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For the love of all things holy...or royal? | 31st 7pmish- Xmas 1677


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The corridors of the palace were abuzz for it was a ball night. As with many nights with lots of opening and closing of doors, several of the King's spanlels were leaping around the strangest places. Since the disappearance of one of the King's favourite bitches months earlier, precautions to them not getting out of the castle were better, but that did not mean they did not escape to inside it often.


Servants were running about with messages, articles of clothing, water...swearing under their breath sometimes if one listened closely.


"Where is that boy!" came one of two voices from an open doorway.


"He should have been back by now..."


"Do you know how discountenanced he shall be if he is wearing the same colour as..."


"Oh yes," the second voice interrupted. They were both blond, one perhaps a few years the elder. If someone ventured close enough to get a look, it would be easily noticed that the two were not commoners but gentlemen or noblemen, clearly talking about the wardrobe of someone of importance.


A disfunction of wardrobe and of page boy of someone of importance.

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  • 1 month later...

Since her husband was dining with Lord Chichester tonight, Sophia had left him a note saying that she would meet him at the ball and had gone to the palace early so that she could practice walking without a limp. Her ankle was improving rapidly and it seemed that the more she walked, the less it pained her. Now she was traversing the corridors, so many myriad thoughts cavorting through her mind that she lost track of where she was going.


As she rounded a corner, something small and soft slammed against her legs. Startled, she looked down and smiled. One of the King's fluffy little spaniels was sitting on the floor, looking up at her curiously. “Are you hurt, little one?” she asked, bending down to stroke its little head. The dog perked up and stood, its tail wagging merrily. “Oh, you just wanted attention, didn't you?” she chided and continued to pet it.


She heard voices a short distance away and she caught the exchange coming from a nearby room. The speakers seemed to be waiting for a boy to tell them what someone was wearing so that somebody else wouldn't choose the same color. Who were they talking about?


Picking up the squirming spaniel, Sophia stealthily moved closer. The door to the room was open, and she couldn't resist peeking in. The two well-dressed blonde courtiers standing inside looked rather annoyed and she surmised that they served a gentleman of some importance. Although curious, the matter was none of her business.


Before she could turn away, however, the furball in her arms began to yap. Her heart pounded so loudly that she was certain the two men would be able to hear it. Hiding her presence now would be impossible, and so she walked in, smiling with feigned confidence. “Forgive my interruption, my lords, but I couldn't help hearing your discussion. As a lady known for her sense of fashion, may I be of assistance?”

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As Sophia entered the doorway, she would see not two gentlemen, but one gentleman with a flurry of people further in the room. Some were noble, some were gentlemen, some were servants and some were ladies.


John Churchill smiled at Lady Toledo. He had crossed paths with her before.


"Not unless you wear a man's waistcoat, my lady," York's gentleman said, with a sigh that wanted to hold amusement but did not. The Duke of York was far more flighty than His Majesty.


Another boy ran out between the two of them.


And it would also seem that it was not His Majesty's dog that was in the hallway, for Churchill put his arms out for the dog. "Sitting in the hallway again?"


He handed off the dog to a girl before turning his attention back to the lady, "You are around the palace early. Does Lord Toledo not attend with you?"

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Sophia smiled at Captain John Churchill. She thought she might have spoken to him a few times, but she had met so many courtiers in the last year that it was difficult to remember. Glancing around her, she noticed a diverse group of people gathered inside the room. Had she stumbled into somebody's presence chamber? If so, whose? She rather hoped it was the Duke of Cumberland's, for she would like to speak with the German Prince again.


“I could wear one if it was made to fit over my ...” She caught herself just before she said 'bosom.' “I do know how to pick them out, though, and I'm excellent at figuring out what items go well with each other. If you let me help choose your master's clothing, he will be the most well-dressed and admired gentleman at the ball.”


Sophia spoke with brazen confidence. She had sometimes picked out Juan's attire when she had visited him in Madrid and he had always seemed pleased with her choices. When Esteban asked for her assistance, she helped him as well, although it wasn't as much of a challenge since most everything he owned was black. Maybe Captain Churchill’s master had a passion for color.


