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The gratitude of a duke...or a king...or both? | 3rd late morning- Xmas 1677

Duke of Buckingham

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I shall have to drop in Bucky's house description in a minute!

There were few things worthy of the Duke of Buckingham's attention in the morning hours. There were even fewer things which got him out of his bed before 11 (or noon). There was certainly something of great importance or to do with the King if Buckingham was about and fully clothed so early. 


In fact, it had almost been comical how shocked his dear nephew was to be summoned before 9am! Not that the cub was not always up at ungodly hours, for he sometimes heard the clattering of swords in the courtyard when there was barely any light outside (and he was just going to sleep  rather than waking up). 


So by the time it was near the time for Nicolette to arrive, the entire house knew something important was going on, something that had stirred rarely seen things in their master. 


Something beyond all the fabrics which were making their home in the parlour overlooking the back gardens, overseen by a few bustling tailors and assistants. There was more, however, than just fabric assembled in that room. 


Buckingham himself was watching the front drive with his typical cafe correto, a habit left from times in Italy that soothed his joints in the morning now that he was older.


Coincidence such as these... His mind was running through images and bits and pieces of thoughts. It is a sign, for none could know...Basildon could never ascertain... No, he was quite sure by then that there was something special about the little French Mademoiselle. 

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Gems that glittered so fine as these were ostensibly to be reserved for candlelight --  but did the rules even apply any more?!   While in the coach Nicci put on the diamond and Sapphire earrings the Duke gifted her, the delicate weight of their triple tier was not even the most extraordinary thing. The climax of the season had her in a state of wonder! 

"Good morning..." the servants seemed unusually attentive to guests this morning, she lingered in the foyer removing her (also gifted) furs, and checking her costume in the mirror.  She was wearing one of the adjusted hand-me-down gowns from Lisa -  the contrast it created with the jewels (that could purchase 10 new dresses!) amused her, and she thought Buckingham would notice and appreciate the unspoken statement also.    On her bodice a plain pin positioned at the point that a posy might be fastened, it was the pin that Buckingham had sent.  She was still not certain to it's meaning, could it be a pun - but a pun was hardly the highly refined Duke's style. Or was it?  Perhaps today she could come to know George Villiers a little more. 

"His Grace is expecting me, I believe."  She found herself looking towards the stairs she had stolen up to see Francis so many times - found herself looking for him again.  It felt like weeks since she'd seen him properly, and she was missing him.  She hoped he might be there with the Duke. 

Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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"His Grace is just upstairs," the servant said with a welcoming nod. 


By now, Nicolette knew the basic layout of the house well enough. Though she looked, she did not see any Francises. There was likely a Francis or two in paintings on the wall, but not her Francis. 


When she mounted the top of the steps, she would see that the duke was actually just upstairs. From his position overlooking the front of the house, it made as much sense to wait for her so that he could get a close vantage point to her reaction when the time came. 


"I do not find many excuses for good mornings," Buckingham said, coming into her view. He did not like to be predictable and behave as most. "But you have given me more than one."  

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With a nod for the servants direction, Nicci nipped her way up the stairs - though not expecting the location of Duke Buckingham to have been quite as literal as said. 

"Your Grace!"  there was some surprise in her voice as she came upon him,  practically lingering-about about in the halls, there in his overview with fragrant coffee.  Whatever it was she imagined him to be doing when at his own leisure (poring over maps perhaps, reading state papers or playing with a bloom of nympettes) whatever she had imagined, it was not this! 

She flashed a grin, dipped a curtsy.... and George Villiers casual as, chatted as though nothing at all was out of place.   Was he watching from the window for my arrival? Surely not.  No, he must have just fare welled someone important.  But, perhaps?  But whether he was there on her account or another, his cavalier manners did not indicate he thought of anyone but her. 

"Your Grace - you flatter me!" she delighted happily, and emboldened she moved closer extending her hands and wish to perform the pretty custom of kisses upon his cheeks (which would require the towering man to bend to accept!)  She owed the Duke so much.  In her heart she had promised him undying loyalty and her form wished to show it in practise.  She hardly wished to let go of his hands again, for this moment was far too beautiful! 

"But you have also made me deadly curious upon more than one account. Your note of course. And then this..." this self-confessed curious girl was plainly delighted none the less!  "If we are talking of mornings, I would love to hear any news of a certain persons disposition after. The turn of the year was a thrilling one indeed." Had the Duke heard anything from the King? Oh, but she should not be pushy for any such news. That he summoned her here was a clue enough.    

Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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George Villiers might not be thirty anymore, but he was still known to have impeccable charm with ladies and the French sensibilities of grace of person. Nicci he deemed of particular consequence, so she got more than the warm reception she wished. He took her hands, brought them to his lips and then leaned in to give her lips a soft kiss. 


"You have the eyes that can withstand the competition of those jewels," he said, meeting her gaze with an open intensity. 


No matter what others might think, George did not try to fill the King's bed to gain influence, for he was vain enough to think he needn't a woman between he and Charles (it was merely handy when he was in the Tower). Only those that did not know the King needed to go the route of his cock,  but by filling that role he prevented any others of filling it and using it. 


"Do you doubt your ability to delight?" was the duke's saucy response, offering his arm to lead her to the parlour. The King had liked her long ago. That was never a doubt. Her ability to entertain and play, to make a mistress instead of a lover, had been in progress. "Did Francis not reassure you enough?" the duke tutted, in the way only an elder male relation could. "You deserve all of it," he declared boldly. 


When they entered the room she would see quite a display of fabrics of a rainbow of colours and textures. It took up much of the space that was not set aside with foods and plush chairs, but there was yet another thing on display. Her little army of men that she had purchased, of which she had given one jaunty piece to Francis and the rest to the duke, had been set up with an artful hand. 


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Buckingham was an exquisite gentlemen, this she’d known from the moment of first seeing him dancing. He was a man with true panache, he was the finest jewel in the crown of England (positioned atop His Majesties head?)   And Nicci, feeling no limits to the amount of love she could give, adored him utterly.  Her small hands squeezed his large, tightening further as he kissed her lips, and tip toeing to prolong it a he righted himself again.  

