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Delivering A Message | 31/12, after 7 pm- Xmas 1677

Sophia de la Cerda

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...continued from this thread


The Duchess of York's Apartments


With the sealed message for the Duchess of York tucked securely in her petticoat pocket, Sophia left the Duke's apartments and headed down the corridor, realizing that she had no idea where the Duchess' apartments were. Stopping a servant who seemed to be in a bit of a hurry, she asked for directions and then followed them carefully.


When she reached the door, she stepped inside, looking around for either a lady she knew or one who appeared to be in charge. She was determined that the note would reach its intended recipient and planned to wait until it had been read. The petite blonde was not a page to be easily ignored, but the wife of the Spanish Ambassador. She was due the respect of her status, despite the fact that she was a foreigner in the English court, much like the Duchess herself.


As her eyes swept the room, she wondered if any of the Duchess' ladies spoke Italian.

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The Duchesses Apratments were a controled state of Chaos as they were at even the calmest of days or nights and now was no exception.


Her receiving room was not as large as the Queens of course but it still allowed for a gathering of adequate numbers and beyond a closed set of ornately scrolled wooden doors was her private set of rooms that were 'guarded' by one of her senior married ladies.


The two Princesses were lodged within the complex suite of rooms each with her own set of attendants and as for the Duke his apartements were adjoining and to the left laid out in the same pattern of room to room to room.


It was into this scene that a lone figure entered and for a time no one gave heed to her merely scattering about on tasks and errands each duty bound. The Lady for that she was clearly might then think there was deliberate cause for such conditions but in that she would be in error. Word would be filtered thru the ears until it reached the most Senior amongst them all and it would be that Lady that came to make inquiry.


It was by chance that task fell to Sarah Jennings and once the message was given she rolled her eyes slightly and passed off the pair of sleeves to one of the Duchesses dresse'sr and made her way there. She paused some few feet away eyes going a bit wide as she reconiged the Spanish Ambassadors wife and so now wondered just why she had come ....


"Baroness?" She said lighly as she gave the other a curtsey. "How may I be of help? You are lost I think and have found your way to York's apartments."


Her gaze held curiosity and her apprisal of the others' attire made it clear she was or had been already to the Ball's location. It was strange indeed that this would occur which made Sarah on alert. What Political Mischief was afoot?

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Despite the fact that it looked like she was being ignored, Sophia knew she wasn't, for nobody scurrying about the Duchess' chambers ran into her, meaning that her presence had been noted. The ball had not started yet and there was no real hurry to place the note into the right hands. Grabbing one of the ladies by the arm and asking who to give it to would have been rude and beneath the dignity of her station, and so she sat down in a chair and waited to be approached.


And if nobody did? She could drop the note in the fire and watch with satisfaction as chaos ensued in the rooms of the Duke she despised. But that might harm the Duchess and she hoped to make a positive impression on her. Perhaps the best course of action would be to burst into song. An aria from any famous Italian opera should bring her more than enough attention to complete her task.


As it turned out, she did neither. Word must have reached the Duchess of her arrival for eventually Sarah Jennings strolled up to her. Once again, Sophia wondered why she had not answered the letter she had sent her shortly after she had married Esteban. She didn't think the other lady would snub her because she was married to a Catholic considering that she served one. Maybe she had never received it.


The note she carried now would not suffer the same fate.


She stood up as Sarah greeted her. “It is a pleasure to see you again. Mistress Jennings. I am not lost. I have just come from the Duke's presence chamber. A note needs to be delivered to your mistress and I volunteered to bring it to her.”

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"Have you indeed?"


Sarah was now very attuned to the fact that not only was this very much out of the usual but also added in was that the Duke had sent the Spanish Ambassador's Wife rather than a member of his own household to deliver said missive to the Duchess.


"Why pray would you do such? I mean, tis hardly befitting your Position after all Baroness, to act as messanger for His Grace when there is household aplenty even Palace runners if need be. You can not blame me for thinking such now can you?"


Her manner was respectful but there would be no doubt that the Baroness would not find it easy to move much further inside the Apartment. For Sarah was Duty-Bound to protect her Mistress and that of the children and who was to know if others' lurked close at hand waiting for a signal?


This was a surprise to Sarah for she had not thought the German would take an interest in things Politic and the brief dealings they had had gave no clue. But that was before she had been wed to Spain's Ambassador to this Court and now under the employ as eyes and ears for her husband's Master perhaps.


That this was all an unfairness to the other woman did not enter her head. A married woman took her status, her very rank, from her husband and so any Courtier present to witness this exchange might think exactly the same.


It was the very oddness of her presence and reason that now drew suspicion.


Sarah's gaze had taken in the fact that no men were present but she knew well within shouting distance if it came to that. Her own visage went still and her head came up ready to do whatever she must.


"I will see it delivered personally. May I?"


She held out a hand waiting for this missive the Baroness carried her blue eyes holding steady on the other.


She could sense that the chatter had somewhat shifted and that they were being observed discreetly so there was good in that and no doubt by now the Duchess had been told that the wife of the Spanish Ambasador had come and that her Sarah Jennings was dealing. The Duchess would wait afore making her own move and if there WAS trouble word would be sent out thru the back way immediately to the Duke.

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Perhaps Mistress Jennings had not meant to be condescending, but that was how her response sounded to Sophia. Why doesn't she like me? We got along so well when we met. Has someone poisoned her against me? Or is the Duchess in as foul a mood as her husband and it's rubbed off on her attendants?


“Why?” She placed one finger a bit melodramatically upon the side of her chin, tilting her head as if in thought. “Perhaps I'm just being nice. Is that such a foreign concept? Have you never done a favor for someone out of the goodness of your heart?” She could be condescending too and right now, she had the upper hand. The note was in her possession. Her natural speaking voice was loud enough that the courtiers who were covertly observing them could probably hear what was transpiring. If Mistress Jennings did not collect the message, she would be the one in hot water.


“I owe you no explanation, but since you seem to believe I have some sinister hidden motive, I will tell you why the wife of the Spanish Ambassador is currently serving as a humble messenger. I found a dog in the hallway close to the Duke's apartments and decided to return it to its owner. I went into his presence chamber to ask who owned it. As if turned out, it was Captain Churchill's dog. We started talking and he asked me if I would mind taking an important note to the Duchess. The pages and runners were otherwise occupied.”


While she wished she could mention that York was throwing childish tantrums and lobbing things at his gentlemen because he couldn’t find a waistcoat he liked, Sophia had been at court long enough to know not to malign powerful courtiers, particularly royals, in public places. If she was heard speaking ill of someone of importance, not only would her reputation suffer, but Esteban's and Spain's as well. She was slowly learning how to curb her German bluntness, but only when it was strictly necessary.


The pretty singer shrugged and smiled warmly at this lady who was so quick the think the worst of her. The beaded lace ruffles around the neckline of her gown fluttered, glittering in the candlelight. “And so here I am, performing a task far beneath me because it will benefit both your mistress and her esteemed husband. ” 'Steamed' was a more accurate word to describe York's current mood. “It was the right thing to do.”


Sophia's eyes didn't leave Sarah's even when the other woman held out her hand, and she made no move to retrieve the letter from her pocket. She had hoped to give it to a lady who would be advantageous to her in the future, not one who looked as if she could barely tolerate her presence and suspected her of malicious intent.


“I was instructed to give it to the most senior of the Duchess' ladies,” she replied. “Can you tell me who that is?”

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Ones initial reactions to any situation are not often correct and so was the case now for which Sarah was grateful for. That did not mean that she would relax her stance but there was some 'softening' as she countered back.


"Ah. Churchill's pet does do that and tis hoped by us all that it will soon outgrow such things and how fortunate then that you should discover it before some calaminty occurred as you say."


"Clever John to think of sending You then as that no doubt saved him from distress from the Duke or rather you volunteered. A hidden Motive? Why would you think that of all things? And how can it then be seen as beneath you if you are, as you say, helping another Baroness?"


