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Prone Perusal | 31/12, a bit after noon, open- Xmas 1677

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Banqueting Hall


The ceiling was painted by Rubens on orders of King James I, grandfather to King Charles II.


The subject of the middle panel is the Apotheosis of James I. Justice is raising the King, who is shown holding a sceptre, with one foot on a globe and the other on the wing of a flying eagle, which is grasping a thunderbolt in its talons. In attendance are figures representing Zeal, Religion, Honour and Victory. Above the King are cherubs with the crown and orb, and others are blowing trumpets.


The large south panel represents the King, seated on a throne within an architectural composition, and pointing to Peace and Plenty embracing on his right. Angels support a laurel wreath over his head and a cherub behind him carries the crown. On his left Minerva, holding a thunderbolt in her right hand and a shield in her left, is driving Rebellion; who holds a flaring torch, down to Hell, where Satan, attended by monsters, awaits him. Mercury is pointing with his caduceus to his downfall.


The large north panel is an allegorical representation of the birth and crowning of Prince Charles I. The King is seated on his throne, holding the orb, and pointing with his sceptre to Prince Charles (a nude infant figure), who is attended by two draped females, of whom one, who is crowned, may be intended for the Queen. Behind is Minerva, who is holding a crown over the prince. The background shows an architectural composition, with a domed coffered ceiling. In the upper part of the picture two cherubs support a crowned cartouche, bearing the Stuart arms, with garlands of roses.


The two oval panels at the south end of the ceiling represent Royal Bounty, pouring, from a cornucopia, crowns, emblems and medals, and trampling on Avarice; and Government, holding a bridle, and trampling on Rebellion.


Two similar panels at the north end represent Hercules (Heroic Virtues) clubbing Envy; and Minerva (Heroic Chastity) with a spear destroying Lust. Above her is a flying owl holding a wreath.


On each side of the large central panel are long oblong panels. That on the east side shows a procession of cherubs, with a chariot laden with fruit and drawn by a ram and a wolf, the former ridden by an infant Bacchus. In front is a cherub riding a tiger, preceded by other cherubs carrying a huge cornucopia of fruit, the whole representing the Peace and Plenty of King James's reign. The other panel is supposed to represent the Harmony and Happiness of the reign, and contains gambolling cherubs on a rope of fruit which issues from a chariot drawn by a lion and a bear. Cherubs are loading up the chariot with a huge cornucopia of fruit. The lion has a cherub on his back tickling his ear, while another in front is drawing his teeth.


The scale of the figures in the whole composition is extraordinary, the cherubs being more than 9 feet high.


After her enlightening but somewhat disappointing tea with Ellen Doolittle, Sophia felt the need for a little distraction. Viewing the beautiful and detailed painting on the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall sounded quite appealing, and so when her carriage dropped her off at the palace, she headed in that direction, followed as always by Anna and Karl. Glancing up at the overcast sky, she pulled her cloak of silver fox fur closer around her. It was not the best day to be out, but hopefully, it would be warmer in the Hall.


She was surprised to find the door open, and as she limped inside, she left it ajar. The cavernous room was empty, but by the scent of soap and polish, servants had recently been tidying up. Perhaps they had stopped for lunch and would be back when they were done.


Moving to the center of the hall, Sophia looked upwards, as awed by the lovely work of art as she had been when she had first seen it. Unfortunately, after a few minutes, her neck began to ache. Her injured ankle pained her a bit as well. With a little sigh, she lowered her head and turned her head from side to side and then up and down.


As her eyes fell to the floor, an idea occurred to her. A grin turned up the corners of her lips and she sank to the ground, lying flat upon her back. There. Now she could see the ceiling perfectly and she was in no pain at all. Soon she was absorbed was she in the gorgeous depiction of angels and cherubs, gods, goddesses, lions and bears and kings.


Her hair fanned out around her, her arms were by her sides, and her eyes were wide open. She had no idea how she might look to anyone who saw the door open and decided to venture in from the cold.

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Disappoinment wraped itself about her small frame much like the fur she actually wore.


Gone to the Portrait Gallery in the hopes of finding another missive but there had been nothing - well in all Truth it should have be herself leaving a reply first - but she had fallen asleep in that room and so was made late for her own rendevouz so nothing had been placed behind the Portrait.


To counter her hurt she kept walking and was soon in the long hallway that linked the Great Hall to the Banqueting House and familiar enough with its composition knew this was the North side and there was bound to be others' about equally idle in their constitutions.


She ran a gloved hand along the rail her eyes going up to the ceilings where such Magnificence was laid bare for all to see and hummed a careless tune. The air was perfumed with soap and herbs and she suppose that the Ball might well be held in this place for oft times things like that were rather than in the Great Hall.


She looked about surprised to see it was empty. But then she spied the lone figure sprawled out as if making an Angel in snow and her soft leather boots made hardly a sound but the swish of her cranberry silk skirts banded with three inches of black velvet might be noticeable.


She came close enough and was able to see who it was. Quietly she approached asking


"Are you in need of aid Baroness Toledo? Shall I call out for help?"


Her brown eyes looked down with concern at the other woman yet there was curiosity there as well. Was she perhaps rehearsing for some new performance? Why else might she be placed thusly? She looked about but saw no sign of fellow 'Actors'.


She had, much like everyone at Court, heard of the Opera and she herself had been witness to that show of behavior that had been quite shocking and so some pre-formed impression was already in place. Was she truly of such lose morsals as many claimed? Was she really another of the King's many Lovers?


Yet she was also the new made wife of the Spanish Ambassador to this Court and HE was a bit terrifying in all his Darkness both in attire and mood so how was it possible for All of the things said to be true?


"I am Lady Frances Cavendish and I wonder how I might help."

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Having come in from the firing range, Douglas had shed his heavy cloak and was wandering through the halls, thinking of a fire to warm his toes before and whether or not it might also have company to keep him entertained. There was only one way to find out.


The Banquetting Hall could be a short cut if you knew where to go and had a Life Guard's access to all parts of the palace. It was a magnificent room of course, intricately painted in a way that surely took Rubens years, if not decades, but familiarity bred contempt. It was not the paintings that drew his eye.


"Why, abody haes kilt an angel, an' ano'er haes cammed tae claim her!"* He declared as he entered the hall, seeing the familiar form of Sophia lying on the floor, and that of... Frances Cavendish, bending over her.


It was entirely possible that Sophia was injured, but she didn't look upset, rather quite comfortable. It was entirely in keeping with the kind of innocent mischief the lady loved. Still, it was best to ask. Standing out his scarlet uniform, officer's coat with it's gold lace, Douglas ambled up to the two ladies. Sophia he knew well - perhaps too well- but Frances he'd only met a couple of times. They'd exchanged pleasantries outside church and he'd made her laugh at the last ball, but each time he was there to speak with her brother and brother-in-law, and hadn't dawdled once he'd had words with Monck and Ogle.


"Lairdy Frances, a fine day tae ye." He bowed to the unmarried one. "Are ye weel, Lairdy Toledo?" He asked the prone figure on the floor. "Kin I help ye up?"** He added, holding out a large, calloused hand as he bent to bring it into range.



* "Why, somebody has killed an angel, and another has come to claim her!"

** "Lady Frances, a fine day to you. Are you well, Lady Toledo? Can I help you up?"

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Sophia's eyes slowly traveled from one painted marvel to another. From her position in the center of the floor, she couldn't see it all clearly, but once she was finished studying this section, she could scoot backwards, forwards, and sideways until she covered it all. The floor had probably already been cleaned so she wouldn't soil her fur.


She felt as if she could lie here for hours and never be bored. Lord Chichester had told her to practice sketching by copying the masters. Maybe she should come back with her sketchbook, although it would be a bit difficult to draw while lying on her back. Still she might be able to manage it if …


Her reverie was broken by a concerned female voice emanating from above her. Blinking once, she moved her eyes downward to the figure of a girl around her own age that she had seen at court events but had never met. Strangely enough, she knew Sophia's name, but she supposed almost everyone did now that she was the wife of the new Spanish Ambassador.


The petite singer smiled up at her. “I am pleased to meet you, Lady Frances. I assure you that I am fine. I am studying the painting on the ceiling, which entranced me from the moment I first saw it last season. The view is splendid from down here and you don't have to strain your neck to study the details. Perhaps you would like to join me?”


