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Louis Killington

A Brotherly Visit to the Queen's Suite April 6 Afternoon

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After spending the late morning looking at account books in the palace, Louis was ready to speak with his sister Lucy.  He had been selected to break the news to her about Nicolette.  She was often found waiting on the Queen.  Being married and with child, it was likely that Queen Karoline might seek her company.  So it was that Louis sought out his sister in the Queen's quarters.  Making inquiries of the guards, he hoped that she might come out and speak with him for a time

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After attending the Queen all morning, Lucy had just been dismissed for the rest of the day, presumably to rest, though she had too much energy to fall asleep. The last few months had been good for her. Not only was she finally pregnant, but she felt that the Queen was calling for her more, as they were both with child. She had not yet found the courage to ask for advice. Queen Karoline was nearing her confinement while Lucy still had four months to go. She was showing now and was quite proud of it. The child had quickened last month and she had let her husband feel it.

 

Stepping into the corridor, her blue eyes widened at the sight of her brother speaking with the guards. She rarely saw him in this part of the palace. As Deputy Treasurer, his duties seldom took him to the Queen’s apartments. Wondering what he was up to, she approached him. “Good afternoon, Lord Basildon,” she said formally. It seemed silly to call her brother by his title, but protocol had to be followed, particularly when holding positions such as theirs. “Is there something I can help you with?”

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"Lady Somerset," Louis returned her formal greeting with a smile.  "I should like to think that you sensed my desire to speak with you."

"Do you have time to take a walk with me?" he asked softly.  "Perhaps outside.  How are you feeling?  The babe is well too?  And the Queen?"  he expected nothing but good news.  "We have not spoken in some time and I thought we should share news."  He thought to direct Lucy to an outside balcony where they might be able to speak privately.

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One dark eyebrow quirked upward, accenting the wideness of Lucy’s eyes. Louis hardly ever seeks me out for conversation, she mused. I hope nothing is wrong with Lisa. Maybe he’s having trouble with that ward of hers and wants the advice of a girl her age The young Duchess had immediately disliked Margaretha from the moment she had first laid eyes on her. The Dutch redhead’s beauty rivaled Lucy’s own and she was a bit too smug. Hopefully, she would not be accepted at the English court and slink back to the Netherlands in defeat.

 

“I must admit that you have surprised me, my lord. I’ve just been dismissed for the afternoon so I have the rest of the day.” She grinned mysteriously. “Though I doubt you’ll be staying that long.” Most likely, he would tell her whatever he wanted her to know and make a swift retreat. Lucy knew that Louis was busy with his new position, but she wished he would spend more time with her. Maybe Lisa had suggested this visit, realizing that he had been neglecting his little sister?

 

“I’ve never felt better,” she admitted, placing one hand on the swell of the child she carried proudly in front of her. “And the baby is doing splendidly. So splendidly that he often keeps me awake at night. I’ve been told that’s completely normal and that he will become more active as he grows. The Queen is well too.” Even had the Queen been ill, Lucy would have been unable to speak of it, even to her own brother.

 

“Shall we take a stroll in the gardens? How have you been adjusting to your new responsibilities? And are Lady Basildon and Mademoiselle Vauquelin enjoying the season so far?” She began to walk down the corridor toward the door that led to the garden. If Louis offered his arm, she would take it.

 

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"Excellent," he exclaimed to the good news of her good health.  It was critical for her to deliver a healthy child, and that it be a boy.  It was important for the Queen to do likewise.

"A walk in the garden with you would be lovely.  Though a path less frequented by others would be good for it is family business that we discuss today," he previewed.  He offered his arm a took a measured pace not to overtax her.  They exited the palace together while he made small talk until they were alone and could speak quietly as the walked.

"I am excited to have a nephew or a niece be added to the family dear sister, just as I have been with my son and, hopefully, many more children."  It was a good ploy to build up the importance of family to her before he revealed the news that he had come to deliver.

"In my days before father died, family was the furthest thing from my mind.  Once I became Earl my mind started to change.  I was even civil to mother," he laughed.  "And she was civil to me.  How that must have pained her.  Once I married Lisa and watched court with a new eye I became impressed with what the Seymours and Somersets had accomplished.  They have built a well-deserved reputation for ambition and unity.  Our own family has little history and unity and it befell me as the leader of our family to build the Killingtons into a stronger House by marrying into the Seymours and working hard to make you the Duchess of Somerset and fending off the other contenders.  It has worked exceedingly well so far and I have tried to lead not only the Killingtons but to become a leader in our allied in-law family affairs."

"Now that you are becoming a mother and a trusted aide to the Queen, you should start forming your own opinions of court.  I have lived here many years, both as a nobody and then as an earl.  I have seen and been privy to many things.  I have come to learn that you can trust no one, and that everyone will serve their selfish interests.  The only exception to that is family.  Without family you have no legacy for your success.  In short time I have joined the Privy Counsel, gained two important royal offices, and have allied our family with powerful forces at court.  None of this has meaning if I have no children or nephews to pass the mantle to.  Likewise you and your husband; without children or our close family, cannot pass along your glory and wisdom."  He had adopted a serious tone as they walked, pausing occasionally to allow Lucy to rest.

