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PC Recesses Jan-March 1678


Defiance
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Francis, Lord Kingston

 

In the quiet days after everyone left and the King’s household was packed up and readied to leave, Francis had time to spend a few days with his mum, grandmum, and George’s little family. He got little Wills his own feathered cavalier style hat and manly little boots. He cut quite a gentlemanly figure on his fat, furry pony at age six. George’s daughter wasn’t old enough for such things, but he had a pretty little furry cape made up for her to keep her warm in the cold season.

 

He made a few inquiries about acquiring mercury for Newton, as he had promised, but found that so many were concerned with impending war, that it was not quite as easy as it might have otherwise been, even for a man in trade like him. Especially with the scientist’s requirement of no paper trail leading back. He was quite concerned about people finding out things about his research, and Francis had promised to be careful of it. Thus, he wrote back to his friend that as soon as he was able to acquire said commodity, he would forward it to the address as promised but that he had not been successful yet. He then asked his friend to meet later in the Spring at the University, not yet telling him why. The King’s household now ready to leave Whitehall, Francis quit London with Buckingham.

 

Next there was a trip to Eton, where part of his youthful glory had been attempting to lose his virginity at age twelve. Now he had been invited for dinner for being named Chancellor of Cambridge; the Duke of Buckingham even graced them all with his presence for the little event. There was an obligatory speech where he made it clear that there would be possibilities for rewards and notice for excellent scholarship. His former school produced many who would go on to Cambridge, as he had, and he would rather get all the best than allow them to think to go to Oxford.

 

When the Queen joined the King at Windsor, Francis was repeatedly dispatched everywhere for various odd foodstuffs and comforts for the pregnant Queen. Being the shrewd type, she had not forgotten that she had asked him to work on a trade fair with her before her pregnancy sidetracked it. If she could not have a fair, she would still put his trade connections to good use for her since there were minimal attendants for such tasks. Thus, Francis had mastered the part of being a Gentleman of the Bedchamber that involved pleasing ladies of all types, and His Majesty was quite pleased for not having to deal with demanding women himself or tears. Not all duties were particularly great ones. Instead, while King left happily off on progressions, Lord Kingston was left getting notes at all hours with various requirements on them, mostly for strange food. Francis was putting arse to saddle so often that he was not sure the feeling would ever come back to his rear end because much of it was nothing a common servant could procure quickly! And then there were the times where by the time he had gotten the thing, there was a new thing and the other thing no longer desired.

 

His down time from that service was spent quietly, for not having many amusements possible, and in the examination of the little underwater ship the King had sent to him nearly a year prior. Many hours were spent in figuring out how make a bigger replica of it so that he could test it with something alive actually inside it (he played with it last season and last recess too.). It was something quite different from his wooden model ships, so it had taken him some time to decide how to go about it, especially as he couldn’t take the King’s apart into pieces. He hoped to be able to have a replica sometime late in the next season or perhaps the summer.

 

His one other amusement during his time in Windsor, was playing latrones with Lady Dorothea. He was still quite horrible by comparison. He told her about his new position, much to her delight. There had not been much male company to be had other than the short time Cumberland had spent there with his little lordling aide. Francis went and had another look at the forge with the Prince, which now seemed a bit of a manly recess tradition. Even Cumberland was not there long, leaving for some “inspections” coinciding precisely with when the weather broke more fair. Francis was then one of the only gentlemen left at Windsor Castle.

 

All in all, Francis was left behind from the fun of progressions with the King (and everyone else) for over a month and only saved from his hilarious service to State for the pregnant Queen when His Majesty summoned him to facilitate his other female interests, namely a secret rendezvous with Mistress Envy! After so much riding, and fast riding, he was quite certain he could at least race the duke without fear of falling off, which – after the first time – had been something of a continued fear of embarrassment every time he joined Buckingham for a ride.

 

Neither Buckingham, nor Francis found anything particular to celebrate about their birthdays in late January. Buckingham’s was on the anniversary of the martyred King’s beheading, and Francis’ was born precisely the day after – a day that was not ever celebrated either. It was not until some days long after the fact, they conveniently had time to exchange gifts; although Francis had something special planned for the 50th of his uncle during the Spring season. Francis got Buckingham a “Native warrior dildo” with feathers & beads attached. Although Buckingham was not likely to need it for traditional uses, its uses as a prop in the duke’s dramatics was immense. Francis suggested that he wield it like Arlington wielded his stick at a libertine event! Or recruit someone else to do so.

 

Buckingham got the new University Chancellor books for his birthday, none of which were in English. All were related to Maths, Astronomy, or Alchemy, showing the duke had clearly noted his nephew’s bookshelves and what he had bought at the auction. They were comically held together with some leather strap that a schoolmaster might use instead of opulently wrapped, and Buckingham regaled him with barbs until he slung it over his shoulder so that the Duke could laugh with hilarity at the image. Francis laughed that he was far more familiar with a schoolmaster’s other uses for such a strap. Now, at the very least, there would be topics and things for them to discuss that bore equal interest for them both, and Buckingham very much enjoyed having a captive recipient of his august tutelage in any topic. It was a nice break from constant politics, of which Francis had monumental catching up to do. 

 

Francis was so busy running about with royal duties, he was only able to make a brief stop to Cambridge to officially take up his (mostly ceremonial) position before returning to London. Buckingham joined him; likely to stake his claim in part of the whole thing as a former Chancellor. Francis had invited Newton to join him at the University and they all enjoyed a dinner together.

 

While he was there, he reiterated to Tommy that he would send him there if he desired. The sixteen year old had tamed some to land-life, and he wished to stay with Francis & his own tutors at Buckingham’s as he had been. If there was to be a war, he did wish to go fight and he’d know far more about it from there than Cambridge. Francis could not blame him, living with him at Buckingham’s was quite nice; far nicer than their former accommodations or a ship (or a University)! Court life could grow on you. As could the vast spreads of food at a duke's home.

 

In between attending the King before the official beginning of the season, Francis was able to supervise (with Tommy’s help) his three ships coming back into port to unload. Unfortunately, when his loads were unboxed, Francis has lost several crates of murano glass items from being tossed too much in an early spring squall.  One of his highest coin items, it was a great loss, but such was the liability with fragile things. 

 

He also had his crew start to repaint Argento into Aurelia and commissioned her ensigns and flags replaced so that they might be ready for privateering & war. When The Georgia returned, the ship Will captained that was named facetiously to annoy his elder brother George Legge, the three “brothers” were able to reunite for the first time in nearly a year. All three had woken up in various states of disrepair in Buckingham’s opulent and maze-like garden the following morning, with blankets thrown on top of them and morning dew on their faces. The Duke took great delight that following day in expecting them to regale him with tales (whilst hungover) while he dressed in a most chipper fashion and then didn’t dismiss a one of them, instead putting them through a late breakfast, lawn games, barely sitting all day, and something of a mini-concerto of musicians behind them during dinner that left their ears ringing. He then laughingly informed them that he did have this thing called beds for them that evening, and that they should use them instead of littering his lawn. Francis later told Will and George that Buckingham was just salty that he had not woken up outside in the garden with them.

 

The following night, they all had the good sense to pass out on Francis’ ship where nobody could bother them. Unfortunately for Francis, he still had to go home to Buckingham that following morning, who jovially informed Francis from his bed, in his luxurious bedclothes, that Francis would have to assist him all day with nothing less than his finishing up his ducal wardrobe for the season. As in, help getting it on, getting it off, with all the various bit and baubles and thingmies, so that the duke could give his final instructions to the raptly attentive horde of tailors. Not only that, but his Nicci was supposed to come too! Francis was fairly certain he was still drunk from three days prior.

 

To his chagrin - after the up and down and bend and kneel and fasten and hold for Buckingham - Francis also had to have his own final fitting for his new clothing for the season. Instead of tying lace or cravats or kneeling for garters, he was then turning and bowing and even – God’s blood – leaping as a dance at the duke’s amused behest so Buckingham could make commentary about Francis’ new clothing. The rigor was likely due to the fact that Buckingham enjoyed teasing him greatly. Which also explained that there was now a servant whose specialty was to be Francis’ hair, which Buckingham declared to be his nephew’s signature accessory, teasing it as “being more golden than any of his jewels!” The servant’s presence was meant entirely as an amusement to the duke in tormenting Francis. Perhaps it was just a joke, but knowing Buckingham’s grandeur and sense of noblesse oblige, it was quite possibly no joke...

 

Recess letters: He intends to write to Nicci, the Duchess of Richmond, Buckingham & CR (while they're apart), Caroline, & also to Capt. Russell’s elder brother Lord Russell

 

Pros: Gets left behind with the Queen  Puts his business/trade ability to good use

Cons: Gets left behind with the Queen   Misses all the fun & progressions with the King

All his fancypants expensive glass breaks :(

Hasn't been able to get his friend his much-needed mercury

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Nicolette Vauquelin

 

Nicci lingered in London for a couple more days, fussing  over her Spring wardrobe courtesy of the Duke Buckingham. There were needle work pictures to be settled, ribbon and lace to choose upon; she’d never before had so much fun anticipating dresses!  Meanwhile she had her winter things packed into trunks ready to travel.

Louis might be heading for Holland, she was not sure. Over evening meals they spoke of sensible things, and things needless too.   Louis murmured thoughts of the trouble with the Apothecary, the lawsuit and all that.  Nicci was not worried.  Had he not talked to Lord Daventry about that, and she’d spoken to Mr Battersby making a fine impression herself – and besides all of that she sat snug under the Duke of Buckingham’s protection.  Surely, the RCP would not dare to darken their names in the paper!

“I have a present for Lisa.” She passed a small gift for Louis’ to pack, it was a prettily boxed tea cup and saucer painted with pansies, with a note ‘I look forward to our talks over tea on your return’.  For Nicci was looking forward to their ladies-discussions again. 