Sarah knew that their conversation could be heard but the Baronesses voice seemed louder in the confined space but that was no doubt because she was so accustomed to being upon a Stage! The Duchess of York's female attendants all would have their own version of this she knew as well but there was a collective protection amongst them when one of their own was being taken to task.


ah and there in lies the reason for this visit - she hopes to 'benefit' in some way by association with the York's - and she imagines that the Duchess will be so thankful for the delivery of it. well both are Catholic so a visit from the Baroness might not be unlikely but then she has never sought one afore now. no I shall remain suspicious even tho I might be in error


Sarah smiled back her hands clasped together lightly as she continued


"Your arrival has already been announced to the Duchess and it will be up to Her Grace to send whoever she chooses. I have no say in that Baroness and so I am afraid you needs must wait ..... I can how ere see you seated in a better place more 'befitting' your rank - might closer to the hearth suit or if that is not well met then you may seat yourself freely."


Condensation traveled both directions.



(ooc- perhaps the D of York or another of her Ladies might interject a bit?)

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Perhaps Sophia had been a bit too hasty in her assessment of Sarah's comment. The lady had become quite amenable now that she had explained her intrusion into the Duchess' chambers. She was now speaking to her almost as if they were friends.


“Please forgive me. Mistress Jennings. My English is still far from perfect and I misunderstood your words. Ever since my lord husband was appointed as Ambassador to England, people seem to think that everything I do is orchestrated with an ulterior motive in mind. It is disconcerting, to say the least. I suppose I have become a bit defensive.”


Sophia knew the power of an apology. Not many people were willing to admit that they were wrong, particularly with others obviously listening in. 'I'm sorry,' she had heard over and over, were two of the most difficult words to say. Perhaps because of her theatrical background, she didn't see it that way. Asking for forgiveness or saying she was sorry was easy. Meaning it was the hard part.


In this case, though, she did, and she hoped the eavesdroppers remembered how quick she had been to apologize when she was in error. Maybe they would speak of her sweet and (supposedly) humble disposition, which might make the Duchess curious about her.


“I do not feel that my task is beneath me, but others might. Captain Churchill seemed a bit hesitant to ask in case I took offense. I told him, as I will tell you, that I am pleased to be able to assist your mistress and his master.”


Sarah didn't try to take the missive from her. She was nearly as young as Sophia and probably not one of the senior ladies-in-waiting. By now, the Duchess most likely knew that a letter had arrived from her husband's gentleman. Maybe, if the petite blonde was lucky, York's wife would want her to deliver the note personally.


At the moment, as Mistress Jennings had pointed out, all she could do was wait. “A chair close to the hearth would be splendid. The heat will soothe my injured ankle. I am trying to stay off of it as much as possible because I really want to dance tonight.”


As she waited to be led there, she asked: “So how have you been, Mistress Jennings? I hope everything is well with you. I sent you a letter during the summer season, hoping to meet with you again. Did you not receive it?”

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That was unexpected. Her apology and yet Sarah could not help but think her reasonings were an excuse too - how better to achieve a task then to continue to have all believe that your language skills were lacking still!


Very clever.


Sarah nodded and then led the other towards the seating area of choice and took the chair opposite for there was nothing incorrect in her doing such whilst the other must wait on the Duchess.


"Well there is reason in that belief Baroness and it would be the same if your husband had been French or any other from a Place not favorable to this one. And wife or servant is seen as employed by that Country's Master and as Politics form everyone's daily Life tis an expected view that they would be tasked to retrieve what ere is asked of them."


"Ambassador's send reports and they fill them with things that are both truth and not, gossip and rumour abound in them and they are oft times just the opinion of the writer yet in those far off places with only those written words to speak they are believed. And that is why others' will think you are they same."


She had enlightened then gave a small shrug of her shoulder adding


"Yet you must understand that you will always have that and so find ways round. I too have had my own trials here for I am not Catholic in a Household that is. Suspicion was directed at me from the start yet my Family is well enough known and my elder sister served the late Duchess right well. I am fixed here in place so to speak and Trusted."


As long as she was feeling so generous in explanation Sarah went further


"Your coming here no matter the good intent without any previous visit was cause for some distrust and that is a natural thing. The question begged would be why would Spain seek out York now? And in all truth I do not fully trust your motive innocent as it is claimed to be."


"And if I had been sent in the reverse to You - a known Protestant to another Catholic Household - it could well be thought that York plots with Spain. Can you now not understand the reason behind that ulterior motive as you called it?


"And I do not have any intention to cause you offense tis simple truths that any here at Court needs must have learned. Let me give you some unasked for advice - think your action thru afore you begin. Assume that all your actions are watched, which they are, and that most will also think you aid both Husband and Spain. Those that are close to you will know what is right and so you must learn how to progress."


"That is how your Life will be no matter in who's Court you are placed. It is unusual enough that an Ambassador even has a wife in attendance! And one that does not conform to the accepted Standard of her sex is another mark against you."


By now a servant would have approached and offered the Baroness refreshment if she wished for it and those about would resume their duties but eyes would still follow for there was curiosity about the Spanish Baroness for she was young and many had heard thru gossip about the "Opera" and this chance to see her up close was too good to miss.


"A letter? No. It never reached me so I must apologize for my lack of ressponse."


Just why had she prattled on on a subject that the Baroness must be fully well versed it she did not know yet Sarah was generally kind and if this other girl truly did not understand what a quicksand she must navigate then someone must speak.


Why did it have to be her she would debate later and no doubt Lady Toledo was surrounded by her own people who must have spoke the same words or close enough and offered up the same warnings!

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Sophia sank gracefully into one of the chairs by the fireplace, stretching out her injured foot toward it. Only the toe of her tiny shoe peeked out from beneath her skirts. She hadn't expected a lecture from Mistress Jennnings, but that was what she got. Although she had heard it all before and pondered the implications of her elevated status since Esteban had been promoted to Ambassador, perhaps she needed reminding now and then that most courtiers were so suspicious that they were blinded to the truth.


“If you don't believe me, ask Captain Churchill. He will confirm that he asked me to run this errand.” Unless he forgot. The poor man was doing his best to handle his volatile master's current crisis. She didn't envy him. To her, his position was more of a hardship than a privilege, yet she knew that there were many other gentlemen who would jump at the chance to take his place. Perhaps it was just as well that she was barred from becoming one of the Queen's ladies. She probably didn't have the right temperament for it.


Sophia was also aware that she was constantly being watched and that she should think before she acted, but she had always been both spontaneous and impulsive. Pondering the consequences of her actions did not come naturally to her, and it didn't help that she was young and still naïve in many ways. She was not mature enough for the position she had married into. There was still much she needed to learn.


“I know all this, but I do not understand it. Not everything one does is political. I suppose that in an indirect way, I represent Spain now, but my lord husband does not share his plans with me, nor does he ask me to assist him in matters of political importance. None of my friends are conspiring with Spain. They are my friends because we have interests in common and get along well. They are Englishwomen and foreigners, Protestants and Catholics. All we plot is shopping trips and other outings.


“If you visited me, I would think that you wished to spend time with me, not that York wanted to scheme with Spain. Why can no one comprehend that not all of us are malicious intriguers? Unless we have proved ourselves otherwise, they should take our actions at face value.”


Sophia refused the offer of refreshments, assuming that the Duchess would send someone out to her soon. Or perhaps she was in the process of dressing and wanted to receive her herself when she was properly attired. In that case, maybe she should have asked for a cup of tea.


“I also do not understand what you mean by saying that I do not conform to the standards of my sex. I am not a libertine but a loyal wife who respects and obeys her lord husband. Is not that the very epitome of proper behavior?"


Either the letter she had sent had gotten lost or Mistress Jennings was lying to her. The petite blonde, idealistic as always, chose to believe the latter. “I was wondering why you never answered. I invited you to tea. If the Duchess does not mind if you associate with me, considering my new circumstances, the offer still stands."

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Being a woman of Intelligence was not alway a Blessing and for Sarah that was proving to be true now! How she wondered can the other girl be so clueless? Yet that linger of doubt still was in place.


"I hardly think that will be necessary. It is as you have said and so that will be the reason given to the Duchess."


"You understand?"


Her words were tinged with disbelief and yet it just might be possiblle that this girl was truly one of those that were unable to retain knowledge for any length of time and if so then this type of speech would not be at all beneficial.


"I can not fathom how you are unable to comprehend the simplest of points - everything that ones does here at Court is Political Madam. Spain and England hold no friendship and so Spain is viewed with Suspecions. And you as Lady Toledo are part of Spain."