“I would still be content if were only my eyes to sparkle upon you, Your Grace.” Her heart burst with his compliment.  It was possibly a well used line he had spoken (heaven knew it was the sort to enamour any lady!) though he uttered it as though it was uniquely crafted for she and she alone.  “But these.” She touched one of the gorgeous earrings he spoke of, “I do adore. Your taste in finery is perfect.”  

Which was a great blessing for she and everyone else under the Dukes patronage.  Some patrons had little to no taste, and gave out gauche and even ugly presents, then those poor long suffering sycophants had to wear them with smiles and pretend to be grateful for it.

And then she was taking his arm, while he teased in reply to her (vain!) quiz.  “Compare me to a fine vintage, to have just one goblet full would be a waste.” She laughed, “though that said the uncorking was so great a fun.” 

Meanwhile she could not help herself but yearn to be taken to the Duke of Buckingham’s bed.  Oh yes, the prize had been His Majesty the King, and she found love also with Francis, while her cousin would be lifelong ally and lover too. But Buckingham, was Buckingham!

When he said she deserved the praise, she wanted to call  ‘don’t take anyone elses word for it!” but she did not (for the Duke was too fine for such brashness).  But instead she grinned, and looking around the room she saw the masses of fabric, and fancy fare set out like there was to be a party held – and then she saw too the gift she’d given, with a crow of delight moved towards them.  “Your army! I thought of you the moment I saw them!” she looked to appreciate the way they had been set out on the table.  “There is such an order to them, a unity, a noble purpose.” Turning back to look at the Duke she smiled broadly.

Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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Buckingham was a man whom words rarely failed, and he needn't recycle compliments to a woman. A man like him could afford profligacy in anything! Extravagance in language was Buckingham, even in French, according to the Sun King himself; it was no wonder Nicolette felt such a draw to George Villiers. 


"You compliment yourself as much as myself by saying so," he agreed, with a peek-toothed smile. The lady was good with words as well, without needing meter and rhyme to structure it, two things easily made crutches to bolster mediocre wit. It was little wonder Buckingham (The King & Half the Court Gentlemen) were so drawn to her! 


"I foresee it is more than just a good fit. I am certain you will see that it is so the more you are around him." That was all she was going to squeak out of the duke. The year had seen much good fortune and things that fell into place in ways that were inimitable. It had been a very good year for both he and his master the King, and the current year was shaping even better. 


Buckingham smiled at her reaction to his assembly of troops and then he nodded, as if something was satisfied. He picked one up. "It is not something just anyone would think to gift me," he replied. 


"Where did you get them, I wonder? Or...to whom did they belong?" 

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Nicci laughed as she was caught out for complimenting herself within his compliment! “Does Your Grace not agree that all the best agreements are mutually beneficial!”

She bit her lip trying to restrain the girlish delight she felt at his small revelation – but the effort was quickly enough discarded. Why on earth had she spent time fretting of her longer term future, when the here and now was still to be savoured! “I feel like dancing!” she crooned, and spun a pirouette.  The practised elegance of her movement spoiled only by the cheeky grin upon her face.

Then sober of the Dukes present; he responded in a way that reminded her of the King when she had asked about music.  Resisting the brag ‘I am not just anyone’ she spoke gentler, “I am so happy that you like it.” 

“I brought the set from a curiosity shop, the keeper did not know who owned it before. But it was possibly a professional discretion that he did not say.” She then explained, “I know only that it is old, and very finely crafted. Do you recognise their uniforms Your Grace?”

There had been a time when she’d fretted they could be Cromwellian, but Francis would have told her if they were when she’d given him the piece that looked most like he. 

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Buckingham's blue eyes followed her twirl like a man born to appreciate finery of all forms. 


She could have bragged, and he would have agreed. Like her, though, he would have taken some of the credit in that statement too; He had helped to make her 'not just anyone.'


Coincidence was not a thing in the world of alchemy, something which he had also been thinking of more with the full moon the next evening. Her gift, then, had been apropos in a way she could not fully appreciate, but she might shortly. 


"Curious," he replied to her revelation that it was a curiosity shop, but he did it in such a deadpan way that such a stereotypical one-liner was delivered with mastery. "Old!" he snorted. "Indeed, perhaps you are quite right. I should think they are from...hmm...1631 for these...32 for those...and 33 for the others..." He looked at her quite comically, "That is very old! Almost fifty."


In fact, the blue-eyed Duke of Buckingham was also almost fifty. 


"Their uniforms, their everything." And then Nicci might realize the reason for the impact of her present. "Someone who knew less might say that I know them because they were His Majesty's, but that would be very untrue, like many things people say. People forget, people lie, and people want others to believe what serves them." He held one in his hand. "On my third birthday, the first of these was given to me, long before our royal master was old enough to play with them." He smiled at her.


(OOC - Now I can confess than when I concocted this story for the toy soldiers, I thought you were going to give them to Louis' son, and I figured it would be seasons before this came out (if it ever did) and that it would be epic for Nicci and Louis, and that they'd probably give them to the King! But it's even more epic that Nicci chose Bucky when I gave absolutely no indication whatsoever who might like them! It does make it rather poignant!)

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OOC: O-M-G! 


If she'd had even an inkling Nicolette would never have called them old!  

Her hand flew to lips with a gasp, behind which her expression shifted from surprise into a wonderous smile as he hand slowly fell.  It had been a coincidence, though it tolled some distant heavenly bell that echoed into the universe 'all was well'. Some might call it 'Serendipity', others 'Gods hand moving upon the Earth'. 

“I – but it is so perfect then.  How did it get there, how long had it been there sat? It was not upon display you see, but tucked away on some shelf out the back.”  Un-answerable questions spilt fromher lips. 

And there the Duke stood holding a toy soldier, it was near to impossible to imagine his form of fifty years ago stood in like pose admiring the piece for the very first time – but she knew that he was reminded. How precisley he’d spoken when saying this was no ordinary gift!

If there was ever a moment that a ‘familiar’ compulsion might be forgiven or indulged it was now – Nicolette did not refrain from moving to embrace the Duke (who stood there within his own memory of fatherless boy.)  He must be older than CR? She deduced, that had not been obvious to her previously – perhaps it was her impress at Buckingham that cast him in a younger light.  

In a whisper she asked, “Tell me a story, Your Grace, of those days not-truly so long ago?”  



