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Tea With A Baroness - Monday Late Morning, Spanish Embassy- Xmas 1677


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Frances had wanted to talk to George about this invitation as well as hundreds of other things but the Earl was being surprisingly absent. She had sent two notes asking to meet and both had not been answered which led to her imaginings that he must certainly be lying half dead with none to come to his aid or worse that he now had no desire to see her. In the end she had gone to her Mother and quietly laid out the issue sure that that Lady would conclude one way or the other. The Duchess had been taken back for a few moments her shrewed eyed gaze fastened upon her daughter. Interesting. How had this all come about and what else had been going on ....

Frances answered in her usual manner and so The Duchess could not think there was anything else in the wind that was going to bring problems. She was not sure about the Baroness -  her private opioions having stemed from those two 'productions' and even before her marriage as she had heard enough about the young girls behaviors as Court was after all a small select circle. And she wondered at the reasonings for it. Why would the Baroness wish for the daughter of Cavendish to attend? Nothing was done without a point. In the end she had given consent more so because she wished to hear of everything that was discussed and if by chance there was news that The Duke could make use of so much the better.

And so now here Frances stood. Her mothers servant a few steps behind. Frances was not dumb and she knew exactly why this older woman was there. With a small nod of her fur covered head she indicated for the servant to seek out the Steward and announce her arrival.


(ooc: placeholder for Sophia)

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  • 1 month later...

After her meeting with the Duchess, Sophia had made the short walk to the Embassy to wait for Lady Frances. Most courtiers thought she lived there. Maybe other Ambassadors did live in their Embassies, but the Spanish one was small and there was a house behind it. It was also a bit too crowded and loud there, with people coming and going all the time. There would have been little privacy, even if there had been living quarters in the building. It was certainly not an ideal place for a couple who had only recently been married.


She had thought she might speak to Esteban, but he was otherwise occupied with business matters as he usually was. She found a seat close to the door where she wouldn't be disturbed and wouldn't distract anyone by her presence. One of her servants had been told to fetch her if Lady Frances arrived at the residence instead.


Yet she did indeed come to the Embassy, and as soon as she stepped inside, Sophia stood. She glanced over at the woman who accompanied her, but said nothing to her. Unmarried young ladies generally didn't go anywhere without a chaperone. She wondered if Frances was as annoyed by her constant presence as she had been with her own chaperone. Or maybe she appreciated the woman because as long as she wasn't alone, her reputation would be protected. The Duke's daughter did seem like a proper sort.


“Lady Frances,” she said as she approached the other girl. “It is a pleasure to see you again.”


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At the sound of her name Frances turned then gave a small curtsey to the Baroness.

"And you as well Lady Toledo. I hope you have not waited here too long?" Her voice carried just the right amount of concern.

As to her own companion she was ignored. Not out of impolitness but she was after all a mere servant so could hardly expect to have any discourse. That Lady however would be busy inhailing as much information as she could about "Everything" to make an accurate report back to the Duchess.

"After I arrived I suddenly remembered that you had said there was another building ..... I hope Lord Toledo will take no offense ...."


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“Not long at all,” Sophia replied with a warm smile. Taking Frances' cue, she ignored the lady's companion. She was either a chaperone, a spy, or both, much like her own bodyguard Karl.


“Yes, we actually live behind the Embassy, and I'll take you there now.” Anna helped her with her cloak and the door was opened for them as she slid on her muff. “I doubt Lord Toledo even knows we're here. I have not seen him since I arrived, though I am sure that his associates noted my presence and will tell him of it later.”


As they began strolling down the path that led to her residence, she sighed. “I will warn you before we arrive, Lady Frances. The house has not ye been redecorated and still reflects the masculine style of my lord husband's predecessor and not my own. I'm going to have the work done during recess. I hope you will visit me then so that you can see the changes.”


She glanced over at the other lady. “How did you enjoy the ball?  And did you attend the sleigh race as well?”

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Frances followed Lady Toledo curiosity in her eyes for she had not been to such a residence before - meaning The Spanish Embassy or Residence - and so had no way to compare it to any other.

"There is no need Lady Toledo for I have no expectations. How fortunate then that Lord Toledo will allow for it." She navigated around a patch of half slush/mud holding her skirts high enough. "You must show me what you plan to change now and then, once complete, I shall be most happy to return!"

"The Ball?"

Those two words brought Frances back into a sadness which she had been trying to dispel without much success. The fact that Lord Chichester had never responded back and had made it seem as if he had ceased his affections to her was a hurt that would be a long time healing, if ever.

"It was well enough!" A forced cheerfulness. "It is always such a press of bodies at normal times but the fact it is Christmas Court has made it worse. You have been here long enough to know the difference."

Her words blew a bit white into the air as she walked.

"I did not go to that. I wished to stay in and enjoy the warmth from my hearth. You went? Will you tell me then of the events once we are settled?"

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“The house belonged to my lord husband's predecessor and the two of them despise each other. I think he wants it redecorated as much as I do. I made some sketches of how I hope it will look when it is done, as a reference for the redecoraters and I plan to choose the furniture, rugs, wallpaper, and such things myself. I like light, cheery pastel colors.”


Lady Frances seemed a bit distraught when Sophia mentioned the ball. Had somebody there upset her or had a gentleman she fancied failed to ask her to dance? Even her response seemed a bit forced. Ahh, so perhaps it was only the throng of people that had dismayed her. “Yes, there certainly are more people at court this season. This is my first Christmas in London so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Is it always so crowded at this time of year?”


Sophia had been too occupied by the race and its aftermath to notice the spectators, but apparently Lady Frances had not been among them. “Yes, I even raced.


“And here we are.” The butler opened the door for them and Sophia led them inside. How the butler always knew when she was about to arrive had always been a mystery to her. Maybe he simply had good ears and could hear when someone was approaching. Or perhaps it was a skill one learned at butler school. Was there even such a thing as butler school?


After their cloaks and other outer-garments had been removed, she took Frances to the drawing room and over to the table and chairs that had been arranged in front of the fireplace. “Please sit down. Tea will be served soon.