"Who you were afore marriage no longer holds merit. You say your husband asks you nothing in the way of Politics - so he has never asked you to seek out other wives or daughters then? To arrange some entertainments and invite those who might look upon Spain with favor? And what better way then to have a wife who appears too stupid to understand the role she is actually playing hmmm?"


"You as a 'Catholic' calling upon the Duchess of York also Catholic will be seen in two ways - either innocent as you have claimed or the Ambassador's wife carrying a message for the Duke perhaps to arrange a meeting or an exchange of information - in return Toledo promises to aid York in what ere he is pushing for at the moment."


"Courtiers will not care if you are innocent they will only see your actions. Your 'friend's? Truly you think such? And how can you be so sure that none conspire? Who that employs them will caution and coach with intent to make you at ease all the better to fish for tidbits of gossip or information that may or may not be useful."


"And who chose your attendants? Are they English ladies or Spanish? And your household is controlled by your husband and his servants are just that - his. And as to your thinking that if I were to 'visit' you when I had never done so and twas because I wanted to spend time with you then you might be wrong."


"I am employed by York and under His protection. I am commanded to Obey and if I am sent to you and I am seen then it will be 'supposed' that I do so for the Duchess or even the Duke and even now I might be so employed - sititng here in such a manner with this topic at hand all of which I shall retell to the Duchess - but only if Commanded to."


"I am still unsure if you are so skilled in Acting or if you are simple-minded."


"Everyone intrigues. The difference between us Madam is that I am not an Ambassador's Wife and thus of not much significance. You however are different."


"I must stop for now is in all truth not the time or place. I shall come to tea and once there I will answer what ere you wish. You need to educated yourself Madam lest you fall from Grace and not all eyes will weep for you."


"Now I shall excuse myself and go to my Mistress. You will wait. I will send you refreshment and as the Ball is tonight you will find Her Grace not in the best of moods - much like the Duke I suspect."


She stood and gave the Baroness a small curtsey and then went in the direction of the double doors her face a mask of calm and a slight smile in place. Sarah was, as so many needs must be, accomplished at putting up a false face to everyone.



(Can the D of York or another Lady jump in plz)

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Sophia was even more confused when Mistress Jennings continued her lecture. She had thought she had learned the ways of court, but it seemed as if it was much more complicated than she believed. How could people be so suspicious and read hidden intent into everything one did? So much doubt and distrust must eat away at their souls. Why be careful of your actions when they were just going to be misconstrued anyway?


“Not everything I do is political. And no, my lord husband has never asked me to befriend anyone who might look favorably upon Spain. I suppose the banquet at the Embassy last night could be seen as political, but everyone at court was invited, regardless of their feelings toward Spain. My party last season was to celebrate my marriage, not to cultivate possible allies. Perhaps I will throw another for my birthday if court is being held then. There would be no political motivation to that one either.”


She didn't correct Sarah when she assumed that she was Catholic. Technically, she was still Protestant, but she didn't feel any affinity to that faith and if Juan was adamant that she convert, she would do so without hesitation. Sophia didn't understand religious zealousness. She believed in God, in doing his will by being charitable and kind, but she was by no means devout.


“None of my friends have shown interest in my ties with Spain. If they were sent for information, they would not have continued to associate with me when they discovered that I was not privy to Spanish secrets. I would also not think that you were sent for that purpose either just because you serve the Duchess of York. If she wishes to know what transpired between us today, by all means tell her. I have absolutely nothing to hide and I am involved in no intrigue.”


As Germans appreciated bluntness, Sophia took no offense to Sarah's supposition that she was either an excellent actress or a simpleton. She thought about smiling enigmatically as if that had been the impression she had intended to make all along, but it wasn't and there could be merit in allowing others to believe she was silly and flighty. Let Mistress Jennings think what she would.


At least she agreed to tea. And while the blonde Baroness hated to admit it, she did need to learn more about the daily machinations of court life if she expected to thrive and be an asset to Esteban. “I appreciate your willingness to teach me about the way court works and my place in it.” Sophia smiled. “I will try not to ask too many questions.”


She nodded when Mistress Jennings informed her that she must go to her mistress. Perhaps someone would be sent out to collect her note or the Duchess herself would receive her. Sophia leaned back onto the cushions of her chair, her injured foot still stretched out toward the fire, every now and then glancing toward the door through which Sarah had disappeared.

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Sarah returned some ten minutes later and stood before the Baroness with a smile to say that


"The Duchess wishes to see you Lady Toledo and I am tasked to bring you. Can you walk - if not then you are to deliver this missive to me and I shall see it to my Mistress. I fear I hear your ready answer and so will you come?"


"I will offer some words of advice which I suggest you heed as we walk ..."


She waited patiently for the other woman to stand and make herself ready then with a nod suited her own pace to the other and began as promised with her speech.


"You will find her formal this night. She will have heard, as I have told you, the reason for your coming and as Churchill asked it she is favoring you. She is two years above you in age so the same as I and the mother of a daughter who is now two - you may not ask after the Princess Catherine."


"Lady Carey Fraser, the Countess of Peterbrough, is in charge of this Household and she will watch like a hawk but do not mind. You needs must hand that missive to the Countess who will then give it to the Duchess. Then wait until spoken to."


"My words are perhaps gauged to cause alarm but not so! You will do fine as long as you observe Protocol. Ah. We have arrived."


She scratched at the wood door and it was opened from inside by a livered maid-servant and Sarah nodded her head to indicate that the Baroness enter first.


"I will wait here and when done shall see you out. In you go."




Mary, the Duchess of York, was standing as still as possible as she was being sewn into her gown. Gold satin beaded with hundreds of pearls and topaz stones on the stomacher and down both sides of the overskirt glittered like stars in the candle and torch light.


She was tall and her creamy skin was clear and glowing and her dark eyes beneath brows perfectly shaped matched the color of her black hair which was elegantly arranged and looked artless in its construction. She has what had been said to be an 'Admirable Shape' and the Baroness would see that clearly.


She would also see that the Duchess held herself erect hardly breathing for fear of being stabbed by a pin. But her Ladies knew the placements yet things did happen and now with this sudden arrival her mood was not at its best.


The Duke her husband must be in a towering rage and Churchill at odds to deal for how else can it be explained the why of an Ambassador's Wife being used as messenger?


Mary wonders if this lady was now amongst her husband's selection to call and be received. A silent sigh if that was true. She had had to put up with Richmond and Buccleuch in that rolé and there was nothing she could - well she could but it would serve no purpose - for James populated his bed with whoever he chose and she, as Wife, was expected to look the other way.


That was the way of it when ones husband was twenty-five years older she knew. She had been fifteen to his forty when she had been married by Proxy to the King's younger brother in September of 1673 and when she arrived in England and meet her 'Husband' it was a shock to see that everyone had lied - for he was indeed scarred by smallpox and he stuttered - but it was Done. Yet she grew to Love him and he her.


Now fours years and one child in Mary still found it hard to accept the 'women' that came to be received and offer advice and the way to do things. She had refused Sedley naturally and others' as well for they were not of the same Class. And now comes Spain .... or not ....


She watched as the Baroness entered and she gave a small nod to Peterbrough who would glide to Sophia's side and see her presented.


"Baroness Toledo Your Grace."


The Countess would then curtsey and it was expected that the Baroness follow only lower as befitted the others' Rank.


"Baroness. I am told that Churchill has made you his envoy - how odd that - yet here you are. You find US in preperation still ....."


The Duchess of York looked down with her hooded eyes and the slighest of smiles on her rather pouty mouth. It would be clear that the Baroness was now expected to deliver her message.

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As Sophia sat by the fire, her thoughts turned to Juan, as they invariably did whenever her mind was not occupied by other things. The voices droning around her seemed to fade away as she pictured the two of them together in Madrid, intertwined in each other's arms. She recalled his laugh and the look of love in his dark eyes. He had not come to her party last night as she had hoped, but maybe he would be at the ball tonight. What if Esteban had not really gone to dinner with Lord Chichester but had met Juan somewhere instead? It would be like her royal lover to surprise her and he had promised to join her here at the end of the year.


And the year ended tonight.


Mistress Jennings' voice startled her out of her reverie, and it took her a moment to concentrate on her words. The Duchess wanted to receive her in person, just as she had hoped. Perhaps she was curious as to why a foreign Ambassador's wife had been sent to give her a message. Or perhaps she was aware that Sophia spoke fluent Italian and wished to converse in her native tongue. At least she wouldn't have to insist on confirmation that the note reached its intended recipient. She would see that for herself.