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"We did not take them to University when we went but left them all with Charles," Buckingham said, rolling the piece around in his hand. Although he did not think about it, he did not realize the we might not be obvious to her as it was to him in his recollection.  "We never went back but were sent to Italy after we ran from school to fight - without permission. When they were later forced to leave the palace, the  soldiers likely were left behind."


For all he knew a generation of Cromwell spawn had played with them. If puritans played with toys. They surely soldiered.


What he thought about, though, was the moment that he had uncovered them from their gilt box decades ago. They seemed so very much bigger to a three year old. At that age, he had not understood that the King was not his father. Nor had he fully understood that his preeminent place had been usurped by the dark, wailing baby Charles. It was not simply his childhood they reminded him about, but a time that was so utterly blinkered from anything that was to come. There was only a very short time in his life where he had that sort of family. 


His moment of repose was only brief, for Nicci embraced him. Something warm and something only a woman could share, really, for they seemed to absorb emotion as if it was possible to do so through the skin. 


He rested his chin atop her head, for he was tall enough to do so, and sighed his thoughts out for the time being. 


Snickering softly, he said, "Oh, I assure you, it was another lifetime ago, if not two or three of them." Wetting his lips, he ventured, "Did you know that when Charles was a boy, he was very quiet and did not much care for people?" It was a beginning.

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The family tree surrounding Buckingham was something of a mess, a rival to the confusing set of family that Francis had grown up with.  Brothers that might have been uncles, or possibly not actually related at all, while underlaying it all was the extended hoards of Villliers.  

True enough Nicci did not know who the ‘we’ might have been, it could not have been his sister Mall for girls even eminent ones, did not attend University.  Though if anyone might have donned a male disguise it was she, and Buckingham might have humoured her, he had a penchant for daring ladies in trews?   But any thought that the ‘we’ included Mall was discarded when he spoke of the time they had fled to fight. Not even Mall would join an army and not even Buckingham would allow a bold sister to do so.

“Perhaps they were hidden in a servants care, before somehow finding their way to the curiosity shop.  Shall we imagine that the trustee then pawned them to support some royalist action.” Nicolette enjoyed discovering some of his history, and it promoted romantic thoughts of grand deeds during the civil war years. Buckingham must have been a heart throb then, he was still attractive now in that excitingly distinguished and intellectual way.  Nicci’s eyes feasted upon his honesty as he reflected, the inflection of his tone that accompanied the shift of his brow, and subject matter entirely without artifice.  

"Did Mall go to Italy too?”

Nicci chose her timing well, her embrace accepted, and she with the sense it was appreciated as well. His chin came to rest atop her head, it was an oddly pleasing sensation – she did not let go but enjoyed the familiarity and tale he then told.  

“He was shy.” That was a surprise. “Then is was your role to speak for him?” She made a guess, “Is that how you became so very close, for he depended upon you so much. You, who learn his wishes, and tend to his happiness even now.”  

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"No, for she was married to the King's cousin by then, trusted to his safe-keeping for what good it did them," which insinuated that it had not done much good at all. "His Majesty could not send any of the princes or younger princesses away to protect them, but he could send my younger brother and I to safety, and he did. We were around fourteen....and we were heartbroken. Princess Mary was married to safety and we went to live with the Medici." 


"I have little doubt he would have sent Charles to Italy too, for even now if you look at the register for Cambridge, his name is signed next to ours for it had originally be intended that he come there with us as well.*" All three of them had very rarely been parted as children. 


What Nicci's present had stoked were things that were rarely spoken about. Not because they were secret or hidden, but because there was generally little cause to speak of them (or brave the thoughts they might stir up).


"He has always liked to take in people," Buckingham revealed. "Do not let his humour or boisterousness fool you on that. It was my job to protect him when we were boys." Like any older brother; except, what King ever had a living elder brother? "We were so close because we shared everything, our waking lives as boys, the same nursery, the same tutors, the same companies of toy soldiers..."


(OOC - *total truth! Charles I intended for his son to go to Trinity with Bucky and Francis)

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OOC: ❤️



That was a word to strike to the very core of a female, and even more so when expressed by a Duke.  Not just any Duke either, but a man who had always seemed to confidant and carefree.  Nicci’s brow rumpled, and turning her head looked up at the man.  

It had been a lifetime ago (or life times  as he’d said) but in the moment he told her of the boyish heart break.   When the English went on to kill their King, then he’d truly lost his father, those boys had all lost their father, he and CR also.   There were no words that could comfort, but her hug tightened for a moment, her eyes brimmed with the love she felt he’d lost.  And within that silence she pressed lips togther in a brave smile... 

The rose-lavender scented lady then loosened her hold, “And too, our young English King was all alone.”   Her thoughts of Mall slipped away after hearing she had been settled by then, and instead she returned to appreciating Buckingham.  In all of this she realised how utterly loyal the Duke was. Here she had been quizzing more of him, but at each turn he returned to talking of Charles. Here she would happily slip into pleasures with him, and he surely knew, but instead abstained.  She sensed it was out of loyalty to Charles that he did not. 

And she respected him even more for that.  

But why did she not know about his younger brother?  

Duke Buckingham then counselled not to be fooled by CR’s jocose.  Nicci tilted her head, a soft smile seeing the Kings warden again at his post.  “There is much to learn.”  she was enjoying her field of study, “and you, the tireless sentinel.”  Who, although she tested him thoroughly, stood fast.

Stepping a little apart she flashed a smile, “An extremely well dressed sentinel at that. Oh but, Your Grace -- all of this!” she motioned to the vast quantity of fabrics about, heaped in piles, gleaming shining and new smelling stuff.  “I cannot say naught of it a moment longer – how exciting!”

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Buckingham lived life in eras, rather than in years or even one coherent lifetime. All of them were poignantly disconnected from one another by traumas of one kind or another, most often death or betrayal. He might not have ever spoken in any detail of his childhood had she not presented him with ann extant detail from his childhood. Unlike Charles, Buckingham felt things quite deeply. 


"Yes and no," the Duke replied to the King also being alone. Though he need not contemplate such details, Charles had not been separated from his family until far after he and his brother had been sent safely to Italy, and even though George knew that he and Francis had been sorely missed, Charles still had Mall and her husband Jamie, James, Ru, and hosts of others. He had Francis and caretakers he had never even met previously. For boys who had led an insulated life behind the protection of a royal screen, it had been a shock. 