But then she was away herself, to join up with the Worchester’s to travel to Badminton. How she’s missed Mary already, they had struck it off so well upon their first meeting that she felt to be greeting her oldest friend to re-meet.  And of course she was pleased to see the boys again, and also the sober Marquis.  That gent might not know it but Nicci covertly paid him a great deal of attention, for she as very taken with Mary’s explained views of marriage.  Theirs was a model that she hoped one day to repeat.

Badminton was wonderful, even under the blanket of winter snow she could see the many years of planning in it’s design, and could not wait for the melt to reveal more.  Meanwhile their winter months were spent industriously, Nicci spending so many hours with the Marchioness in the library, devouring book after book upon the subjects of gardening and herbal lore.  A highlight of the visit was when Mary took her to visit the Chepstow Garrison. There to meet the Physic, where Nicci could quiz of his herbal applications, and with her current interest being of the spirits of men in troupes she asked him of his use of uplifting tonics and so forth.  She had considered that there could not be anything sadder than a morose soldier, and wanted to think them to not suffer. 

As content as their days were, Nicolette had a quiet hope in her heart: that Lord Ranelagh might visit to talk about marsh related security (for she diligently had remembered Mary telling her that it was a route of used by Irish Smugglers).  Would her prized Richard Jones take a break from sport and reverie to attend to those serious concerns? It was possible.  And she had mindful topics at the ready to discuss, for perhaps they might speak reason to reason.  Could he ever become her Lord Worchester? (Her eyes glowed to see how her hosts interacted, a pairing with respect and mutual regard for the others intellect.) 

Yes, meanwhile Nicci was entirely happy with her lovely company meanwhile.

Further, she spent time with letters, many letters in fact. 

She continued a grateful correspondence with Duke Buckingham, and with her beloved Francis.  Two men who were much alike in good will and generous nature, though one lived with an ache in the heart that she prayed the younger would never know. Her chitter chatter to either was not much more than nonsense conveying warm sense of love she felt for both. 

Others she wrote to were Nell Gwyn, Lord Daventry, Lady Cambray and Lady Kendishall, and a single letter to Mrs Hughes (telling her of the gift Burgoyne had given).  She did write a letter to the gentleman in question too, but was in a pip with him because letter openers were not necklaces.

Her most important correspondence was that with the King, for her Envy letters did continue, and now with knowledge behind the teases.  An idea came to her during one of her provocative literary imagining, that an illicit rendezvous be arranged.  It was an utter fiction; this pre-season hunt to be held at Lord So-and-Sos that she wrote of, where a mighty huntsman got a splinter, and calling into a nearby Inn found himself relieved of the afflicting wood.  Her imaginings were far far away from Her Majesties delicate hearing, though the method of extraction shook the very walls with it’s robust.    The reply to that letter seemed to take forever.  But when it came, to the affirmative, she crowed of the fun! 

She was especially pleased that he’d provided a duo of guards for her traveling safety (these days you cant be too careful), those men knowing the address of His Majesties preferred locale for such intrigues.  So it was that Nicci left Badminton separate from the Worchesters, with a detour planned  CR brings his guitar – Nicolette is delighted!  It was a rousing day and a half before she had to become practical again. With the Kings departure her thoughts and indeed body (attended by maid Daisy and 2 guards) returned to the Capital.  

Somerset Mansion was a welcome sight, she rushed up the stairs eager to see her Cousins again. Had her new dresses been delivered on time? 

That most eager consideration was indeed nearly finished - her own fitting day was an absolute dream!  There were blues, greens and teal; and yellow, pinks and mauves; not to mention panels of needlework, peppering’s of seed pearls, and ribbons, so much ribbon!  It was heaven. It just was.  

The Duke, in his understanding, then invited her to attend Francis fitting day too - and she quickly agreed.

It seemed like forever since she'd seen Francis, though correspondence had been shared.  It took some restraint to not rush to embrace him upon sight, for again as soon as her eyes fell  upon his she pictured him to be her one true love!   He did not seem quite as ebullient though, and quickly enough she realised why. He'd been having quite a lot of fun recently, and was suffering of the excess!  The look Buckingham gave told her he was wise to it too... and here she came to witness the Dukes sadistic side!  Poor Francis.  It was terrible. Nicci tried not to laugh  too, but it was rather funny.... and so His Grace managd to make a sharp point, that it was time for Francis to sober himself for the new season.   (Nicci took a lesson from that too, mostly that she ought never visit the Duke if she was hung over!)   Later that day Francis received a delivery of feverfew tea from the lady, with instructions for it's use. Likely too little too late. 

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Charles Audley, Lord Chatham

Leaving London after Christmas, Charles found the malaise that had affected him towards the end of the season dispersed by a flood of returned energy. On his return to Chatham he busied himself first with reorganising the household staff to his liking, hiring new servants and dismissing those who he felt too close to his stepmother. A petty amusement, he would admit, but one with a practical reason underlying it.

Having strengthened his hand at home for the short term, Charles now turned his newly-focused attention to more wide ranging potential improvements. In particular, marriage. Having being made aware of his woeful ignorance of prospective brides, he undertook serious research into the topic, looking to plan a proper campaign. There was, he had come to accept, a great deal to be gained from marriage, if he could secure a match with the right woman. (That, he privately admitted, would take some doing. His was not a reputation like to impress the great names of court.)

But as wide ranging as his study was, he found himself swiftly bored and frustrated by life in Chatham. His stepmother's increasingly expensive lifestyle was a constant burr in his saddle, his half-siblings were too young to be interesting (and he fancied them too wary of him for easy conversation in any case), and there was not a scrap of vicious amusement to be found. He wrote to his friends and acquaintances, in particular John, Jonathan, and Juliana, in an effort to ease his suffering, but the correspondence served only to remind him of what he was missing. There was nothing for it. He would have to return to London, or discover if it was actually possible to die from sheer ennui.

Fortunately, the family coffers remained sufficiently robust to cover the cost of a townhouse on Piccadilly and Charles gleefully set off at once with the excuse of needing to organise the new establishment. Settling back down in London, Charles found himself awash with opportunities to exercise his energy. Mindful of the war he was convinced was coming, and equally mindful of how such might serve his ambitions, Charles devoted a great deal of time and effort to drilling the First Foot Guards, and being seen doing so. It was better to sweat now than bleed later, after all, and it would do him no harm at all to be seen diligently attending to his duties.

When not training his soldiers, Charles trained himself, visiting the fencing hall and shooting range almost daily. He had been a little disappointed with his martial performance during the Christmas season, and felt a need to remove the last of the rust and get himself back in fighting trim. Indeed, he found himself able to swallow his pride sufficiently to engage John Baselard for lessons in order to put some of the polish back on his fencing.

Somewhat to his own surprise, with his energies thus employed, Charles found himself devoting his evenings and nights to more cerebral pursuits. In particular, he began to put out discreet feelers on the availability of offices in the near future. An office, he felt, would help him to focus his efforts in the new season, and more income and influence were always welcome. With this aim in mind, Charles began to look for opportunities to ingratiate himself with York, using John as his point of contact.

Of course, there was another reason that residing in London was beneficial to Charles — it gave him opportunity to make further contact with Cadogan, ostensibly to appraise him of how events with Finch had played out, but in reality mostly to hear Arthur's version of how things had gone between him and Mary. That, Charles felt, was a matter best concluded. One way or another.

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Charles Whitehurst, Lord Langdon

 

Originally planning to go back to Cornwall for the recess, the Earl of Langdon changed his plans in the waning days of the season.  His ward’s improved demeanor meant that there was less need to imprison her there.  A heavy winter and the prospect of heavy mud on the roads was a deterrent as well.

There was new hope to solve the mystery of his dagger, meaning he needed to stay in London for a further report.  His trooper reported all that he had learned and it was not enough to make any arrests yet.  Charles looked for ways to meet Susan Herbert privately to share intelligence.

In February, an odd letter arrived from the Duchess of Savoy.  He had not been expecting to hear anything from her after they had parted on less than favorable terms.  The letter contained the expected false sympathy for Jeanne’s passing in the summer. She wrote saying that her son has talked her into giving him that title of None but had a little thing to ask him before.  She revealed she was worried about York, after she had met an English ex-pat at a ball who was passionately involved with English politics, and had an extremely poor opinion of the Duke York.  Afterwards, she realized that he had malicious intents, and she feared that his travels to England was to plot harm against the heir to the throne.  Alas, she couldn’t remember the man’s name, but he was remarkable for a mole in the shape of a star on his cheek.  She warned that both he and his Savoyard companion ought to be shot upon sight  Being a Catholic and a friend of France, it was no surprise that she would wish to keep York alive. 

In March, Charles sponsored a horse race for his regiment.  It came as no surprise that Charles won, with Sam and Colonel Trentmont finishing second and third respectively.

Despite warning Bradley that Dorthea was too far above him in standing, his brother enrolled in the Queen’s Life Guard (with his brother’s assistance) so that he could be near her.  Charles could only hope that Dorthea would go back home and never return to England.  It would have been better that his younger brother had been smitten with Catherine Sedley.  There was still no word from his other brother, William.  Charles had been expecting him to visit London.

Charles acquired a songbird for Frances and found a finishing school in London for young ladies.  The girl developed an interest in birds as a result.  Attempts at trying to awaken Abigail from her stupor did not succeed, though there were times he was convinced that Abigail was about to speak and awaken from her slumber.  Her claimed brother did not make an appearance, even though the Earl had expected one.

When Charles confided the secret portion of the Savoyard letter to his trusted Lieutenant Sam Gillis, she advised caution about ever trusting Marie, the Duchess.  Nevertheless, the pair agreed to hunt for clues of an assassin. Changing the subject abruptly, Sam nervously asked whether he might ever like to go hunting with her for a week at Bagshot.  It made him wonder if she knew about his plans with Davina.  Of course, he recalled that she would know that he took Marie Jean and Victor to Bagshot for a week,  So, perhaps there was an innocent explanation.  He agreed, of course, not wanting to disappoint her.  She had almost given her life for him on more than one occasion.  She would never betray him and he must never betray her.

