Perhaps I should learn from the man… The viscount had never been introduced to his grace, the Duke of Buckingham, but everybody who was anybody in King Charles’ three kingdoms knew who the duke was.


Sounds from the enormous marble staircase brought Duncan out of his reverie. It was Francis, easily keeping pace with the much shorter servant. As the duke’s cousin greeted him, Duncan bowed slightly, and smiled. “Lord Kingston, aye, it is I and not a banshee. My ancestors will not allow me to depart this world until I have a healthy heir that is well-trained to take my place. Meanwhile, I regret that you will have to suffer my existence”, the Lowlander joked, exaggerating his Scottish burr with a glint in his eye.


“The library, you say?” The viscount signaled his manservant as he got up from the chair. The man carefully gave his master the rectangular object, before bowing to both lords and stepping away. “Yes, a warm, closed library seems most appropriate to hold some conversations. Please lead on, my lord”.


Unlike their last meeting, this time the Scot caught the change in tone, and imitated it. He had had months to ponder upon Francis’ words as they ate in the Red Lion, and he was certain that the baron’s words had been loaded with more meaning than a passerby would have heard. I hope this visit throws more light on the subject, Duncan thought.

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The servant accepted the package for his master, the duke, with a nod.


After Francis arrived, he paid little attention to either servant, so did not notice the large parcel right away.


"Do all Scottish ancestors have such power, I wonder?" he asked, a quirk to his smile. His surname suggested some form of Scottish descent; little did anyone know that itwas not his proper surname and he was not Scottish at all.


"That is an ample threat of a long time of suffering." He laughed.


"Indeed, the library. The fires are extra-meticulously kept, and I think books also good insulators. I have also not long ago come in from outside." And strangely enough the library was one of his favourite places. He had an affinity for books as any might have guessed based upon his auction bids and purchases.


When they arrived at the room, Francis led the way. The library was no less magnificent than the rest of Buckingham's persona. He picked an area with chairs by the fire and sat down.


"Something to drink. The house specialty is cognac and coffee, His Grace's rendition of the Italian speciality caffe corretto. Or my version, with my blood orange brandy." Buckingham was apparently even an artisan in his morning rituals. Francis followed suit because it was expected. Buckingham was trying to give him more of a sense of carefree noblesse with a good dose of hedonism and indulgence - something that was a mark of the higher parts of English nobility. One had to sell the part, and Francis' part did not come to him wholly naturally. He had not been raised like the only grandson of a great duke, that was certain.

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“At least I hope mine do”, Duncan jokingly replied to the question about the power of Scottish ancestors. The fact that Kirke might have been a Scottish family name did not occur to him. “As for how much time, I wouldn’t mind a long and fruitful life on this earth, as long as a son or two come in the next few years”. The need to sire an heir was paramount in the lowlander’s mind, just as it was on most noblemen’s minds. “Regarding the training, I don’t know…” for a moment he remembered everything his father wanted the viscount to learn, and he never did, “… it might take a lifetime, so perhaps I will impose on you that long time of suffering, after all!” There was an amused chuckle. Kingston had been a thoroughly likeable fellow, so far.


The Scott followed Francis until they reached their destination, carrying the package himself. He trusted William, his manservant, but some words were best kept private. Although Duncan’s own library was ample and well-stocked, Buckingham’s own was on a whole different level, and he had to consciously close his mouth, lest he looked like a fool, mouth agape. I am certain that if I had the freedom to roam this library, I would find many of the answers I seek. Besides that, were she to enter it, my dear Book Mouse would not come out of this library ever! Duncan smiled at the thought of his wife. She was not beautiful, nor was she a social person, but she had a bright mind, and he had grown very fond of her with time. The fact that she had already given birth to a healthy daughter was a promise that a son or sons would come with time.


“You choose, milord. I am certain whatever you decide on will be just perfect”, the Scott replied to the question of drink. Whatever was served in Buckingham’s great house was bound to be extraordinary, of that the visitor was certain.


Before sitting, and with a bit of theatrics, the viscount continued. “What I bring, hopefully for your enjoyment, is not a Rembrant, or a Lely, as this house has so many of those, but perhaps something that will spark your interest nevertheless”. As he spoke, the lowlander removed the black muslin, revealing the painting he had acquired at auction earlier in the year. “Would this Hieronymus Bosch be a good topic of conversation this morning, my lord?”


And now to gauge his interest… and his knowledge…

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"Let us hope, my lord, for you cannot leave your friends with an unfinished product to supervise," Francis added, with a wink. Clearly considering he had two ward that had been no older than sixteen, he had experience with unfinished products!