“Of course I will come,” she replied. “My ankle no longer pains me. I am just cautious tonight because I wish to dance.” Sophia stood up, walking at a normal pace and without a limp, toward the door through which Sarah had disappeared only moments before (or so it seemed to her since she usually lost track of time when she reminisced about Juan). She nodded as the Duchess' lady-in-waiting told her about her mistress and what she should do in her presence.


It annoyed the young Baroness a bit that Sarah seemed to think that she didn't know how to act around royalty. She had done quite well on the occasions she had spoken with the King and Queen, and she also had to show proper deference to Juan, at least in public. Nothing Sarah said about the Duchess was new to her either. Information was easy to come by at court, even if one didn't pay attention to gossip, and she had been curious about the poor lady who was shackled to the odious Duke. Sophia had also seen her at balls and other events.


“Thank you for your advice,” she said as they approached the door. As she entered, she was quite surprised to find that the Duchess was still being dressed. Perhaps she wasn't as pompous as some higher-ranking English nobles and didn't mind if another lady saw her when she was not perfectly attired.


When she was introduced, Sophia curtsied prettily and respectfully. She knew well that one should always wait for a royal to speak first, and so she simply smiled warmly at the Duchess as she rose and turned her attention to Lady Peterborough. Since the Countess addressed her, she was permitted to reply, for to do otherwise would seem rude. “It was by way of Captain Churchill's dog that I was given this task, my lady. I found it wandering in the hallway and returned it to him. He then asked me if I would take a note to Her Grace.” She drew the missive from her pocket and handed it to the other woman. “He said it was important and I was glad to be able to help.”

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The Duchess watched the Baroness her eyes taking note of everything - how she moved, spoke, stood. All the details were composed together and she would go over each later. She did not Trust readily and when confronted by someone who as yet had not made herself known - either in Public or Private - she was cautious.


Lady Peterbrough would hand the missive to her Mistress without opening it naturally. The two dressers had finished their work and the Duchess was now fully presentable and they quiety and efficently melted away so that is was just the three women.


Mary unfolded the paper and read what was writ giving no sign of her own reaction to its contents.


"How had you come to that place - were you lost Baroness? Tis easy enough for Whitehall is quite large so I suppose tis reason enough. And the dog you knew that was Churchill's as well or was that just a guess?"


The Duchess still held her accent even after four years in England but it was a softer lilt now and not as pronounced as when she had arrived.


She moved towards the fire and with a graceful flick of her wrist tossed the note into the flames watching for a few moments as it caught then turned back to the Baroness.


"And what else were you asked to tell me? Nothing more? You will forgive my suspicion yet the idea of the wife of the Spanish Ambassador acting as messanger for the Duke of York is most insolito* do you not think? So Churchill was the only one you spoke with and then Mistress Jennings after that?"


Her gaze was direct and quite piercing.


She was born an Italian Princess daughter of the late Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena and had learned at an early age about intrigues. Her Mother had hoped that she would wed France but it was not to be. Lord Peterbrough had brokered this marriage which was why his lady wife was in her position. Mary knew some things about the Baroness she did after all employ her own network and was curious about her too.


That such a young woman would have been allowed to follow the Path she had and was still so it appeared was a marvel! She had seen that Opera performance and watch the reactions from those placed within her circle and most had not been favaorable but then those had been from women. The men had been quite different. She could not dispute that the German born Baroness did have a Gift but how she was using it did not meet with approval.


"I saw your 'Opera". You have a Gift and I am sure are very clever at other things as well."


It was a test of sorts designed to see just what Game was now a foot. Mary did not think this was simply an accident but she would keep that silent. She would play this girl more and see what happened. There might even be things to Learn.




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Sophia could feel the Duchess' gazing at her. While some ladies might have been self-conscious being scrutinized by a member of the royal family, Sophia was unperturbed. Due to her illicit and short-lived opera career, she was accustomed to attention of all kinds and actually enjoyed it. She smiled when York's wife opened the letter and read it. If she saw Captain Churchill at the ball later, she would be able to tell him that his note had been delivered.


The young Baroness could be clueless at times, but it was easy to figure out the reasoning behind the Duchess' questions. She feared that Sophia might be the newest of her husband's mistresses. As she found York unpleasant, that notion was appalling and she hoped that she could convince the Duchess that nothing of the sort was … or ever would be … going on between them.


“My lord husband had other engagements before the ball, Your Grace.” She sighed softly, attempting to imply that perhaps Esteban had a mistress as well. For all she knew, he might have a lover. He certainly didn't perform his marital duties often and all men had sexual needs. “I arrived at the palace early and I was wandering through the corridors absorbed in my thoughts. I suppose I was lost, for I have never been in this part of the palace before and will most likely need directions to find my way to the ballroom.


“An adorable little spaniel ran into me and I picked it up and took it to the nearest room, which turned out to be the Duke's presence chamber. I thought it was one of His Majesty's dogs, but Captain Churchill took it from me and spoke to it as if it was his. He knew who I was and I had seen him around court, but I don't believe we ever conversed until this evening. He told me that a message needed to be delivered to you but all the pages were occupied with other tasks. So he asked me to take it and I was pleased to be of service. Since I had no idea where your rooms were, I had to ask a servant how to get here.”


Sophia didn't realize that the rooms of the Yorks were connected. With no sense of direction, she often became confused in new places and unbeknownst to her, she had taken a few wrong turns, which made it seem that the Duchess' apartments were farther away than they really were.


The Duchess tossed the note into the fire and the young blonde watched as the flames blackened and curled the paper's edges. When the Duchess spoke again, she turned her attention back to the dark-haired woman and met her piercing gaze with one that was open and sincere.


“Può sembrare insolito, ma suppongo che fossi al posto giusto al momento giusto.”* Sophia's Italian was utterly flawless. She switched back to English and continued. “I was sent with no other messages. My lord husband is not aware that I am here and my visit is not political. I was simply the best choice to deliver Captain Churchill's note to you. I spoke to nobody but him, Mistress Jennings, and the servant who gave me directions.”


She beamed when the Duchess mentioned the opera and complimented her voice. Sophia didn't understand the implications of being clever and took the question literally. “I also play the harpsichord and piano and I am learning how to paint. Unfortunately, I am not very good at it yet but I will learn. If you enjoy opera, Your Grace, I would be honored to sing for you whenever you wish. I lived for nearly five years in Venice and I know arias from many famous Italian operas.”



*It may sound unusual, but I guess I was in the right place at the right time.

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She did not interrupt the Baroness and when she spoke about her husband having his own engagements before the nights Ball a look was exchanged bewteen herself and Lady Peterbrough and that Lady gave a small nod - she would make ingueries about the Ambassador and his 'engagements' - then report back to the Duchess.


Such things were easy enough.


She was not at all convienced by the Baroness and her explanation simply because she knew her to be a skilled performer now that may well not be a fairness to the other but it was a truth nevertheless.


Her speaking first in Italian was no surprise for as a singer one must be familiar with other languages after all and the Duchess smiled a bit as she then sat herself in a chair and gestured for the Baroness to take the other saying


"You have an injury I understand so you may sit. Countess."


Her words directed to her Lady who curtsied then turned and left the room closing the door behind her. Now it was just the two of them.


"Not Political? But how is that possible I wonder. Even now word will be whispered that I have received you in my apartments and they will find their way to various others who will then make of it as they wish. There will be little truth to any of it but it will be believed."


"That is the workings of Court. I am watched always and my movements noted and reported upon. I am aware that some in my Household are here by the hand of others' be they the Dukes or anyone's coin. But that is and will always be how the Life is for one in my position."


She gave a small shrug of one shoulder by way of acceptance. It would also serve as a small warning if indeed this lady was playing spy and fishing that the Duchess was not one to be toyed with easily.


"Yet even you Baroness must be aware of that in your own establishment yes?"


She wanted to dig a bit to see just how skillfull Lady Toledo was. She was all wide-eyed innocence as she sat extolling her many 'gifts' and asking to be allowed to show them off.


"Now the question is what will happen next?"

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Sophia had not expected that the Duchess would be told of her injury. It was such a minor thing and of no real consequence “Thank you, Your Grace,” she said, settling gracefully in the vacant chair. “My carriage got stuck in slush a few days ago and I slipped when I stepped out to see what was wrong. It doesn't hurt much now and I plan on dancing at the ball tonight.”