As for women in Langdon’s life, things went on with his known mistress, Catherine Sedley.  He learned that she was pregnant with his child.  He found a chance to meet Davina in secret at Bagshot as she was coming back from the Elizabeth Finch trip.  They spent part of a February week together like newlyweds ... until the conversation that Charles had dreaded came to the fore.  In the pillow talk, Davina inquired why Charles would not marry her, since they enjoyed each other's company.  His answer had not been satisfactory.  When she heard that Catherine Sedley had become pregnant by him, as part of his newfound care in taking steps to avoid impregnating Davina, she demanded to know if he would marry her if she was pregnant with his child.  His "yes" had been too slow in coming to suit her.  She stopped speaking to him and insisted that he return her to London immediately.  This was done.  All of his apologies, explanations, and entreaties fell upon deaf ears.  Charles thought her unreasonable in her expectations and decided it was the news of Catherine's pregnancy that had pushed her over the edge.  He greatly rued that misstep.

Fiona McBain kept up the temptation.  The row with Davina would make her harder to resist in the coming season. There was Sam (who seemed to want to become more than friends again).  The flowers he sent Davina went unacknowledged.  He could only hope that time would heal any wrong she felt.  In the meantime he shifted his attention back to Catherine, much to her delight.

March found the arrival of a package from the Steward of Langdon and Tintagel Castle.  It seemed that a shepherd's son had been digging about at Tintagel and unearthed a rare quartz crystal.  Rather than risk arrest by keeping it, the boy's father dutifully provided it to the Steward to gift the Earl.  The townsfolk had admired it prior to delivery and it had been dubbed the Merlin Stone because Merlin was reputed to have lived in the castle a thousand years prior.  Wizards were said to use such crystals as scry stones in their magic.  Charles was delighted with the stone and spent hours studying it.

As the days led up to April, he was informed that the owner of the house he needed to search had returned from the country.  There were also indications that the mysterious tenant of the house identified by the Dutch waifs had returned.  At least the boards from the windows had been removed.

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Robert Saint-Leger, Lord Beverley

 

With war looming on the horizon, Beverley was keeping in close company with Cumberland; although both knew it was for show, it was real so far as their forces were actually concerned, so it was good practice and treating it as completely real was also a show for potential spies. Whilst having arrangements with the Dutch, and secretly also with the French, it was an important tightrope to walk to play things correctly. As such Beverley was keeping track of a lot of orders being sent hither and thither and all the responses coming back.

 

Cumberland spent the first few fortnights at Windsor, where the Queen also was after a fortnight or so, and this was when Beverley found out that Lady Beverley was being added to her household. It was only a few days after he was informed that his lady wife was also pregnant! It was all quite fortuitous, and Beverley felt at the pinnacle of manhood. Thus, when he left to visit several ports and several ship fittings for cannons with Cumberland, he felt good about leaving Lady Beverley with the small retinue of married ladies that the Queen was keeping by her side.

 

Beverley had only just started as Cumberland’s aide during their last war, so this was the first “war” he had prepared for as a competent addition rather than the glorified messenger he had been at seventeen. Now twenty-three, he had been dictating to the glorified messengers, maintaining a lot of the correspondence, and attending most Cumberland’s military meetings for some time. So even a fake war was rather exciting for Beverley, who now got to be far more in the thick of things as his master’s principle aide.

 

By the time they were to return to London, Beverley felt the smell of gunpowder was somehow etched on him, and Dudley was having to reconcile the problem of not taking off his skin to the bone with the fact that he was getting a lot of ink on his fingers. While Cumberland prepared his personal household for the move back to Whitehall, Beverley was sent to see the preparations with the Ordnance. He had yet to find out he was going to be granted a new position, but he knew Sir George enough from their other positions crossing duties that he found the only disagreeable part of spending a day with the man was that he was also so very much taller than Beverley. At the very least he came up past Sir George’s chin, for he barely cleared Cumberland’s shoulders.

 

Knowing nothing about pregnancy himself, Beverley highly suggests his Lady Beverley ask her half-sister Lady Basildon all about it on the way back to London. When he returns he plans to tell his parents their good news, but to pre-celebrate he ordered a very fine dress for his lady wife and for himself a very fine justacorps. He put it on his father’s accounts but figures that the news will offset any cross-ness!

 

Of course, with his wife now pregnant, he did not feel any guilt in resuming his more regular visits to his mistress in the Minories. (He had not been as regular in the few months since his marriage and through Christmas because he was sexing up his wife constantly, but he did send her a nice gift  )

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Caroline Despanay, Lady Kendishall

 

Caroline had never been very partial to winter, a part of her always wondered if - at least weatherwise - she would be much more at ease in Italy or even....God forbid, Spain. Wasn't going to happen though. When she left court and London behind after the holiday celebrations, she headed back to her official home, Glandon Manor. It really wasn't her home though, she never felt the attachment to it anyhow. It had been her much unlamented husband's familial possession and she inherited it after his untimely demise in the fire. Yes, she had brained him just prior but he had richly deserved it.

Once there she tended to local matters pertaining to the estate. Things seemed to be going well enough, nothing of course was ever perfect but the household were getting along and the financials certainly seemed in order, it was in the black at least. And of course this estate was of economic worth and she had no intention of letting it run down or go to ruin. Someday it might play a role in her being married should she get caught up in such a thing. Those sort of affairs were after all as much economics as the greatly overrated romance. Besides she was a noble now, if but a middling one. Well, the widow of deceased noble but to her close enough. All the complications of English law about inheritances and some such nonsense were beyond her.

Still overall she felt good about her court standing. The party, her first one ever, had been quite a success. Everyone who had attended seemed to have enjoyed themselves and the KING himself had been there. Quite a plume in the hat she had to admit. It had been a goal of hers to ingratiate herself into the libertine clique and she honestly felt she had indeed gone a long way into accomplishing that. She would see though next court season if the momentum continued. Her one regret though was her musical obsession had fallen prey to a combination of lack of opportunity and the departure of her patron, the Welsh composer. Perhaps this next season she might find some opportunities to again play her cello for an actual audience. It was boring to only do so in the privacy of her London mansion. Yes, that would be one of her goals indeed, she wanted to play more and if only she could find the right outlet  she was supremely confident people would enjoy her one real talent.

Another frustration had been her attempt to actually do something kind and good, to try and intercede for young Frances against her jailer of a guardian, Lord Langon. She really did try hard  to rescue the child but got no help even from some of her friends and ran into a solid wall erected by Charles. Eventually, on a spur of the moment ploy, she won the auction for the man at the Queens charity affair and an accord was agreed to. Now whether Charles would keep his end of the bargain Caroline would not know until spring but she had, for the first time, a sense of optimism. Charles agreed to a visit with Frances within the fortnight only to have it fall thru at the last minute. Once more frustrated Caroline could only agree to his offer to see her in the spring then. Hopefully this time she would get her visit. If Langdon did not betray their recent armistice then she fully intended to honor her part in it. But she harbored the hope that she could at least remain in some touch with the young lady. Because of her own life story she felt a sort of bond and fondness for the girl.

Had she had the drive and the opportunity she could have traveled about England and perhaps spent some time with acquaintances, the season before she had spent time with beloved Nicci and Louis at his estate but this time she did not even ask to visit. For that matter Nicci did not invite her either. Maybe Nicci was too busy trying to accomplish her lofty goal of becoming the King's mistress. She wanted Nicci to succeed, she really did but could not share the optimism. She just hoped the girl was not in some way damaged by failure. One thing that had to be on her list of plans was to seek out and visit Nicci this coming season and catch up more with her dear friend.

Another goal of hers for the next court season would be to see if she and Sophia might continue to mend their frayed friendship. She wanted a reapproachment and believed that the German girl did too. Caroline was even willing to overlook that awful Spanish husband of hers. And the monkey even, detestable little cur that it was.

Finally then she had one guest at Glandon, someone she had not seen in almost two years. Her reclusive father. He had aged poorly, retirement from his soldier's career had not gone well it seemed. But he and her did actually get along better than the last time. Caroline knew she would never be as close with the dour man as she had been with her adoring and adored mother whom she still dearly missed. But it was good to spend some time together again as she regaled him with her tales of court. He even approved of much of it. Not that she told him everything naturally.

By the time the new season of court approached, Caroline felt ready once to not just step back into that world but to proudly stride forward again, a much more confident young woman. Hopefully her confidence was not arrogance. But one thing Caroline had never been and that was shy!

A boon: While he was visiting her father surprised her (besides his positive behavior toward her that is) with a rather strange object though one of great beauty she thought. He said he found it among Caroline's mother's belongings but the she did not ever recall seeing it. He then confessed that the woman had acquired it during a short-lived affair she had had while he himself had been going about seeking a military position. He had failed and so had the affair too. He admitted he took her back with open arms, she had always been his only love. Though Caroline asked more questions about it and who the man had been, her father had no answers, he did not know who the man was. Whether that was true or not, Caroline had her doubts but she could learn no more from him. However she had some clues to go on - it had happened in London and whoever gave her mother this gift was certainly not poor. So he could well have been a noble then? She had herself a mystery to investigate this upcoming season, how exciting!

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Darlene Hamilton, Lady Oakham

 

In the spring of 1677, the disgraced Lady Hamilton had left London under the cloak of night.  In her wake a retinue of servants, 3 hundred weight of clothing and possessions, and one piano.  The latter did not make it.

Upon a whim she’d travelled to Lisbon – a past flame had told her of the lace markets there, thus the locale held a glamour to her mind.  Also, she wondered seeing Juan de Silva again. And she did. Alas he was settled into a scene of complete and utter domesticity, one babe bouncing on his knee, and another growing in his wife’s belly. A plain wife, Darlene was pleased to note. Yes his life had certainly gone downhill she he’d left her influence.  ‘Praise the saints I did not marry him, for that could be me!’