She stepped back as a boy ran between them, wondering what kind of errand he had been sent on. He certainly seemed as if he was in a hurry. The little dog in her arms tried to lick her chin but she turned her head just in time.


When the blond gentleman held out his arms for it, she gladly gave it to him. As much as she loved animals, it wouldn't do to be covered in dog slobber at the ball. “Your dog is very sweet. What is its name?” The petite Baroness had no idea if the canine was male or female. She couldn't very well lift it up and look underneath it without setting the ladies in the room to tittering.


“My lord husband will meet me later.” She sighed as if disappointed that he had not accompanied her to the palace. Playing the neglected wife never went wrong, particularly since it was mostly true. “He is having dinner with Lord Chichester tonight. I decided to arrive a bit early and see if I could find an interesting way to while away the time.”


She grinned playfully. “Perhaps I have found it? I am quite adept at solving wardrobe conundrums and I have even coordinated outfits for a Prince.”

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"That is the task for a wife or a...a wife, yes, a wife, and the duchess would surely be jealous, not to mention Lady O'Roarke. No, no, Lady Toledo, I do you a kindness, do not involve yourself," he said, chuckling. He had nearly said lover and then caught himself. Then the word had truly sparked his mind and made his eyes widen. Not just anyone let any woman choose their clothes.


"Plus, it is not a question of selecting. There is not something which matches the grandeur of something made for a prince for such an occasion just hiding about his closet." Churchill kept good spirits and humour about what was actually a most difficult affair, and one he could not quite explain. For it would do no good for rumours to start.


"Sir George nearly got hit with an empty cup for offering his, which is very fine indeed, and few gentlemen are tall enough and of similar size." Perhaps that illuminated the problem a bit more. What a man of such station had made for such an occasion could not be easily matched but by another thing made for such an occasion. Something that had already been seen would not do.

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So she had stumbled into the presence chamber of a Duke. As soon as Captain Churchill mentioned Lady O'Roarke, she knew which one and she shivered involuntarily. Sophia did not like the Duke of York. At all. Not a bit. She had only spoken to him once, and the reason for her animosity toward him was a single comment he had made.


'It is not polite to ask questions of royalty.'


His arrogance had been disgusting, as if he thought he was better than she was simply because of the accident of his birth. And his statement had been a lie. It had not been long afterward that she had asked the King to commission a full-scale opera so that she could show him the full capabilities of her voice. And he had agreed. If not for her inquiry, last week's opera wouldn't have happened and her favorite form of entertainment would not have been introduced to the English nobility.


Now that she knew who was having the wardrobe crisis, she was less inclined to help … and more inclined to hinder. Perhaps there was a way that she could sabotage whatever efforts were being made to rectify the situation and he would look a fool at the ball.


Her plans for vengeance were interrupted at the sight of Captain Churchill's widened eyes and she thought back on what she had just said, realizing that if he believed only wives and mistresses chose a gentleman's wardrobe, then she had just revealed that she was the lover of a prince. Her heart skipped a beat even as her improvisation skills kicked into gear.


“Oh, is that an English customs?” Her expression and tone of voice was guileless. “I do not believe that I will ever learn them all. It is different on the Continent. A lady with excellent taste may be consulted about a gentleman's attire. Who but a woman truly knows what looks best on a man?”


Sophia shrugged. “Maybe that attitude will eventually become popular here as well.” She actually had no idea if what she said was true or as false as York's long-ago comment. Lies had always tripped easily from her lips, especially when they could save her own skin … or in this case, her reputation. However, there could be some truth in it. The Continent was far ahead of England in most respects, at least in her opinion.


“What article of clothing is your royal master looking for? And if it is not in his closet, where is it?” She gazed up at him. “Did he have something new made and it has not yet arrived? If that is the case, perhaps I can help after all … by finding out where it is.”


And making sure it never reaches him ...

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If Churchill had not spent a lot of time in France and around Frenchmen, serving as commander of their English regiment there, he might have bought Sophia's explanation. As it was, he was too polite to say anything further. In fact, he pretended that he had not stumbled over his sentence at all.


One did not serve in a royal household without having some skills at the required aloof etiquette.