She listened as the Duchess spoke of how their visit would be perceived and how she was constantly watched, her every movement noted and discussed. Sophia nodded sympathetically, for she knew exactly how the other lady felt. Or at least she thought she did. The Duchess' shrug told the petite blonde that she accepted this particular disadvantage of her position.


“I am watched too, Your Grace, not just in my residence but everywhere I go. Nothing I do goes unnoticed and I am sure that my every activity is dissected and commented on.” Her gaze turned thoughtful. “I have learned that one can't take observation too seriously, for no matter what one does, someone is going to gossip about it. I don't live in fear that my actions are going to be misconstrued. If I did, I would never leave the house.


“Yet even then, I would be talked about. If all I ever did was stay in bed, one of my servants might spread a rumor that because I lie on my left side, it must mean I have a lover who always lies opposite me.” She chuckled lightly. “Maybe some people believe that I am hiding secret notes every time I go to the loo.


There were rumors last spring that I was loose with my favors because I have a large bosom. False assumptions were made simply because of the way God made me. It upset me at the time, but I have learned to disregard such malicious talk in the year I have spent at court."


She glanced toward the door. “Even now, some of the courtiers out there are speculating that we are scheming together or trading messages from our husbands. Believing something does not make it true. Trying to stop gossip is like attempting to herd cats.”


When the Duchess asked what would happen next, Sophia shrugged her delicate silk-clad shoulders. “I suppose we will have to wait and see what is said about us. I am not certain if I will tell my lord husband that I was here tonight. If someone mentions seeing me enter your chambers, he will be genuinely surprised, which will cast doubt upon any gossip that he sent me here on purpose. Rumors fade quickly when they are proved wrong.”

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There was perhaps some moments of silence as the Duchess injested all that had just been spoke. When the Baroness had said that she too was in the same position as herself Mary had thought she had an understanding yet clearly that was not so.


"There is a difference between a 'Social Watching' and that of which I spoke. So to understand this You tell me what Everyone thinks or feels as they go about daily activities - that those same things in yourself are being watched and spoke of and that you care not. That is correct yes?"


"These 'observations' must indeed be taken with all seriousness Baroness. Perhaps my English is still not as good so you misunderstand? I shall be very clear then."


"When I asked about what will happen next twas in a Diplomatic Fashion not that of which you provided back. I care little for what others' think of my own routines. If one is talked about in an ordinaty manner that is harmless unless ones doings are not of an acceptable nature."


The Duchesses gaze rested for a moment upon that Ladies endowments but she did not comment finding the suggestion of it vulgar. And about her being lose with her favors, well after hearing those thoughts, it might not be untrue!


"What is happening outside my doors Baroness is far from simply gossip. I am the English Kings sister-in-law and a devot Catholic. You are Lady Toledo wife of the Spanish Ambassador also a Catholic and your husband is new to this Court. It will be precieved and by many believed as Truth that both our Husbands are intriguing for some unknown cause. Or more importantly for a Catholic Cause."


"Your being here will be seen as a way to 'sweeted' my direction to what ere is being planned. A wife after all È previsto il supporto di suo marito in tutte le cose e non alla questione quando ha detto di fare una cosa di importanza"*


"Toledo will hear of it be assured of that. Perhaps he already has? And your being here will indeed cast doubt not get rid of it. When you answered me I had imaginings that you understood what a Life at Court entailed - especially for an Ambassador's Wife. Are you in all Truth so unaware of this? How can that be?"


The Duchess gave a small shake of her dark head clearly finding this entire conversation unbelievable.


"Did no one speak of this to you before you wed? That you will be seen as representing the interests of Spain - much like I am only with Italy - and that I seek to make for advantages for that Country here in this English Court. How many of my Italian Ladies have I kept? Do I speak only Italian or English amongst them?"


"Those same things are being asked of Toledo's servants about You. And now you have come to me however innocent and that will now create problems - or not. It will depend upon how the Duke reacts. I will guess he will seek out Toledo in private and ask if you came to me at his request or at someone else's - meaning that Spain is not just the Ambassador but all that travel in his Household."


She took a breath and brushed at an imaginary spot on her gown.


"I can not believe I am speaking like this." (Said under her breath but the other might catch)


Mary was quite bemused with herself for this was so out of her usual depth by way of calls and the fact that this younger girl had not a clue or so it seemed about what was actually at play.


"But now is not the time for this between You and I. The Duke will be waiting and I have been over-long. You should be ready for Toledo's questions. Weather he believes you is not my affair. The Duke will know that I did not seek you out. Let us both hope that this does not reach the King's ear."


"Spero che non sia per il Duca non ha bisogno di suo fratello il re a pensare vi è subtrefuge essendo giocato fuori. Si capisce il mio significato Lady Toledo?*


She stood and reached for the small bell near her chair and rang it once.


"Lady Peterbrough will return and see you out Baroness. Mistress Jennings is instructed to take you where you need to go. I bid you a good night."



*is expected to support her Husband in all things and not to question when told to do a thing of importance


*I hope it will not for the Duke does not need his Brother the King to think there is subtrefuge being played out. You understand my meaning Lady Toledo?

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Sophia thought that there would be fewer misunderstandings if they spoke in Italian, but as the Duchess chose to speak English, she followed her lead. It was possible, she supposed, that someone could be listening in and think that they were scheming together if they conversed in a foreign tongue that no one else could understand.


“No, it is not that I do not care. It is that I cannot let the misguided beliefs of others have power over me. I do not act in a manner unbecoming to my station. But I don't worry about what people think of me either. I have nothing to hide. I know no Spanish secrets. I am not involved in political intrigue. I think my lord husband prefers to keep it that way. So why should I be concerned about what courtiers say when my intentions are innocent and my conscience is clear? As Shakespeare said: the truth will out."


The Duchess gave her a lecture as well, one that she probably needed to hear. Their situations were much the same … wives of powerful Catholic gentlemen who were looked upon with suspicion. Again, Sophia did not correct the assumption that she was Catholic. Admitting that she was Protestant would only make the Italian trust her even less than she already did. At least she seemed to want her to become aware of the implications of her new place in the social hierarchy.


The diminutive singer nodded. Of course there would be speculations about the two of them, especially since the Duchess had received her alone in her private chambers. Perhaps some of the more inventive ladies thought they were both conspiring against their husbands or that Sophia was spying for Italy. It was no secret that she spoke fluent Italian or was fond of Venice. She was still secure in the knowledge that no stories spread about the two of them were true. Nothing could ever be proved.


“I rather doubt that Lord Toledo has arrived at the palace yet, but no matter who tells him, he will be surprised, for you and I know that he did not send me here. Captain Churchill did.”


She sighed softly when the Duchess expressed incredulity that she was unaware of how she was perceived. “As an Italian Princess, you were raised in a political environment and were prepared to assume a prestigious position when you married. I was not. I was taught what I needed to know in order to marry and run the household of a typical German nobleman. My lord husband was not a man of importance when we wed. I had no idea that he would become Spain's representative in England. I have been the wife of an Ambassador here at court for less than two weeks and I am learning as I go.”


A shy smile. “I hope one day that I am as politically astute as yourself.”


The Duchess preceded to give her more advice, to which Sophia listened intently. She believed she could benefit a lot from the Italian's experience, but they couldn't share each other's company too often or their meetings would be seen as giving truth to the inevitable rumors that would circulate about them. Mistress Jennings had offered to explain the workings of court to her and she had served her mistress long enough to be well-informed.


Sophia's eyes widened and she couldn't hide her shock at what the Duchess said about the King. It had not occurred to her that this innocent encounter could be seen as a plot against the monarch. Had she endangered Esteban by being nice and delivering a harmless note to York's wife? To the King, it might not seem innocent at all. “My husband does not need His Majesty's suspicion to fall upon him either. The King is a wise man, though, and the reason for my visit tonight can be easily proved. Captain Churchill asked me to relay a message to you. I did not volunteer in order to carry out some sinister Spanish plot.”


Sophia stood. “Thank you for your advice, Your Grace. It was a pleasure to meet you and I hope you have a pleasant evening.” Curtsying again, she looked toward the door, waiting for the Countess to escort her back to the presence chamber.