Another voice, delightfully familiar, rang out and Sophia's heart fluttered in her chest. Lord Dundarg! She had not seen him lately and she had feared that he had been sent away on the King's business. But here he was, a man who would always be dear to her and whom her husband distrusted because he had wanted to marry her too. His words were charming and witty and the young Baroness laughed. She had missed him much more than he would probably ever know.


She heard his boots clicking against the floor and when he moved into her line of vision, she was struck by how handsome he looked in his scarlet uniform. He seemed even taller looking down on her from above. Oh how very appealing he was!


“I am unharmed, my lord.” In one graceful and fluid movement, she sat up, curling her legs beneath her voluminous skirts. Karl might think it was inappropriate to be lying down in the presence of a gentleman, at least without some sort of explanation. Sophia didn't doubt that he had been warned not to leave her alone with the dashing Scot.


She gazed at the big hand he held out to her, but did not take it, at least not yet. “As I was just telling Lady Frances, I was studying the beautiful painting on the ceiling. Lying on the floor gives me a spectacular view of it. Both of you should try it."

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Startled by another voice she looked to that direction a smile at the ready as she recognized Lord Dundrag attired in his Scarlet.


She sketched a curtsey to his Greeting then stood watching as he then inquired after the Baroness before holding out a hand to help her to her feet. But the other simple sat up seemingly with no desire to rise.


That Frances was surprised at her exclamation to take to the floor as well might be obvious.


"I can not think how that would improve the viewing Baroness quite aside from the discomfort and the coldness. But then I am not so well versed as You in such things so can be forgiven."


"Lord Dundrag how well you are looking! And your complement I shall accept. Do you intend to take to the floor?"


She asked smiling up at him from beneath her lashes her eyes dancing a bit at the picture that conjured.


She was a bit changed since last they met and wore an air of new-found confidence which could be laid at the feet of the Gentleman who had captured her heart and encouraged her to be Brave. She had always had that inbred air of one born into Wealth and Power and her education had fined tuned everything together so that she could never be other than what she was - a Duke's Daughter.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It was such a very Sophia thing to do. She was simply enjoying the artwork, no thought at all for the picture she herself presented, lying on the floor. A carefree spirit, something he loved about her. Alas but court would not love such impropriety, and likely neither would her husband.


Frances' greeting was rather more than just the necessary, and seemed to him to reveal a young lady coming at last into her own. For so long Frances Cavendish had been a wallflower, lingering quietly by the men in her life; something seemed to have changed and perhaps for the better.


"Thank ye, Lairdy Frances." He replied when she said he was looking well. "I'm aw the better fer haein' seen twa o' my favourite lairdies."* He replied cheekily. At her question he glanced back to where Sophia seemed entirely at home on the floor. A slightly difficult situation.


At last he shook his head. "Nae, I wuid ne'er fergi' mysel' if either o' ye were tae catch cawd frae lyin' on't floor, ne'er mind damagin' yer dresses." Though he suspected Sophia didn't care. He considered for a moment. "Haps we shuid speir the servants to bring in some lounges, that ye micht recline in comfort? An' a warmin' drink."** For although it wasn't appropriate to lie on the floor, it was perfectly acceptable to lie on a chaise lounge. That was what they were for.


OOC: Apologies for the delay in replying.



* "Thank you, Lady Frances. I'm all the better for having seen two of my favourite ladies."

** "No, I would never forgive myself if either of you were to catch cold from lying on the floor, never mind damaging your dresses. Perhaps we should ask the servants to bring in some lounges, that you might recline in comfort? And a warming drink."

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Sophia took Lady Frances' comment to mean that she was well-versed in appreciating art and not that she was accomplished at lying on floors in public places. “It is not as annoying as looking up all the time. And there is less of a chance of losing my balance. My cloak keeps me warm and makes a rather comfortable cushion.” The silver fox fur was thick and luxurious.


Lady Frances and Lord Dundarg exchanged greetings and Sophia beamed when he said that she was one of his favorite ladies. Her two companions obviously already knew each other and the Duke's daughter didn't shun him because of his base-born status. Even though she had just met Frances, she liked her already because she wasn't haughty like some nobles she knew.


Neither of them wished to join her on the floor and, realizing how ridiculous she looked, she took Douglas' hand at last and rose a bit awkwardly to her feet. Her ankle still pained her, and she winced, holding onto him for a brief moment to regain her balance before releasing his hand. “That's an excellent idea!” she exclaimed. “A warm drink would be welcome as well.” She glanced around the room. “Now where have all the servants gone?”


She turned to her maidservant. “Anna, would you find someone and give them our request?” The woman nodded and left the room. Sophia wanted to tell Karl to go with her, but she figured he would refuse, even though she wasn't actually alone with Lord Dundarg.


“I suppose we will not be able to stay too long if the ball will be held here tonight? Are you both looking forward to it as much as I am?”

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Frances cast her gaze about the Great Space for a moment then refocused upon Lady Toledo where she noted had some injury.


"You are injured?" Her voice was all concern. "Why did you then sit upon the floor in that state? There are Household servants aplenty all within call ..."


She quickly called out in a voice that would stand no delays as one accustomed to being obeyed without question did and several bodies appeared within minutes and Frances requested a chair be brought at once for the Ambassadors Lady as well as Baron Dundrag. She had seen the deparating figure of Sophia's servant so now offered


"I am sure your own servant can well find help but my way is quicker do you not think?"


She smiled at the Baroness with the confidence that what she had asked for would be done.


"A Privilage of Rank but not one I exercise frequently. I think you should keep your hold on Lord Dundrag's arm as that balance will prevent any further injuries. Ah ..."


She turned at the sound of voices and indeed three chairs - when she had asked for only two - appeared being carried by two servants each and with haste they were set in place and she then asked the Baroness to be seated first.


"You will have need of a small stool, one that is padded will be best, and that is easily got."


Her gaze went to one set of servants and upon her raised brow they darted off no doubt to search for that item. They were all well accustomed to dealing with Nobles and this young quiet but confident girl was without a doubt someone of importance.


"Well there does not seem to be anything being planned - I see no Master of The Revels about who would direct nor any from the Lord Chamberlain's Office that would oversee but tis early yet and so you may stay as long as you like Madam and you as well My Lord."


"I am indeed. Will you give me a dance?"


She turned her brown eyes upon the Scot as she then sat in the third chair.

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Glasping Sophia’s hand, Douglas helped her gently to her feet. She limped slightly as she did so, her grip tightening on his arm and the big Scotsman automatically tensed his muscles, providing a firm hand hold for her whilst she regained her balance. He had no objections to her clinging to him. Frances beat him to the question however. It looked as though Sophia had turned an ankle.


Previously she’d been near-silent decoration, but Frances demonstrated her high-ranking birth by ordering the servants around, and whilst not quite the chaises he’d asked for, there were soon three comfortable chairs and a foot stool for Sophia. Acting as a gentleman should, Douglas gave his arm to help Sophia to her seat. “Ye luik efter yersel’.”* He said quietly with a pat of her hand that was more of a stroke as she sat, positioning the foot stool himself that she might be comfortable.


“Some mulled wine as weel!”** The Scot called after the departing servants. He didn’t know about the ladies but he would be glad of the warm drink, having just come in from outside. His cloak had kept the worse of the mizzle off, but he still smelt of damp wool and gunpowder. Douglas and Frances took a chair each and the big man relaxed back into it, sticking his long legs out in front of him and giving the painted ceiling a long moment’s thoughtful perusal, before returning his attention to the far more interesting ladies.


The ball? Of course, they were the social highlight of the week. “Verra much sae.” He agreed on the question of looking forward to it, before Frances surprised him with her question. Douglas knew that Nicci had encouraged ladies to ask men to dance at the last ball, but previously timid Frances was the last one he would have suspected. “I wuid be delichted, Lairdy Frances.”*** He confirmed with a warm smile in the young lady’s direction. Who wouldn’t want to dance with the daughter of a Duke? Plus she seemed like a genuinely pleasant young lady, and he knew her brother and brother-in-Law of course.


His natural impulse was to ask for the same from Sophia, but with that limp he suspected that she might not be dancing. “Whit er ye luikin’ forrard tae the most taenicht, Yer Excellency?” He asked her instead. “Haps we weel git tae hear an angel sing?”+ He suggested. For if there was anything that Sophia loved more than dancing, it was singing. Perhaps I might get to see you alone? Alas but she was always chaperoned; he’d noted the fellow loitering in the corner. But where there was a will there was a way, and Douglas was very willing.