As to the preference on drink, Francis gave a nod to the liveried servant standing at the ready. It would be Francis' preferred style then.


that was not the only thing left to surprise for that morning. Duncan unveiled the painting and Francis blinked to see it more up close. He had also bid on it, but his Scottish friend had succeeded where he had not.


"A very fine topic!" Francis replied. "Is it a Bosch, then?" His blue eyes were mesmerized, looking for any symbology.


(OOC - can you put a description up with what's established of the painting that can be seen?)

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Painting by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, depicting a fantastical painting of a pyramid with symbols carved in the pyramid.


The painting was dominated by the pyramid. It had an eye on the top and unusual symbols on the base. The background behind the pyramid was dreamlike, or perhaps a vision of horrors in the shadows. Creatures that were not human, though some were humanoid, lurked in a fuzzy backdrop. Symbols or hieroglyphs could be seen in the distance as well.


A Latin phrase was etched in a bronze plate on the base of the frame. It stated "nos es vigilo vos."* The frame was remarkably battered and made of wood. It looked to have been broken in pieces at one time.


Duncan chuckled at Francis' words and wink. "No, I can't let my friends carry that burden. Scotch lads are not the easiest". He had never been, and had not become what his own father wanted him to become.


“As for the painting, it is a Bosch, beyond a doubt,” the Lowlander stated. “And it is full of symbols I am certain mean something, but are beyond me”. Duncan could do Latin, but not Greek, or Hieroglyphs. Symbols with special meaning to secret or semisecret groups would also be beyond him, unless their meaning was clearly military.


“In my absence from London I decided I owed you to take a good look at it. Especially if it could be related to some of our… discussions. So, here it is. I have to warn you, there are things beyond what is easily seen, so this topic will take some time”. The Scot had brought the painting, but not a few things that would make their examination easier. “Do you happen to have a loupe or magnifying glass, a pair of pliers or pincers, and a small hammer? They may all be of use”.


The pliers and hammer might not be of critical importance, as Duncan and Lord Chichester had loosened the nails from the broken frame once, so they would not be that tight. Still, the tools would probably make things easier, at least. Surely Buckingham's great house would have at least one of those items in it.


* To those who read Latin, this would translate into "we are watching you"

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Francis' Latin was very good, both for having studied at Trinity and the many Georgics he had to translate as punishment there. Some of his recent book acquisitions had been in Latin, so his reading was quite fresh. His Greek was less capable. Much of the reason to read Greek was theological in nature, and as Francis had never been destined for a clergy life, he had not used it as much after university.


"It is an intriguing piece. Do you know the wisdom 'something which is more than the sum of it's parts'?" Francis asked, exhaling something of a concentrated sigh.


If it was related to freemasonry and on a scale large enough to involve foreigners too, which generally necessitated other societies of esoteric or alchemical philosophy being involved, then it would likely require not just a mason to solve it but more than one of them. Or a particular sort of Master. In that way, both the message and the ascertaining of it were more than just the sum of its parts.


Nobody codes something in a painting for something trivial. But any number of religious sects also used codes and symbology too. Francis began looking at it more closely to see what he could glean.


"I assume you've translated the basics of the Latin?" He raised a brow.

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Duncan pondered the first question for a moment. Surprisingly, he found his recollection did come from Greek. "Synergos, the Greek word?" The thought came from his religious upbringing. "Laboring together for a greater end? The concept appears in the New Testament several times..." The painting did not look like a Biblical depiction, unless it was from the Revelation of Saint John, regarding the end of the world. No, I don't think Lord Kingston has biblical concepts in mind... The Lowlander was not sure where Francis was coming from, but Eschatology was most probably not it. Besides, the other man had not seen everything that was to be seen, at least not yet...


As the viscount pondered the matter further, there was a second question. That one was more straightforward. "Yes, that at least was easy: we are watching you. The we speaks to me as either a group, or several groups. A mystery to me, at least up to now".


The Scot grew silent, letting the blonde lord examine the painting at leisure. Once his host finished with his examination, he added in a conspiratorial tone: "and if we remove the frame, you will see even more symbols, which are the ones I have been doing some research on". Duncan did not move towards the painting, though, letting Kingston lead. He had already had his moment of discovery a few months before, and he was not going to ruin the experience for the man in front of him.

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"A good thought, yes, but not particularly what I was thinking about. I was thinking more in the natural philosophy than the theology," Francis replied. "The emergent pieces, transmutation if you will."