“As for the race, it was quite an adventure. There were two people to a sleigh. The gentleman drove and the lady tossed snowballs at their opponents. My lord husband and I were partners, of course. We didn't win, but we didn't do badly either. Do you know Lord Chatham? He was the victor. I still don't know the identity of his partner. She was an older lady. The King and the Lady of Misrule presented the prize, which was a pair of pearl earrings. It was quite cold. I would have stayed home too if I hadn't planned on racing.”

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Frances continued to follow along answering 

"A Christmas Court - no matter the location - is always an influx of Courtiers. Many only come to London that time alone as to ensure that they still have a hand in so to speak about Court. And then there are those that, like yourself, are new-come to London. Whitehall is large as is Hampton yet even so spaces are limited! Windsor where twas last year is so much smaller in size and so there is more efforts made by Everyone hoping to be put as close as possible to where Their Majesties might be."

"Did you? Race? It was sleighs so I did hear and the distance not great."

They arrived at the other building and were quickly usherd inside where Frances' companion took charge of her cloak. Frances hesitated only a moment then followed Lady Toledo clearly indicating that her Mothers servant was not to.

"Lord Chatham?" She did as bid and sat arranging her skirts and eyeing the room. "I do not think so. The name is not familiar yet that does not mean I may not have seen him. I still wonder at His Majesty choosing a Lady Misrule. Yet she had behaved well enough I suppose. Did you pick partners then is that why you and Lord Toledo were together?" Ah! I mangine they most have been pretty. I do love Pearls."

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“Maybe I don't think it's so crowded because I arrived at court shortly before the wedding of the King and Queen. There were a lot of people there too. The spring and summer seasons seemed rather quiet after all that chaos. And yes, I did race, though it was my lord husband who drove the sleigh. I threw snowballs the other sleighs hoping to distract them. It was a rather short distance and it was over quickly, but it was a lot of fun.”


Sophia noted that Lady Frances did not give her servant permission to follow her into the drawing room. Not a chaperone, then, for a chaperone would have the right to accompany her inside. After they were settled, she saw the way her guest looked around the room, and hoped that she didn't find the décor too dismal. Maybe she should have arranged to have tea served in her music room, the only room besides her bedchamber that had already been redecorated.


“You have probably seen Lord Chatham at the balls. He's tall, dark, and wears an eye patch.” Her body tingled pleasantly as she described the alluring Earl. “He is quite striking in appearance and has a rather roguish flair.”


The maid arrived with the refreshments and placed everything on the table, along with two plates, eating utensils, and napkins. Sophia had collected her mother's tea service when had visited her childhood home before traveling to Madrid. She thought it was absolutely beautiful. It was made of white iridescent porcelain decorated with painted pastel flowers and colorful butterflies, all outlined in gold. Painted golden bands encircled the edges of the plates, saucers, sugar and cream bowls, and the mouths of the cups. There was also a matching serving platter that held both sweet and savory treats.


“I think Lady Misrule is doing well, although this is my first experience with that tradition. I doubt she is as bawdy as a Lord of Misrule would be, so perhaps it is fortunate that a lady was selected this year. She chose the pairs who would be racing together, but I requested that I be allowed to race with my husband, and both she and His Majesty agreed. I don't think that my lord husband would have raced if paired with another, nor would he have let me participate either.”


She poured the tea and handed a glass to Frances. “You love pearls too?” she asked, smiling warmly as she scooped a bit of sugar from the bowl with a spoon and stirred it into her tea. “I have several different sets and I wear them quite often.” In fact she was wearing a pearl necklace and earrings now, accented with tiny diamonds between the pearls. The cameo of her profile that Don Juan had commissioned for her last spring hung from the necklace. “The earrings that were given to the winners at the race were simple and elegant … and meaningful, since they were presented by the King.”


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"Eye patch? Hmmm  ..." Her gaze focused somewhat over Lady Toledo's right shoulder as she tried to recall such a man. "Ah. Yes. I can remember seeing such a man. And you found him to be striking? Did it not make you feel, well, uncomfortable? I would be polite in Greetings natrually yet I think I would draw my gaze to that patch with much frequency and therefore be thought as uncharitable for his impediment. Yet perhaps the Gentleman takes delight in creating such feelings? It would not be the first time that has occurred here at Court!"

The arrival of refreshments paused her words as she took the time to admire the plate. It would seem that the Baroness was much indulged by her husband. 

""Being choosen as Misrule has conditions. One may not say or do or ask anything that will cause harm to reputations of any Peer and certanily to Their Majesties. The point after all is to create folly and humor and not chaos and injured feelings! I hope that this will be the only experiment and upon the next Christmas it will go back to how it should be. I have observed Mademosille and I will say frankly that I suspect she cares not for Traditions and seeks to cause mischief - perhaps being FRENCH she had aquired bad habits?"

Frances accept the cup offered and took a small 'sniff' to catch the aroma then sipped cautiously. She found the taste pleasing and might well ask for its name.

"Do not all of our sex like them?" She smiled across to her Hostess. "Tis obvious Baroness that YOU have a fondness. The cameo is lovely. Yes. I think that receiving such a gift is indeed meaningful and from The KIng as well - I imagine the Lady was well pleased!"

A small sigh followed as she thought of Lord Chichester and the gifts he had given her. Did she but know it some of her sadness was clear upon her face.

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Sophia considered Frances' question. “I did stare at it when we first met, but he didn't seem to notice. Soon I forgot all about it, probably because he wears it with such confidence. I don't think he means to make anyone feel awkward. It would be more distressing if a gentleman who was missing an eye didn't wear a patch all. Maybe he wears it because it gives him a roguish appearance.” She shrugged. “Whatever his reasons, it suits him.”


Lady Frances didn't think very highly of Nicolette. As she was Sophia's friend, she would say nothing bad about her. “I'm not familiar with the custom myself, so I'm not sure whether she is upholding tradition or not. I have heard no complaints, but nor have I heard compliments. She was willing to let my lord husband and I race together, and didn't insist that we remain with the other courtiers she paired us with. I think she knew that it would cause problems if she didn't agree, so at least she's not unreasonable.