* “You look after yourself.”

** “Some mulled wine as well!”

*** “Very much so. I would be delighted, Lady Frances.”

+ “What are you looking forward to the most tonight, Your Excellency? Perhaps we will get to hear an angel sing?”

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“I fell and twisted my ankle a couple of days ago, but it is almost healed now. Lying on the floor was less painful than standing.”


Sophia held tight to Lord Dundarg's hand, half-expecting Karl to protest, but the bodyguard stood where he was, ever watchful. Lady Frances demonstrated her ability to take charge by calling for servants and ordering them to bring chairs and a footstool immediately. Ordinarily, the petite Baroness would have thought she was showing off, but the dark-haired lady didn't seem the least bit arrogant. She was simply exercising the privileges that were hers by right.


Would the servants have obeyed if Sophia had made the same demands? As the wife of the Spanish Ambassador, she had rank herself, but she was foreign and she wasn't certain if she would command the same respect. That was the reason she had sent Anna to do it for her. “Thank you, my lady,” she said gratefully.


The chairs and the footstool arrived, and the petite blonde leaned against Douglas as he assisted her into a chair. “It is nothing serious,” she assured him. A bright thrill shimmered down her spine when he stroked her hand briefly before adjusting the footstool beneath her feet. He was, as always, so solicitous of her comfort and she adored him, not for that but simply because he was him.


Sophia gazed up at the painting as Douglas and Frances sat down. They were both looking forward to the ball as well. Maybe it would be held in the Great Hall instead. She was a bit surprised when Lady Frances asked Lord Dundarg to dance. It was normal for Germans to take the initiative, but English ladies were not usually so bold. He accepted, of course.


She had hoped that he would ask her to dance as well, but her injured ankle probably deterred him. And while she did want to dance with him, she would rather dance with him in private beneath silken sheets. A delectable heat suffused her young body as she imagined them writhing together in pleasure.


Perhaps we can sneak away together tonight. There will be so many people there, we will probably not be missed. She had managed to steal a few moments with Lord Arundel at the last ball, so it wasn't just wishful thinking.


What did she look forward to most, besides being alone with Douglas? “I am curious as to what kind of games and mischief the Lady of Misrule will come up with.” Sophia smiled when he referred to her voice as angelic. “If I am asked, I will most certainly sing” Her eyes sparkled mischievously. “Perhaps you and I can sing together.”


Turning to Frances, she explained: “Lord Dundarg has a splendid voice. I could listen to him sing all day.”

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Frances, watching the interplay between the other two, wondered yet again if all that she'd been told as well as heard could actually be True. There was a shared intimacy that was obvious but Frances was still uneducated enough in the physical aspects yet she was a Court Child and so knew that Games were played and words can and did have other meanings.


She smiled in the direction of the Baroness in response to the others' Thanks


"I am glad then that I appeared but then Lord Dundrag would have managed well enough I am sure - as he has already demonstrated. How fortunate that there is already a friendship."


Her smile remained serenly in place and it would be hard to imagine that behind her facade she was already putting these two in a pairing as Lovers.


"It will I am sure be of a French Nature given her origins. I cannot think what His Majesty was about to veer so from the Traditional Way yet I am not one to question. It shall be as you say a curious expectation amongst US all and the Ball tonight will make that plain."


"From what I have seen of her Mademosille can be charming but I would hope that she has enough Sense to not go beyond the established boundrys especially in regard to the King and Queen - you do know that nothing harmful may be asked or requested or anything that will cause damage to reputations? Lords of Misrule are for Sport and Amusement after all!"


"Lord Basildon should keep his eagle eye upon her to be sure. Do you know her well then Baroness?"


"You sing My Lord?" She asked in a surprised tone. "I do not know why that seems strange for many of your sex have that talent - perhaps your size belays that? You are indeed 'Gifted' Baroness and if that is asked will you sing something from Spain? I am sure that would please not only your Husband but his Master as well. And provide Court with something different."


"I wonder what would happen if all the Ambassador's did that? There are so few 'open' times in Presence when everyone can see so it would be well rec'd I believe."


'they behave as if things are readily shared and the open invitation to him to sing with her made without hesitation. If there are indeed Lovers they should be more descreet! Mayhap they feel safe in my presence because of my own reputation? I am hardly known to be a teller of tales ......'

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As Sophia was settled into her chair she assured Douglas that her injury, a twisted ankle, was nothing serious. That was good to hear.


The trio settled comfortably and talk turned to the upcoming Ball, and to the Lady of Misrule. “Things hae been harmless enou’ sae far.” Douglas observed, seeking to ease Frances’ concerns. “I rather like the precedence set by haein’ the Lairdies spier fer dances.” He added with a smile; it was after all an example that Frances had just followed herself. “An’ complimentin’ folk is allus tae the guid.” Even if the focus of the command had been the King. “Fer example Lairdy Frances, I noticed yer regal manner an’ growin’ confidence; tis a delicht tae see ye bloom sae.”* And the words were harmless.


“Her Excellency is far tae kind.” Douglas demurred as Sophia declared that he had an excellent voice. “I sing folk songs an’ ditties, which seem tae entertain folk.” He added by way of explanation and in an effort to appear more casual and distant, noting how Frances’s gaze moved between the two. “I wuidnae embarrass mysel’ by thinkin’ tae stand alongside sae fine a songstress, afore the coort.” He added the last deliberately. Though they’d sung in private, he didn’t particularly want to shout his continuing interest in her to the whole of court. They’d need to be more discrete than that, for her sake. “If yer ankle is better thain I’d be honoured if ye’d hauld me a dance, but I wuidnae want ye tae hurt yersel’ further.” He said solicitously. “Yer presence weel brichten th’een regardless.”**


There, he was simply a flattering courtier, with no designs on the wife of the Spanish Ambassador. Definitely not, in anyway. At all. Right. “Hou’s Laird Ogle findin’ the Life Guard?” Douglas knew both her brother and brother-in-law, of course. Admitedly the military probably the most interesting topic for the ladies, but family mattered. “An’ what’s the latest news frae Spain?”*** This to Sophia. Given her position she was best placed to know.



* “Thing have been harmless enough so far. I rather like the precendence set by having the Ladies ask for dances. And complimenting people is always to the good. For example Lady Frances, I noticed your regal manner and growing confidence; it’s a delight to see you bloom so.”

** “Her Excellency is far too kind. I sing folk songs and ditties, which seem to entertain people. I wouldn’t embarrass myself by thinking to stand alongside so fine a songstress, before the court. If your ankle is better then I’d be honoured if you’d hold me a dance, but I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself further. Your presence would brighten the evening regardless.”

*** “How’s Lord Ogle finding the Life Guard? And what’s the latest news from Spain?”

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They were both very solicitous of her and Sophia appreciated their concern. Now that she thought of it, she might have had a bit of trouble getting up from the floor without assistance. That had not occurred to her when she had lain down to admire the painting without straining her neck or standing on her ankle. As usual, she didn't think of the disadvantages when she had her mind set on something. Anna or Karl could have helped her up, but she would much rather hold onto Douglas than to one of then. At least one good thing had come of her injury.


Lady Frances seemed to have a few misgivings about the Lady of Misrule, but Douglas didn't seem to share those doubts. “Yes, I know her quite well. I asked her what she had planned but she would not tell me. I do hope you are right, my lady, and that everything she decrees is harmless. I also hope I do not have to watch from the sidelines because I am married.”


Her eyes spun to Douglas. “Maybe the ladies will get to ask the gentlemen to dance again tonight. I thought that was fun.” He complemented Frances on her confidence, and Sophia wondered if she had once been meek and insecure. That was difficult to believe considering how effortlessly she had commanded the servants to do her bidding. Perhaps she had started believing in herself and her self-esteem had begun to flourish.


She wasn't really surprised when Lord Dundarg declined her offer to sing a duet at the ball. He had never struck her as the kind of gentleman who liked being the center of attention. It was one of the few ways in which the two of them differed. However, he did ask her to dance. “If I am able, I promise to save a dance for you.” They had never danced together before, and Sophia was curious as to whether their styles would be complimentary, especially considering the vast difference in their heights. And, of course, she looked forward to any excuse to be close to him.