His story of Charles was not particularly out of loyalty, though he would always argue none had ever been more loyal in more pressing circumstances than he, but because it was easier to not talk just about himself or to not talk about himself at all in terms of his childhood. Not only that but it served Nicci well to understand His Majesty. It also served him best to have her feminine sensibilities feel that he, too, had the King's best interests at heart. 


His abstention from her was more an indication that such emotions bought by toy soldiers made him far from amorous. Men of his age were not quite constantly thinking about a swive, and in the depth of his feeling in the moment, there was little room or need for base pleasures. That did not mean there never would be, for he had previously played her just like a violin. 


Smiling at her wonder, he said, "All of this was arranged for you long before you presented me with such a powerful momento, so see it as merely the tip of my generosity. I will owe you something far greater than pretty trinkets, for to be able to share these again with His Majesty...." He trailed off as if he really could not find something comparable. There were not many good reminders of childhood, merely reminders of what it was to be young, but this was yet something else that had been robbed from them and returned that year. It was the work of something more, even an irreverent man like Buckingham could not quite ignore it. Add to that the luck of the Queen's pregnancy...


If it weren't treason, he would get out the fortune tellers again!!!

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<<Yes and No>>

His reply vague enough that she guessed he did not want to say more on that, and so she kept her lovely imaginings of him. It did her heart well to think herself enamoured with the most magnificent of men...

"Even before?" That was a surprise!  When he revealed the imporance of the toy soldiers, his generosity to pay a dressmaker for dressed seemed an apt return.  But now she understood now that she had further 'credit' with him  and with that a single thought popped into her mind.  A confession, and perhaps his assistance?   Buckingham’s thoughts drifted him away, and Nicci hesitated, second guessing herself. She hardly wanted to tell him this, even now.  But if not now, then when

"Your Grace..." she was far more serious of a sudden, "I would prefer to never beg use of that credit, but I shall do so now, asking that you do not become angry with me. But there is a thing, a thing  that I have been trying to ignore, but that in my heart I know is only a forestall.  I was never expecting to become so very, invested, far more than flesh, but my very heart also."

Was she stalling by dressing the confession with long winded introduction? Yes! Stalling while she managed her nerves!

"When barely arrived to these shores, I made the acquaintance of Saint-Aignan and deChevreuse,” her eyes met Buckingham’s, “A correspondence with Saint Aignan’s sister was arranged. I have not written her for months, they shall become impatient for a letter soon I am sure.” She was flushed, it was a horrible thing to admit – even after getting it off her chest she felt terrible about it. 

It was a secret so horribly dark.  Unless, could he have already known? Louis was certain that their household held multiple spies... 

With bit lip she admitted, "I need help." 

How did anyone ever possibly escape such a contract!   Distantly there was the sound of an arrival downstairs.  

Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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Buckingham listened with all the care of a very good friend as she spoke. Clearly this bothered her very greatly, which pleased him to no end. Not her distress, but that she spoke of it all to him knowing what all she risked and trusting that he would see her through it. 


She begged for his help, and he smiled softly. 


"Come," he said, urging her to sit against the back of the chaise. He then sat on the end. 


"I am pleased that you have trusted me."


He pat her hand between his and said in hushed and quick French. "Do not fear but know that your dear Mama is safe. Perhaps one day she will tell you the story of my father and the old Duchess of Chevreuse, and perhaps one day I shall tell you the entire truth of it. Until then know that Saint-Aignan is also my friend. You know the French are intriguers and all hiding grand scandal. When one knows of them, one knows to make alliances and then take measures. If you wish me to free your mother from the French entirely, I can, or if you simply wish to know that I can do so at the drop of a moment, I can assure that too. There may be a moment where your situation can be used to advantage. You tell me what you wish me to do, I promised His Majesty long ago I would handle it when he first showed interest in you. Surely you did not think all this was Francis' doing?" he chuckled at the idea.

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Moving as directed, Nicolette may never have been as biddable as she was just now. 

She'd carried this guilt with her a while now,  knowing how it could ruin everything of her future hopes and dreams, so she'd kept hush.  If he was angry with her, she'd have deserved it, but far worse would be disappointment. To disappoint him would be the very worst. 

With concern on her brow she listened, and... discovered that he understood, even appreciated that she'd bared it all.  "The Duchesse..." her mind spun as he revealed affiliations she'd not known.  It was a surprise, and at the same time stuck her as 'of course he does!'.  Those paramount men of French court, so suave and elegant,  "Your circles are large." she uttered, "It is like they say, a pebble dropped in Versailles ripples in Whitehall."  

"Your Grace - I am so relieved." those words  rushed out, "I have been so worried, realising the very safety for Mama they promised became a hold. It meant very little when it was aught by a humble circle I moved within, I might have been forgotten about. But with success ... well."  Nicci blinked in punctuation of that thought.  She hardly needed to explain to Buckingham how these things worked!  

Having purged those thoughts, it dawned on her what he said.  He'd promised, long ago, to handle it.  That meant he'd known, and had always known?!  Nicolette mouth fell open, then twisted into a smile that in turn burst into laughter.  "How naive I have been!"  And she usually credited herself as having had a courtly education!  Laughing her eyes shone as she appreciated his oversight as reaching far further than she'd ever thought!  "You are indeed the master of armies!"  Which was the thought that had her choose to give him the soldiers. 

As her laughter abated, she drew a breath. "Shall we then continue with your oversight then. Mama does not want to leave Paris - she is within good company, perhaps the finest she has ever enjoyed."  Nicolette was meanwhile left with a multiple of questions, like what sort of relationship had the Dukes father had with the French Duchess?  These were the delectable type of questions that one hardly wanted to know the real answer to, for the imaginings were marvellously romantic. 

“Your Grace, you are fascinating.” The girl sighed, quite certain now that this was what it was to be fallen in love. 

Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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Secrets were real power and real protection. Buckingham learned that very early in life. He had immersed himself in people of all types and beliefs and sorts. The Duchesse of Chevreuse's grandson would always be his friend; it was true they were actually friendly, for as Nicci surmised he enjoyed men like him, but that friendliness was safeguarded by a secret of utter ruination and Chevreuse was aware. As to Saint-Aignan, they too were friendly, but the duke had also sealed that with a trump the young heir was unaware of too. 