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It was clear to Mary that the Baroness had no concept and seemed to be unwilling to make an effort to understand what had been said to her.


"You speak as if you are above all of this Baroness. What you know or do not know is immaterial to the Point I have been trying to impart. Everything that you do as a married woman, as wife to an Ambassador from any Country here at this English Court will be dissected and then put back together in all manner of ways to fit how others' think it should be."


"How do you know for sure that Lord Toledo is not involving you hmm? Because he has not asked it directly of you yet thru his own manuvering and suggestions makes you play a part in his own schemes what ere they may be. And be assured Baroness his Duty is to Spain not to King Charles or even to You."


"You had best educate yourself quickly Baroness for now you walk in quicksand and Politics will be your daily strife until Lord Toledo is recalled. Play the innocent and think that everyone will 'believe' what you say is Truth. You will be most amusing to watch as you go forward here at Court - I wonder just how long you can keep that facade of not caring."


"The fact that there is an Ambassador from Spain is suspicious. Just as one from France or any Country that is not favorable to England would be viewed. Churchill is the Duke's servant Baroness. For all we know twas an arranged encounter and yet made to look so innocent."


"Ah. Plots take many shapes and forms Baroness. Spend your time in wiser persuits. Learn to look about you and at all those that surround you. Your daily life is being written or spoke about to others' I guarentee that. Coin is exchanged amongst those in your household - paid to 'spy' and relate anything of importance to who ever hired them."


"Tis the same for both King and Queen and Duke's and other persons of Import. We are all watched by those we know and those we 'think' we know. ."


"Ah. Countess. Lady Toledo is leaving. Ask Mistress Jennings to take her where ere she wants."


Mary quielty spoke in Italian directly to Sophia as she moved away ...


"Crescere saggia la baronessa. Imparare a non fidarsi di. Non essere così facile nelle conversazioni. Accettare il fatto che Policits è ora la tua vita non importa come si pensa diversamente.


Io cercherò di contribuire a ciò che è accaduto qui stasera. Vorrei parlare con il duca e dirgli che cosa la verità è presente e quindi sarà lui a sapere qual è il prossimo passo da fare. Non penso che il tuo marito non fanno uso di voi - tutti i mariti in modo abusare della loro mogli.




Lady Peterbrough curtsied and then held the door waiting for the Baroness to proceed. She would take her to Sarah who waited by the chairs where the two had sat.


Sarah rose and offered a curtsey and then waited calmly for the Baroness to speak.




*"Grow wise Baroness. Learn to not Trust. Be not so casual in your conversations. Accept the fact that Policits is now your Life no matter how you think otherwise.


I will try to assist in what has happened here tonight. I will talk to the Duke and tell him what truth there is and then He will know what next to do. Do not think your husband does not make use of you - all husbands so abuse their wives.



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And I thought I was paranoid!


To Sophia, untrained in the machinations of court life, the Duchess seemed overly concerned with what other people made of her actions. It was as if she was a prisoner to the erroneous opinions of others, shackled to the fear that she or her husband would be charged with some conspiracy against the King. The petite Baroness believed that the truth would shield her from accusations. If there was no proof, what did it matter if people invented fanciful reasons for meetings between certain courtiers?


She also assumed that her innocence and youth protected her. Sophia did want to be more knowledgeable, but even if she became politically savvy, she would pretend that she wasn't. If Esteban concocted some nefarious plot and was caught while attempting to carry it out, she would not be considered guilty by association. However, she didn't believe that Juan would tell him to act against England. He seemed to want to improve relations between the two countries instead.


Sophia almost laughed when the Duchess asked her whether she was certain that Esteban wasn't manipulating her. In order to manipulate someone, you had to communicate with them, and her husband rarely spoke to her at all. He was either deliberately keeping her away from possible intrigue ... perhaps because Juan didn't want to put her in danger … or he thought she wasn't smart or mature enough to assist him. Throwing parties was the extent of her involvement in his affairs.


She did not interrupt the Duchess as she spoke, knowing that she needed to hear and understand everything she said. Maybe people were analyzing everything she did and some of her servants were paid to spy on her, but they would find nothing incriminating … simply because she did nothing incriminating. At least not politically. She committed adultery, but that was with her husband's permission and approval. And now she knew another reason why her affair with her royal lover must always remain secret. The mistress of the Spanish Prime Minister would be looked upon with more suspicion than the wife of its Ambassador.


Then the Duchess shocked her again by insinuating that Captain Churchill might have meant to send her here on orders from his master. It was possible that he had sent his dog out in the corridor so that she would find it, but he couldn't have known that she would be anywhere close to York's chambers at that time for she had not even known it herself. Maybe that's what some of the pages had been occupied with … tracking her movements.


No, if that was so, he would have asked her to relay the message immediately and not after she had offered other ways to solve the Duke's dilemma.


Lady Peterbrough returned, and as Sophia prepared to leave, the Duchess spoke again, this time in Italian. “Inteso. Prenderò le tue parole al tuo cuore, alla tua grazia. Tu sai molto di più di me. Spiegherò quello che è successo a mio marito. Saprete anche cosa fare.”


She curtsied again and then preceded the Countess back into the presence chamber. Sarah was still sitting in the same chair by the fire, and she stood as Sophia approached. “Your mistress told me you would take me wherever I wish to go. I think I should like to visit the Music Room. I can practice my piano playing before the ball begins.


“Also, do you know when you will have time to join me for tea?”



*Understood. I will take your words to heart, Your Grace. You know much more than I. I'll explain what happened to my husband. He will also know what to do.

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For Sarah she thinks that the Baroness might just be overwhelmed and knowing the Duchess it was also possible that that Lady had tried to impart 'knowledge' or not.


She curtsied to Lady Peterbrough and then smiled at the Baroness indicating that they should now move forward and quit this chamber. She did not speak until they were back out into the corridor and rather than go the usual way Sarah instead turned to the other and whispered


"We shall go another way there. That way you might compose yourself if needed out of prying eyes. For those near to these apartments will have heard you were there and they will come to look you over - to see how you act. They will whisper amongst themselves .....


does she smile or frown? are there tears or angry looks? does she look afraid of wear a smirk?


I will spare you that. But tonight there will be talk about you so best be prepared. No doubt most of it will be made up and all untrue yet because no one was there it will be 'believed' by all. If you think to talk of it do not. Keep your own counsel Baroness. Let this be your 'first lesson' in Court Politics."


"Now let me see if we are out of view.... good! Now watch your step for these stairs are curved and steep going down but will smooth out and then we will simply walk a bit until we reach that Room."


Sarah had stopped before a large wall tapestry that depicted 'Diana,The Huntress' rather fittingly she mused and with a quick flip of the right side revealed a small door. She knew it would not be locked and once both would pass thru she would close it. Small wall torches placed at intervals would light the way.


Sophia might well be surprised at this action and even more so when they would encounter others' making use of this passage way as well!


This was indeed another World.

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Sophia followed Mistress Jennings into the hallway. She didn't think she needed time to compose herself, as she had assumed her usual enigmatic expression as soon as she stepped out of the Duchess' chambers. Appearing impassive came in quite handy at court. No one ever knew what she was thinking. It wasn't wise to wear one's heart on one's sleeve.


Sometimes she wasn't able to remain serene, though. Was her bewilderment clear upon her face? If so, she supposed that confusion was preferable to anger or smugness, which would suggest that something more than an innocent conversation had transpired between the two ladies.


She didn't plan to mention the meeting with the Duchess. The diminutive Baroness was young and naïve, but she wasn't stupid. “What if someone asks me about it? I cannot tell them that I was delivering a message or they will think it was from my lord husband. Would it be too rude to say that it is none of their business?” That, in itself, could sound suspicious, she supposed.


After all she had been told, Sophia thought she understood at least a little of what Esteban faced on a daily basis. No wonder he was so restrained and aloof, knowing that he was constantly being watched and analyzed. Was it possible that he didn't know how to act differently, even to his own wife? Maybe he would open up to her more after she presented him with his Christmas gift tomorrow. It would also be a good time to discuss what had just happened, unless he insisted upon speaking about it at the ball.


Sarah stopped in front of a tapestry of Diana, and a soft smile curved Sophia's lips as she remembered her role in the opera. She wished she knew where she was so that she could return and study it at her leisure. Maybe Anna knew its location. If not, she could find out by asking the palace servants.