Even saying that was perhaps a little too far into the realm of alchemy than he should plainly speak - the religious belief of the time could easily have him labeled an atheist for such interests, which was nearly as bad as a Papist in the wrong hands. Not to mention such interests could also signal an involvement with con-men making coins, a severely punished offense in any country. The actual use of alchemical practices in England was by Royal Warrant only to avoid any such charlatan practices in conflict with the Mint.


"For example, a soul is emergent. It is more than the sum of what are bodies are composed of, but the soul is linked or comes out of our physical bodies and is greater that just our body." It was the safest way he could think of to speak of such things, couching it in religion. "Water changes form. Earth changes form. All that is emergent."


Emergence and Transmutation were such central concepts within the group and could be used in puzzle-like manners with logic or symbols or anything really, in order to make a message. The message became more than what it physically seemed to be made of and that protected whatever needed to be cyphered from much outside tampering.


"The message, if there is one, is likely also more than the sum of what is observed by the eye. it would require a knowledge set." And he thought that before he even knew there was more hidden. As he had when speaking to his uncle of Hobbes, his mind had already gone to where things might be hidden within the makings of the piece. "There are many symbols, and symbols have more than one meaning. As, likely, does the Latin. Vigilo may not just be watching...the Latin is just as related to the English words vigilant or even vigil which can carry a meaning differently; who knows what words the Hollanders have coming from that root in Latin."


Francis' Dutch was extremely limited. As in limited to what he had learned in spending some of their exile time there: mostly the vocabulary of a 5 year old, food, and naval commands. It was not going to help them if it was related to anything Dutch.


As soon as the servant returned with their special coffees, he would ask about the tools.


"What have you made of it all thus far?"

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At the mention of transmutation, Duncan raised his left eyebrow. In certain circles, the word would conjure up images of witch hunters, torture, and death. Thankfully Duncan, precisely because he was a devout Presbyterian, was also a man versed in tidbits of history that were not of interest to most people, even to those that attended Oxford, Cambridge, or St. Andrews. Transmutation, to him, had a spiritual meaning, not a physical one.


“Don’t sell theology short, Lord Kingston. Roger Bacon thought that both alchemy and astrology were important parts of both natural philosophy and theology, and both should be taught in university. Nicolas Flamel was known for his work on the Philosopher’s Stone. Robert Boyle is rumoured to be as interested in alchemy as he is generous funding the spread of Christianity in the East, contributing liberally to missionary societies and to the expenses of translating the Bible or portions of it into various languages”. That was safe, somewhat. That was what others thought. But how to phrase his own interest? “Personally, I see the search for the Philosopher’s Stone as the search of that which will turn base metal, namely me, into precious gold, namely a person of much higher quality. Sadly, my search has just begun, and all I have is a hunger that I can't satisfy, because I know not where to satisfy it”.


The Lowlander listened to Francis attentively. He had been able to read a bit here, a bit there, but the men and books that would have taught him what he sought had been unavailable to him. He assented slowly, drinking it all in.


“The Book of Psalms says that the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. That is, to me, a good enough reason to study both astronomy, and astrology. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe Knox was a great man, who understood things I may never be able to…” the viscount didn’t even notice that what he had just said would put him in a very difficult position if it was repeated outside the walls of the library they were in, “… but I also believe that no man can know the whole of Truth…”


And then the blond Villiers continued, this time about the message that was contained in the painting, and how to decipher it. “'We stand watch over you', then? Yes, it is possible. Or any number of other meanings, I guess”. The Scot sighed. “I don’t have the training nor the resources to know what the painting is trying to tell us. Perhaps someone you know, can help us?”


It was true. Duncan had not been able to make any sense of the symbology in the painting. “A very shallow message could be something in the order of ‘we are watching over you so that you don’t fall into anarchy’, or something like that, but to be able to find the true meaning of the painting, I am at a total loss…”


The viscount paused, closing in and taking a detailed look at the symbols, colors, shapes, and relative sizes of objects in the painting. Had he overlooked anything in his previous examinations of the work?


“What I have been focusing on is another message that the painting carries, one you will be able to see when we remove the frame, as it was added much more recently and, if I am correct, it was added here in London. The frame itself I have not examined, although we should, I think. And there are also numbers in the back, see?”


Duncan turned the painting over, so Francis could see it.


The back of the canvas, in charcoal, contained three numbers: 3, 33, and 9 stacked one upon the other inside a square. Nothing else was apparent.
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"Oh I do not sell it short," he agreed, though distracted by looking at the painting.


In between his eyes shifting from here to there, he replied, "From what I have found, there is no force which betters you but yourself, but you must seek to do so." Which was true. "As you are and as God asks us as well," he pointed out.