"A pebble dropped anywhere has ripples, my dear. Young noblemen go on grand tours not simply for art, culture, and education, but for generations to keep old arrangements and alliances alive over leagues and seas of distance. It is not simply because they are old that the old families have such advantages. They have generations of cultivated relationships and intermarriages. Their information gives them advantages." 


She might not realize that he was a man about to turn fifty. He was no Spring chicken like her cousin, Basildon, and he knew the game well.


"A woman does as she must to survive," Buckingham replied. "It is the same with any who come newly to court, actually, woman or not. It was easy to foresee that they would have interest in you. I noticed you immediately too. By the time they even approached you, I was already watching. But beyond that, Chevreuse told me." He smiled. It was not difficult for a man like him to know what things would inevitably attract the King...or French spies.


"If you wish your Mama to delight in French society, then so she shall," Buckingham replied. "Just realize you must take great care over what you say to her in any letters, because even silly things may give information and also because you will make enemies the closer you get to the King. If they can make something of an intercepted letter, they shall, true or not. And know that King Louis will make certain everything is kept and if it ever suits him, he can make certain it happens to fall into hands where it will be used and twisted to great effect. He released the evidence which Shaftesbury currently used to damn Danby for colluding with the French in secret. Everything that has happened since in these last two seasons is because someone picked up a piece of parchment they were never supposed to see and showed it to His Majesty." By happenstance, he was one of few people that the King trusted intimately with secrets that the King could also be assured was absolutely not in any form collusion with Danby! The entire thing had cast he and Charles closer together once more and all because of what someone did with a bit of parchment.


The same someone who had then gifted him a masonic painting after meeting with his Francis. The year had been, clearly, remarkable in coincidences. 


"So you see, Nicci, even a very stupid, small thing...entrusted to even the most indebted person...can have consequences that are not ripples but great waves of instant change to the person waiting for the proper moment." Even he was not vain enough to think that person was always him, but he was generally far more prepared than most. It was the only reason he was still alive with the influence he had and without any heirs to prove troublesome after his death, well, that was different now, not that anyone particularly knew that. 


"It is also why a person must always treat their lessers and servants with kindness and respect as long as they are loyal, for in a difficult moment the smallest person can control the outcome of your life. They must trust you with the life of not just themselves but their entire families, even if they die and sometimes long after that. Danby failed that test." Not just with Basildon, but more importantly with the inconspicuous lad Sir John Peyton. 


An astute person might truly realize from whom he had learned that lesson and the others who had continued the lesson. 


"And there is one small secret which you must guard for me and for you, and even for your cousin...but from him, as well." Buckingham paused, wishing to see her understanding of the gravity of the situation she was entering. 

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It might even have been at the Duke’s invitation that Chevreuse and Saint-Aignan had visited England upon their diplomatic mission.   

Nicolette mind bulged with the information, it was astounding, but made such sense all at the same time.  There had been times that she’d wondered why the Duke had paid her any attention, but it made far more sense as she appreciated  his view of the world was on a far greater scale.

So He had met those French during his exiled version of a grand tour, confirming family bonds forged years past, firming them for the years ahead.  She gasped in surprise, hearing that Chevreuse himself had told the Duke of their arrangement.  “He did so to further your trust in him?” she gathered, the strategy was complex to be certain.  Could I ever be so clever? She wondered.  It was a high aim. 

It was warming that Buckingham revealed he’d been watching her soon after her arrival.  The ball!   Nicolette was sure, for that was the night that he’d struck such an impression upon her.  That was also the night Gwen had shooed her off, and the Duke had seemed fine with that at the time. But he had still watched, from his distance.  Nicolette was ambitious, had tried to learn what it took to succeed in English court, setting herself role models to follow.

“Letters might by mistake betray, or become evidence.” She reiterated, understanding the gravity under the shifting situation.  “Then perhaps if I restrict my communication to brief notes with small gifts, I may relay my love to Mama without fear of crimes against others I hold dear?” she suggested, “and with London, messengers rather than letters whenever possible.” She took it seriously, why would he warn her otherwise. 

She knew nothing about the damning piece of parchment that had brought Danby to his knees, but she had heared enough random details of the ex-minister’s demise (via Louis) to know just how serious it had been.  (And still was).   

Yes 1677 had been an incredible year

While the turning of 1678 was its own spring board

"I shall try to be nicer to the fools then.” Nicci offered softly, giving a smile of it to counter her disapointment at that.  She had little patience for others who irritated her.  This was quite possibly the piece of advice that Nicolette needed to hear the very most. Petty enemies she made for no real reason could become her downfall.     

The Duke advised kindness to all walks of life.  Nicolette remembered Bridget and her recently-found good intentions towards the girl.  She also remembered... “Mmm.. cousin Louis said he thought you would have ears in His household, that perhaps even my maid. He said that she might be coerced by offer of money, or threats.  I did not think threats sounded like your style at all… but I was very happy if she has a second income.” It was not that she really wondered if Daisy was a spy too, but that she truly hoped that it was done by carrot and not rod.  (Privately Nicci had been a delighted to think herself spied on, it was flattering to be considered relevant!)

There was a secret then, the Duke wished to share.  Sagely Nicolette nodded, “Between just you and I.  It shall die unspoken with me, Your Grace.” With the look upon his face she knew it was important, and equally knew that this was both an act of trust, that he gave her the secret as a token of his belief in her.  

It might have been a moment to make a vow, but words can be spoken by anybody, and are so often at court done insincerely.  So it was Nicci chose not to verbose, rather it was in her heart that she simplye pledged to be forever loyal.  Perhaps some of that promise now radiated from her being? 

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Chevreuse and Saint-Aignan were too young for him to have met them on his exile to Italy (as he had oft thought of it), but he had met them when they were that age or perhaps a bit younger. 


"For many reasons, I suspect." Buckingham did not wish to give the girl more than she could digest at once. There was much time to learn what needed to be learned, and he would need to see where her talents lay in more things than simply laying. 