“Given the English opinions toward the French, I'm surprised that the King allowed her to have the position, although if I remember right, Misrule was chosen by chance and she was the one who found a ring in a piece of cake. If ladies weren't allowed to participate, I would think there would have been one cake for them and one cake with the ring in it for the gentlemen. Perhaps it was an experiment. I wonder if Misrule will be chosen in a different manner next year.”


Sophia placed a few pastries and a hunk of bread and cheese on her plate and then took a sip of tea. It was one of the blends she had purchased from Lady Alyth, though not one of the spicier varieties that she enjoyed the most. “Of course we do, but pearls are my absolute favorite. Opals come in at a close second. I love wearing both of them together.”


When Frances complimented her cameo, she leaned forward so that her guest could see it better. “Thank you. It's me. I mean, it's really me. My profile is on the cameo.”


The other woman seemed suddenly sad, and while she wondered why, she was too polite to ask. Instead, she changed the subject. “Are you going to the Queen's auction later today?”


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She sipped her tea listening as the Baroness gave her own opinion of the French woman.

"Ah but Lady Toledo You and  your Lord Husband are not a pair that she is like to play with that is what you must understand. How all the rest were paired should provide some clues as to her intentions. His Majesty can be  ... overly indulgent  ... so tis not really a surprise that She was allowed it."

"Is it? It is indeed berautiful!" 

Here she took advantage and looked closer. It really was a very fine piece.

"The Auction? I should think EVERYONE will be there. But to answer yes I will as well. Her Grace my Lady Mother does not approve nor do my Aunts yet they can not forbid my attandance and the Duke has said nothing which means I go. Appearances are Everything after all."

"And you? Do you go? Will you offer up a 'bid' in the Name of Charity?"

She smiled across at her curious to see if such an event might be out of bounds for the wife of the Spanish Ambassador.

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Sophia had not considered that the reason she had been allowed to race with Esteban was because of his position. “I never thought of it that way, but you're probably right. An Ambassador must always be treated with respect and she knew that. If she had refused, His Majesty would have stepped in and allowed it. He doesn't want to gain the enmity of Spain because of an inconsequential sleigh race. Sometimes I forget how important my lord husband is now.”


As to the cameo: “It was a gift and I sat for the silhouette last spring.” She didn't say who had commissioned it, for it might seem strange that a Spanish Prince had given her such a valuable and unique gift. “It's my favorite pendant.” Realizing how that sounded, she quickly clarified: “Not because I'm vain but because, as you said, it is a beautiful piece.”


An auction of gentlemen seemed like a rather odd way for a proper and pious Queen to solicit donations to charity. It sounded more like a libertine thing to her and Sophia wasn't surprised that Lady Frances' mother and aunts didn't approve. Most of the bidders would most likely be widows or ladies with husbands who didn't care what they did.


“I will be going and I will make a donation, but as a married woman, I can't participate in the auction. It would be an affront to my lord husband to show interest in another gentleman, even just for fun. The Spanish value honor above all else and they can be very particular about proper behavior. I would never do anything to disgrace him.


“Are you just going to attend or will your family let you bid?” Sophia was curious as to what the more prominent families thought of the event and whether they would let their unmarried daughters take part in it since it was initiated by the Queen.


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"It is something unusual and the fact that The Queen has instigated or if another pushed is a question many have asked. Her Majesty is young - similair to our age I think - so perhpas that explains? Yet I do not think His Majesty would allow for anything that will cause unsavory talk so that might be the reason for the "Charity"."

I am curious and as you say I too am bound to not bring any Shame upon my own Name yet I have a feeling that this will be a thing that could well get out of control especially if the Gentlemen involved have the need to impress by their behaviors and the desire to out do each other! As to bidding ..."

Frances gave a small shrug of one shoulder, took a sip of her tea then smiled across at her Hostess.

"That will depend upon the Rules of Conduct. If, say, tis announced that all the unmarried ladies must offer coin or some such things for a Gentleman of their choosing then the competition will be between those of our sex and I think even married Ladies will have a hand especially as tis for Charity's sake and they all want to be the one that Looks the best."

"Have you heard anything? You are about Court freely Lady Toledo so you might have over-heard talk? I have only heard bits and pieces and some seem to think tis a trick by Misrule to cause troubles. Others say that there will be something of more import that will be announced. That is the trouble you see. EVERYONE thinks that their news is best and first. The trick is knowing how to read bedtween the lines."

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“I think it will be amusing to see how they plan to charm ladies into bidding for them, as long as they don't do anything shameful. I doubt they will since Her Majesty is in charge and would have them thrown out. I, too, wonder if somebody else suggested the idea to her. Maybe her maids of honor came up with it. They're all young and unmarried. Or maybe she is trying to impress the King by hosting an event that he would approve of. I guess we will never know her motivation, but I hope it all goes well and that she doesn't regret it.”


Sophia frowned as Frances explained the circumstances in which she would feel comfortable bidding. “I don't think that the Queen will force anyone to take part. That will cause problems with the families who prefer that their daughters don't participate. She'll get more donations if she doesn't insist that everyone bid. If they have to do it, you'll see ladies only promising a shilling or two just to comply to the rules instead making one large contribution like I plan to do.”


She shook her head. “I have heard nothing at all. The details seem quite secretive. I wonder what a lady actually gets if she's the highest bidder. What must the gentleman do for her? Or is it more of a popularity contest, where the gentleman who receives the most donations gets a prize? I guess we shall just have to wait and see.


“Have you heard any speculations on what kind of important announcement might be made?”


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Frances smiled a bit as she listened. 

"I think it unlikely that any of the Maids of Honor would do such. If anyone I would suspect one of the Mistresses with the hope of seeing Her Majesty caused some grief. The fact that Her Grace is young can ruffle many feathers but then I am not one to be so assured that tis true."

"If this plays like the one where candles were bought then it shall be a very unamusing event. The Duchess of Norfolk will toss coin and then the others will try to out do much as it was for the other Event. Appearances are everything after all Baroness and to gain the favor of Her Majesty is the greatest of Prizes. Now how it is all to be managed I have no idea. Ah. You will make one large contribution there by ensuring that another Lady will make one higher. It will be a Game then to see who will win over the Spanish Ambassadors Wife. So your logic does not suit. It is an Auction so there must be 'things' offered for sale and let us assume tis Gentlemen and Ladies must then offer for one but all monies are for this Charity. Which 'prize' will you choose?"