"Apropos as well, for truth is in the seeking." His voice was not concentrated, proving that his mind was also wondering heavily over the painting.


Duncan turned it around and revealed more information. It also happened to be information recently familiar to Francis.


"A book I was recently rereading spoke of the squares of the order 3 through 9*. It was Agrippa, from the same auction." He left out that they were called magic squares. "33 is a number of significance to many. It is considered the Master number, the most powerful of numbers," Francis replied. Considering 33 was of particular significance to any freemason, Francis surely knew what it meant. It was one of the first things learned within their rite...along with 11 and 22.


(OOC - he mentioned rereading it earlier in the season, and that is, ironically, in the Agrippa book.)

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Duncan smiled. Francis was so focused on the painting, that the young lord seemed to hardly pay attention to anything the lowlander had said. Perhaps it is best that was. I may have said far too much, at least for now…


But then the few words the Villiers scion spoke actually made sense. It was just that the man was totally engaged with the painting. The Philosopher’s Stone, in a very real sense, was inside all men. It was the task of a lifetime to find it and put it to good use, though.


“Aye. Truth is much more of a journey, than a destination”. There was not much more that could be said.


And then came the comments regarding the scribbles on the back of the painting. “Mathematical puzzles then, designed to test the acuteness of a man’s mind?” Although Lord Kingston’s mention that 33 was the master number drew a puzzled look from the Scottish viscount. “There is so much I see, but don’t yet understand. It doesn’t make me angry, you know. It makes me hungry”. Perhaps Francis would understand what he was talking about, perhaps not. But Duncan had dropped his façade and his thoughts were being voiced plainly.


“What you have seen so far remains a mystery to me. What is yet to be revealed I think I have a few worthy thoughts on, though…”


Still, the black-haired Lowlander waited. Let him enjoy it, savour it, just as it should be. I now consider the small fortune I paid for the painting a worthy price, as it is obvious it will lead in at least one, probably more, interesting directions.



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Francis looked for other hidden clues in the painting. Every little bit of it would need to be examined for elusive figures or symbols. Many things were used as symbols within certain circles.


He was busy looking for an owl as Melville spoke.


"The squares are used for different meanings. Knowing which one is the challenging bit. The painting might not refer to the squares at all. If it did, it could be planetary," he revealed. The squares corresponded to all the planets, each representing a different one. "But, yes, the squares are mathematical puzzles of a sort. Very difficult to make." His mind trailed to his friend Newton, who was far superior to any in such realms.


"It might refer to the numbers contained therein, as easily as to a symbolic meaning, which would mean constructing squares of 3 and 9 and then seeing if there is any information therein which could be important to the message."


Francis was mostly speaking out loud. He was careful but not too careful, as both Cumberland and his uncle had expressed interest in Melville asking about freemasons.


Could this be related to Hobbes' disappearance and death? he suddenly wondered.


Francis did not have the squares' contents memorized. He was, in fact, not a gentleman who had ever done transmutation experiments. It was all more theory to him than actual practice, although he knew the duke had a mobile lab and was experienced in such things.

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Duncan fell silent for a bit. It was plain to see that Francis knew much more than he did, and was looking for things the Lowlander wouldn’t know to look for. The more Kingston examined the painting, the more the viscount was certain he had made the right decision to bring it to him.


“Planetary? Interesting!” Of all the topics that had come up in Duncan’s reading, astronomy and astrology were the ones that had sparked the most interest. “The skies and their contents are of interest to me. I intend to study them as time permits. I do need to find the appropriate books first, though, or find someone to teach me. Perhaps you have a suggestion?” The Scot was a wealthy man, which allowed him his leisure, but he also had responsibilities. Some he could delegate, and he hardly interfered with Sir Cedric’s decisions in the running of Horizon Ventures, but some he had to tend to himself. The regiment, for example, needed a share of his time. Still, he was sure he could make the time to learn about those topics.


“Anything of note you have been able to find in your examination?”

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  • 2 weeks later...

Their drinks arrived, pleasantly hot. The orange brandy brought a sweetness to the coffee naturally, and it was accented by a bit of cream.


Francis sent the servant off to get tools to examine the frame.


"I am sure that I could provide some suggestions. I have always liked such things and sea voyages are boring without reading material," Francis said. His blue eyes momentarily moved over the room, and then as if he realized he had done it and wanted to be less obvious, looked back at Melville. The duke would know far more about such things than Francis, but he wished to see the whole thing and put his own take on it before seeking his uncle's interest in the piece.