To Frances: “I guess what I sing depends on who asks me and if they have any requests. I have learned a few arias from Spanish operas, so if the choice is left up to me, I could perform in both Spanish and English.” And German, Italian, and French, though she kept that to herself. She didn't want the other girl to think she was bragging.


Lord Dundarg changed the subject and asked Frances how her brother liked being a Life Guard. Sophia had seen him at court events, as well as the horse race in Brighton, but they had never been formally introduced. Douglas also asked about Spain. “My lord husband does not discuss political matters with me, but I am certain that Spain will thrive under Don Juan's leadership. He is a good man and I know he will be an excellent ruler.”

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"Well I hope you are correct in your assent of Her Baroness. And, if by chance, the mark is overstepped then one of His Majesty's men will correct it quietly. The Lord Chamberlain will also watch and so tis unlikely that anything will be allowed to happen that might cause damage."


"Why should you be excluded because you are married? You are free to join in as are We all but then I do not have a Husband that I must think of first! The Misrule is always for amusements and harmless pranks and so most will be inclined to indulge yet there is always the risk of becoming part of some correspondence should things get out of Control."


"Why I can remember past Misrule's that handed out new names to prominent Courtiers, or the time another mans wife was tasked to dance with his mistress - that happening no doubt found its way in someones' report. Most things about Court are gossip that is reported upon but I am sure other more important things as well.'


"Alas I am not privy to much other than what I am told or happen to over hear - one advantage of always been thought of as "quiet" would you not agree?"


She smiled at the other two adding a small chuckle to follow


She could hardly tell the Baroness that she had disliked this thing called Opera and thought it much like a cat crying out for a mate and she could only imagine if two voices were combined! She was smart enough to know the difference between what the Baroness did and what was Religious in nature and sung in Chapel.


"Such Talent Baroness! I profess I am able to 'sing' as we are taught but they are simple tunes or songs that require no effort save to remember words. I should like to hear something other than what has already be displayed - as I think many would. Mayhap you might catch the ear of our Misrule? A whispered word or two might well provide you with that wish."


"My Brother is a Lt in the Lifeguards Baroness." She supplied the information. "And I suppose he thinks it a Grand Adventure but then do not all boys and men dream of War? It makes me afraid to think War might reach our Country ..... Do you think it will?"


She asked Dundrag in seriousness a tiny furrow between her brows at the thought.


As to Spain she could not respond. She was educated and knew the Countries as well as Rulers and her private thought was that there too the Baroness seemed to display an intimate knowledge but then she rationed why would that be strange? Her husband was after all Spain's Ambassador.

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  • 3 weeks later...

It was perhaps ironic that Sophia thought Douglas one who didn't like being the centre of attention. In fact he loved it, but he'd become more discerning with time, and decided that the negative attention was less to his liking. He would have loved to sign a duet with her, but in front of court it would only cause talk, and the talk would damage her far more than him. Better to let them - and her husband - think that he had lost interest. The truth of course could not have been more different.


He offered her a warm smile when Sophia agreed to dance with him if she could. "Ainly if't wilnae hurt yer ankle. Thair weel be mony more balls yet tae cam."* And he intended to claim his share of dances from her at them. There was time.


Frances had some entertaining tales of Misrules past, many of which sounded like fun. Not caught up in strict propriety, Douglas saw no problems in the light-hearted games she described. It was interesting to hear Frances describe herself as known to be quiet, with such a knowing chuckle. Sometimes those whom no one noticed saw the most. How much had Lady Frances seen and heard?


In the meantime, the news from Spain, sparse as it was, was interesting. Don Juan must still be alive then, despite the lack of official information. "He seemed a wise man." Douglas opined of the bastard prince. Wiser than his malformed brother, but like any bastard, ambitious. Cunning was perhaps a more apt descriptor. "D'ye think he weel e'er visit England agin, noo that he's regent fer his brothair?"** Douglas asked, curious. Likely Don Juan would remain and marry, and prepare to inherit when his brother - who was by all accounts a pitiful creature - died.


Frances's question was terribly serious, a faint frown on her brow. NO doubt she wanted to know whether it would involve them, including her brother, her father's only heir. It was true that boys dreamed of making their mark on the battlefield. "Ainly thaim that hae ne'er seen war dream o't." He said darkly. Douglas had seen war, and he was good at it, but he knew well the cost. "I dinnae think War weel cam here, Lairdy Frances." He reassured her. "More likely English troops weel gie tae th'continient, includin' the Life Guard."***



* Only if it won't hurt your ankle. There will be many balls yet to come."

** He seemed a wise man. Do you think he will ever visit England again, now that he'd regent for his brother?"

*** "Only those that have never seen war dream of it. I don't think that war will come here, Lady Frances. More likely English Troops will go to the continent, including the Life Guard."

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He kept his banter light as before between himself and Lady Toledo but Frances was still of a mind that they were Lovers. She also thinks how difficult it must be to juggle between a husband and another man - her lack of 'experience' aiding her thoughts.


Politics was a topic she wished she knew more about and so listend with interest as the other's spoke of Spain and Don Juan - who it seemed was not actually Dead but Alive and as also acting as Regent for his brother?


Lord Dundrag then answered her own question but it did little to relieve her worries


"So you mean that all will go away from England then? Including my Brother and Yourself and all the Lifeguards? How CAN those of your sex think it such an Adventure!"


Her words were said with emotion for she pictured them all splayed out dead on some far off Battlefield without Christian Burials or worse .....


"I shall Pray that The King will do what needs must be Done so that will not happen."


Youth held such beliefs after all and Frances Cavendish was no exception.


Hers was a World where Rank and Order was a thing established at birth where all knew their Places. Yet the Realities of that World had not yet made themselves known to her and his words coupled with what she and Lord Chichester were about to endure made her realize that she was indeed lacking.


Would her husband-to-be encourage her 'education' she wondered and resolved to ask when next they met ....


Somewhere clocks began to all chime - none in alignment however - and she was suddenly taken with the fact that she was to have been in another place by now ...


But she must wait for the others to reply before she could make her exit and so grew a bit anxious the fingers of one hand beginning to crinkle up the fabric of her skirt as she heard only one 'chime' which ment one of the clock!

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“If I am not able to dance, then perhaps you can keep me company if you don't mind sitting one out, my lord.” Sophia turned her head to look at Frances. “You too, my lady. If you need to catch your breath between dances, you will probably be able to find me sitting in a chair beside a wall as if I am part of the decorations.” She didn't look pleased with the prospect of remaining seated during the duration of the ball.


Frances knew quite a bit about the Misrules from Christmases past. Except for the wife who was asked to dance with her husband's mistress, what she described seemed like harmless fun that even Esteban wouldn't object to. Nicknames wouldn't pose a problem, unless the one given to her husband was insulting to Spaniards, and the one given to her was suggestive. Sophia had told Nicolette about the state of her marriage. She didn't think her friend would do anything to fan the flames of his displeasure.


Music was part of a noble girl's education, so she wasn't surprised that Frances could sing. Sophia was one of the rare few who had expanded upon those early lessons and had dedicated herself through hard work and perseverance into achieving perfection with her voice. “I can sing many forms of music, not only opera. I think it would be too presumptuous to ask outright, but perhaps somebody will request a song from me.” Douglas couldn't do it without making Esteban suspicious, but Frances could.


“You must be very proud of him,” she replied when the other girl informed her that her brother was a Life Guard. “And he must be thrilled to have been chosen as one of the His Majesty's personal guards.”


Lord Dundarg seemed to think well of Don Juan. She had not forgotten that he had once saved her royal lover from being poisoned. Had he been rewarded for it? Sophia knew what she wished his reward would be … permission to spend endless nights of pleasure with her. Her young body trilled with pleasure at the very notion.


“He has many responsibilities now, but I do hope he will visit England during the spring season like he did last year. If we go to Madrid again this recess, I will suggest it if we have a chance to converse.”


Douglas and Frances spoke of war and Sophia turned her attention back to the ceiling, not wanting to interrupt them. She tended to agree with Frances and had no idea why men craved war when so many of them died. A shiver shook her small form at the thought of Douglas being sent away to fight against the French. If anything happened to him, she would not be able to bear it. Her heart would break into a million pieces and fall like shards of diamonds onto the floor, never to be whole again.