"I have my son and you will have yours.  We will have many more between us in the years ahead.  So, with our legacy assured, we must work together as a family to built something lasting to leave them.  Though I said you can trust no one, there is an exception for family.  Through good or ill there is a bond of blood that cannot be ignored.  If you do something to hurt me, I shall forgive you because you are my sister.  You would do likewise.  Everyone at court is our rivals, and our team or faction is our family.  The game of court is a game we win or lose as a family.  If we work together, our chances at success are all but assured."  He paused to allow some servants to pass.

"You may be wondering why I have come to speak with you today."  He was certain that was on her mind.  "Lucy you are coming into your own now as a courtier.  I hear good things about you from others.  It makes me proud.  Other ladies are jealous of you, which should make you proud," he chuckled.  "Your husband is doing well and it will be my goal to elevate him any chance I get, just as I fan the flames of good gossip about you.  When you succeed, I succeed sister.  Likewise is true as well.  I intend to treat you with greater respect as our family plans unfold.  I want you to support these plans and these plans will take into account the Somerset goals as well as the Seymour goals."  Through flattery he hoped to engage her.

"If you prefer to not know what moves our family is making on the game board, then I will not tell you.  Perhaps it is best if you do not know so the Queen cannot demand that you tell her.  I worry about that but wanted to hear from your lips how often the Queen inquires of our family and its loyalties." 

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Louis wanted to discuss family business with her? Was something wrong? He should never have been seen so openly with Danby’s daughter. Lucy had heard rumors that they were having an affair, but her brother wouldn’t be that stupid and would never dishonor Lisa like that. He was also too proud and arrogant to take a homely and disgraced mistress. Maybe she was spreading lies about him, claiming that he supported her father? Supposedly, she was still at court, living with some foreign princess who had a reputation that made the young Duchess blush.

 

“Of course. I know just the place. There’s an alcove where I often go to read. I’ve never seen another soul there.”

 

She began to lead him toward it. Her hand was a bit tense on his arm, dreading what he was going to tell her. Yet when Louis said he was excited that she was carrying an addition to their family, she relaxed. If she bore a son, he would be the next Duke of Somerset. A daughter would marry well and bring influence to both the Seymours and the Killingtons. If this child was a girl, maybe her next one would be a boy. She was young and would be able to bear children for many more years. As was Lisa. Could that be her brother’s news? That Lisa was expecting again? Lucy knew that they wanted more children, and hopefully her sister-in-law would bear a healthy single child next time instead of twins.

 

But no, that didn’t seem to be why he wanted to talk to her. He seemed to think it important to remind her of the past and how far they had come, mostly thanks to him. She smiled indulgently, amused at his conceit. However, that was part of who Louis was and she loved him for it. Lucy was not aware that she was following in his footsteps and was often considered arrogant herself, particularly by the younger ladies-in-waiting.It was her job to boss them around, for though she was one of the youngest, she was the highest ranking among them.

 

Louis was very solicitous of her comfort, stopping every now and then for her to rest. He continued his story and encouraged her to form her own opinions of court, which she had already done. It seemed to her that now that she was pregnant, he was treating her as an adult and not as a child and said that she would be included in family decisions from now on. This pleased her immensely. Yes, this one-sided discussion was definitely about family and how they were the only people at court that you could truly trust. His serious tone of voice indicated to Lucy that she was being initiated into the inner workings of their combined families. But why remind her that they were bound by blood and should always forgive each other?

 

Oh, Louis, she thought. What have you done that is so horrible that you need my forgiveness?

 

Perhaps she was overreacting. They reached the secluded alcove, which contained only one bench, and she seated herself upon it. Like the rest of the garden, it was always kept clean, so she didn’t have to worry about soiling her gown.

 

Now Louis was getting to the purpose of his speech. He was proud of her accomplishments so far and planned to help her husband and herself to achieve even more. Of course, he must know that she would do anything for him and Lisa as well. And Nicolette too, for she was also part of their family. Finally she would be apprised of their plans and take her place as a full member instead of a young girl who wasn’t capable of keeping secrets or making decisions.

 

Of course I want to know,” she said. “The Queen never asks me about my family’s loyalty to the crown. She is aware that our allegiance is to His Majesty .  You wouldn't hold two important positions if he didn't trust you implicitly.  I can be trusted too. I want to work with you to further our goals.” Lucy grinned engagingly. “I am a Killington, Therefore, I am ambitious. The two go hand in hand.”

 

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If Louis had been able to read his sister's mind he would have enjoyed a good laugh.  Unfortunately, it was a power that eluded him.

"Very well," he agreed.  Frankly, he had hoped she would decline.  Still, once he revealed his message, her view might change.