"I likely have some in my own library which you could read." He could not give his permission for this vast place, and he had no idea how forthcoming the duke was with such privileges. Surely not without cost of some kind.


"Hmm...so far, I think it surely has alchemical meaning, and the frame markings are certainly masonic. The purpose of which I am not sure."


Thankfully, the servant arrived with the necessary supplies for Francis to see the rest.*


(*MA )

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Duncan sipped from the cup. The coffee was not only strong and hot, but also pleasantly spiked with fruit brandy and adorned with thick, sweet, cream. I must say Kingston has hit something here… something that might catch on… Duncan was already considering purchasing a case of the man’s signature brandy. “Delicious, my lord! I have added whisky to coffee before, but never fruit brandy. It is simply superior!”


I wonder what other flavoured liqueurs would go well with coffee…


Regarding the books, the Lowlander smiled and nodded thankfully. “I would be much obliged if you were to lend me a book or two. In exchange, you are welcome to everything I have, and everything I get my hands on. My library is well stocked, but is poor on the topic. I ought to fix that”.


When the servant arrived, Duncan repeated the process that had been done before, carefully removing the broken frame pieces. This time though, he examined each one of them closely, before passing them to Francis. “Last time I did not check the frame itself, only the painting. Let’s see if there is anything the frame itself wants to tell us…”


After that examination was finished, the painting itself was finally exposed. It was now easy to see the symbols that Chichester and Melville had discovered under the white paint that had been hastily applied to about an inch on all four borders.


Along the top of the painting, in an elegant script was the English word Colllgiate. The left edge had four letters vertically YHVH. The right edge held no lettering, but revealed only a Templar cross. The bottom edge had two symbols: the symbol on the left had crossed keys. The symbol on the right was of three purses within a shield. Each purse had a symbol on it. The symbol appeared to be a square standing on its corner with an X through the middle.

“This is what I have been pondering upon. I have my theory about what the symbols mean, but I would like to know your thoughts… you seem far better informed than I in these matters”.


Once again, the viscount stepped back, so that Lord Kingston could take a good look.

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"I fear I cannot take the credit, my friend, for it was the Italians who introduced me to it, and even His Grace was already drinking it before I was abruptly added to his court life. He spent much of his youth there with his brother during the wars. I can only claim to have added that particular brandy."


He had taken an awkward sip before he said 'his brother' for his mind sometimes still forgot that the duke's brother was his father and was startled by being reminded of it when he spoke of the pair.


"I am glad that you like it though. Let us hope it sharpens my wits for this perusal!" He chuckled, fairly eager to further see what surprises the painting held.


"Then we will both benefit from the offer." Francis always liked books. They had been a commodity when he had been a boy in exile, and perhaps that had helped lead to his affinity.


He waited with patience as the frame was separated from the canvas, then he leaned forward and got very close to each individual symbol, nodding with some wonder.


"These are mostly familiar. I am sure they are somewhat to you as well," Francis commented. They were religious, at least on the surface.


He got up close to the keys and tried to see if they were colored differently or had any other differences. If one was gold and one silver, it was very masonic*, and a thing which linked all these numbers and symbols began to form in his mind. He did not understand what it meant, but he had a concept which unified them together, rightly or wrongly.


"YHVH is, well, some call it the Tetragrammation. It can denote something powerful. It is associated with 10 and the power of life, the fabric of organization of everything. It is what Jews yet use as the secret name of God." Not that it was a secret, per se, but it was not a word they went around using. "Each letter also has it's own name and meaning, sacred masculine and sacred feminine being one." Not to mention sun and moon and many, many other things.


"These are all masonic and alchemical as well and can have many meanings. Xs particularly have a multitude of meanings, from 6 or 10, to the triple X meaning 666. These all have a message together, though, not separately."


He made some more hmm noises.


"There are planetary allusions here but plenty other allusions as well. The squares I spoke of earlier...One can be rendered as the Tetragrammation, but that is far beyond me. Messages can surely be hidden even within those, like a cypher."


He further hmmed and then said, "The keys can be planetary, philosophical, or symbolic of the certain religious things. The cross as well." The keys and cross were both symbols of the Temple of Solomon, but he did not feel quite right disclosing that.


"Perhaps I should see if His Grace is awake. He would wish to see this, I think," he said looking back at Melville. He wondered what the Scot had made of it all.


(OOC - Can I get a mod call on the color of the keys if that hasn't been covered?)

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“Well, this brandy makes the drink. That is certain”. Duncan sipped from his cup contentedly. It was truly a refined and delicious drink.