Frances looked anxious, probably worried about her brother, and Sophia changed the subject with a quick glance at Douglas so that he would know what she was doing. She felt so attuned to him that she felt they didn't need words to communicate. “Perhaps we can get together after the New Year, Lady Frances. I would love to show you the paintings and sculptures I brought back from my travels.”

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She was included as a 'second' and for a moment Frances actually thought she'd do just that and accept that invitation and yet something halted her immediate reply.


Lady Toledo was the wife of an Ambasador and there was no recent gossip surrounding her but Frances still suspected them of being secret lovers and so to place herself in the company of the Lady might make it appear that she too was of the same belief(s) thus something might attach to her own reputation.


Why was Everything so hard?


"I shall indeed consider it Lady Toledo thank you. And I think you would be noticed no matter where you sit!"


Her answer was the safe and the correct polite response.


She would ask her future husband for his thoughts on Lady Toledo and if he said it would do her own name no harm then she would try to cultivate with little steps to begin and once she was Countess and more confident that circle could be widened - but she would always defer to her Lord she thinks in every matter - and because she had no experiences that idea did not seem foolish to her at all.


She smiled for she was indeed Proud of her brother


"We are all and yet I can not now but think on what Lord Dundrag has said and so some sadness will be here ..." She placed a hand to her heart "But I will need to not show it is that not true My Lord?" Her eyes went back to the Gentleman.


"I am always eager to see what is brought back from Travels - I have never been outside of England - you are very Brave Lady Toledo to have done so! I will come to your residence perhaps? I like portarits the best but also landscapes of fields and flowers then the Sea. Have you many of those?"


"The Portrait Gallery has one of my Ancestors - the Great Bess of Harwick, the Countess of Shrewsbury. Have you seen her?"


Said so matter of factly.

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Talk of war seemed to concern Frances, as well it might given her brother’s circumstances. “The Life Guard weel gie if His Majesty wills.” He said simply. They were the largest standing force under Crown control. “Includin’ th’commandin’ officers, acoors.” Which would mean her brother, and her father’s only son. “Laird Ogle is Lieutenant o’ th’Third.”* He explained to Sophia, blue gaze turning in her direction. He didn’t doubt that she could guess how he felt about that, since the Third had been his command before too many men took exception to his birth, but he kept his tone mild.


The emotion in Frances’ voice made clear her own thoughts on the ‘glory’ of war. Douglas shrugged rangy shoulders. “Songs an’ stories turn young men’s heids lassie.” He replied bluntly. “Likely yer brothair dreams o’ cammin’ hame tae ye in aw glory, wi’ a string o’ victories ahint him.” Didn’t any man? “The thocht that he micht cam hame crippled er deed wilnae enter his heid until he haes shot flyin’ around him an’ hears injured men screamin’; thain tis tae late. War allus marks a man.”** With a lazy casualness the big Scotsman pulled down his collar under his right ear to reveal a diagonal scar that ran back from the corner of his jaw to disappear under the linen and lace. Douglas didn’t pull any punches. Frances asked and he answered; he wouldn’t do her the disservice of assuming that she wouldn’t understand.


“Acoorse, yer brothair doesnae hae tae lead the Third intae battle.” Not if his father didn't want to risk his heir. There were others who would gladly do it. “But I believe tis expected o’ him tae learn command. I hae offered tae teach him, but he haes yet tae take me up ont.” Again that shrug. Perhaps Frances would talk Ogle into it. Or perhaps her father would forbid his only son and heir to go to war. Or perhaps Ogle would go to war and get killed. In all three situations, Douglas stood to profit. And if Ogle went to war and survived, he lost nothing. “Thairs nae harm in a Lairdy showin’ her concern fer the men in her life.” He replied to her question. “We like tae feel cared fer.”*** At that last his expression softened, a faint but wry smile suggesting he was revealing some grave secret.


Or maybe they wouldn’t go to war at all, but Douglas doubted it. The whole of court was gearing up to it with a sense of inevitability. Meanwhile the rest of life rolled on. The thought that Don Juan might visit England again was interesting, Douglas found the fellow intriguing, not least for his successes. That Sophia might leave for Madrid was far less welcome, though ever since her marriage to a Spaniard he had known it a possibility. How could Kingston have thought that was a good idea? He simply couldn’t fathom the man.


Sophia changed the subject to paintings, and perhaps for the better given that Douglas might well be scaring Frances. Quite deliberately of course, under the guise of providing answers, and all of it the truth. Sometimes the truth was frightening, that was a fact of life. The singer’s timing was perfect, the gentle interjection as she caught his eye. If she couldn’t dance he would sit with her at the ball. She was always engaging company. Frances, he noted, had demurred; he pondered the possible reasons. Perhaps the veneer of confidence was thinner than it initially seemed, or perhaps she was simply very aware of her position.


A position only underlined by mention of her ancestor, as the ladies talked of a date to admire artworks together. The subject of art didn’t interest Douglas particularly, but the subjects of those artworks sometimes did. “T’wuid be interestin’ tae tour th’Gallery wi’ abody wha kens weel th’histories o’ the portraits.”+ He observed, by way of suggestion.



* “The Life Guard will go if His Majesty wills. Including the commanding officers, of course. Lord Ogle is Lieutenant of the Third.”

** “Songs and stories turn young men’s heads lady. Likely your brother dreams of coming home to you in all glory, with a string of victories behind him. The thought that he might come home crippled or dead won’t enter his head until he has shot flying around him and hears injured men screaming; then it’s too late. War always marks a man.”

*** “Of course, your brother doesn’t have to lead the Third into battle. But I believe it’s expected of him to learn command. I have offered to teach him, but he has yet to take me up on it. There’s no harm in a Lady showing concern for the men in her life. We like to feel cared for.”

+ “It would be interesting to tour the Gallery with somebody who knows well the histories of the portraits.”

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Lord Dundarg said nothing to her invitation to sit with her, but Lady Frances said she would consider it, and this pleased Sophia. Not only did she genuinely like the other girl, but a Duke's daughter would be a valuable friend and could help her attract the notice of those proper court matrons she wanted to impress. Even if she couldn't, the petite singer would enjoy the friendship of another lady her age. Most of her friends were at least a few years older.


“Thank you, my lady,” she said to Frances' compliment. Grinning at her mischievously, she added: “I will make certain to wear a color that contrasts with the wall."


Sophia's ice-blue eyes darkened when Douglas explained that Lord Ogle was the Lieutenant of the Third. She knew that position had once been his and she suspected it had been taken away from him because he had the misfortune of being born on the wrong side of the blanket. And yet he was polite when he spoke of his successor, although inside he must be seething as much as she was. She admired his graciousness in the face of adversity. Then again, there was nothing about him that she did not admire.


Douglas expounded on war and the reasons men craved it. He spared no detail, and his description frightened her a bit. Don Juan was in Italy trying to quell some sort of rebellion, and she didn't like to think of him being harmed in any way. Nor did she want the tall handsome Scot to go to war where he might be injured or taken captive. Both gentlemen were immensely important to her.


She frowned when he revealed his scar. I will kiss it as soon as we can contrive to be alone together. I will kiss every mark on his body.


It sounded as if he was volunteering to lead the Third if Lord Ogle didn't relish going to war. Sophia hoped that he would be eager to go and that Douglas would remain here where he would be safe. That notion, however, was rather selfish. If he acquitted himself well in battle and brought glory to England, then he would be celebrated rather than shunned. He would be given his own command and perhaps raised in status as well.


She didn't miss the way his expression softened and her heart leapt in her chest. Was he thinking of her when he said he liked being cared for? She hoped that he was.


Frances seemed enthusiastic about seeing her paintings. “If you would like, we can have tea on Sunday or Monday afternoon and I can tell you all about my travels while I show you the art I acquired during my visits. I do have a lot of landscapes, and a few portraits as well.”


Sophia smiled wryly. “It is not bravery but wanderlust that compels me to tour new places. When I was a child, my father would entrance me with tales of his adventures abroad and those stories inspired my interest in traveling.”


Her eyes sparkled at Douglas' suggestion. “It would be wonderful to visit the gallery with someone who knows its history,” she agreed. “Perhaps you can give us a tour, Lady Frances? I have studied many of the portraits but I do not know who they are.