"The Duke will expect me to take an active interest within limits. This is an 'Auction' is it not?  We are all know to each other and so I do not think anything unsavory will be asked. But then perhpas that is also a draw - to those of Libertine Set this will be something."

"I would advise to perhaps do as I. Arrive. Observe. Learn the Field and its Competitors. And then Watch."

"As to announcements it could be rumours only. Yet I have heard much as I am sure you have as well about Whitehall that Her Majesty is with child? Could that be?"

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“Her Majesty loathes her husband's mistresses. She would never listen to them. Maybe she thought that an auction would be a fun way to get donations from ladies. During last week's church service, it was mostly gentlemen who bought candles. I told my lord husband about it and he made one of his own a couple of days later and she accepted it from us personally.”


Sophia tilted her head to the side. “Maybe that's why there's going to be an auction instead of direct donations, so that it won't turn out like the candles. The Duchess of Norfolk is married and so will not be able to bid unless her husband allows it. The unmarried ladies and widows will be able to compete among themselves and there will probably be plenty of gentleman who volunteer to be auctioned.


“I will be making my donation privately, hopefully either to Lady Mountjoy or the Queen herself. Nobody else will know that I contributed. I would think that other married ladies will do the same. Even if I was still unmarried, I doubt that Lord Kingston would have allowed me to participate and my lord husband is far too possessive to permit it.”


She nodded at Frances' advice. “Oh, I will definitely be watching to see who bids on whom. And what the gentleman do for the winners. I am quite curious about that part. And yes, I have heard those rumors too. When I met with Her Majesty earlier in the week, she looked like she had gained a bit of weight.” Or had that just been her imagination? “Wouldn't it be wonderful if it is true?”


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Frances gave a small smile then added to comment

"You have to understand how Politics are played Lady Toledo. Who ever holds His Majesty's favor has all the 'Power' for lack of a better word and Her Majesty has little to say in regards to it. How can you be so certain that She would not listen to what might have been said? How can it benefit Her Majesty to cause disruption into His Majesties amusements - would it not be far better to say nothing - as is expected - and thus gain from His Majesty a kindness? A Royal Mistress after all is under The Kings protection. And it it not the Duty of every wife to Obey her Husband? More so for The Queen."

"Her Majesty is young and I fear not capabale of taking on any of those women yet His Majesty will allow none to speak badly in regards to The Queen. Tis a fine line.'

This 'Auction' is designed for Charity I agree and why do you assume that the Duchess of Norfolk will not offer a bid? She may do it for her daughter or relative knowing that its NORFOLK and any who think to out bid are welcom'd to try but can hardly expect to win! I think it will be unmarrieds coached by Families - take me for example. The Duke will expect my presence and so I shall be beside The Duchess or my two Aunts or perhaps even the Duke himself - stating that Newcastles will bid. There will be the exact same competition as was for those cadles Baroness only difference is tis the women now."

Frances spoke matter of fact in her words to Sophia for it was all True. The one that excelled and caught the attention of the Monarch was the Winner in any situation. This was no deiifernet be it under the Queen's name.

"Privately? Really? Well I suppose that is best seeing how tis the Spanish Ambassadors wife that offeres it.  I am curious to see how many 'Gentlemen' have made themselves available. I'll wager there will be several married amongst them to add some amusements no doubt."

As for The Queen  ...

I can not say with certanity but I have come into the room and The Duchess and the Aunts stopped talking and when I enquired was told twas only for married Ladies and as I was neither Wife or Mother ...."

"His Majesty has waited long for a son. And if tis True than I shall rejoice and offer Thanks for a Safe Delivery. This has made me think .... I shall have to nose about with The Dukes Agents try to see if any orders have been issued for bonfires to be prepared to be lit once the babe is born ...."

She smiled across to Sophia and took a sip of her now tepid tea and tried to hide her reaction by adding "I am afraid I have prattled on Baroness do forgive me. Tis just nice to have conversation with someone my own age, thereabouts." 

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“So you think His Majesty made the suggestion himself?” That seemed like a reasonable explanation. The Queen would listen to her husband, even if she suspected the idea had come from a mistress. Sophia didn't think the King would tell her if it had. He wouldn't want to upset her, especially if the rumors circulating about her were true. Perhaps, if she had a chance to speak with either the Queen or Lady Mountjoy at the event, she might be able to find out who had come up with the concept of auctioning gentlemen to ladies.


Lady Frances' opinion on how the auction would be run also sounded plausible. Even though she was about the same age as Sophia, she had been at court longer and she was the daughter of a powerful and influential Duke. And she had a much better grasp of politics . Sophia wondered if the only real competition would be between the well-known families, and ladies not attached to them would be left out, unless they were fabulously wealthy. 


“If you are correct,” she ventured, “then each family might bid on their own relatives, which would mean that the gentlemen would spend time with their sisters or cousins. Or having no relatives in the auction, they would bid on gentlemen from families they wish to ally themselves with.” She took a bite of a sweet pastry, thinking as she chewed and swallowed it. “Maybe that is the Queen's intention. It would not be improper at all. And quite clever.”


The petite blonde beamed at Frances' approval of a private bid. “I might not have done it last season. But I am learning more about politics and court machinations, as well as the significance of my new position. Making a public donation would not be wise simply because I'm the Spanish Ambassador's wife and nobody wants Spain to prevail over England. I am actually glad that my lord husband and I did not win the sleigh race, for many courtiers would have been angry for just that reason. It would have seemed as if Spain had defeated England and that could have led to repercussions and hindered the progress he is trying to make.”


In England, only married women could discuss pregnancy?  Germans were more pragmatic about such matters.  The Spanish were so conservative that they probably didn't discuss pregnancy with unmarried ladies either. “I too, shall pray for a safe delivery if the rumors turn out to be true.” Childbirth was dangerous for both mother and baby. Before she had become Juan's mistress, she had not wanted children at all because of the risks involved, but now she wanted to give her Prince a child more than anything else in the world. “I also hope that it will be a boy and that they will have several more children in the future.” As it stood now, the pompous Duke of York was his brother's heir, and she certainly didn't want him to become King. If that happened, she would leave England forever and never look back.