She never indulged in thoughts of the child she had birthed, the secret that she and Thomas had hid (well, not apart from a whispered, ‘and bless the children’ added to her nightly prayers). 

That said, the Lisborn lace markets was everything and more, though it was not particularly the lace that captivated the vivacious Darlene, but a troupe of Commedia dell'arte actors that she discovered there.  It had been Lucas Cole who first told her of that thespian form, and now she had lived to see it with her very own eyes.  She became their most loyal audience, eager to join into the impromptu acting whenever came the chance (the noblewoman joining their show was a novelty that worked very well for the troupes growing popularity)

It was a scandal, of course.  Juan de Silva asked her to stay somewhere else, and the English ambassador implored her to stop.

She should have stopped. 

Her notoriety had made her too easy for Thomas to find.

But really it was a blessing when the Viscount found her, she had debts with no way to pay them, and was growing tired of the view. Rushing into an embrace when she saw him, she wept with gratitude. “I am rescued!”  Thomas had probably learnt by now that Darlene acting skills were second to none, he likely knew he was being played. But play along he did, settling her debts he arranged their passage back to Oakham.

Yes, she suffered many lectures from Thomas along the way.

It was not all bad. A part of her still loved the earnest man he was, loved how intense his beliefs were, even those he held about her.  But she could never truly forgive him for insisting that they send the baby away. The baby she never let herself think about had been a girl.

She had wondered where the baby had been sent, and was certain that it was Thomas who would know. But he refused to tolerate any conversation on the topic, was he so surprised really that his wife was equally stubborn in refuse his admission through her bedroom door.

Perhaps it was her fault that Thomas took to keeping the company of a woman in town.  He’d been visiting her on the night of the storm. If he had not been, then his horse might not have bolted at a lightening strike, tossing the rider and breaking his ribs. 

Thomas’s death had not been a swift thing, punctured lungs and ruptures at length claimed him. And she had never been a more devoted wife than in those last four days.  Near the end, in his delirium, he’d said something that made her wonder.  He said the Duke knew...  

Winter came, she was in a funk. Being a widow was hardly merry (like they all said), and she hated the word dowager most of all.  Thomas’ younger brother was the new Viscount, and Darlene felt very much displaced.   

So she decided to spend Christmas with her brother at his house in Oxford (he was a professor now at the University).   No stranger to the halls of Oxford, Darlene instantly felt better when within the proximity of so many bored young men. Quickly enough she had her favourites and regular callers, and hosting games nights at James house.  Also study nights that we not so much study at all, also ice skating competitions with out of the usual rules, and her very favourite day of the week was Saturday afternoons, when they would play at the theatre game she’d brought from Portugal: Comedia del Arte.  That was such hilarious fun...

A conversation one afternoon in March @ Chesterfords Oxford House

“James, so you think they shall have forgotten yet?” She sighed over her cup of tea. 

Chesterford mumbled yes as he read his newspaper.

“Oh really, because I really miss my old friends, and, well I don’t even care about Mr Killigrew anymore, but as long as I don’t have to apologise to him.”  

As she paused James made a nasal noise as though he was listening.   

“I heard that Lord Langdon is widowed, I dare say he is quite grieving of it.  Not that I would marry him of course, but you know how I’ve always told you that he’d make me a fine third husband.”

“James.”

“Are you listening?”

James straightened in his chair, shook his paper and replied, “Yes yes do carry on.”

“And Sophia married Lord Toledo, she’s an ambassadors wife now. But still sings in Operas – I wonder if anyone even remembers my opera. It was so fine. We did so well.” She sighed.

“But if they have forgotten my opera, then they will definitely have forgotten my… ah mishap.  James, I shall need some money. I can hardly ask Thomas’ brother for money, but I shall need some new court dresses.  Day dresses and Ball gowns, and probably riding habit, a shooting ensemble, and a pell mell outfit too. James! Are you listening?” She tutted, “Sometimes I think your ears are painted on.”

“Are you even going to miss me?”

 

Farewelling his sister @ the Coach

Her studious brother would miss her, but he did not tell her that in so many words.  But he did arrange for an account at the dressmakers, and he sent her off with a awkward embrace and earnest wishes for the best. 

“You shall be fine Darlene, don’t worry.”

“Of course I shall be fine!” Darlene laughed and her silly brother, “They are going to love Comedia del arte in Whitehall.” 

James was not fooled, he knew she was a little nervous.  He arranged a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to her Piccadilly house in advance, thinking to cheer. 

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George Hardwick, Lord Chichester

 

Before heading back home, George took pains to manage a visit to Joseph Williamson in The Tower.  While he’d been foolish to try defend the man in The House of Lords, he continued to think him unjustly incarcerated.   He spent some time with Williamson, asked if there was anything he could arrange for the other mans comfort, if there was anything he could do to help.  The last being a futile question really, for George knew more than most, how the only thing a man really wants in that situation is freedom.

Come the end of the week, George headed back to West Sussex to the Estate.  It had been nearly a year since his last visited Chichester (with Samuel Greyson) 

When he arrived he discovered 2 letters from Russel (and Mirtel).  He read them oldest to newest, and what an emotional experience that is.    First he learns that his sister became pregnant, the couple were very happy, Mirtel wanted George to be Godfather and Russell was heading off for a Icelandic mission that he expected to be lucrative (and just in time before the baby was due).  Next letter was from a distraught Mirtel, heavy with child, Russell’s ship was 6 weeks over due… the date of that letter was June 12th 1677.  Though he hunted through his desk, he could not find any further correspondence from the continent.

Naturally he fretted.  Had Russell returned in time to see his child into the world? Had he returned at all?! Had the babe been born safely, and had his sister survived the birth? (her/their mother had not)

On edge, George was first to the door when the post arrived each day.

Estate wise, the land was thriving, the extension to the dairy project had increased cheese production a further 35% and morale was high in the township of Chichester.  He attended the monthly dance twice during the recess, though it reminded him of Sam (having taken his love to the town dance last year) but George attended anyway for he knew the towns people liked to see their Lords face now and then.  He cut the ribbon on a new post office, and ate some especially lovely beetroot cake made by the postmasters wife.  Was his closer affiliation with the post office anything to do with his current concerns? Quite possibly!

Meanwhile he continued to write to Lady Habersham, planning details for the exhibition next spring.  He further occupied himself with a painting he was working on, of a house of Lords Session.

As slow as an offseason may seem, when a fresh court season suddenly nears it seems to do so very quickly!

George still had not heard anything from Mirtel and Russell, but five (of the half dozen letters he’d sent, had been returned to him ‘gone address unknown’).  He was reluctant to leave Chichester, but under the sincere promise of the Postmaster to send any and all mail to him in London on a swift horse, George packed up his things (incl the House of Lords painting - a work in progress)  and headed to the Pall Mall House.

He had to settle in the new batch of artists to Dulwich, and in particular the glass artist (installation of a furnace etc needed to be paid etc).  He worked long hours, and lost himself some as he became absorbed with learning something of the art of glass casting alongside the craftsman.  It was a fine thing, he enjoyed, and resolved to do much more of it.

Coming home from Dulwich one evening, tired and hungry, he was surprised to find his man waiting up for him.  ‘Is it a letter perhaps!” Was Georges’ first thought that pushed his tiredness away!  It was about then that he noticed the sound of a baby crying…

There in the drawing room sat a Leo (Mirtels dog) Mary (Mirtels maid) and a wetnurse with baby.

“His name is Edward, after his father.” George’s man explained, “It’s the young Baron Whitgrove.”

It came as a small shock to the debonair Earl, who moved forwards then to examine the child – his mind reeling with the news.  He was touched by shock, his sister had passed, but here was a child. “I shall care for him though he was my own.” George pledged.

He met with William Russell, Lord Russell (Russell’s elder brother) & the Earl of Bedford the following day, that prominent men already knew of the missing ship, but this news of the mothers death in childbirth was new. Not a young man himself Bedford is agreeable when George requested wardship of the child.   

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Louis Killington, Lord Basildon

 

At the end of the season the Earl of Basildon made ready to proceed to Amsterdam to visit his wife at long last.  Nicolette had her own plans, and he had no fear that she would be protected in his absence.  There was a fond farewell for the Hill brothers who would be staying with the Duke of Norfolk during the recess.  No doubt they would return to school in the spring.

In making a final round of Christmas visits, Louis was overjoyed to hear his sister Lucy was pregnant.  She needed to produce a male heir in the worst way to keep the Somerset title with the Killington line.   With luck she would have a healthy boy. 

Upon his return home, the Earl found his wife waiting for him, along with a Dutch girl.  It seemed that she intended to arrive by New Year’s but foul weather in the Channel had complicated and delayed her return.  Princess Mary was still in Holland but planning to return to England for a visit in the Spring.  This would allow Lady Basildon to arrange things for her return.  As was typical after the couple had been apart for months, they spent multiple days locked in their bedroom together.  When they finally emerged, Lisa had been fully briefed on the developments at court.  She revealed to her husband that Danby had yet to arrive in the United Provinces.  Perhaps he never planned to go there despite the fact that it was of the few friendly places for him.  The Countess was pleased with Nicolette’s success in capturing the royal eye.  Ever the politician, she knew how that would help advance family interests.  She began work on the next issue of the Gentleman Spectator to help distract her.

The Dutch girl was named Margaretha, after her grandmother.  She is the bastard of the bastard Lord Frederick Nassau de Zuylestein (who was the bastard of William of Orange's father).  Frederick married Mary Killigrew, a sister of Thomas Killigrew and had two sons, but late in life he had an affair with a Dutch actress, who died in child birth.  Frederick died in battle against the French in 1672 and Margaretha was cared for by servants of the Orange household.  Lisa had come to know her while with Mary and thought to bring her to England.  Mary Killigrew cared nothing for the child and was happy to have her taken to England and away from the Orange household.  She is 16.