The Lowlander did not know much about the Duke’s brother. He knew what everyone knew, he guessed, that the man had died in the service of his king. That, in the Scot’s eyes, was enough to rank him quite high on his personal scale.


“May you become sharp as Toledo steel, then!” This was said with a half grin and a twinkle in his eye. “Because there are so many possibilities, as you will see...”


Talk of books was soon forgotten, as the two noblemen focused on the painting.


“I see no less than two distinct messages here. The first, and most apparent of course is in the painting itself, in all its symbols. But then, the scribbles found under the white paint talk to me of a second, later message, one that probably was hidden much later, and with some haste, if the sloppy application off the painting and the state of the frame are any indication”.


The military man fell silent until Francis finished his explanation. Some of it he at least recognized from his reading, but most of it went right over his head. “As close as I have ever gotten to Alchemy is to learn that the best way to make gunpowder includes, besides charcoal, saltpetre, and sulphur, a number of merry, red wine-drinking monks that urinate on the mix as it is ground. That is a very practical, and useful, application, but I know not the notation that is taught along with the art”.


Duncan did not shy away from Alchemy itself, as alchemists were often contracted by the elite for practical purposes related to mining, medical services, and the production of chemicals, medicines, metals, and synthetic gemstones. Alchemists were a reclusive and secretive sort, however, probably due to simple self-preservation. Thus, he had seen a bit if their work, but had never been taken into their confidence.


Thus, the viscount’s interpretation of the symbols had been much more mundane. “I believe I may have three of the symbols figured out, perhaps even a fourth…” a pause to sip some more coffee, which he had loved since the first sip. “YHVH, as you say, is the Hebrew word for God, unpronounceable, they say”. The Scot started moving his finger counter clockwise. “The keys, which may represent the keys of St. Peter…” his finger continued moving, “the shield of Saint Mathew…” the finger did not change speed, “the Templar cross…” his finger stopped as it found the word written at the top, “and the word Colllgiate”.


“This is what I think, although after everything you have said, I fear that I may be utterly wrong…” another pause for coffee. “The Tretragrammaton points us to the Creechurch Lane Synagogue in the East End, the keys may, and I stress may, point us to the church of St Peter le Poer, the shield to the church of St. Matthew on Friday Street, and the cross points us to The Temple. I have no idea what colllgiate means, though, unless the third l should be an e instead. Then we would be looking for some sort of institution of higher learning, I guess”.


It had taken long nights and some research to come to that conclusion, a conclusion that could be totally incorrect. Still… “and I believe that either by searching those five places, or the centre point surrounded by them, we would find whatever the real intended message was…”


That was what made Duncan lose sleep. The answer to that nagging question: what was hidden in the points and/or the centre?


Standing up, and taking a step back, the Lowlander added, “I think we need a map of London. Would His grace happen to have one? And yes, please ask him if he would care to join us. His council in this regard would be much appreciated”.

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Melville had far more time to analyze and think about the meaning of the whole thing. Francis was merely running through what the symbols meant in their raw value. The symbols themselves were very much associated with, well, transmutation, and they were all key masonic symbols.


"Places, hmm," Francis considered. He nodded, "They could be places. And there surely could be multiple messages here."


The types of locations made sense, as did where Melville put the locations. They did, indeed, need a map. He idly wondered if they would find the locations linked by either alchemic geometry, Masonic symbology, or religious symbology. If it was about locations, how the locations came together would be important, so he suspected they might find some such thing.


"Colllgiate..." Francis thought about that word and the multiple 'l's. "Latin has connotations to colleagues or fellows too. It could be a college that has a significance with the number three." He paused. "Like Trinity." He scratched at what little blond facial hair he had on his chin. "But, wait...Melville, I am surprised this did not come to your mind for it is in Scotland, but what of the Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew*?"


It was a place of Masonic significance, whether Melville was aware or not.


"But, yes, let me go and see if the duke is available, for he would know the best map to use for such purposes."


After listening to what Melville had to say of this latest thought, Francis went himself to solicit his uncle, heading back upstairs and to the rooms of the duke.


(OOC - This would come to one day be known as Roslynn Chapel )

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Oblivious to Francis’ train of thought, which would have marveled the Scot if he had but known, Duncan focused on the premise he had been working on, places in the East End and thereabouts. Yet, the mention of the chapel in Lothian brought him out of his introspection.


“The Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew? That is the Sinclair chapel, is it not? It is but miles from Melville Castle!”. The Sinclairs, like the Melvilles, were an old Scoto-Norman family. They used to be the Saint Claires and the Mallevilles, but that spelling had not been used for a long time. Both families had lived in the Lowlands for centuries.