“There is nothing to forgive,” Sophia said with a warm smile. “I, too, am enjoying our conversation. I have met few ladies around my own age. Tell me more about the bonfires. Is it an English custom to light them when a royal child is born? And do the bells ring too?” In most of the stories she had read, bells had announced the birth of royalty.


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"Well tis only a thought and unlikely that it shall ever be proven as to who's idea it actually was." She gave a shrug of one shoulder.

"I should think that that is a real possibility - it does make sense and even if this is for "Charity' Politics are at play nevertheless and it will be interesting to see who aligns with who! As for myself I shall need to watch carefully for I have no real say in this. It will be much the same I think for all the others' as well - we all have to follow the direction of Fathers after all.. And yes Her Majesty might well be acting behind the scenes. I wonder if she will play favorites? If so then You Baroness will be most appreciated being a fellow Countrywoman!"

"Then You too are in a similiar position for you needs must follow the dictates of your Husband. Yet now that you are the wife of the Spanish Ambassador you have not the freedoms of before your marriage and must think over every little thing to ensure it is not played aganist you. It must be difficult."

She was sympathic towards the other and felt some sadness as well.

"Court is a place for those that desire Royal Favor and High Office. Power. Honors. Patronage. The one desire to curry Favor with the King or Queen thereby advancing Family. Tis not a place for the faint of heart. You would do well to lean as much as possible."

"Take this meeting as example. My Lady Mother is curious as to the intent. What would Baroness Toledo want with her daughter? And I in return will be quizzed greatly as to what was said and seen. That is why she sent her own servant here with me. SHE is the 'eyes' for the Duchess and will tell what was seen and perhaps even over-heard. We may see it as harmeless others might not. I am sure there are those that are wondering why the Baroness asked for Newcastle's daughter that reside under your own roof."

"But take no offense please. It is the way of things. And what can I possibly tell? I have seen nothing but this room and its furnishings and as to Lady Toledo, why, she was welcoming and set a good table."

Frances gave a chuckle her eyes bright with amusement.

"Well tis the Custom to light such bonfires up and down the Country for a Royal Birth and other things as well. Every Estate will have built some great pile and then All will wait for a signal one to be lit - perhaps here in London - that will be the sign to light all. Let us Hope for a Prince for then there will be a Heir and will help ease tensions. As for bells ... I would think so as well! Do they not do similiar at the German Court then?

She took a bite of pastry - it was to her taste. 

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“If it does turn out to be only powerful families bidding against each other, the ladies who are not part of those families will be disappointed and perhaps complain of unfairness. Not all courtiers have unlimited funds or are from the higher nobility. Her Majesty is an intelligent woman and has probably considered all outcomes.  I do look forward to seeing how it plays out."


She felt a bit sorry for Frances, having no choice as to which gentlemen she spent time with. Sophia remembered how she had balked when Lord Kingston had told her that she must dance with everyone who asked her. Even when she had pointed out that refusing them would be kinder because they wouldn't get false hopes of marriage, he had not been swayed. It could be the same way with Frances, forced to entertain somebody she had no interest in. Then again, she would be marrying whomever her father selected for her, whether she was against it or not. Perhaps she had been raised to accept obedience as her duty. The petite blonde knew that it might have been the same with her had she not moved to Venice at such a young age.  Maybe her life would have been easier that way.


“I do not think Her Majesty will favor me just because I am German. She has not done so before and now that I am the wife of the Spanish Ambassador, she probably sees me as Spanish, just as she became English by marriage. My lord husband, fortunately, places few restrictions on me. He did forbid me to attend a party earlier this season. I was angry, but now I believe that he made the right choice for me. It was a libertine gathering and I would not have fit in.”


Sophia finished her pastry and spread a piece of crusty bread with gorgonzola as she listened to Frances explain her mother's views on this encounter and why the maid had been brought along. She didn't think that she was so important that courtiers would speculate about everything she did, but presumably she had been wrong.


She grinned at her companion's compliment. “No offense taken. It seems odd to me that nobody can believe that two young ladies wish to have tea together just for enjoyment, with no ulterior motives involved. As for your mother's maidservant, she will be sadly disappointed if she hopes to overhear important information from our staff. They speak English, of course, but I have heard them conversing in Spanish among themselves.”


The bonfires sounded quite interesting. “Even if the baby is a girl, she can still inherit. Or were exceptions made for Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth? I do hope it is a boy, though. I do not know what they do when a royal child is born in the Holy Roman Empire or if there are celebrations in Germany. I lived in Venice from the age of eleven until Lord Kingston brought me here. As you know, a republic has no royalty.”


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There was little Frances could continue to say regarding this Auction so she did not reply back to that. 

"Yes I agree. You ARE Spanish now and I should have remembnered it. Your place of birth has nothing to do with you now as a married woman. Really? He forbids you nothing? If that be the case then You are fortunate above all women - my lady Mother must abide to whatever the Duke says yet she has freedom in that she runs his Household well oversees its running anyway." Frances smiled a bit at the picture of her Mother who sat behind a desk and delegated but there was none in that House who would gainsay her. She was a Mistress not to be crossed. Firm yet Fair and Frances would strive to emulate that once she was Married.

"Did you really want to go there? How did you know of it? Do you have the acquaintances of those that do?"

She was indeed curious and the comment made about wanting to attend caused her a moments reflection and she observed Lady Toledo closer under the guise of sipping her tea. She presented an appearance of such innocence yet clearly possessed a woman's body so mayhap she too had many faces? There were very few at Court that did not. In many ways twas self-protection as well as the subtile Art of Subtrafuge.

She smiled back. "I am am Glad Baroness that is how you feel!"

But then grew serious. "But 'we' are not two normal ladies - You an Ambassadors Wife and me the daughter of a Duke - and whilst we two have indeed met for pleasure many will not see that at all. They will instead think plots and schemes and ponder if rumours are True and that Toledo uses his wife. My visit here will not go unnoticed. And now you will say that You do nothing of the kind and how can others think thus? Politics Baroness come in many guises. I would not like to see you suffer ill effects from my being here. In all sincerity."