“I go there quite often and I plan to bring my sketchbook with me on my next visit. Lord Chichester told me that to improve my painting skills, I should copy the masters. Are the two of you acquainted with him? He is a splendid artist and he has agreed to give me a lesson before the season is over as long as my lord husband approves. He and Lord Chichester have been good friends for a long time, so I doubt he will disagree. In fact, they are having dinner together tonight before the ball."

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Frances knew that her older brother was in that position but now hearing these words it chilled her quite suddenly. Why her brother was like to die if he was sent away! And others' as well including the Scotsman here!


That same Gentleman then produced evidence that backed up what he had so bluntly stated and her eyes widened at the sight of it and she paled a bit but held her gaze steady - she was made uncomfortable but would never show it. Instead she would say what was expected then add in.


"It must have been so painful Lord Dundrag. I am glad then that you approve of showing 'concern' Lord Dundrag! I shall now have no issue in doing so if that occurs."


He next spoke of how her brother didn't have to lead into Battle but was expected to as befit his Position. And now it seemed that Lord Dundrag had made some offer to Ogle for instructions but nothing had been started?


'henry is no more fit for Battle than I am! why this gentleman is battle-scared and skilled that tis clear HE should be in Command. who will listen to my brother when put side by side with Lord Dundrag hmm?'


The thought came so sudden to her that she blinked rapidly then turned the topic


"I should be delighted to offer to do so but then I must warn that my knowledge is limited to those of my own Family but then I do have some about the rest as well. Perhpas I will look for another to accompany - one who's better informed perhaps!"


She smiled across to him then made to ansewer Sophia


"I should like that Baroness but only if Lord Toledo has no issue with it. Perhaps Monday? I still think you Brave no matter what you say. I can not imagine how it must be to leave English shores for anothers' yet the idea of it is intriguing."


"Lord Chichester? Indeed I have his acquaintance and so he is playing the rolé of Teacher to you as Student Baroness?


The fact that Baroness Toledo was married and yet had no trouble meeting a Lover and now planned be alone with George did not sit well with her.


No. Not in the least.

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War was a complex affair, one where there were many rules and they were all too often broken. It was entirely true that an enemy officer might be taken captive and ransomed back, as Sophia thought might happen to him. Of course, it depended on having someone willing to pay the ransom. But being gentlemen, officers were usually treated well. Common soldiers were quite another matter. If he was lucky, it was what might happen to Ogle. Like Frances, Douglas had no illusions about her brother’s suitability for war. If he was unlucky, things could be far worse. Or he might stay safe with the more senior officers and return home with the glory he craved. And maybe Douglas would return home with another fine horse, leaving a dead enemy officer behind him. War was a time of chaos and opportunities for those willing to seize them and wiley enough to live through it. Not for a moment did Douglas think that he might not be called upon to fight, nor alas did he give too much thought to those waiting behind, for he assumed he would come home. But then, did any man go to war not expecting to return?


Inclining his head in acknowledgement of Frances’ concern over the wound that had caused the scar. He didn’t mention that that particular scar wasn’t a war wound, but the ones that were weren’t fit for showing to young ladies in public. He’d quite like to show them to Sophia in private. “Thank ye Lairdy Frances.” He said gravely.”Yer verra brave, and I’m sure Laird Ogle appreciates the care o’ his sister.”* He said warmly. If Frances’ concern put doubts into the minds of her brother and father, so much the better for him.


Sophia took up his suggestion of a guided tour of the Portrait Gallery, which was sounding more interesting by the minute, and he flashed her a twinkling smile. “Even learnin’ th’history o’ yer ain fam’ly wuid be an education.” He assured Frances. And maybe they wouldn’t get overwhelmed if they didn’t have to hear about all the portraits in one day. “Haps we cuid mak a series o’ visits, wi’ diff’rent folks fer diff’rent fam’lies?” He suggested. Break it down in little bites. “An’ thaim o’ th’artistic incline kin sketch the portraits.”** That wouldn’t be him, he could manage maps and technical drawings but had no artistic flair, but being around ladies at their ease was very pleasant. This particular chance conversation included.


George was well known about court it seemed, especially amongst the ladies. Unsurprising for an unmarried Earl. “Aye, I ken Laird Chichester weel.” Douglas replied to Frances’ query. “T’was he an’ I whit proved that auld wuman wha’s thin’s were auctioned was buried alive.” Although George had done all the leg work and investigation; Douglas was just the muscle at the end. But it had been surprisingly fun. “Is he tutorin’ ye in art as weel, Lairdy Frances?”*** George had quite the talent, so it was a perfect excuse for young ladies to spend time with him. The thought that they might be more interested in their art than George didn’t cross Douglas’s mind; had the roles been reversed he’d have been more interested in the fine lady than the hobby.



* “Thank you Lady Frances. You’re very brave, and I’m sure Lord Ogle appreciates the care of his sister.”

** “Even learning the history of your own family would be an education. Perhaps we could make a series of visits, with different people for different families? And those of the artistic inclination can sketch the portraits.”

*** “Yes, I know Lord Chichester well. It was he and I that proved that old woman whose things were auctioned was buried alive. Is he tutoring you in art as well, Lady Frances?”

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The thought of war and the possibility of losing those gentlemen close to her was upsetting, and Sophia was relieved when the subject changed to art. Nobody, to her knowledge, had ever been killed by art, although she supposed that minor injuries could occur if sculptures slipped from their pedestals or paintings fell from the wall.


“I would love to know more about your family as well, my lady,” she said. “And I love that idea, Lord Dundarg. I have often wondered about the stories behind the portraits, as well as the names of their subjects. Perhaps in time, we can learn about them all.” She didn't mention that she made up her own stories about them when she was studying them, not wanting either of them to think that she was childish (even though in many ways, she still was).


Portraits of her own family hung in various parlors in the castle she had grown up in, with no one to look at them now but the servants who cared for it in her absence. She had almost brought two of them with her … one of her mother holding her as a baby, and another of her father and herself which had been painted shortly before she moved to England. The only reason she had left them behind was because she thought they would be damaged on the journey.


She doubted they would ever hang in any royal art gallery, but they could be moved to Esteban's family home eventually. Soon her portrait would be painted again, as a gift for Juan. Would he display it in his private chambers, she wondered, or would he decide to place paintings of his Ambassadors and their wives in the palace gallery? If so, her likeness would be viewed by many generations to come, her fair skin, eyes, and hair a stark contrast to those of native Spaniards.


Both Douglas and Frances were acquainted with Lord Chichester. He seemed to quite popular now that the scandal surrounding him had died down. Sophia shuddered at the thought of anyone being buried alive. She had heard that tale before, but she couldn't remember who had related it to her. “I am glad you discovered what happened to that poor woman and I hope whoever was responsible was punished for it."


She nodded at Frances' question and when Douglas asked the Duke's daughter whether Lord Chichester was tutoring her as well, Sophia grinned. “If he isn't tutoring you and you want to learn how to paint, perhaps you can join us. He spoke of giving me a lesson Monday morning at my residence and he insists that my lord husband be present for propriety's sake. If you come early, you can participate in the lesson and then stay for tea.”


Sophia didn't suggest that Douglas join them too, well aware of how Esteban felt about him. She would much rather meet him somewhere private where they could paint kisses all over each other. Their lovemaking, she was certain, would be a beautiful expression of art and their moans would mingle together in an exquisite serenade.

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"Then I shall be happy to accommodate. Let me think a bit and then make some plans - will that suit?"


Her question directed at the other two.


"There was much spoken of it I remember and the Duke* did not think it possible for such a thing to have happened here! It must have been an awful thing - to die like that." She gave a small shudder. "I do not think there would be a punishment to great for those responsible Lord Dundrag."


The Baroness then made her an offer but Frances was yet unsure of the Lady and her 'Suitability" so she simply added that tea would be most welcomed.


She heard the chimes from the clocks that had been behind all the others and there was nothing for it now - she had to take her leave.


"I am afraid I must take my leave - I would rather stay in this place and continue but I am to meet my Aunts soon and they are both quite rigid on promptness! And they will speak of it to the Duke* and then I shall be undone."


"Baroness I hope you recover swiftly and I shall see you at the Ball and you too Lord Dundrag and perhaps a dance?"


She favored him with a smile as she rose then made her curtsey to them both adding ''You are free to remain as long as you like and there will be a servant or two to attend so ask for what ere you wish. Another benefit of my 'position'!"