Was that a coincidence? Or was his friend’s geographical knowledge of Scotland that keen and the Lowlander was being ribbed? “George Sinclair, the 6th Earl of Caithness died last year. The Civil War bankrupted him. He was practically my neighbour, and the chapel was under his care. I think his successor is a Campbell, though". A pity if they had to search the chapel, as Duncan was not as friendly with the new earl.


Although a reference so close to his home was more than welcome, the Lowlander failed to see the relationship with the word colllgiate in the context of their discussion.


“I think we must look closer to the other four, if I am correct in their identity, that is. what about Gresham College? It is an institution of higher learning, after all”. Unknown to the viscount, Gresham did have its ties with Masonry too, just like the chapel.


For a second, the Scot closed his eyes, feeling a bit dizzy. Thankfully, the sensation passed immediately. Still, being as discrete as possible, he used the back of the nearest chair to prop himself, just in case. “I promise not to leave with the painting while you are away, Kingston. Your coffee is too good to do such a thing! Do go and ask His Grace if he can spare the time. Perhaps this little mystery will amuse him”.

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  • 2 weeks later...

There were things all masons learned. How to indicate oneself. How to relay distress. Places to go that were safe. All such things had helped any number of cavaliers during the wars. There was an obligation to one's fellows.


Places in Scotland had been historical safe grounds. It was therefore difficult to explain how he might know of the chapel. Perhaps his Kirke surname could be an explanation even though he was no Scot at all.


"I cannot claim to know either," Francis confessed, of either Scottish lord.


"Perhaps you are right and it is locations much closer."


He chuckled when Melville said he would not leave in the meantime. "Make yourself comfortable. Or peruse if you like." He trusted he need not say to be careful of handling any books whilst drinking.


He left Melville in the library and went to seek the duke himself. He headed back upstairs and to the duke's side of the house. As Buckingham was generally a later riser, Francis hoped to find him in the bedchamber or having just left it.

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It was no surprise to the Lowlander that Francis knew not Melville Castle's previous and new neighbours in Lothian. Even with the Kirk family name, Kingston had always felt so English to the viscount, that the name was never really considered Scotch.


Duncan was relieved that his momentary dizzy spell was not noticed by his friend. Then, when the blond lord left, the Scot simply sat on the chair. He would have wanted to search for a book on astronomy or astrology, but he did not wish to tempt fate. Lord, give me strength. Do not let the ague hit me this winter, I pray.


The viscount’s thoughts drifted to his home and family as he sipped the delectable coffee. Mother, how is winter treating you? Ophelia, Ellen, how are you, loved ones? I wish you were in London with me, but it would have been unwise. Perhaps in the fall… Ellen would still be too young in the spring, and the summer vapors are not healthy in London… His mind then drifted from Lothian to Fife. Beatrice, dear sister, how is life treating you? I did the best I could. Balcarres is both an earl, and a Scotch. Your eldest soon will be a peer. I could not give you more than that. Perhaps a younger son of a marquis, or even a duke, could have been in the cards, but that would not have given Beatrice's eldest son a title, unless the father acquired one for himself.


There was a smile on the Lowlander’s lips as he thought about his family. God willing, he would have a son in a year or two, and then the pressure of siring an heir would subside. The Presbyterian lord had always thought that if you did your duty to God, king, and family, reward was the only logical conclusion, and an heir would be part of that. I know I ask for much, my Lord, but could he come sooner, rather than later? These are… interesting times…


And thus he passed the time, a lone figure in one of the best appointed libraries of the realm…

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The keys had been a single color.


The Duke was found, complaining how cold it was in the house that morning, as was often the case. The servants had built up the fire in his library's fireplace to a roaring level. He had moved his writing desk closer as he penned a few notes to start the morning. There were pieces moving on the chessboard and he could not afford to be negligent with his instructions.


It was in this state that Francis found him, dressed but encumbered by a heavy robe. "Did I hear we have a guest?" Buckingham asked with a quiet voice.

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Francis opened his mouth to say good-morning to the duke, but Buckingham asked about their guest before he could do so.


"Indeed, we do. Lord Melville, who I mentioned to you some months back," Francis said. "He has brought that painting that I saw at the auction."


Now that he had primed the duke's memory, he added, "It is masonic and alchemical, but aside from knowing the symbols, I'm no mind to ascertain a meaning or message."