"Ah but there you are wrong. A daughter may not inherit. The two Old Queens were an exception - Henry had but three children  - two daughters but only one son that lived - so twas Edward that became King but he too died without issue so as was set down Mary followed and again no issue so Elizabeth followed."

"This child if male will be next in line and Pray God he survives. The Queen will be expected to have another if this is a daughter until she has a son. Yet all of our sex are thus treated. Lord Toledo will expect you to produce his son and heir and if you fail with a daughter then you must keep trying until you give him a son. I will be no different. I will be expected to have a son to carry on the Family Name. I do not believe there is any man who thinks otherwise."

"Yet I am afraid of that. What if I can not concieve or babes die or all daughters are born ..... In all likelyhood I will be divorced and then what shall become of me?"

Frances' fear was indeed a real one. Childbirth was dangerous and many did die but she was trained enough to understand that her DUTY came before her personal feelings.

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“I don't think of myself as a Spaniard,” Sophia said in  a perplexed tone of voice. “And nobody would ever believe it by looking at me, or ...” she chuckled, “... by hearing me speak Spanish.” Her proficiency in her husband's language was improving; she had a knack for learning foreign tongues. But it was by no means perfect, and she had a thick accent that was a strange mixture of German and Italian.


“My lord husband is not strict with me because I have given him no reason to be.” Not true at all, but what Esteban didn't know wouldn't hurt him. “I try my best to behave as he expects me to. He monitors my activities by having me constantly watched. The bodyguard he hired to protect me will alert him if I do something objectionable. He watches my every move. So I am not quite as free as it seems.


“But I have no complaints. I would rather him have me watched than tell me what I can and can't do.” Next season, she hoped, Esteban would trust her more and see no need to have her followed all the time. They had been getting along quite well since they had exchanged gifts on New Years Day. Maybe his attitude toward her was softening. If not, she would tell Juan that she thought that Esteban was too suspicious and that she felt stifled by his constant supervision. She wasn't a child anymore and didn't need a chaperone disguised as a bodyguard. Surely, he would understand.


“The party's hostess invited me herself. She and I get along quite well and I had no idea that she was rumored to be a libertine. Lady Kendishall is adventurous, yes, but so am I and I do not belong to that circle. She has never done anything improper in my presence. We both share a love of music and I do like her.”


Lady Frances, like many ladies she knew, was overly worried about what people thought of them. It was a valid concern, Sophia admitted, given all the rumors that flew around court. In her opinion, courtiers speculated so much about the lives of others because they had nothing better to do. “I will not suffer because you came to visit me, and I hope that you do not either. It seems to me rather ironic that our innocent conversation will be twisted into something sinister by those who were not here. But I have learned that is what happens here at court. There is nothing much to be done about it. We know the truth, and that is all that matters.”


Royal inheritance was confusing. “So if the Queen has only daughters, the Duke of York will still be his brother's heir, even if he only has daughters himself?” His wife was young and could eventually bear a son. Or perhaps she would only have daughters as well. As to her husband wanting heirs, he certainly wasn't in a hurry, given his reluctance to sleep with her. Or at least he didn't care if his heirs were of his blood. Esteban was so devoted to Juan, he probably wanted to raise his master's children as his own. Maybe part of the reason her Prince insisted that she marry Esteban was so that his children would not be bastards like he was.


“I am afraid as well. I have been married for several months now and I have not become pregnant yet. My husband does not act as if he is disappointed. I am young and have many childbearing years ahead of me. But if I am barren or my children don't survive, I do not know what I will do either.” She knew that Juan would still love her whether she gave him children or not. Esteban, though, would need an heir eventually and could possibly set her aside. “I suppose that if either of us are so unlucky, we will have to find a new direction for our lives, such as devoting ourselves to God.”


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"It has nothing to do with place of Birth." She said shaking her head a bit. "You MARRIED a Spainard and are, by that act, now SEEN as Spanish. It would be the same if I - who was born English -  married a German. I would been SEEN as German and thus expected to aquire the behaviors and customs associated with my new Country."

"Does that make sense? Then you do your husband a disservice by not thinking you are now a part of Spain. Your Position alone proclaims it Lady Toledo." The last added for a subtile reminder. Frances could not understand this way of thinking so it was perhaps better to live it there.

"By your words you too are restricted which is not the same as strict. Parents are strict with their children to ensure they are taught and learn properly that is not the same as a husband who watches his wife. Yet I would not wish for such and so I must say that Lord Toledo holds you High in his eyes to want to protect you so carefully." Her words held the right touch of admiration. Yet she thinks

'what has she done I wonder that makes her husband thus? to watch her so closely might mean there is something amiss. yet she seems unaffected and even mixes with libertines ....' 

Frances made a small pout thinking. "No. I do not know that name. Kendishall you say? Who is her husband? She is new come to Court I think. I shall ask about her."

Sophia might take that to mean several things but to Frances it was a natural step especially here at Court where it was important to know who was who in order to connect the dots for Alignments, Factions, and Family.

"Well we two are indeed harmless here alone! Yet to those eyes that watch they will only see Newcastle's daughter in the camp of Spain thus will wonder why said Duke would allow it and might that be a sign HE favors Spain and thus wishes to help a cause?"

"Politics Baroness is always present. And those on your side might think that the Ambassador is seeking a way to connect with the Duke to aid in some English cause or even to ask favors for Spain."

"You know that Court is made up of Factions yes? Those that I am seen with are children of Men aligned with the Duke who is aligned with like-minded Gentlemen so my 'friendships' are not seen as unusual. I am not much help for I hold no place in the Queen's Household and thus can not seek out information that can be useful to the Duke or even my Lady Mother to use in some fashion. I should like to have a Position ...." Her thoughts going to Lord Chichester for as his Countess she was well-placed to get one.

She gave a small sigh. Court was not an easy place and she was bred into it while the other had much to learn still.

"We are being used no matter how innocent to further ambitions of others'. There is nothing that can be done to change that yet it Does matter. You will have a hard time I fear for no matter the intent You will always be seen as employed by Spain."