She gave a small laugh then curtsied again then went in the direction of the staircase that would take her to the upper level and the passage way back towards the Portrait Gallery and Lord Chichester.


* Meaning her Father

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  • 4 months later...

Unfortunately, as far as Douglas recalled, the house-keeper of the woman who was buried alive had taken the proceeds of the hasty auction and fled overseas; a move that suggested significant prior planning. But then the buried woman had meddled in witchcraft so perhaps she brought it on herself. What was worth noting was how interested those at court had been in the accoutrements of such a person. Both ladies were rather vehement in their wish for the perpetrator to be punished, showing considerable empathy for the victim. “I’m sure that God weel punish thaim.”* He said quietly, even as He might have been said to have punished the witch. But the forbidden arts always seemed to fascinate; in truth they fascinated him, but he was also wary.


Rising to his feet as Frances revealed her intention to depart, Douglas bowed politely to her. “Wha doesnae fear the wrath o’ Aunts?” He asked, amused. Who didn’t fear the power of a woman who did not answer to you, but might make you answer to others? Maiden aunts were the worst by all accounts, though fortunately none had ever taken an interest in him. “Guid fortune gie wi’ ye, an’ I weel luik fer that dance at the Baw.”** He assured her. Frances and her new confidence had combined to make a lively young woman.


As Frances left Douglas folded himself gracefully into his chair once more, throwing a thoughtful glance at an even livelier young woman, one whose spirit seemed little tamed by her recent marriage. “T’strikes me that Lairdy Frances haes cammed intae her ain this season.” He observed laconically once the door was shut, wondering what might have inspired the change. “But thain, we hae aw haed some changes in oor lives, hae we nae?”*** He asked in faintly wistful tones. Well, Sophia had at least; sometimes he felt like he was simply marking time.


“Hou is the’Ambassadorial life treatin’ ye?”+ He asked, curious. He’d had a reasonable working relationship with both Don Juan and Pedro, so might have been surprise to learn of the Spaniard’s emnity towards him; or perhaps amused. There were times when he regretted not simply breaking her chaperone’s neck on that ride, though how Sophia might have responded to that, he didn’t know. She seemed a more sensitive soul, given her reaction to the realities of war. Perhaps he’d done the right thing by her, even if it proved the wrong thing by himself. At least, wed to an Ambassador, Sophia would have the travel she craved.


He did wonder whether it stifled her at all, or whether she found herself fulfilled by the lifestyle. Certainly she was the kind that seemed energized by others, and by new things. He regretted in many ways the lack of a chance to get to know her better, but perhaps that could be remedied as a friend, with benefits if she was agreeable. Her lively manner and enthusiasm for life in general still inspired him, perhaps because it was something that he sometimes found himself lacked. He was too young to be jaded, but too old not to know better. That she was beautiful as well was simply the icing on the cake.



* “I’m sure that God will punish them.”

** “Who doesn’t fear the wrath of Aunts? Good fortune go with you, and I will look for that dance at the Ball.”

*** “It striked me that Lady Frances has come into her own this season. But then, we have all had some changed in our lives, have we not?”

+ “How is the Ambassadorial life treating you?”

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Sophia shuddered again. There were so many dreadful people in the world! She wanted to reach out and squeeze Douglas' hand for reassurance. He had promised to protect her and now she just needed to feel safe. But of course, she couldn't touch him with Karl watching her every move. Whenever she was in the presence of the handsome Scot, she wanted nothing more than to touch him and to feel his lips upon hers and his skin against her own … even his hairy legs.


Lady Frances stood up and announced her intention to leave. “Thank you, my lady, and good luck with your aunts. Perhaps tonight at the ball we can talk more about having tea together.”


Lord Dundarg stood as well and wished her a good day. Sophia admired his fine form while his attention was on the other girl. He looked even taller from this angle, and oh so handsome and appealing. He was even graceful as he sat back down, a trait one would not expect such a tall gentleman to possess. A pretty blush blossomed across her cheeks when he glanced over at her. She hoped that he had not noticed that she had been staring at him.


“I just met her today, only a few moments before you entered the hall,” she said of Lady Frances. “She's very kind and I hope that we can be friends.” As he spoke of changes in their lives, Sophia picked up on his wistful tone and wondered if he, too, often thought of what might have been if they had been allowed to wed. “Not all of them welcome,” she whispered.


Their personalities meshed so well that she knew they would have been happy together. She adored his sense of adventure and his mischievous spirit. He knew how to have fun, and he was smart, witty, kind, daring, creative, passionate … and she loved him. Sophia would always love him.


“I am still not accustomed to my new position. In truth, I think I am too young for it. But I am trying. The party I threw at the Embassy last night went over well, and entertaining is one of my most important duties as the wife of an Ambassador. I wish you could have been there.”


She looked up at him and smiled, trying to hide the longing in her ice-blue eyes. “And how have you been? Did the King's business take you away from London? I have been hoping to see you again. There are a couple of ideas I want to run by you if you would like to hear them.”

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So Sophia had only just encountered Lady Frances? "I ken her frae previous seasons, but allus she haes been quiet, in her father an' brothair's shadow."* Now it seemed that she was maturing and finding a certain zest and confidence in life, as befit a Cavendish. Perhaps it was all to the good, since she was surely now of marriagable age. Speaking of women just come of that age, Douglas gave Sophia a faint, said smile and lowered his gaze for a moment, at her whispered words. All ego, he assumed that he was her regret.


He certainly would have preferred a different outcome, but in this merry court, her being wed might provide other opportunities, if they could be discrete in their arrangements. Meanwhile the changes in her life seemed to have matured Sophia; whilst still lively and vibrant she had a certain thoughtfulness about her that she'd lacked when he'd first met her. "I think yer growin' intae yer position." He told her, meaning it as a compliment. "Ahint e'ery successful man is a guid wuman."** He just hoped that Pedro understood what he had in her. Certainly the Spanish Ambassador seemed to have come to the fore of late, helped no doubt by Don Juan's campaign in Spain with English support. It was an interesting direction, given the previous support of the Portuguese. But Douglas was also aware that Sophia's fortunes would rise and fall with those of the Spanish, and included the risk of her leaving the country. He would not like to see her go.


"I wuid hae liked nocht better." He assured her, a bit miffed that he hadn't been able to make her party. "Alas but Catriona haes been ill this season." She's taken a turn for the worse that evening, though improved this morning. "I hae been carin' fer her an' the wee 'uns." The 'wee uns' being everyone from his toddler niece to a stroppy teenage sister. "But thair weel be mony more yet this season; ye weel be cammin' tae oor Hogmanay, will ye nae?"*** He asked, hoping she'd say yes. He was already wondering whether he could finagle her away from her husband.


It wasn't the King's business that had taken him away from London between seasons, and only the snow had delayed his return. "Nae, I were up at Dundarg, seein' the cattle settled fer the winter." He replied quietly, land-management stuff that was likely boring to her, though interesting to him. It occured to him that, whilst she had seen many changes since last season, his life had not changed overmuch. At the same time he felt that he was ready for a change. He just had to work out what that would be. "I wuid indeed like tae hear yer ideas." What might be on her mischievious mind? "Haps a walk in the gardens, say efter church, if the weather proves fine?" He suggested. "Er a ride in St James? I'm sure a cauld wind wuidnae daunt ye."+ Like himself she was from colder climes than Londoners.



* "I know her from previous seasons, but always she has been quiet, in her father and brother's shadow."

** "I think you're growing into your position. Behind every successful man is a good woman."

*** "I would have liked nothing better. Alas but Catriona has been ill this season. I have been caring for her and the little ones. But there will be many more yet this season; you will be coming to our Hogmanay, won't you?"

+ "No, I was up at Dundarg, seeing the cattle settled for the winter. I would like to hear your ideas. Perhaps a walk in the gardens, say after church, if the weather proves fine? Or a ride in St James? I'm sure a cold wind wouldn't daunt you."

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“She was certainly confident today.” Sophia smiled. “I like her.” She did hope that Lady Frances would have tea with her. The young Baroness didn't know many girls close to her own age and she seemed like the proper sort of lady that Esteban would like her to associate with.