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"Melville and a Masonic painting," he offered aloud with a feigned look of inner reflection. "Well, I would say that alternative is more attractive than the one I am facing now." Holding a letter aloft in one hand, George proclaimed "the Steward of He,lmsley reports that a wall is in serious danger of collapse and that he needs 500 pounds to restore it. Three months ago it was the stable in need of rennovation." he sighed at the expense of things. It was not that he could not afford such expenditures; rather, he was merely annoyed by the constant stream of requests for money. That was a problem with having so many estates.


"Come, let us meet with Melville and show me this painting," he urged as he took to his feet and pulled the robe tightly around him, expecting Francis to lead the way and make the introductions.

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Francis chuckled at the duke's proclamation.


"Well, it is older, is it not?" he asked, smiling. Since that had been the estate the duke had offered to gift him (which he had politely deferred), Francis knew it was far north and from one of the original baronies. He inferred that meant the buildings were likely old as well, or at least had old sections.


"Though you don't think the frequent requests mean things are mismanaged?" he asked as they walked into the hall. Buckingham was used to living like a prince, but Francis was not; he was more naturally suspicious, having had to deal with coin far more and on far more strenuous terms.


Not to mention if the duke was going to leave him something one day, Francis would rather there be some of it left!


In a few minutes, they were back down on the main floor and joining Lord Melville.


"Your Grace, my friend Lord Melville and the painting in question," he said, by way of introduction. "We are having coffee and brandy, would you like some?" he added to the duke.

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Trying his luck, the viscount rose slowly to his feet, and took a couple of cautious steps. Nothing. It seemed like his previous dizzy spell had been just that, a passing moment. Relieved, he placed the cup on the table, and looked again at the frame pieces, examining them closely. Was there anything he had missed before? Or was it just coincidence that the broken frame had not been replaced with a new one. With that particular painting, many things were possible.


He kept looking closely at each piece, feeling them with his hand, smelling them even, one by one, trying… even hoping… to find something unusual.


It did not take a long time for Francis to get back to the library, this time with the Duke of Buckingham in tow, the man tightly wrapped in a heavy robe. Duncan got up as soon as he heard Kingston introduce him, and bowed formally to the Duke, maintaining the bow a moment more than necessary. The Scotch was, after all, in front of a living legend.


“Your Grace…”


I wonder, is he one of those I seek? Kingston seems to be, but if Buckingham is too, then the group is far more powerful than I had realized… Was that bad? The viscount did not think so. Question is, will they want to accept me, a mere Scotch viscount? Also, do I want to belong to a group made up of such people? It was no surprise for the Lowlander that the answer to his last question was an emphatic yes!

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"Fear not," George waved away his nephew's concern, "I always have a man watching the steward, and one more just to be sure." Every lord suffered from mismanagement or embezzlement at some point in their tenure. It was the experienced ones that put safeguards in place. "I have always enjoyed Helmsley, but it is ancient. Perhaps I enjoy it because of that," he pondered aloud as they walked down the hallway together.


Introduced to Melville, Buckingham gave a small nod of greeting. "Good morning Lord Melville." On the subject of refreshment the Duke instructed the servant "heavy on the coffee and light on the brandy." The servant moved away to fulfill that wish.


"Now then, let us see this painting of yours," Buckingham declared as he moved to the canvas for inspection. During Duncan's wait for the Duke's arrival, nothing else became apparent.


It was a good three minutes that the Duke studied the painting and turned the frame to examine all sides. The coffee arrived while he was studying the painting.


"Bosch paints a dream," Buckingham speculated. "There are references here to alchemy and the Philosopher's Stone." He pointed to some symbols in the painting. "There is the dream of the Knights Templar." He pointed to the Templar Cross. "St. Matthew could be a reference to Templar gold or to a location, likely in Scotland." He did not offer anything more specific on the location. "The reference to watching is also one of a dream I should think. That is why the painting is so surreal I think. It is intended to portray a different reality." By his casual demeanor, he did not seem overly excited by the painting. "If Bosch had been an Englishman, surely the grail would be depicted as well."

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Buckingham pointed out the same generalization that Francis had; that it was alchemical in nature.


"Complete with halo, illumination, and cherubs," Francis added to the duke's statement on the English grail symbology, chuckling.


"Melville knows St. Matthews, it is not far from his estate," the younger blond offered, purposefully leaving out that he had prompted that part of the discussion. He had not, however, mentioned its ties to freemasonry. So far as Melville knew for sure, he had only mentioned it because of the link between the symbols and misspelled collegiate. "We had spoken of it before I came to you, Sir."


He left it for Duncan to speak of his thoughts of closer locations.

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