There was a door behind the tapestry, and when it was opened, the Baroness stepped inside almost eagerly and with no surprise at all. “I know where the entrance to the Music Room is,” she said. “When I was practicing for my concert last spring, Lord Dorset came in looking for his watch. He opened a hidden door and there was a maid eavesdropping on the other side. That is probably how they get most of their knowledge. I have always wanted to explore these passageways, but I never did because I was afraid of getting lost. Do you know your way around them well?”

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Sarah paused and turned to look across at her and with a sigh said


"I think you will indeed be a Trail Lady Toledo. Of course you will be asked but those that do so have not your best interest at heart - they only wish to hear you speak about something that concerns no one but You and the Duchess - and once told will then alter it to make it better to suit their own causes."


"You will not speak of it. Period. What prevents you from understanding what has been said to you I wonder? Are you truly so lacking in intelligence?"


"I am sure that my Mistress said enough to also warn you and no doubt she will be as frustrated by your replys as I! If you persist in holding to your beliefs that nothing Here concerns you, that all you have to do is offer explinations and all will see that as 'Truth' then I am wasting my effort to try and help."


"That entrance is not where you might think. Dorset? Lost watch?"


'I just bet he did. So he sniffs after the Ambassador's wife perhaps? and tis clear she sees nothing beyond his words.'


"And that maid was no doubt employed by another to watch Dorset or perhaps even You. Nothing happens by accident here Baroness. And yes I am well acquainted with many such places as this for I have been here a long time. Do you?"


It was an odd thing to want to do - explore back stairs that is - but mayhap she had reasons that Sarah herself wondered at again. Lady Toledo might well be a Champion at hiding her true self and even now takes delight in thinking that she has fooled us all!


Resuming walking Sarah said


"I can not meet you at the Embasy or your residence Baroness. It would be better for you to come here and I will seek out some space that will not arose anymore suspicion. Tongues will wag no matter but I can handle that. You however can not."


"Let us speak further after the New Year. And Baroness ...."


She paused and then added quietly


"Do not play me for a fool. Do not think I am an easy Mark. I will see you dropped faster than you can draw a breath. And then you will sink on your own."


"We turn right here than twice more and then we will be where you wished."


Sarah had reverted to "Mistress Jennings" and would remain thus until she had a sign that her private theory was not right.

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English … such a complicated language and so easily misunderstood when one did not speak it well. Did Mistress Jennings really think she was so ignorant that she would ever discuss anything that was said in confidence with anyone else? Sophia had thought she had asked how to decline an inquiry into her meeting with the Duchess, but Sarah seemed to believe that she was disregarding her advice.


“I am only lacking in fluency in the English language.” There was a bit of an edge to her lyrical voice. Nobody liked being called stupid. “Of course I will not speak of it, but if somebody asks, I must respond in some way. Turning around and walking away would be rude. My first instinct would be to say that it is none of their business, but that is blunt and could raise suspicions. I suppose the best thing to do would be to change the subject in a natural fashion.”


The petite blonde nodded. “Master Cole and I were practicing for the concert the King requested after he heard me sing at my first ball. I asked Master Cole to accompany me on the piano and he had also written a song in Welsh that he wanted me to sing. Lord Dorset interrupted us and asked us if he had seen his watch. Maybe he was just curious as to who was singing in Welsh and he used a missing watch as an excuse to speak to us. Perhaps he was spying on us. I do not know. He left after he asked the maid behind the secret door about it.”


Sophia wanted to explore the passageways because it would be an exciting adventure to go where courtiers rarely tread. Or maybe she was one of the few people at court who did not make regular use of them. She now knew where two of the doors were. As long as she was not alone, she could come back later, perhaps disguised as a servant. One of her friends might be willing to share such harmless mischief with her.


But not Mistress Jennings. She was so serious, much different than that happy girl she had met on the road all those months ago. What had happened to the gentleman she had been in love with and had planned to marry against their parents' wishes? Had things not worked out between them? Maybe that was the reason she now seemed so cynical.


Sophia blinked and stopped in her tracks when she was warned not to play Sarah for a fool. Why would she want to do something so callous? She rather doubted that the other lady could ruin her even if she did, but that didn't matter since her intentions were purely innocent.


“I am surprised that you think I would do such a thing. I have given you no reason to suspect me of deceit. We got along so well when we first met that I thought we could be friends and you did offer to teach me about the ways of court. However, if you all you wish to do is question my intelligence and accuse me of plotting against you, perhaps we should not associate with each other at all. My lord husband values honor above all else, but you seem to believe that I have none."


Did Mistress Jennings really want to offend her and risk the anger of her mistress if Sophia made a fuss about it? The Duke of York was not liked by many, and some courtiers saw him as more of a threat than Spain. The Duchess would not be pleased if her lady-in-waiting became an enemy of an influential foreign Ambassador because she insulted his wife's integrity.


"Or have I misunderstood you as you have misunderstood me?"

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Ah. So a nerve had been struck at last.


For Sarah this was an out of the ordinary happening. Most of the people that she came into daily contact with had some knowledge of Court and how things worked so to discover that this Lady had no clue or made it seem such put her into a quandary.


She had thought it best to simply be as clear as she could thus making the Baroness understand the position in which she had now placed herself by her coming to the Duchess. Yet now here was this small younger than she person trying to educate her?


"You are correct in that Madam. You are free to reply how ere you wish. Tis unfortunate that many here at Court make a habit out of 'making things their Business' and so to make enquiry of your visit to the Duchess however they might couch it with pretty speech it all comes down to the same thing - to extract as much as possible from You, embellish it enough to make it better sounding and finally to make you the attention of as many eyes as possible."


"You are young but now a married woman and wife to an Ambassador at this Court. You will be expected to be able to handle any situation good or bad with the correct action and yet not appear to be uncomfortable.You will be plyed with questions and asked about things that may seem of no issue but can be of great import. There are those at Court that Plot to cause embarassment to Spain, to France, Italy, to any Country just as England does in those Countries. And making use of a young and inexperienced wife is a gift to them."


"Politics is a Great Game Baroness and can be quite invigorating to play. You should learn it well if you are to survive here."


"In all truth I have no way of knowing anything about you. That meeting upon the road was a lifetime ago in terms of life at Court. I would like much to be 'friends' but first I must be certain that you mean no harm to My Lady. Your 'intelligence' is called into question simply because of the answers you give in return. You have been told more than once of what is afoot yet you think you are placed above any of it and think that to 'tell the truth' will make people see that you are innocent."


"You come to York with no previous callings. The reason is hardly believable and even you must admit that an Ambassador's Wife would be last to act a messenger! Spain might well be seeking to make York into a 'cause' and York is unpopular as I am sure you know so to link the two together will bring that to the King's attention - where it might be said that His Majesty needs to distance from his own brother ..... You see how quickly a thing can be turned round and made different."


"Honor can be bought and sold every day. If Lord Toledo puts such a value than let us all hope that the time will not come when it will be called into question - you are after all Spain's Property and Catholic. Two marks against you."


"Or have I got it all wrong? Did I 'misunderstand' you - are you privy to all of this knowledge and have been trying some other scheme out to sway those away from thinking otherwise?"


"I made my warning for that reason. I do not like being taken for a fool - just as I suspect you do not as well. Shall we see what happens next? I shall withdraw my offer to aid you and will apologize if I have offended. You will I think be glad of that and I hope that you have about you those that you Trust for you will need it."


"The road ahead will hardly be smooth - a possible War with France looms and if that happens then Spain will rally aid to France not England for the other two are allies - and then more eyes will be upon you and Lord Toledo watching to see who you meet and greet ... Tis a never ending circle but one that you now are part of."


"Do not think I am without sympathy. I think tis most unfair to place such burdens on wives but then I am better prepared than you and THAT was why I made my offer. It still stands but only if you are filled with intent to become Wise and learn the Game."


"Shall we continue on. I am sure you wish to be alone and quit of my company and then there is the night ahead. I shall offer you my respects Lady Toledo as is required if I meet you."


Sarah smiled and was quick to ressume her pace. She too would be glad to be out of the others' company. It was indeed a true test of her own abality to not allow her temper to show in the face of such goings on! Yet she was indeed telling the truth when she said she'd help the other and was curious as to just how the Baroness might seek her out again.