"A waistcoat," John said. "It has not disappeared anywhere. It has become...unsuitable."


He moved and cast his eyes out in the hallway again.


"We have sent pages to attempt to requisition one and a footman sent to the royal tailor. No word yet, alas. Unless you know a gentleman or rank who is very rich and of comparable size, I'm not so sure how you can help."

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A waistcoat? That article of clothing was only seen above and below the buttons of the justacorps and sometimes its sleeves peeked out from beneath the coat's wide cuffs. Still, Sophia had chosen Juan's and Esteban's waistcoats as carefully as she had chosen everything else. It seemed strange that the one the Duke planned to wear was unsuitable when it probably matched the rest of his outfit.


“Even if I did know such a gentleman, it seems to me that your master would not accept a waistcoat that had already been worn by another. Did you not just say he threw a chalice at someone who had offered his?” She looked over to the door where Anna stood with her ever-present shadow, Karl. “Does he allow maidservants to attend to his clothing? Mine is very talented with a needle and might be able to appease him with creative additions to what he already has.


“Or she could assist the royal tailor when he arrives if he needs some extra help.” Why, Sophia wondered, was she now presenting solutions when she would rather York not attend the ball at all?. Somehow, it just seemed the right thing to do. Her offer would probably be refused anyway, but kindness never went wrong.


She smiled disarmingly at Captain Churchill. “I applaud you for your patience and composure. Your master does not sound like an easy gentleman to serve."

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Churchill tried not to chuckle, "But my lady, how am I supposed to not speak ill of my master with such questions!"


In truth it was not that Sir George's waistcoast was not grand enough, it was that it was not a waistcoat of high enough rank for a prince's vanity when said prince was in a tiff. There was no polite way to say it. His chuckle likely said enough.


"Oh, it's not needing additions. Someone ruined it on accident so far as we know." He whispered, "Before the evening is over, though, it shall be because the prince is Catholic." James was a bit pompous like that.


"As easy as any prince I am sure," he replied, with a nod.

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Sophia had not asked him to speak against his master. He had told her that York had thrown a glass at somebody. She almost suggested that he be inventive if he wished to criticize the Duke, but thought better of it. Creativity had served her well on the occasions she had reason to disparage those who had deserved it, including her own husband.


When he described what had happened, the petite Baroness turned her head away briefly, as if glancing about the room, so that Captain Churchill wouldn't see her smirk. She rather doubted that the waistcoat had been ruined by accident. It was more likely that a servant had done it on purpose, perhaps as revenge for being reprimanded for something trivial. If she knew his identity, she would shake his hand, but only if she was in disguise as a commoner.


“A plausible explanation,” she whispered back. “And one I will promptly forget I ever heard.”


Not all Princes were difficult. Sophia could not see Juan flying into a rage because of a ruined waistcoat. He would simply choose another, with her help if she was in Madrid at the time. And they would have a good laugh about it later, while entwined together in bed.


“If he is in a foul mood, perhaps he could be soothed by a song or two by the wife of a fellow Catholic? I would be pleased to sing for him while the problem is being resolved. I cannot imagine that my lord husband would object as long as I am not alone in the room with him. He would probably consider it an honor for me to sing to the Prince.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

"I would not subject a lady to such things," he replied. If the thoughts of flying goblets did not scare the girl for the tantrum within without him being more specific, he would protect his master's fickle mood more directly.


He leaned in, "Besides, His Highness is not dressed."


Then he smiled and said, "But, if you wish to be of some aid, might you relay a message to the Duchess' apartments? For we have sent all the available pages---."


There was a thud from inside, followed by another thud, and a clatter. Something was said but it was far enough from the many rooms within that no words could be discerned.


"Have you any friends there who might benefit from being the one to deliver the news to the Duchess?" he asked. "If so, you should deliver it to her. If not, deliver it to the highest among them or one you wish to befriend." There were always personal benefits to such things, even the potential making of a new, well-placed friend.


The Duke's wife was likely getting attired as well and thus would not receive someone she did not know as well. If the lady wished such a task, John would then write up a note or think up what to relay verbally.