Bridget Osborne visited Louis in his office and he was left to explain to her that he had discovered himself followed and it was clear that one or more persons were watching him.  It was likely, he explained, that the spies were enemies of her father and likely of himself as well.  As such, they needed to be on their best behaviour.  This was especially true with his wife’s return.  She would be watching him as well.  Louis instructed her to go with her family and to write him at his West Indies Company address with news of how she and her family were faring.  He gav her some gold sovereigns for her to hide as her emergency money should she need it.

Ernle was appointed Lord Treasurer by the King.  Louis was appointed Deputy Treasurer.  It was as Buckingham had outlined.  Ernle was a relative through marriage, so it advanced family interests.   Soon the world would learn that his cousin was a royal mistress as well.  It would catapult Basildon further into high society.  He had coveted the Lord of Trade office but it was not forthcoming.  It would be something to work towards in the new season.  In the meantime he and Lisa would celebrate the success of Ernle and his son with a congratulatory visit and gift.

In March, news reached Louis that one of the ships owned by the West Indies Company had been captured by pirates.  This caused share prices of the company stock to drop significantly. 

On a brighter note, Basildon was approached by the Earl of Lindsey, who was both the brother-in-law and cousin of the Earl of Danby.  Concerned that his sister's children would be forever tainted by the fall of their father, the Earl sought out Basildon in hopes of him interceding with the King on behalf Danby's many children and to explain that the Lindsey's family had nothing to do with the machinations of the former Chief Minister.  Lindsey still thought Louis to be friendly towards the Danby clan, including his niece Bridget.  There were few others that could be approached about such a delicate topic.  Basildon explained that it was too soon to approach the King, hoping to keep the other earl beholden to him.

While many had left London for the recess, Louis visited with many that had stayed, hoping to inaugurate a series of dinners in his home to encourage discourse on politics, foreign affairs, science and arts.  The first of the dinners was planned for early in the Spring season.

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Davina Wellesley

 

January was bleak and without much amusements. Court emptied and so there was even less that came to the Queens Side then before which left the Maids with little to do and it soon was apparent that the Queen was desiring of the Company of her married Ladies which led to Davina thinking that finally this pregnancy was going to be acknowledged! With the Queen breeding there was now no need to have so many of her attendants about and she was given permission to retire for thirty days that would commence the first of February in her case. It would take a week or more to make herself ready and so with the aid of the ever so faithful Poppy who over saw the packing of trunks and the sorting of things that might be missed if she ventured outside London she made ready to leave. Farewells were easy and so it was done.

Her brothers house on Piccadilly was as ever in that it was always the same. He did not worry about the inside giving her the authority to handle what needed to be seen to but having to stay within the bounds of his purse! Her trained saw things and over the next few weeks things were replaced or repaired and comforts seen to all round. The relationship between brother and sister was not strained as in months past. She had calmed  - or so she thinks - in relation to her marriage plans and so that was no longer a firey bone of contention. That he saw Needham she knew but now, after the Auction, she had something to tease him over and since neither knew the identy of who they had 'purchased' she did not press that much. If it turned out to be someone unsuitable to be his Viscountess she wanted to be able to speak.

That he was troubled she saw clear but until he approached she could not intrude. If he had some ailment that was a thing she could see plainly or Poppy would comment. He was at times sad looking and here too she could only help by seeing he was fed dishes he liked and wines on hand to drink. He would tell her in time and until then she must be Patient.

Yet she has guessed that it is his impending marriage to Norfolk eldest daughter Catherine with his Mistress turned Wife and Duchess that has him behaving thus. She herself has had little interaction and since she turned down the offer to marry Catherine's brother George there might be resentment there too. In her mind this whole arrangement is simply not a good one. Her brother benefits and indirectly so does she yet why Catherine? There are many daughters amongst the Peers and not everyone would turn down being a Viscountess! It has to then be Norfolk. That they are Duty Bound to him is a reality for he heads the House of Howard and how her brother might play into his Politics or Schemes she can hardly imagine. And from what she remembers daughter Catherine is still tied to Mother Church so would this union then play false the 'conversion' of both the Duke and her brother? She could find no answers and until brother Richard was willing to speak it would remain unspoken between them.

She had tried to see Charles but there was never the chance and this caused a frustration that needed a release but there was no outlet. It was during this time that she began to run into Daniel Finch when out and about London. The first two could be accidential but after that she suspected that he was trying to make it clear that he was intent upon continuing what had happen on his staircase and she had not pulled away when he had kissed her but returned it willingly. It did not displease her and she was flattered. To think anything else was playing with fire yet a part of her was curious in an intellectual way (right) to see how different Charles and Finch were from the other. Her passsion for Charles was still strong yet there was also a new emotion creeping in and to her surprise it was boredom. How could that be? He was her first Lover and his touch still did things to her body and yet it was there.

To counter her frustrations she went shopping ....

olives. artichokes. lemons and oranges. frankincense. pomegranates. wire for stringing a virginal. 

All things she had a NEED for and when she was called to task by an outraged brother she had simply smiled and said that the next outing she would purchase for him! She could hardly say she needed to see her Lover could she?

Then a letter was delivered and her thoughts changed direction. The sender was known to her - Elizabeth Finch wife to Daniel - who wrote of her heartsickness and begged her to make the journey to where she was outside of London. Adding that her Lord Husband was at present banned from that residence so it would be just the company of females and herself in particular. Well. It was clear by the letters tone that the Lady was not her usual self and so how could Davina refuse. She made arrangements to go and wrote back asking if the last week or so in February would suit and she would make her way back to London after that.

She had been the receiver of many missives over Receess and was happy for it however there was another that she knew needed to be addressed.

George Churchill. 

He was tall and handsome but she thinks John is better in that department yet is adaptable to change that view if proven wrong. She of course knows him but has had little dealing with him about Court. Knows too that he is York's man as was his sister Arabella , now Mrs. Godfrey, who before that was mistress to York and even has children by him but that was some ten years ago yet the attachment to York was still much present. He had written her several letters all adding up to a suggestion to go Riding come Spring. She had said nothing about it to anyone until another was received but her brother saw it first so began the questions.

He knew that she was not involved and so she was surprised when he told her to offer a favorable reply to his request. In private she made a guess that he was allowing her such freedom as it was all tied up with the 'Husband Hunt' as she now called it and  thus in some temper she fired off a response saying that she would be happy to agree to his request and directed it to be delivered as she left London bound for the Finch Estate. Just what this brother was actually fishing for remained a mystery that might be made clearer come April.

The journey provided a quiet time to be alone with just her thoughts and she needed to make a plan for the new Season. Charles was still in the forefront naturally but Finch tugged and she had to be careful and not go further for by doing so would claim to him that she agreed. She could not help the secret smile that played about her lips as what might occur if she did. Then too there was the Masked Man In Silver from the Auction that she had bid on and won. She was still puzzled as to just who he might really be and Prayed that he would not be an odious little bug that she had to squash! With a meeting set for Spring she had made sure to wrap her mask carefully to not damage it until she'd wear it again at the arranged place and time.

Her thoughts on London and her return to the Palace - just how much Duty they all might face she could not guess at. She did know that being unmarried she could not go with the Queen to her Confinement for the last month of her pregnancy so what would they all do while they waited? No use in causing worry lines at this point! 

She would rearrange her small space come Spring and replace some things from her brother's residence to the Palace and vice versa and she had spent a lot of time working on her portion of the embroidery for the Queen that had been agreed upon. She needed to go and purchase more colored silk threads and that would be one of the first things done upon returning back to London. She expected the other three might have a need as well and she did not want to come out on the losing end! 

Everything would fall into place it always did.

Her time spent with Elizabeth Finch was restful but trying for her. She knew that there was an 'issue' between husband and wife yet could hardly come right out and ask so she could but listen and consoul the other Lady who's tears were many and then her words accusatory the next. But the fresh air despite the cold that lingered brought color to them both and there was the beginnings of a friendship between them. Davina was thus torn with some guilt for her thoughts about the laters husband were fresh and in the solitude of her bed Prayed for strength to not cross the boundaries.

All to soon twas time for her to depart and with promises made to meet again she made to return to London. It was at a Coaching Inn that a messanger finally caught up to them and Poppy handed her a sealed letter and which Davina knew at once.

Charles 

He was, so he had wrote, in want of her Company and that she must come to him as she had promised! That one week more spent with him would not disrupt either of their plans and he would expect her and that the man sent with this missive would see her safely to where he waited.

She knew where he was and the journey from here to there was not that strenous and so the decision was made. Poppy gave the instructions saying that her Mistress had been asked to come to another in need and so a change in direction was now done. Within a day she had arrived and Poppy sent the coach on ahead for she could not risk any rumours to follow and their arrival had been overseen by a kindly older woman who had taken charge and seen them ushered inside. Davina went to the rooms provided and sat upon the bed while Poppy removed her travel stained clothing and saw her into a clean chemise and robe then left to see to her own wants.

She really must do some nice things for her maid she mused as she waited for her lover ... she was indeed worthy of it!

When he at last appeared and they reacquainted their bodies to the other she knew Bliss and did not leave her room for several days - or so it seemed to her! Their actions was intimate and quiet then playful and abrupt but never unfulfilling. Her passions were as strong as ever and he proved that even tho they had been apart he knew every inch of her body and played her like a harp. Lying in the aftermath of yet another coupling she asked why he still did not remain within her at his release for it was a thing that had much bothered her all this while. She reassured him that he must remember the precautions she was taking  ....  He had simply said that he felt twas also what he must do so there was no babe. Pressing further for better understandings she had been struck dumb as he began to talk and the words began to tumble out and thus she learned that the dreaded SEDLEY was now pregnant!