She held up her hand adding "Yes I do not think it but you must always remember that there are many that will. Tis your Fate. And my 'knowledge' of Politics is slim but what I have said is Truth."

"If only daughters are born and live with no son then the Duke will like as not remain as Heir. And if his Duchess bears a son afore The King  ...." The words trailed off.

"You are?" This said in regards to childbirth. "Most of my friends are the same even those that say they are not! Do you hope for a child soon then?"

She laughed then at the last comment.

"You? Going to The Church? I do not think that a likelyhood at all Baroness for You are not suited for Convent Life. I think you are possessed of too much Livelyhood!"

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Sophia knew that she was seen as Spanish, but she didn't feel like a Spaniard, or even a German. She felt like a Venetian. Venice was the city she loved above all others and it had been the place where she had spent the happiest years of her life … until Juan had confessed his love for her. Now she was happiest in Madrid, but only because he was there, not because she felt that she belonged.


“I know that I am considered part of Spain, and I try to help my lord husband as much as I can. I wish you had attended the party at the Embassy. It was a very Spanish affair and I did all of the planning. He has not asked me to dress or act as the women of his country do, and for that I am grateful. We are in England and it is better to embrace its customs than to be adamant about upholding our own. It shows that we respect this land and are willing to adapt to it.”


The blonde singer agreed with Lady Frances. She didn't like being followed wherever she went, but it was better than being told that she couldn't do certain things. Sophia was able to go where she pleased and do as she wished, as long as she remembered that Karl was loyal to Esteban and would report anything he thought was amiss. Still, she had gotten away with quite a lot, including making out with Lord Chatham in the Walled Garden right under his nose. And she did appreciate the4 bodyguard's protection. The streets of London were not safe, particularly for those who were considered Catholic, whether they actually were or not.


“Lady Kendishall is a widow. She's French and she plays the cello. In fact, she played in the orchestra during last week's opera.” If Frances set her mind to it, Sophia was sure she could find much more about her than that, including her disapproval of the way Lord Langdon treated his ward.


For all she knew, Esteban could be trying to convince Newcastle to side with him on the war issue. He did not speak of his business with her. But his goals had nothing to do with this harmless tea between two like-minded ladies. And no matter what Lady Frances said, she didn't think that she should worry about other people's suspicions. If they tried to hurt her because of any of her associations, they would be thoroughly surprised when she fought back.


“Maybe you will be chosen as one of the Queen's ladies if that is what you want. You come from a powerful and influential family like most of her attendants. When I first came to court, I hoped to become one too and  thought that being German might work in my favor.  But I found out that only Englishwomen or foreign ladies married to Englishmen can serve her. I didn't know that then, and as you know, my life took a much different path, one that I do not regret.”


Sophia nodded when Frances asked if she hoped for a child. “Yes, I would like to give my husband an heir. I do hope I become pregnant this year, but I will enjoy myself while I'm not. I imagine that having a baby changes one forever and that one never looks at life the same way again.”


Her expression turned thoughtful. “Perhaps you are right, but I wouldn't rule it out if my lord husband sets me aside. I think I could find joy singing for the glory of God for the rest of my days. It would be better than living unloved and being pitied for my unfortunate circumstances.”


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Frances gave a small shake of her head as she answered back

"I do not think it has anything to do about 'adapting' to this Country. The Ambassador your husband is Loyal to his Master and must do as commanded which means he has no 'Loyalty' to England at all. As his Lady you will be expected to do the same. I know it sounds unreasonable by your thinkings. The ways of Men are so different from ours Baroness  - they thrive on Battles and Plots and things of that nature!"

"Another French woman? And she a Widow as well? What I wonder is happening at the French Court that drives them to here? I am curious and so will employ those that will sniff about for me ... again one of the perks of my Position. If you are close with her there might be things not suitable for your Rolé as Lady Toledo and so I should not want you to be uninformed. What you do with any of it is your business naturally."

Frances was quite capable of searching for things. She might look meek and unasumming but she had the blood of her Ancerstress after all!

"I should like to be a Maid of Honor and have enjoyments before my own marriage is arranged. I had hoped ..." She caught herself then continued "to have heard some announcements this Christmas Court as so many had come to Whitehall but there is nothing."

"If I were to wait until I am married and depending upon WHO my husband is and his Title I could try for Presence Chamber  ..... but for now I think Spring will be an excellent time for me to look for a Position. But then if Her Majesty is really with child they might not take any new ones."

She sipped her drink as if thinking on that. In Truth her thoughts were entirely upon on man alone and the absence of his presence was a hurt that was still painful. Was he all right? Was he suffering? So many things crossed her mind.

"Well I shall Pray for you that you will achieve that Baroness. As to how it changes I can not say. I have not been allowed in a birthing room even for a servant so tis all very mysterious."

"I do not think you will suffer such a fate! And as for singing well God suruly is Grateful that you are so Blessed."

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“Everyone knows my lord husband is loyal to Spain. But by embracing the culture of England, he will be looked upon more favorably than an Ambassador who loudly proclaims that his country's ways are best. It shows a willingness to compromise and a respect for others. At least that is how it looks to me. As you say, we have no understanding of how a gentleman's mind works. They may believe something else entirely.”


As to her own loyalties, they lay with Juan, just as Sophia did whenever they were together. It might be fun to play a private game and do things that will confuse courtiers about which country I am devoted to. It will keep them guessing. But it could hurt Esteban in the long run, so perhaps it is not such a good idea after all.


“I will appreciate anything you can tell me about her. I do not wish to hurt my husband because I am friendly with somebody who is seen as inappropriate.” She didn't think there was anything objectionable about Caroline. Even if she was a libertine, she didn't flaunt it and like Sophia herself, she stood up for what she believed in. Hopefully, she had forgiven her for not attending her party. Her injured ankle had given her the perfect excuse, but maybe she should eventually tell her the truth.


Lady Frances wanted to serve the Queen more than she had when she had been single. “This is a short season so perhaps she didn't appoint any new ones. She may need even more once her child is born. I wish you luck in the spring. I think you would be a perfect addition to her household. You are intelligent and not given to mischief like so many other ladies around our age.” She smiled wryly. “Including myself, before I was married.” The young singer liked to think she had matured since then.