She noticed his sad smile when she said that not all of the changes in her life had been welcome. If she had been allowed to choose her own husband, she would have married Douglas. Yet then she would have had to give up Juan, whom she still loved with all her heart. As it was, her decision had been made for her, not by her guardian but by her royal lover. She wasn't exactly unhappy with her marriage, but she wasn't overjoyed with it either.


And being married did give her a bit more freedom than she would have had were she still single. She and the entrancing Scot could still indulge their passion for each other as long as they were prudent. Assuming that he still cared for her the way she cared for him and wasn't averse to a relationship with a married woman. Oh, how she hoped that was so!


“Do you really think so?” she asked, her eyes wide. “I never aspired to be the wife of an Ambassador but I'm trying to make the best of it.” Sophia had known that Esteban coveted the position before they were wed, but she had not expected that the honor would be bestowed upon him so soon. Now she wondered if he had insisted that Juan gave it to him in return for marrying her. It would not surprise her in the least, for he certainly couldn't have been ecstatic about wedding his master's mistress and raising his bastards as his own.


She chuckled a bit wryly at his claim that behind every man stood a good woman. “Try telling my lord husband that. He is still angry with me because of the opera. But I hope that his attitude toward me has softened after the success of our party.” She sighed. “For two people who live in the same house, we don't converse very often.”


Her own troubles were forgotten in concern for her friend. “Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that Lady Alyth has been ill. I had been hoping that we could spend some time together this season. Perhaps I should pay her a visit unless she would rather not see anybody while she isn't feeling well. At the very least, I will send her a letter along with her Christmas gift.” Now she knew why none of the MacBains had attended the banquet.


“I will have to discuss it with my husband, but I will attend if he allows it.” Douglas had once explained Scottish parties to her and she was still intrigued. “Will you be wearing a kilt?” she asked, her eyes sparkling mischievously. Lowering her voice, she added: “You promised to show me how a kilt could be wrapped around two people. Perhaps you will be able to show me then.”


Both of his suggestions sounded enjoyable, but Sophia suspected that Esteban wouldn't allow her to go riding with him. “A walk in the gardens would be lovely. I'm going to visit Lord Langdon and his ward after Church. She seems to need friends and guidance, and I hope to offer her both. She is a few years younger than I am and I know what she is going through. Unlike me, she has a mother, but she's insane and used to be at Bedlam." That mystery at that asylum was one of the subjects she wished to discuss with him.


"We could meet 'accidentally' in the gardens after that. Or you could come with me. I doubt that Lord Langdon would mind.” Sophia was certain the two Life Guards were well-acquainted. “And we can talk a bit now. I'm thinking of starting a club next season, something like your adventuring society but only for married ladies. Would you be willing to help me with it?”

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  • 3 weeks later...

“Aye, I do.” He assured her on the subject of growing into the role of Ambassador’s wife. “Ye hae a way wi folk.” And when so much Ambassadorial work was people relations, that was an important trait to have. He just hoped that her husband appreciated it. Yet from what she said next, it seemed not. True, the opera had been scandelous, but only a blind man or a fool would have expected Sophia to be a proper lady. He’d realised that when first he met her. Likely the Ambassador had married her for her money - all of which had no doubt been funelled into Juan’s attempt at the throne - and was now trying to mould his wife into the kind of woman he preferred. Whilst Douglas had previously had good relations with both Juan and Esteban, the thought left a sour taste in his mouth.


Alas but not every man cared for a free spirit. “Thairs plenty o’ married folk as live their ain lives.” He observed, but the humourless way his lips flatlined suggested he at least commiserated with her lack of satisfaction with the arrangement. Still, at the end of the day, she could have refused to marry the man. Yes, there would have been repercussions, but they weren’t exactly things she’d worried about before. Still, if she was able to live her own life away from her disinterested husband, there were other directions that it could take. “Luik tae yer other interests.”** He suggested.


In truth, he’d quite like to be one of those interests. “If yer int’rested in paintin’s, the Green Sittin’ Room is weel worth a visit.” He suggested, all apparent innocence. “Mos’ o’ the rooms weel be open durin’ the Baw, shuid ye git the chance.” In fact, although it did have a nice frieze, the painting that it had wasn’t particularly noteworthy, but then would one expect someone like Douglas to have refined artistic sense? What he was more interested in was the fact that it was further along the corridor, some little way from the main festivities, and therefore a little more private. “Haein’ sayed tha’, I like th’natural art o’ th’ootdoors; the snow on the gardens is bonnie this time o’ year.”*** And both were suitable places for a romantic interlude. Alas but tomorrow was already full. But where better to find a little time away from prying eyes?


And then there were rather more private parties, like the one he had planned. “Aye, acoorse I weel wear the kilt!” He declared with a laugh, clearly pleased at the prospect. “An’ I’d be more’n happy tae show ye hou tae wrap it.”+ The thought of snuggling up in yards of soft wool with Sophia was a very pleasant one, and a promise that he remembered well. It was simply a question of opportunity, and he planned to take the first one.


The mother of Langdon’s ward was insane? Well there was a thing. Douglas knew very little of the Major’s adopted family. “I kin walk ye tae Langdon’s if ye like.” He agreed easily. “An we cuid visit the gardens efter. I was thinkin’ of tryin’ the maze agin, see if’t luiks diff’rent in the snow.”++ He suggested, apparently idly, but with a certain light in those blue eyes. The maze would be an excellent space to find a little privacy, and no obstacle to those accustomed to the cold.



* “Yes, I do. You have a way with people.”

** “There are plenty of married people that live their own lives. Look to your other interests”

*** “If you’re interested in paintings, the Green Sitting Room is well worth a visit. Most of the rooms will be open during the Ball, should you get the chance. Having said that, I like th natural art of the outdoors; the snow on the gardens is pretty this time of year.

+ “Yes, of course I will wear the kilt! And I’d be more than happy to show you how to wrap it.”

++ “I can walk you to Langdon’s if you like. And we could visit the gardens after. I was thinking of trying the maze again, see if it looks different in the snow.”

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All I really want is to have a way with you.


“Thank you,” she said, blushing yet again. “I do love to socialize and I try to be friendly to everyone, even if they aren't very friendly to me.” Sophia had not run into any courtiers lately who disapproved of her, even since the opera. When she had been new to court, those who didn't care for foreigners had snubbed her or brazenly told her to go back where she came from, but that hadn't happened since she had become the wife of the Spanish Ambassador. Perhaps now that she had a legitimate excuse to be here, there was no use trying to infuriate her into leaving.


“Yes, I know. Our marriage isn't really all that unusual, I suppose. And he does allow me more freedom than most Spanish ladies dream of. There is a stricter code of behavior in Spain. I noticed it when I visited Madrid.” She wrinkled her nose. “And almost every noble wears black, even the women.”


Sophia wanted Douglas to be the most important of her other interests. Even the thought of singing paled next to the notion of his body entwined with hers. “I don't think I have ever been to the Green Sitting Room. Maybe I will ask somebody where it is and visit it tonight.” She grinned saucily, turning her head so that Karl couldn't see her facial expression. Her voice remained low. “Who knows who I might run into there?”


She nodded emphatically. “Oh yes, I completely agree. The gardens look like a magnificent work of art adorned with icicles and snow. I enjoy strolling through them at any time of the year.”


Her blue eyes sparkled when Douglas confirmed that he would wear his kilt to his party and that he would be happy to wrap her in it with him. “I'm so afraid that my lord husband will forbid me to go. He wouldn't let me attend Lady Kendishall's party a few days ago, though even if he had, I would have had to decline because that was the day I twisted my ankle.”


Sophia gazed up at him. “Maybe you could speak to him at the ball and invite him yourself? He is aware that you prevented Don Juan from being poisoned. He should be grateful to you for that. And you can also ask him for his permission to dance with me. I think he would appreciate your courtesy, which could also influence his decision.”


She was pleased that he agreed to escort her to Lord Langdon's. Perhaps the two gentlemen could converse while she spoke to Frances. “That sounds perfect. I'm curious as to what the maze looks like covered in snow as well.” There was no doubt in the petite blonde's mind now that he wanted to be alone with her. Although she didn't tolerate cold temperatures very well, she knew that the heat of desire would keep her warm until she was enfolded in his embrace.


“Do you think we will be able to evade my bodyguard?” she whispered. “He accompanies me everywhere. My lord husband tells me that it is for my protection, but I believe the man has been told to watch me and report back to him.”

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