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So far, Sophia believed she had handled things quite well for a young lady whose husband had only recently become an Ambassador. She still confided in the friends she trusted, but she generally didn't discuss either Esteban or Spain. Maybe she shouldn't have told a Frenchwoman that she was unhappy in her marriage, but even that could work to her advantage.


If a sympathetic Frenchman showed interest in her, it would probably be because word had leaked out that she didn't get along with her husband. The French would think she would be all too willing to spill Spanish secrets. She could then feed him whatever lies Esteban wished her to pass on. And if this occurred, there was a possibility that Mademoiselle Vauquelin was a French spy.


However, all this was just speculation and she didn't believe that Nicolette was a spy. The point was that Sophia was not as naïve about court intrigue as Mistress Jennings seemed to believe … or as she had begun to believe herself after lectures from both her current companion and the Duchess of York. What if both of them were trying to undermine her confidence for some baffling purpose of their own? Perhaps Captain Churchill was in on it too. By confusing her, they might believe she would let down her guard and drop some tidbit of information that would be useful to them.


If so, the joke was on them. She knew nothing about Spanish affairs or Esteban's plans.


“I have no idea why you keep saying that I believe I am above anything that goes on at court. That is not true. I simply think that honesty is better than deception. As I said earlier, if you doubt the reason for my visit to your mistress, ask Captain Churchill. Or perhaps you choose to conclude that because I am married to a Spaniard, I must be up to no good, and you don't want any evidence to prove that you are in error."


Sophia said nothing about what the King might think of their meeting. The Duchess had already warned her about that, and both of them, and their husbands, would do everything in their power to prevent an unfortunate outcome. No intelligent monarch would jump to conclusions on the basis of a few random speculations. King Charles was a wise man. He would look into the situation thoroughly before doing something he might regret later. The truth was easy to find. Peeking from behind the dark clouds of false allegations, it would shine as brightly as the sun.


Mistress Jennings was wrong about honor. Honor was one part of a person's character than could not be bought or sold. If one did sell it, than one ceased to be honorable. Again, she kept her mouth shut. The other lady would not believe her anyway, and why impart knowledge to someone who already thought she knew it all? What else, Sophia wondered, could she be wrong about?


She didn't correct Sarah about her perceived Catholicism either. Why should she, when being seen as a Catholic could also benefit Esteban in the future? And therein lay the solution to all of her problems. Sophia felt like she had just been hit in the face with a bucket of cold water. Manipulation was the key to surviving at court.


Show everyone what you want them to see. Lead them to view you in a favorable light. With a bit of finesse, you can control what others think of you. I am a talented actress. Artful persuasion should be quite easy to learn.


That epiphany was followed by another. Sarah didn't know as much as she thought she did. Spain and France were bitter enemies, not allies. If England joined the war with France, they would be fighting with the Spanish instead of against them. Spain would be looked upon with less suspicion and perhaps Don Juan's star would rise in the English sky. But let Mistress Jennings think what she would. She had told Sophia to keep her own council, and that included not correcting her when she was wrong.


“You are right, Mistress Jennings. You are not the same person I met last spring. The intervening months have changed you. I will leave our next encounter up to you. If you wish to teach me how to play the game of political intrigue, I visit the palace quite often. Find me or send me a note telling me where I should join you."


Sophia neither denied nor confirmed whether she was eager to be out of Sarah's company or whether she had accepted her apology. Sometimes it was fun to let people wonder about you.

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"Well Honesty is naturally the way of it yet here, in this place, that does not hold true. And there you have at last made a statement that holds Truth - 'I am married to a Spainard I must be up to no good.' - THAT is exactly what most at Court see you as! Think you act on behalf of your husband and therefor Spain. It matters not if you have any actual knowledge it will be assumed you do."


"I am right glad Baroness that at last it seems to have sunk in. I am curious as to how you will manage but then you are stubborn and determined to keep to your cause of telling the Truth and avoiding deception. I am 'changed' only in how I perceive the World around me to now be. When I first came under the Late Duchess I was wide eyes yet familiar with Court or so I thought."


"I am intelligent and quick to understand and that saved me many a time! Those that plot do so using the name of the Duke and the Duchess or the King or Queen or any other Nobel for that draws the masses into it. The name used as bait oft times are truly innocent but that is the price paid for Rank and Wealth."


"At the Ball this night look about you. Look to see where the Factions are - where they have placed themselves and the Company they keep. Hawks and Doves Lady Toledo. Where do you think Spain sits? Let that be a first lesson too. If you are to best Them first learn the Art of Deception. Once that is attained then you will be able to sail more smoothly."


She had talked as they continued walking and now stopped indicating a doorway framed by a curved brick arch lit by two small torches.


"This door leads to a staircase that goes up two flights. At the top another door will open to the Music room. Tis not the one you spoke of earlier but another. There are hundreds of them all over Whitehall. Feel free to make use of them. Everyone does at one time or another."


Sarah pulled the door and stood to one side waiting for the Baroness to pass by and when she did a nice reverance would be done and then the door would close.


Sarah had a headache and knew that any further words would be useless. This might well turn out to be a hopless endeavor but she was mad eof sterner stuff and so would watch and wait as this small girl/wife began to maneuver her way thru the quicksand all about her.


"I think I am curious enough and yet have sypmathy for You that I shall do just that. Do not be surprised then to receive that note from me."


They would be her last words as Lady Toledo moved away.

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Sophia was beginning to comprehend why it was important to understand what others thought of you. You didn't have to care, but you had to be aware of how you were perceived. She knew that she was just an innocent young lady who happened to be married to the Spanish Ambassador, but some courtiers saw her as a threat simply because of her new position. They had no idea that Esteban didn't confide in her or use her to further the interests of Spain. If she wanted them to see her in a different way, she would have to manipulate them into doing so.


And yes, she was stubborn to a fault. Like most Germans, she saw that as a positive trait rather than a negative one and was quite proud of her obstinacy. She believed that you could convince people to view you in a certain light by using the truth instead of deception. However, the young Baroness had no qualms about lying to save her own skin and if she was involved in her husband's schemes … assuming he had any … she wouldn't hesitate to fib about it. She was already painting herself as an unhappy and neglected wife, but that wasn't far from the truth. And she was hiding the scandal she had caused in Venice. In a way, she supposed she was already well-versed in the game of deception, but for protection rather than malice.


The malicious application of dishonesty was what she was dead set against, not the art of gentle persuasion. Sophia thought she would do quite well at the latter, perhaps even better than Sarah herself, once she began practicing. A nod set her platinum curls bouncing around her shoulders when Mistress Jennings told her to observe her surroundings tonight according to what she had told her. She would also listen closely to the things people said. Maybe this new way of looking at the world would show her what she needed to do to become accepted in the proper circles of court while still maintaining her mischievousness and sense of adventure.


The door they stopped in front of was lit on each side. She hadn't paid much attention to the route they were taking but she guessed that most of the doors that led to rooms of the palace were similar. Sophia smirked inwardly when Sarah expressed her willingness to meet with her again. Already she had succeeded in manipulating one person to do as she wished, simply by leaving the decision up to her.


“Very well,” she replied. “Perhaps when we do meet again, you can also give me a tour through these passageways. They must be confusing until you learn your way around.”


Before she stepped through the doorway she inclined her head graciously. “This has been an enlightening conversation, Mistress Jennings. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the ball tonight.” And with that, she disappeared into the darkness, heading for the comfortable familiarity of the Music Room.


(OOC: Finis? Thank you for an enjoyable thread.)

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Sarah executed her reverance and then stepped aside inclinning her head but offering little else by way of words as the Baroness said her last then went thru the doorway.


This encounter had not been an easy one and there was still the possibility that the Baroness was playing her for a fool for after all she was an 'actress' when all was said and done.


Yes it would be interesting to watch what was to come next in this scenario.


The younger girl had such an angelic quality to her but Sarah had also seen another side and so thinks that her first thoughts about the Baroness will play out in Time. Yet for her this was a thing she could not spend so much effort on - the fact that her Mistress was Safe at least for now was all that mattered.


The Duchess would quiz her when the time was right and she would tell the Truth or at least what she believed that was. Now she would watch and wait. That promised 'note' will not be so eagerly forthcoming Sarah thinks after all.



(ooc: my pleasure! glad to have the two do a meeting which I hope continues.)

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