"Small gifts and brief notes to one's mother are quite safe. If you wish to send them with a messenger, I can have them sent, and anything you wish to convey verbally too." 


The duke's laughter was loud and bright as she suggested she would be nicer to fools, "Oh, no. No, no, my dear, fools are fools. If you have not seen me poke fun of fools, you have missed my best performances of the year!" He laughed a bit more. Buckingham was known for lampooning anyone and everyone. "Just remember that servants and common folk shouldn't be treated poorly merely for their being. They are very useful. The mob is very dangerous. It is good if they like you. Give bumpkins and urchins alike coin and treat those of worth with worth regardless of their station. Fools, enemies, are different, and lampooning is fun. People shall wish your association now, and you must take care, for it shan't be inconsequential anymore."


One blond brow rose and then the other as she spoke of maids and threats. It might seem a familiar action to her, for Francis did similarly.


"It is simpler to pay in such instances," he assured her. "Men also do as they must, but I prefer to make approaches as a friend, or have others do so." Surely she did not imagine dukes and princes could live without some level of ruthlessness, and Buckingham was known as a dangerous enemy and duelist. He, though, followed the Italian example of thinking being both loved and feared the best methodology.


"The more you learn of court, Nicci, you will know that it is better to have your friends paying off your servants than your enemies, for someone is always trying to learn something of you from whatever venue they can find. Someone drugged one of my servants once, who in a mad stupor attacked me with a bread knife in my bedchamber at night; I am thankfully equally skilled in swordsmanship via candlestick and do not sleep well, but the unwitting assassin had to be hanged.*"


The secret he shared was not one that moved realms, but it was one that moved her realm and it was in her interest to also keep it. He knew that she understood and understood why. 


It was, really, something of a kindness. 


(OOC - This really happened historically. Buckingham defended himself from being stabbed with his bedside candleholder and then disarmed the man with it.)

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Yes, it was a lot to digest, his revelations and also the secret offered; these were things she would wonder upon in the quiet moments of many a day ahead.   She now knew enough to realise how very little she actually knew.  It was a marvellous thing to discover, broadening her focuses of the world.   

"I would appreciate that.” He offered to help with the sending, she gratefully accepted – it was at the core the very help she’d asked for.  Just as she'd done with the Envy letters for Francis, those notes would arrive to the Duke unsealed, that he might read.  His screening would prevent some message that might ruin, and then also one day her messages might be used to the benefit. 

He laughed!

“That was to be a real challenge I admit!” she agreed.  “La, I do not know I can become a saint, and life is for our enjoyment yes?” Buckingham enjoyed lampooning, though of course his position and courts indulgence of, was quite different to her own.   Sense told her to be careful still.  (Except  when it came to Davina.)

He spoke of the common people again, “ ‘The affection of the people is the Princes…” Her memory then failed her as she tried to remember the quote once read.  “protection?” was that the correct word? 

It was an odd thing when she recognised traits of Buckingham from Francis, and vice versa – though she’d quizzed Francis very early on of his family, she’d still not quite settled how it all worked.  It was more than the youngers mimicry – and though the Duke remained publicly heirless, she sometimes wondered if that was not in fact the case.   

Nicci wondered if Francis Kirke might actually be the most eligible gentleman in all England.  Though it was just as likely not.  It had been a strange thing that had happened for his gaining of a title though, it was strange in that way that was very ‘Villiers’, the family had a special respect for their womenfolk.  Ah, but those speculations were for rainy days while doing needlework, right now, the mannerism was but a tug to her mind, as she attended to the Dukes reply…

“My Cousin, whom I adore, sees a harsher world.” She expressed on the topic of spies.  Louis was oh so paranoid!  “But sometimes, I feel that the world is how one looks upon it. Tenderness and fun are reciprocated by the like.” Though there was no telling Louis that he did not need to worry so, (for a start he’d never admit that he worried about anything at all!)  Nicci still felt as though she did not need to keep secrets from any of their Households spies, for she had not, as yet, done anything she was ashamed of.  

 "Mon Dieu!” She gasped hearing the tale of a midnight accosting, “With a candle stick – that is amazing!” so much so she almost laughed the dismay of it.  “So you had forgiven the attempted assassin before he was hanged?” she asked, “what sort of drug can turn a good mans heart I wonder.  But more important, did you ever find the person truly behind it all?” 

Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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Nicci was not wrong to think the situation of Francis' title was very Villiers and that alone was enough to call to the mind possibilities of tall tales. 


"The it follows to always have fun when you can," Buckingham replied, with almost a conspiratorial tone. 


As to cousins, he nodded. Basildon was an interesting man. He had married an interesting woman. His sister had married an ailing duke. His title was new. His father was some sort of Puritan. 


He laughed at her swearing dismay, eyes flaring with delight that his in-artful telling of the story had raised such a reaction. "'In Faith, it was not very hard even half-awake and in the darkness. Those who are not gentlemen generally do not wield weapons well. The number of knives I have had pulled on me in my life would make you Mon Dieu." Buckingham was known for his swordsmanship, and after living much of his youth in Italy (some quite misspent), he could rapier and dagger all day with the best of them. A drugged, drunken servant with a bread knife had truly been committing suicide against his experience and insomnia. He rarely fell fully asleep until the sun was nearly up anyway. 


"I do not quite know if forgive is the proper word. But I am also not certain it was not an idiotic prank by Rochester gone horribly wrong. He...was in rare form at the time." It was also an exceedingly stupid assassination attempt; although ironically one that had gotten closest to him even if with an innocuous knife. It was so fantastical it was nearly like it was never meant to be an attempt to kill him at all; hence, his suspicions of Rochester and his love of mixing intoxicants. 


"Idiots, my dear, not masterminds, and I do not concern myself over idiots. I would much rather concern ourselves with our fun." He harked back to her earlier sentiments and gestured back toward the display of fabrics. 


"If we are to see you properly outfit for next season, we must start now. And you shall help me choose for Francis, for he takes little delight in it." And women had a different eye than men for such things. 

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<<”… always have fun when you can”>>

“I would like that as my motto.” Nicolette flashed a grin.  The Duke Buckingham was someone who’s views she could truly admire, “Or it might make a fine title for your Memoires.”