“I don't believe it is the actual birth that changes you. I think that you look at life differently after you have a child. It's not just about you anymore. You will always want what is best for your children, and will want to change the world so that it will be a better place for them.” That was what she had read about motherhood in books anyway.


“Thank you,” she said when Frances complimented her singing. “What are the things you like to do? You expressed an interest in art when we first met. Have you given any thought to learning how to paint? It would be fun to learn together.”


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She would lay aside any more talk on Politics. It was clear, at least to her, that Lady Toledo was confused in her thoughts about just what her Rolé was.

"Well I hope that there is nothing that warrents a breaking of a potential friendship. An acquaintance is sufficient enough and one has to be careful."

"I think so as well. Lady Mountjoy is not like to take on anyone 'new' and so all those that aspire needs must wait for Spring or behaps even after if Her Majesty does indeed have a baby. Yet how that matters regarding her Household is not relevant. The new Prince/Princess will be swiftly dispatched to its own Household once tis determined there are no defects. And after thirty days Her Majesty will be Chcurched and able to come into Court once again to take up her Duties which means any vacant positions will need to be filled."

"It all seems complicated does it not? Yet there is a process for Everything and that must be followed."

She smiled at the compliment 

"I agree with you in that as well. I am well-versed in many things and so able to be put to good use."

"How can one 'Change the World' Lady Toledo? I do not understand what you mean. Having a baby makes you think that?"

"I ride of course. Dance and play a lute not well at all I am afraid. I sew tolerably and like Painting. Lord Chichester has offered me lessons  ... Perhaps in the Spring."

She was able to say his name without a quibble and no change of manner or expression. 

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“I think that when Her Majesty chooses new maids of honor, you will be one of the first she appoints to her household.” Sophia wondered why Lady Frances had not been chosen earlier. Yet that was none of her business.


“Yes, it does sound complicated. I have been at court for a year and I am still learning new things about English customs. Then again, a royal child has not been born during that time. The way their households are run is not a topic that has come up in conversation. Do you know if he will be raised in another palace or will he remain with Their Majesties?”


The petite blonde sighed. “I truly do not know, but when I do have a baby, I will tell you if I feel the same way as I did before he was born. Unfortunately, my lord husband will likely insist that he be raised in Madrid and then I will have a difficult decision to make … return to London or stay with my child in Spain.”


So Lady Frances had a musical talent as well, but she didn't seem to be as dedicated about playing the lute as Sophia was about singing. Riding, dancing, sewing, and painting were interests that both girls shared. She was a bit surprised that Lord Chichester would offer an unmarried lady painting lessons when he had flat-out refused her own request until she had married Esteban. He had seemed to think that it was inappropriate to tutor a single woman. Maybe he had changed his mind.


“I told you when we first met that Lord Chichester agreed to tutor me. My lord husband approves because they are close friends. Maybe he will give us lessons together. We should ask him when we see him next. He will probably be at the auction tonight.” The young Baroness had no idea that Frances might prefer to be alone with him.


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"It is the Custom for a Royal Prince or Princess to be established into their own Household soon after birth. I only know that it is set up the same way as the Household is for The Queen - Officers that oversee will be Gentlemen and there will be a Lady Governess for the child. She is usually a Lady of Rank and know to His Majesty. Wet nurses and servants to attend. The apartments will be richly decorated of course and I am sure all manner of things."

"I should think that the child will be with Her Majesty for a few days with a wet nurse in attendance and then a procession will be set and the child will Officially be moved. I should find it hard I think to part with my child - yet there is nothing one can do. Perhaps, if The Queen appeals,  the King  may relent? I do not know. I remember my Lady Mother after my sister's were born did not keep either with her but went to the nursery straight away. Looked after by Nurse and two wet-nurses."

"If you get with child here then Lord Toledo would send you to Spain? But that is months on a ship and what if some misfortune were to happen? Oft times I do not understand how a man's mind works. Truly I do not."

"Ah. That is right. I had forgot. Well I can not speak for Lord Chichester Baroness. In Truth I have not seen him so he may have left Court already. Have you seen him?"

Her words might seem a trifle eager yet she was hungry for any news of that Gentleman.

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Sophia thought that serving a child seemed rather strange, but since this child would be the future King of England, if it was a boy, attending him would be an honor. Ambitious men would try to become close to him as he grew so that he would raise them in status and give them the best positions when he succeeded his father. Some might even try to influence him and become the power behind the throne.


She had read enough books on history to know that such things had happened before, not just in England but in other countries as well. Now that she was becoming proficient in Spanish, she was going to try to find some good books about the history of Spain when they were in Madrid. Either Juan or Esteban would be able to recommend some to her. She was especially interested in the royal family, namely her Prince's ancestors.


“I would find letting my child go to be difficult as well. If customs are different in Germany, then maybe the Queen will convince the King to allow him … or her … to at least remain in the same palace. I don't know what is like for German royals, but I was not isolated as a child. I vaguely remember my mother, and since I was so young when she passed away, she must have spent a lot of time with me. My father did too, whenever he was at the castle. I have many wonderful memories of him. However, he did allow me to live with another family in Venice so that the lord's wife could teach me to be a proper lady while I continued my vocal training. Maybe it is not uncommon for parents to be separated from their children there.”


Sophia had never thought of what might happen if she became pregnant either in London or in Spain. If she was in Madrid when she discovered she was with child, she would most likely have to stay there.  If she was in London and not very far along,  Esteban might insist she travel so that his child (or Juan's … or Lord Arundel's if she was already expecting), would be born in his homeland. “I truly do not know if he would let me travel or not. We have never discussed it. I suppose I will find out when I become pregnant. I know that he would not want to endanger his heir.”


She shook her head when Lady Frances asked about Lord Chichester and she noticed how her friend seemed eager for news of him. Did she fancy him? If so, did he return her affections? Both of them would have to marry someday, so why not to each other? “I thought that he was going to give me a lesson before the end of the season, but he has not contacted me. Nor do I remember seeing him since the ball. Maybe he did leave court early. I will ask my lord husband if he has heard from him lately.”


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