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Sophia was frightened of very little and during her brief and forbidden opera career, objects had been flung at her before as part of the show. She had become quite adept at dodging them, since they were never thrown exactly the same way in every performance. However, she didn't think that the despicable Duke of York would lob goblets … or anything else … at a lady. Surely, he had at least a modicum of manners. And the beauty of music could temporarily distract him until the mystery of the disappearing waistcoat could be solved.


She shivered when Captain Churchill said that his master was not dressed. Perhaps she didn't want to sing for him after all.


He then made another suggestion … that she deliver a message to the Duke's wife. That was a task that she knew she could perform, and judging from the commotion that came from further within York's apartments, the sooner Her Grace was informed of the situation, the better it would be for everyone. Her part would be minor but even the smallest roles were important, and this one could be advantageous to her as well.


“I would be pleased to serve as your messenger,” she replied. Sophia had met one of her ladies and had thought that they were friends, but Sarah Jennings had not answered the letter she had sent her last season, so now she no longer knew what the other girl thought of her. There would likely be plenty of ladies who would be willing to relay the message in the Duchess' presence chamber, and perhaps she would make a new friend or ally in the process.


“I do not know who is there now, but I will find someone to give it to her." All other efforts had obviously failed. Sophia wad determined that she would not.

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"Ah, very good!" John replied brightly. "I would have you come sit whilst I write, but I think I will save your presence." He grinned. The noises from inside made further explanation un-needed.


Churchill disappeared for a few moments, there were some more unintelligible words, and then he came back out with a small bit of sealed parchment which explained the Duke of York's delay. It also explained they awaited an entirely new waistcoat, that the Duchess should not concern, and that they would arrive once the Duke was dressed. In other words, stay far away until the Duke arrived with his retinue!


"Here you are," he said. "Make sure you tell whom you give it to that it is for the Duchess only." He did not see the need to advertise to both sides of the household that York was having a tantrum of sorts.


"We will all find out how this story ends shortly," he added, in a whisper. For the would all be at the ball together sooner or later.

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Though she had confidence in her ability to avoid unidentified flying objects, Sophia had no desire to accompany Captain Churchill into the Duke's apartments. The other people in the room might get the wrong idea, considering that he was in the process of getting dressed. She didn't need to further damage to her reputation. Rumors of that sort would enrage Esteban and he might make good on his promise to send her away.


“I will wait here for you.” He did seem pleased with her willingness to serve as messenger. Running errands was beneath the dignity of an Ambassador's wife, but a noble lady might be able to succeed where several pages had apparently failed. Or perhaps the pages had been sent on other tasks and none were left to inform the Duchess what was going on. Whatever the case, she was perfectly content to carry out his request.


She sat down while he was gone. Her ankle no longer pained her, but if she wanted to dance tonight, she should probably rest it whenever possible. Sophia stood when he returned and took the sealed missive from him, tucking it safely into the hidden pocket in her petticoat. “Do not worry. It will get to her. I will ask for confirmation that she has read it.”


Her platinum ringlets bobbed merrily as she nodded in response to his whisper. “I believe it will all turn out well.” Ordinarily, she would hope that York embarrassed himself in front of the entire court, but now that she was involved, she wished for a positive outcome.


“Shall I come back to tell you that the message has been received?”

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John was blissfully unaware of the multitude of thoughts Sophia was having. He thought her all kindness for undertaking the errand.


"No, that is not necessary. I am certain by then you shall want to head to the ball yourself," Churchill said.


Sending her back and forth was far beneath her besides.


"I doubt anything shall be amiss."


It was not smart to ignore notes from one's own husband after all.

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“As you wish.” Sophia had thought that the knowledge that the message had been delivered and read would give Captain Churchill some peace of mind, but he refused her offer to return. Perhaps it was just as well as it would save her from having to walk back. If she wished to dance, she couldn't flounce around the palace all evening on an injured ankle.


“I shall be on my way then.” She smiled warmly. “I hope the Duke's waistcoat arrives soon.”


With that, she turned around and headed out the door and toward the Duchess of York's apartments.



(OOC: Do I need to start a new thread with her arriving in the Duchess' chambers or will it continue in this one?)

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