She sat up drawing away from him her eyes wide and the shock of it clear on her own face. She whispered asking him if he was going to marry that woman then? Asked too if it were HER would he see them married?

He hesistated just a second too long in giving his answer. She simply stared at him unaware that tears wetted her checks and some low sound from deep with like a moan crept forth and she allowed it to be heard. Pushing aside the covering she left the bed putting distance between them holding the back of a chair in support as she put on her chemise. She did not speak or look at him despite his calling her name. When clothed she raised her head any trace of tears wiped off and in a voice devoid of emotion demanded that he make preparations for London for she would stay not another night under his roof.

She said nothing after that. Poppy kept her mouth shut but watched with a close eye clearly knowing that something had gone very wrong.

She was placed into his coach and the journey to London was undertaken without contact between them. Once there she retreated to her bedchamber. Flowers delivered were not accepted. Notes sent back unopened. There was nothing that he could possible say or do that would act as balm to her wound.

She could not think beyond this initial blow but the day would come when reason returned and she made a plan.

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Sophia de la Cerda, Countess of Toledo

 

The last day of the season was hectic for Sophia. The interior decorators arrived and some of the new furniture that she had ordered was delivered. She sent her cats and her nightingale away with her housekeeper, who had kept them for her last recess on her family's farm in the country. Aurora would, as usual, be going with her.

Anna had begun packing her mistress' belongings several days earlier so that she would be ready to travel the next day. Esteban was eager to return to Spain with the treaty he had successfully negotiated and insisted that they leave as soon as possible. Though she dreaded the journey, which would be by sea, she consoled herself with the fact that every day would bring her closer to her beloved Juan.

She had thought about sedating herself to make the trip easier, but decided against it. Sophia wanted to overcome her fear of water, and the only way to do that was to face it outright. Drifting along in a drugged haze would hinder that process, She was ill for the first several days, heaving up everything she ate. Anna and Eteban's sister Maria tended to her needs during this time. Eventually her stomach settled down and as long as she kept herself occupied, she could almost forget that she was surrounded by water.

Singing also helped. When she was absorbed in her music, she forgot everything else. She tried to read and draw but those activities made her nauseous. Esteban continued to teach her chess, which took all of her concentration, and he also helped her improve her command of the Spanish language. Her husband was more attentive to her than usual, most likely because he knew that his master would be furious if anything happened to her.

Sophia didn't venture out of her cabin at all, and when she left the ship and stepped out into the Spanish sunlight, she smiled for the first time in weeks, happy to be safely on land again. This time, she didn't expect Juan to greet them as soon as they arrived, knowing that he would be immersed in his duties.

They were given a larger suite of rooms than on their last visit, and Juan came through the secret door that evening after dinner, taking her through the passageways to his own apartments, where he presented her with the case that she was able to unlock with the silver key he had sent her. Inside was a beautiful diamond choker, its facets glittering in myriad hues.

Juan picked it up and fastened it around her neck, turning her to face a full length mirror. She reached up to touch it, her eyes meeting his in the mirror's reflection. How different they were … he tall, dark, and middle-aged, and she a petite and fair teenager … and yet how perfectly they looked together. His hand covered hers and then moved lower as he leaned forward to kiss her neck. Soon all she was wearing was the necklace. Their first coupling was quick and urgent, giving into the passion they had been denied for so long. The second and all those that followed were ardent, unhurried, and luxurious. Finally completely spent, they fell asleep in each other's arms.

Sophia spent almost every night with Juan and she had never been happier in her life. He arranged for her to sing in the court events that was held during her stay and most of the courtiers were entranced with “El bello angel con la exquisita voz.*” She liked that nickname better than the one she had received in Italy: 'the little girl with the very big voice.' Not everyone appreciated opera, and she sometimes heard her singing referred to as 'a cat screeching.' Sophia valued honest opinions, even negative ones. Those people, she told herself, didn't have any taste. She sang for the poor deformed King as well, and he actually smiled at her. Or at least it looked like a smile. It could have been indigestion.

During the day, she was mostly left to her own devices, as Juan and Esteban were involved in political matters, some of them probably having to do with the treaty her husband had negotiated. She made a few friends around her age who wanted to improve their English, and they went shopping together, sometimes accompanied by Maria. Sophia bought art and sculptures from up-and-coming artists to decorate her house with as well as things for herself and her friends back in England. Every day she bought something special for Juan and gave it to him that evening.

While visiting a bookstore one day with Maria, the shopkeeper noticed that she couldn't speak and showed Sophia a book called ' Reducción de las letras y arte para enseñar a hablar a los mudos,' which translated to 'Reduction of letters and art for teaching mute people to speak.' Both ladies looked through it, and Maria seemed excited by the pictures that represented letters with hand signs. Sophia bought it for her. On the days they stayed at the palace, they both practiced learning the signs, which would give her sister-in-law a new way to communicate.

Around the beginning of February, Juan told his young lover that her husband was going to be promoted to Conde de Toledo. She remembered with amusement when she had first arrived in England and could barely string a sentence together in English. She had told Lord Kingston that she would only marry a 'big man,' meaning an Earl or higher. As the daughter of an Earl herself, she had thought a Baron was far beneath her. But marrying a Baron was the only way to continue seeing Juan without any suspicion being thrown on either of them, so she had agreed.

It had occurred to her to insist that Esteban be made Earl before their marriage, but she had not wanted Juan to think that she valued her own status over her love for him. The fact that she was to become a Countess was a delightful surprise, though she wondered if her husband had planned for that eventuality all along as one of the perks of marrying the Prime Minister's mistress. He did look prouder than usual and she thought he smiled more as well.

And so did she. Sophia missed her courses that month. They had always been irregular and she didn't want to get her hopes up that she might be pregnant, but she couldn't help wishing that she was with child. She said nothing to Juan, for she didn't want him to be disappointed if it turned out not to be true.

Estaeban's family arrived for his promotion. Sophia was pleased to be reunited with them and to meet his more distant relations. When she mentioned that she drew, one of his aunts told her a story how she had dressed as a boy during her youth and was taught by a famous painter. She had even sold some of her paintings under a male name, but after a couple of years, her true identity was discovered and she was disgraced. No man would marry her and she became a spinster. The scandal had died down long ago and she was now accepted back into noble society, though there were some couriers who held her past against her.

Her tale was similar to Sophia's own, only her father had managed to avoid a scandal by sending her to England for a fresh start. When the woman expressed interest in starting anew as well, and offered to accompany her to London and become her art and Spanish tutor, Sophia immediately agreed. Afraid that Esteban would disapprove, she told Juan of the offer instead, and he said he would speak to her husband about it. Esteban told her the next day that his aunt would be returning to England with them.

Sophia sang at the ceremony, admiring Juan's fine form as he bestowed Esteban's new title upon him. The rest of her stay in Spain passed in a flurry of shopping, singing, going on outings with friends, and attending theater productions, zarzuelas, operas, and other entertainment in Madrid. She also corresponded with Anne Scott, who wrote often about the atrocities of Bedlam, making her more determined to find justice for those poor mistreated patients.

Nights were spent in bed with her beloved Prince. On one evening, as they lay entwined in each other's arms, she mentioned that Esteban didn't satisfy her sexual needs and that that her sleep was often interrupted by passionate dreams of Juan that left her longing for fulfillment. A few nights later, he presented her with a beautiful ivory dildo and showed her how to use it. Sometimes he liked watching her pleasure herself with it. It was a very useful gift and she believed that if she used it at home, she would no longer desire other lovers.

As the time to leave neared, Sophia considered staying in Spain with Juan. If she was pregnant, she knew that he would want her with him, but she still wasn't certain. Ultimately, she decided that Esteban needed her with him in England. Whatever would he do without her social expertise? And so after one last poignant night in Juan's arms, they boarded the ship that would take them home.

She missed her courses a second time during the journey, though she still wasn't certain if she was pregnant or if her fear was suppressing them. The journey went easier for Sophia this time, thanks to the sign language book and her new art tutor. She and Maria learned the signs and practiced communicating. Unable to sketch without feeling nauseous, she watched Esteban's aunt draw instead, giving her pointers that she expected her to incorporate when they were back home.

By the time they arrived in London, she was absolutely sure she was with child. Her breasts were tender, she was more emotional and irritable than usual, and the nausea that had plagued her during the trip didn't go away this time. She also craved foods she had not particularly cared for in the past and wasn't interested in some of her favorites. By her own estimation, she was close to three months pregnant, which meant the baby could be either Juan's or Lord Arundel's.

Sophia was happy with the job the interior decorators had done on the house. It was clear that it had benefited from a woman's touch, and all traces of that dreadful Ronquillo were gone. The housekeeper returned with her pets, which now included four one-week-old kittens, which seemed fitting given her own condition. She watched Juliet feed them and lick them, dreaming of holding her own child in her arms.

As soon as they were settled, she went to the palace and arranged to hold a concert in the Scarlet Drawing Room during the first week of the season. Flyers were placed around the palace to let courtiers know when she would be performing. She wanted to sing as much as possible this season, as she knew she might be so far along during the following season that she might not feel like performing anymore.

Or maybe she would want to sing frequently. Sophia had no idea what pregnancy would do to her voice. Perhaps it would take on beautiful new qualities, as it had when she had first fallen in love. She was so happy that she hummed softly to herself most of the time, no matter what she was doing. Maybe she wouldn't miss Juan quite so much this season, now that the physical manifestation of their love was growing inside her. Assuming, of course, it was his.

 

* the beautiful angel with the exquisite voice.

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Lady Cordelia Lucas

 

The ending of the Old Year had gone as the ones previous and even the start of The New Year had been predictable.