“Rochester is one of the Merry Gang isn’t he.” With more details on the assassination attempt, Nicolette quietened.  “I hope that he felt awful for it then, he’s certainly a different calibre of man to allow a man hanged over a prank.”  Nicci was yet to form a good impression of the obnoxious lads in the merry gang.  She’d not call them gentlemen.

“Did you make a provision for the servants family, Your Grace.” She asked the question in belief that she knew the answer.  The Duke may have had to allow legal process, but surely would not have let Rochester’s anarchy go any further than that.

But did the Duke exact revenge? That was a more difficult question to ask, he was hardly as petty as that, nor lacking in grace, but still cannot have been amused.  “Many things are laughter, even just before the tears.”  

As untamed as Rochester’s repute was, he was not a fool, and not one of those ones George announced open season on.  For her part she marked the man as dangerous.

“Yes Please!” to her delight he directed attention to the fabrics. “For an entire season? La, but forgive me, I must misunderstand, you must mean one dress.” She flushed embarrassed that her mouth spoke instead of thinking first.  She would love many dresses, but surely that was not what he’d meant.  

“Oh but I would love to help for Francis too. I would love to see him in some of the new naval styles, do you know the ones with looped gold ropes for details. Oh, but I do also love gentle tones on tones on tones. Like the soft blue, overlayed with a darker then another even one darker, and wouldn’t that suit him rather well.  For as striking as he is, he is also gentle, and pale colours look so pretty with blonde hair.” She smiled up to the equally blonde Duke.  

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"It is more fashionable to have a confidante write your biography after your death," Buckingham replied without skipping a beat. 


"Yes, although I cannot say for sure that is what it was." It was easier to track such things if the person knew what they were doing. In this case, they had not. "Rochester may be innocent, and he had his good points. He is oft too drunk to display them these days." There was such a thing as too much excess, although there was a period where many of them had spent most of the days utterly drunk. 


"You have a soft heart as the young and female oft do, but there is practicality in such decisions. Revenge for a wrong can be a powerful motivation for an enemy; we do things for blood we would not ordinarily do, whether or not they were in the wrong. It is far cheaper and less deadly to practice generosity and avoid all of that," he advised. "One must be practical about generosity and ruthlessness."


The Duke of Buckingham gave coin to all sorts of commoners but he had also had Leighton make sure others were taken care of, so he was far from saintly in his conduct.


"Pah, one dress! All this for one dress! What does your benefactor appear to be? Stingy!" He laughed brightly, a hand to his chest. It was somewhat refreshing. Strangely, it reminded him a bit of Francis when he had first arrived. Wide-eyed at it all and rather modest. Ladies got over that sentiment quicker than gentlemen. "No, I truly do mean the whole season. A Spring wardrobe. Not simply dresses either. For riding and the hunt. Other rides and hunts. Whatever it is that you would like."


As to her assessment of Francis, he agreed, nodding. The boy had that quality of his father. "Yes, quite good in shades of blue. But we must avoid shades of red and any the like." The cub blushed far too much than to have it accentuated by a flushed color to his clothing!

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“Fashion is foremost!” Nicolette grinned with amuse.     

On the topic of Rochester, she thought to mention. “I have befriended a new arrival to court, Lady Cambray, who is delighted of the merry gang.  She has said I may attend some future party they hold with her… I am not entirely certain about it.  I’ve only really met Lord Roos, and he seemed quite lacking in panache.  While Lady O'Roarke annulled Dorset after the accidental marriage, so that says much....

"But I thought that since His Majesty adores the group so, I ought at least try to see their appeal?” She hoped for the Duke’s comment, a part of her was now hoping that Buckingham would advise her against it!

He did have comment upon revenge and reparation, it was a complex thing.  “I am trying to be more … mercenary.” She expressed, though she knew it was completely true that her heart was a soft one.  It was that same soft heart that had her want to hold the Duke till all his concerns disappeared, he was such a great thinker, he must have so little peace.  Rather than hold him she asked about these small things, in doing so she learned about him, and imagined some of his life’s tensions were released in the sharing.  

Speaking of Mercenary.  A treasure trove of dresses had her eyes widen! She’d spotted a glorious fuchsia coloured satin over there, and bolts of lavender also aubergine, then also a collection of greens that ran from the bright of new shoots to darkest fern.  It would be impossible to include them all in one dress, but if she could have multiple, then.  “My Benefactor!” she crowed happily, “I had wondered the descriptor of our relationship?  La! And with such excess all will know your generosity.   Would it be horribly wrong if I asked for the symbol of your house to be embroidered upon each dress then? Oh I know, I am not blood, but I am so honoured that I wish to shout to all of society of your patronage.”

The details of design of a wardrobe was not something that she would want to rush, but she’d quickly enough chosen the green with lavender accents for riding, an orange with clash of pink for a ball, and aubergine with swathes of fushia as something more formal elegance.  Then she would need airy day dresses, two, or perhaps three.  And, she did wonder about some pretty under things, for utilitarian would hardly do.

Of Francis, Nicci tipped her head as a playful thought entered her mind.

“Shall we prank him, Your Grace, shall we design an item for his wardrobe,  so unlikely he will stutter surprise. Nothing he would wear outside, nothing to cause embarrassment, but some indoors thing we shall later all laugh about together.”  What could that be?  “Perhaps a Chinese robe, the sort you see in paintings, very colourful with very long sleeves that nearly touch the floor? Or leather moccasins, the ones with beads, like the colonial Natives.   Or some other exotic thing?"  The Duke might have better ideas.    

"He’s so well travelled, he might even enjoy the costume.”

Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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Buckingham snickered and said, "They are my friends too. Though I care not a jot for Roos or that Merriweather fellow. Rochester has an incredible mind but sees little use for it in the world, and he's soundly ruined his body, c'est la vie." When he chose some lucidity, Buckingham wrote with him, discussed politics with him..."And Dorset is my Godson and cousin too. He has our vanity. He and Nelly have helped get me out of the Tower...and other situations."


He had little idea Heather's failed marriage to the man spoke ill of him, for he would have laughed at that; Heather got as she gave, and she should not be surprised of that with any Libertine. She had chosen a nemesis to have one. Dorset was the only one of the lot other than himself that could mix with the proper end of society. Which was to say that Dorset was one of the more worthy ones of the Merry Gang. 