She had no reason to linger in London and the advantage of some fair weather allowed her to pack up her rooms at St Marks and remove herself to Herdfordshire and the manor of Longview. Traveling North West from London Lady Lucas took shelter from a storm at an Inn in Kings Langley where she sought some quiet contemplations inside the Church of All Saints. The first Duke of York, Edward Langley lies there in the Chapel and she stood for some time looking at it thinking that one day she too would lie in some place yet hardly as Grand. 

Her worry too was her son John for he had done little over the Christmas Tide - at least with her - and so she had to guess that he resides with those of his acquaintance. Her letter had gone unanswered but that could have many causes and so another was sent. Her own plans made waiting in London for a reply unfeasible and so she departed resolving that once she arrived at her destination she would pen another this time with some added words that, she thinks, might spur him to come there.

The twenty one mile journey dragged on by bad roads and weather and when she at last reached her residence it was to find it unprepared - no fires lit and dust covering surfaces. That it had been inhabitated she saw clear and yet what can one do about ones properties from London but it was still a shock. Some three weeks passed thusly in repairs and when she was settled her body grew ill and she spent the next month wavering between alive and not. Drifting from things from past times to present and how her time in London had not gone as planned. Her endevours and all come to naught and no matches had materialized to Establish her reputation. Even the Cavendish Relativies had been soured by lack of real interest.

She had hoped that she might herself had made the acquaintance of a Gentleman or two who showed promise but other than the time spent amongst the Gardens from the Summer last there had been no other. Had she not done her best? Had she overlooked an opportunity? The Youth of this day seemed to be so different from those in her memories not in need of what she could offer. Perhaps it would be best to remain in this place? It was the gloom of Winter that sparked such thoughts and she did not want to languish here in reality!

By mid-February she was able to leave her bed and took to convelensence in the large tall-backed wooden chair that has been her late husbands and still bore the velvet cushion with her embroidered designs now somewhat faded bit usuable nonetheless.

It was now that she wrote to her son John. Wondering if one letter would suffice or should she do more? Two was decided as the first might well go astray but the second could well reach him. The first was composed and set and she sat back and waited. Two weeks with no reply so the second was penned this time she employed some stragities in which she aluded to some unnamed 'issues related to The Estate" and how his presence was needed '"to offer some resolvement" for she had no Authority as he well knew.

She was not given to panic he would remember so a missive worded as such would suruly draw his attention and he would arrive on her doorstep. There was also the matter of what to use as the excuse but in all Truth the Manor was in need of repairs but the fact that thivery that had occured was reason enough for him to take an interest for they were HIS property. That there were other matters that needed discussion of a more 'personal nature' she would withold until she made her return to London .

March saw her return to Health but she was a bit slower in pace and thinner.

She had taken stock of it all and made a new Declaration. To feel sorry for ones self was not a thing she had to do. Going back to London meant a return of all the others' as well and suruly amongst them was an avenue to Success. 

She had fretted about so much in worrisome thoughts that she had lost sight of what she wanted and the time had come to rectify that. It had been several things that brought about the change of prespective but two inparticular  ....

Surprised by the arrival of the Duchess of Newcastle who was, it was stated, traveling upon some private journey of her own. Yet once alone it had been revealed to Cordelia that the Duchess was in fact there seeking her help! Daughter Frances the "Most Eligible Girl at Court" was all but promised to Dorset yet no 'official' announcement had yet been made and it was the younger daughter called Margaret where the issued lay. Set to make her daughter known to the Public come Spring the Duchess finds herself exhausted with all the efforts gone into Frances that she is without any sound direction. Might Cordelia lend herself to the task?

Cordelia, ever the modest woman, had lowered her head with all the appearance of it being too Great a task for just one old woman  ... The Duchess had reacted as planned and had taken her hand in hers adding that she had 'every confidence' and if she did not agree then where else could she go?

In the end Cordelia had made assurance and agreed that she could hardly NOT do as asked for they were Family after all.

The second had been a letter. One that had been a long time in reaching her so it appeared. Again here was another surprise. The sender was Lady Bridget Osbourne, Lady Danby by Title, and unknown personally to Cordelia. The letter outlined the current family struggle with many assurances that everything 'was all malicious and untrue' but as a result so many had abandoned them which left her three daughters in honest agitation. What was to become of the two eldest at eighteen and the last at sixteen? 

Lady Danby then went on to ask if it could be thought-out and arranged would Lady Lucas think to take on such a herculean task of marketing her daughters to good Profits? If so then ample rewards would be hers once her Husband was reunited with ALL that he had lost.

She had pondered for three days before she penned her response. She would indeed be willing to at least "Try" but given the current feelings Lady Danby must not pin hopes of all three yet she would leave the decision as to who should be 'helped' first to the natural choice of their Lady Mother. In her own mind it had to be the eldest first naturally for that was the gage by which matches for the other two would be measured. She had suggested that once the Season resumed a meeting between the two women be arranged and if Lady Danby did not wish to go about then Lady Lucas would go to her.

And so it had been sent off to be delivered back to the address given. Hopefully received before the Start of the Season in London!

So now she had no choice but to think hard and to make her plans. She would note down what she did know about each separately  and from there, well, she would see. 

Upon her return to London and her rooms at St Marks she was greeted with the news that her her previous efforts in 'matching' had indeed created a union - Darryl Williams and Elizabeth Dwight - with the bans to be read the beginning of April.

The idea to make a match had been brewing since the Christmas Ball when she had first laid eyes on the flighty Mistress Dwight. Cordelia realized within moments that the young girl was a handful and full of 'romantic notions and thoughts' and so she continued to watch her. Lord Maldon had been present and then it was Lord Langdon .... young Elizabeth was like a butterfly that flirts looking for a place to land. Who better than a Captain in the Royals 1st Dragoons to act as the needed steadying influence. She had set the course and held her breath and waited and watched as things either moved or did not. It was an anxious time but in the end a successful one. 

She could add this union to her success file and it would help going forward.

The Season approaching was promising to be quite the opposite of the one that had just ended! 

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  • 1 year later...

Cadell Mortimer, Viscount Athenry and Baron Mortimer of Radnor

 

The Past Year, or an Elongated Recess

Shortly after the rather quiet ceremony in which Cadell and Louise de Kerouaille were married (a curious affair in and of itself, given the mixed ensemble of guests and the sham nature of the whole thing), the two departed for France with the King's blessing. Equally importantly, at least to the new Lord Athenry, was the approval of the Comte de Saint-Aignan – the allure of the French court and a king who defended the Catholic court held too much sway for Cadell to refuse the Comte, even though -and perhaps, in spite of- his education and beliefs remained firmly oriented to the Jesuits. He expected beauty, he expected influence, he expected purpose.

And it was beautiful, initially. To be able to practice the true faith so openly and without fear was a novelty he'd missed since his days of studying at St. Omer alone was worth the voyage, but the countryside's history and the great thinkers of Paris -as well as the company of Louise, of whom he had grown fond in their own odd way, no matter how much the agreement had rankled him or how often the woman's tears were melodramatic and off-putting- was invigorating. Purpose became apparent: the Sun King may have ruled as an autocratic, but he was a resplendent one, and it was comforting for Cadell to think that in some small way, the cause of the Catholics could be served by his presence at two courts. Doubt began to fade from his mind, and Cadell Mortimer had finally found his true confidence, at least until they reached Versailles itself.

The rigid court of the French was as filled with drama as the one with the English, and while the studious Catholic viscount resisted initially, the temptations presented to him began to creep in. The news of war was enough to drive a man to drink, and the excess of the French court was certainly enabling in that regard – he became partial to cognac and even, surprisingly, familiar with a feminine friend of the Duc de Chevreuse. This stood in stark, curious contrast to his time in London, but Cadell began to rationalize when he was not busy familiarizing himself with the byzantine rules of the Sun King's court, making futile attempts at promoting an impossible peace, or wallowing in the omnipresent Catholic guilt. How could he not, when he was sacrificing much of his dignity as a man for a king who did so little to prevent a war with his cousin, who let the Catholics languor in wait for the seemingly-inevitable Exclusion? How could he not, when he felt such resentment towards a king who had elevated him from the obscurity of the Welsh gentry to where he was now, brushing elbows with the movers and shakers of the Catholic world?

Perhaps it was the influence of Nell Gwyn, an old friend who had once encouraged him to take a mistress, and alongside Lord Beverley and his immediate family, one of the few that he wrote to with any regularity. In his heart, however, Cadell remained a man of St. Omer's, and loyal to the cause no matter his personal feelings -. A year around the French court at Paris and Versailles sharpened his political ambitions, distant as England seemed in those long months. The Sun King's power was palpable, and change still remained possible – perhaps moreso, as he returns to England more comfortable in his own skin, albeit still plagued with the aforementioned guilt about his indulgence in debauchery and the failed plot he'd immersed himself in when he'd first left Radnor for Whitehall.

Now bearing a title of nobility and wits honed by observing the social games of Louis XIV's court, he returns home changed, having promised to use his title to further the cause of Charles Rex and Louis XIV at once. Carrying himself more as a Frenchman than an Englishman (or God forbid, indulging in his Welsh roots), Cadell feels grounded amid the turmoil, his ambitions focused. Then again, the possibility that Lord Athenry has simply found a way to fake it and convince himself also remains, something he himself knows – doubt, he has considered, is not something so easily shaken. Not when you serve God and hear no response, nor when you serve two kings in His cause and find yourself cuckolded by one.

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  • 2 months later...

 

Master James O'Neill, heir to the Baron Iveagh

 

Christmas 1677-March 1678

 

The Rising of the Britons was nearly completed, and with it, James' own rise in the artistic world seemed assured – the cold winter of 1677 could do little against the flames of his vibrancy, the passion which he had poured into a literal epic. But he was Icarus yet, and soon the wax would melt.

Put more simply: James' affair with the woman-behind-the-man of the Mercer Publishing House, a widow by the name of Constance, had secured the publication of his epic, a metaphor-laden homage to the warrior-woman Boudica, who rose against the virtue-obsessed Romans. It was not entirely unknown for deals such as these to be sealed with intimate affairs, and certainly James paid little mind to the scandalous nature of it – this breeziness, the cavalier energy which propelled him through the mania of his mind would prove a mistake. A future peer caught in flagrante delicto with an older woman of common origin, on its own, was hardly worth James' recall to the County Down...but it was another matter to be caught by a footman who served as the young man's surrogate father figure.

Particularly when said footman wrote to James' actual father with great regularity.

Iveagh wrote to Ormonde upon first hearing of his son's doings, not concerned utterly with his “hobbies” but of his reputation and recklessness. He claimed an illness in the family, and this is not entirely untrue – perhaps in some far-off future, the O'Neill heir's malady would be understood better, but in this day and age, the Baron knew it only to be a sickness of the soul. The Christmas season ended early for James; the long recess to come seeming to extend well past the few months that they were.

The Baron was never a man to spare the rod and spoil the child, although never once did he act out of malice. When that failed, he tried prayer, he tried leeching, taking James out for rides in the countryside, anything to engage his son and bring his mind back to the duties of his family, so that he might return to the Duke of Ormonde with a shred of sensibility. James, for his part, floundered in the isolation, screamed into the placid blues of Loch Cuan* 'til his throat rubbed raw, stared in silence up at the O'Neill coat of arms as his strange moods shifted into depression. In short, he positively flounced, until his youngest sister, darling Sibyl, pleaded with him to act. She could not stand to see the light of her brother dimmed so quickly.

So James resolved to act with contrition, begging his Papa for forgiveness and Ormonde for His Grace's forbearance. It was not entirely a lie – to wit, he supports the cause of the Irish moderate, in his disinterested manner – but another scheme was afoot. Not trusting his family's servants and with his allowance withheld until he could return to court, James filched an antique brooch of his mother's, and traded it with a fisherman from the village nearest Greyabbey in exchange for a letter to London. He begged once more, asking Mistress Constance to withhold the distribution of his manuscript: The Rising, James explained in furtive shorthand, would be best introduced at a court function.

The young poet had caught the King's attention once before, after all, and even after being spurned by Lucas Cole, he still had friends in London. Presented in the right format, James figures, with the appropriate timing...Iveagh could be hard-pressed to begrudge his son's potential success if the eye of court is on the aspiring libertine.

But then, that could simply be the madness of a choleric temperament talking.

 

 

 

*Period name for Strangford Lough

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  • 3 weeks later...

Diana Butler, Countess of Gowran

Jan-March 1678

The new Countess of Gowran had wanted their first Christmas and New Year’s holidays to be perfect.  It was the first time in a long time that she’d felt like a mistress of her own fate, if ever.  Before her father’s death, she’d been subject to his whims and whichever direction they had blown at any given time.  Then after his death, she’d been her cousin, the Duke of Norfolk’s, problem.  That didn’t mean for an instant she wasn’t grateful, his name and position had opened many doors for her here at court - doors that had inevitably led a penniless orphan to marry well. In all of that time, she’d never been able to say ‘my home’ or have some control over her life.  So whether or not John Butler realized it, this holiday season was something special and she had every intention of splurging on it and making the most out of these first holidays of theirs.  

And it had gone perfectly, right to plan… Until a couple of days after Christmas.  

The evening of the 28th of December, she’d had everything organized.  They were to entertain, by her mind, the lonely Lord Maldon.  She’d blackmailed, guilted, and practically assaulted John into playing host that evening.  John had a ‘vivre de joie’ about him that she hoped would rub off onto Lord Maldon, not that she'd feed John's ego by telling him that.  In those moments she was waiting to play hostess, a letter on the tray caught her attention.  Truth was, she didn’t know how long it’d been sitting there on that tray, when either of them had been home there had been quite a lot of hot chocolate, good Irish whiskey, and staying cozy and warm.  Correspondence had been put on the shelf while she used every trick up her sleeve to seduce her husband.  Partly because she found it entertaining and partly because the fact hadn’t slipped her notice that she still needed to produce an heir.  

The letter had been forwarded from the Gowran Estate to their London residence and addressed to them both.  There wasn’t anything particularly strange about that, but the contents inside the letter had caused her to forget her plans of playing hostess, her plans for the holidays, and even forget that she’d left John to play host by himself which was something she was fairly certain she’d hear about later.  Her room had been ransacked and destroyed in Ireland, as if the trespasser had been looking for something she’d possessed.  The servants had cleaned the mess and it appeared the thief had bypassed her jewelry for oddly enough a small statuette of the goddess Aphrodite rising from the sea, which had been found left and broken at the bottom of the stairs.  The letter suggested that Lord Gowran and herself returned to do a full inventory of the house to see if there was anything else out of order. 

She was only vaguely aware of John entering into the parlour before she passed the note to him. One glance at her husband as he read the lead told her he was just as perplexed by this development as she was.  Lord Maldon was excused and they were left to discuss their plans.

Diana spent the next day writing her correspondences and begging their pardons for her unexpected departure from court while John saw to finalizing the travel plans.   Of course, he’d offered to let her stay until after the season finished but she’d been determined that this marriage would be made into a partnership.  If there were problems at the estate, then she’d be there sorting out what she could and making things easier on them.

The Gowrans parted from the company of court shortly after Christmas.  Diana had never intended for their first New Year to be spent traveling, it seemed whatever she’d had planned had mutated into something resembling an inn in the middle of nowhere along the road to Liverpool in order to catch the first ship to Dublin.  It wasn’t at all the sort of memories she’d expected, but at least there had been a warm body next to her and good whiskey to warm her soul. 

Traveling that length was never an amusing sort of journey, but traveling it in winter was truly rough and a test of patience.  The Countess of Gowran was no novice to sailing, having made a journey both to and from England to the Indies and to and from Ireland prior to this trip but nothing quite prepared her for just how rough the winter Irish Sea could be.  More days than not, she’d spent sheltered in her cabin trying to keep her breakfast down.  She could have kissed the ground once her feet had returned to the solid soil, even if it was Irish soil.  The rest of the trip, from Dublin to the Gowran Estate passed quickly, perhaps because Diana had opted out of riding in the carriage a good portion of the time to ride along with John.  It might have been warmer inside of the carriage but the activity of riding kept her blood pounding and coursing through her veins.

In a journey to Liverpool, sailing to Dublin, and then the journey from Dublin to Gowran Castle that should have taken almost two weeks in its entirety, this one had taken closer to three.  In the early hours of the afternoon on January 17th they’d arrived at the estate tired but no worse for the wear.  The unanimous decision was to take several days before either of them started sorting out estate affairs.  Uncharacteristically, Diana took the opportunity to sleep in and have breakfast in bed those mornings. Ireland wasn’t really a winter wonderland, instead, it favored grey skies and cold winds that seemed to penetrate all the way to your bones, no matter the layers you wore.  For the most, it kept her in the house and it wasn’t long before she was seeking things out to do.  John was busy with his steward looking at inventories, end of the year profits, and discussing the changes for the estate for the new year.  He might have been a man who knew how to enjoy himself but there was a shrewdness in his dealings that was easily overlooked because of his libertine ways.

The countess’ time was a precarious balance between planning the dinner meals and entertaining the estate’s new vicar and venturing out long enough to take simple gifts to the needy.  In the back of her mind though she couldn’t quite shake the disturbing knowledge that someone had broken into her room to take only the small statuette and break it.  The statuette wasn’t an expensive piece, more of a decorative bauble than an actual piece of art.  She’d seen it one day in the window of a shop and thought it was a pretty piece only to never give it a second thought until now.  The inventory of the rest of the house had proved that nothing else had been tampered with, nor was anything else missing among their belongings.  

The month of February came and went quicker than she’d expected, there seemed to be a never ending pile of correspondence to catch up on. Her cousin Isabel’s letter had filled in on the latest happenings with the family.  Heaven knows, Henry wouldn’t actually get around to answering his letters any time soon.  There were a couple of letters for Lady Ormonde and one from the Duchess of Portsmouth that were answered.  Once or twice that month, she’d managed to persuade her husband into indulging her in a bit of dagger wielding practice.  Those practices made her acutely aware of how much she missed Lady Neuville being so far away.

By early March, the weather was still cold and chilly but the grey skies had cleared making way for the sunshine and the lush greenness that the isle was nicknamed for to take over again.  The pair worked in some light hunting to break the monotony of making the arrangements to sail back to England.  The trip back to Dublin was almost an enjoyable ride, but once there in Dublin the trouble came in the form of spring storms causing the ships to be placed on hold until the seas had calmed a bit.  It gave Diana time to do some shopping.  She bought a new riding habit but decided to wait to update her wardrobe until she could return to the less provincial London.  

It was on one of the shopping excursions that she was walking past a store when a familiar looking object caught her attention.  There, almost unnoticeable, in the corner of the front window was another small statuette of Aphrodite rising out of the sea.  Something about the statuette was gnawing at her, so after a few minutes of deliberating she went inside and bought the little statute.  She thanked the shopkeeper and went on her way.  

A few days later the pair were able to depart Dublin and sail back to Liverpool.  There were a few rough days of sailing in the spring sea but it was balanced with some nice ones too in which Diana was able to come out from her cabin and bask in the sunshine and sea air.  The extra long stay in Dublin had set them behind on their schedule and it wasn’t until April 1st that they came into the Liverpool port.  The next day they sat off for London.  The spring roads proved to test the patience almost as much as the winter roads had.  The first week of April was already finished by the time they’d made it back to court and saw to the unpacking of their Piccadilly residence.  

Among her trunks, she found the package she’d bought in Dublin containing the small statuette and unwrapped it.  What was it about the small ceramic Aphrodite that had caused so much trouble for her?  Setting it onto her dresser, she went about preparing for the new season at court.  Perhaps, along the way she’d unlock the mystery of the statuette. 

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