"I can take you, if you like, or host something if it would please you." It had been some time since he had hosted a party. "Perhaps I should launch next season with one."


Her entreaties to emblazon herself with him fell on fertile ground in terms of pleasing him and his grand level of vanity. He was enjoying this, perhaps a little too much.


"Pah, but you are not anyone's possession. Certainly not my servant, to wear my livery with grandeur; you are my friend. You need not do anything for all to know that and a seal to make my mark is hardly necessary. Silly men do that, men who reach. All those close in His Majesty's household already know who represents you." He smiled, "You do not see me placing my Arms on Francis! But do you think any wonder about where he comes from? There are other ways to show that one has untouchable patronage, and soon His Majesty will prove that too." Buckingham grinned and shook his head in amusement. She had no idea. He would very much enjoy seeing her wonder at it all, knowing that he provided it. And the King. But he had provided everything else and the opportunity. He would, happily, take the credit.


It had taken Francis time to realize that dukes were not supposed to be judicious in providing for those close to them and all the many reasons why Buckingham insisted upon what he insisted upon. He could only imagine the hilarity of the boy's leap from exile to (relative) wealth, because the current leap had produced so very much hilarity for Buckingham and children were funnier than grown men.


In a different way, Buckingham would take great delight in the female wonder for pretty things and for the illusive things: freedom, knowledge, future, and purpose. Real purpose, not just pumping out babies and throwing droll parties where everyone raved about your extravagance (and the power that must reside behind it). That was all quite boring. 


(OOC - I'll circle back to the ideas for Francis)

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It was a momentary oversight, for of course the Duke danced within that troupe. And those were his friends.  He snickered of it, and she grinned away embarrassment.  “I expect once admitted it’s hard to get rid of some of them. A graceful exit would not be in Roos nature.” Perhaps not Merriweather either, she’d not heard him speak.  

“Then my view of Dorset sits realigned.” So much so that she wondered why Heather had let him escape her clutches.  Godson even, that was a special relationship indeed. 

“La, but Rochester must have been quite marvellous in his time.” It was very hard to imagine, she’d never heard of him being sober.  Even the few poems of his she’d come across sounded drunk, clever and witty, but definitely lacking any self restraint.  It made her wonder what he could be like.  

“By Nelly, do you mean pretty witty Nell?” Nicci’s voice lifted, her smile broadened “Well I do know her, and like her very much!”  She’d made a special point of befriending Nell, in light of her aim, she had wished to have a good impression on at least one of the Kings past mistresses.   

“Ooh that would be the best!” She seconded his idea for a Merry party to begin next season.  “And the Duchess Richmond shall attend the party too I hope, I would like to become known to her.” 

“I wonder if it would inspire your Rochester's intellect to have games of wit, like debates.  If he could be bothered, he might like to impress all.  I do love a witty debate.  I love it most of all when my vote swings from one team to the other with each new speaker.  Why it’s as arousing as flirtation, you must agree Your Grace?  And there is a grand shortage of debates here in England.  Well, ones for fun that is.”

Nicolette had not actually attended a House of Lords debate yet, but had heard that they were also very excitable.  To the point of fisticuffs even. 

She would have worn the Dukes symbol proudly.  But he thought better of it.  She gave an accepting sigh, warmly reaching to touch his arm in gratitude for his reply.   “And perhaps easier to be all things to all people if bias is not emblazoned so boldly in stitchery?” she supposed, meeting his eyes.  They were to be friends, the thought was wholly appealing, but so audacious that she could hardly fathom it actually possible.  

There was that inner scales sensation you see, the ones that weighted what one gave and what one received in a relationship, and she was unbalanced as she felt her offering was so much smaller.  It was easy for her, a girl from humble beginnings, to not see her contribution as holding great worth to anyone. Although, the Dukes interest did make her aspire to be so much more than she could imagine.

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"The same," he assured. One could depend upon libertines to always remind the King of any missing witty company. Nelly was as fun as any man and saucier than most women. She has slapped him once. It had been marvelous

"You mean my darling sister?" Buckingham asked, with extra emphasis on darling. "I could not keep her away, in any of her guises, even if I wished to do so." He laughed, his sister had the family imperiousness and license, perhaps more than he did. However, one apparently got more leeway when one was a royal duchess and a harmless (how could anyone think that!) woman. "You would get along, although expect that she will give you a pseudonym and write about you and Clovis one day." He chuckled, "She might even use Envy. She pens everyone of note so delight in it no matter what the tone!"


He and his sister either were closer than close or actively avoiding each other, but they were currently on good terms. Little did he know she was about to illustrate how much he could not keep her away by showing up to demand Francis take her to Rupert's shooting as Camberwell*. 


"Witty games are always welcome at parties, word games especially. Rochester is quite good at them, as is Dorset, and Nell. I never shy from a debate or witticisms," he said with a flick of his hand as if such a thing could be done at the drop of a moment. "There a few beddings as good as one after a contest of wit. Or during a contest of wit." He winked at her flirtatiously. 


"Very much so, and soon you will need to begin to learn my friends, those who are not my friends, and those who are enemies, because such is emblazoned on no one's coat, and even if it were it would half the time be a lie," he told her, bopping the tip of her nose affectionately. "And like I said, people are not possessions or at least do not wish to be treated as so."


Not to him. He valued concepts of freedom and choice, independence of one's conscience and written discourse. People far more valuable when they choose to serve you, not when you treat them as if their allegiance is not theirs to give freely. For some it was the only thing they had to give, and exile had taught him the value of those things.


Buckingham was too vain; he thought people (everyone) should freely choose him. 


"Thus," he began, picking up the end of a length of silver and blue brocade, "You must emblazon yourself with finery that others cannot have, and then all shall know you have a protector. When you show up with Francis, it will be assumed it is either myself or the King, so we must pick some things that shall go well together and make all Envy-ous." He chuckled. "But your idea of tricking him is capital! Perhaps we can put some very bright pieces meant to go separately together and tell him it is his premiere costume of the season and that he is to wear it for some State event in front of court!" 


He could imagine sticking 5 different loud colors together meant to be accent pieces and fooling his nephew. The face would be priceless!


(OOC - if Nicci is around long enough, she may witness what Francis later describes happening 🤣  She could even leave with them.)


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