"In the past I have aligned myself with Chief Minister Danby as he was the head of the Court Party and had the power to help our family."  He needed to start with what she likely knew and explain himself.  "He was of some assistance but he turned against me when he found himself in trouble, trying to blame me for his own stupidity.  I was approached by the Duke of Buckingham who offered our family assistance in the wake of Danby's fall.  I was happy to accept as we needed to distance ourselves from Osborne.  I rescued a pair of boys Danby held captive and chased him off.  We are now allied with Buckingham, who has helped me with my Deputy Treasurer position and he has helped Nicolete.  She can be quite charming as you know.  She caught the eye of a French Royal Duc and even the King himself.  She was the Lady of Misrule after all."  He watched Lucy's facial features for reactions as he spoke.

"Our cousin has resisted the King for months, only serving to pique his fancy all the more it seems.  We Killingtons enjoy royal favor but it is limited.  The King is trusting few courtiers these days.  Buckingham is one he trusts and he believes that it would be a great boon to the family to have our cousin so close to the King.  I agree.  The King is able to bestow more favors upon Nicolette and us than any husband I might find her.  This is still a closely guarded secret but, in time, the Queen will learn of it.  We must assume that she will not be pleased, unless she is lost in the euphoria of being a new mother and indulging her husband.  She cannot control the King any way."

"If not Nicci, then he would have held it against us to our peril and would have chosen another.  It is best not to anger the King, especially when our family is on the cusp of great things," he counseled his sister quietly.  "I am thinking that it may be best for you to pretend to be upset in case the Queen becomes upset too.  It is the King's fault, not the family's, or speak nothing of it to her.  You will console the Queen as best you can and Nicci will console the King.  The rest of us will show loyalty to both.  In the end, this will work to our advantage greatly, but not without some awkward moments for us all."

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Once more, Louis reiterated what she already knew. Perhaps he thought that because Lucy had a life of her own as the Duchess of Somerset and lady-in-waiting to Her Majesty that she was out of touch with what went on in other areas of court life. No, he would be aware that Lisa told her everything. She had heard all about his ill-fated association with Danby (she noted that he said nothing about the  former chief minister’s daughter), the Duke of Buckingham’s offer and subsequent favor. Maybe the Duke had warned him away from associating with her further and he was embarrassed about it.  Perhaps he had not even told Lisa, but knowing her sister-in-law, she had found out anyway. 

 

Lucy had no idea that Buckingham had taken an interest in Nicci, but Louis was right about her. Their French cousin was beautiful, charming, and ambitious … just like her English kin. She wasn’t surprised that the King had noticed her either. Nothing would come of that, though. Nicolette wouldn’t be so heartless as to ruining Lucy’s own …

 

The blood drained from the young Duchess’ face as her brother confirmed that Nicci had led His Majesty on until he became obsessed with her. And now … now she was either one of his mistresses or would soon become one. Lucy understood that the Seymours and Killingtons would benefit greatly from Nicci’s good fortune and would gain many political and social advantages. Louis was likely hoping he would eventually be made a Duke. There would be perks for Buckingham as well by controlling a lady who had the King’s ear.

 

Though she heard Louis' suggestions on how to handle the situation, he had obviously not thought of the possible repercussions which were foremost in his little sister’s mind. “Awkwardness for us all?” she spat. She was glad she was sitting down, or she might have swooned. Her heart was beating so fast that Lucy feared it would burst from her chest, and her vision blurred alarmingly. “You mean awkwardness for [i[me. [/i]So you are willing to ruin my entire life for a relationship that might only last a few short weeks?

 

“How can I console the Queen if she dismisses me from her service? You know what she thinks about the King’s mistresses. If I were her, I wouldn’t want to have an attendant who’s related to one of them. How does she know that I won’t tell Nicci about everything she does?” The baby was kicking wildly as if it sensed her distress, and she placed one hand on the swell of her belly.

 

“The Queen won’t want me anywhere near her. She ‘ll see me as a threat and will find some way to disgrace me, if only to exact revenge on one of the many women who have seduced her husband. But Nicci won’t care what happens to me. If she had considered my reputation at all, she would never have encouraged the King’s advances. She just wants to rise as high as she can, even if it destroys me completely.”

 

Lucy glared at Louis. She was so upset that she was breathing hard and fast. “I can believe that of her. Now her true colors have been revealed. What I can’t believe is that my own brother is willing to sacrifice me as well!”

 

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His sister was still immature.  She fancied that she was some master of the game but she could not see further than her own mirror.  In that, Lucy was in good company.  Most courtiers were too obsessed with short-term goals.

"Excellent," he replied, hoping to confuse her initially.  "That anger is genuine and will serve you well," Louis whispered.  "But ware the babe.  Do not put stress upon it Lucy.  We want him to be healthy and happy," he reminded her as he took a seat beside her while holding her hand and adopting a soothing tone.

"Your brother, dear sister, would never sacrifice you.  In fact, he has done nothing but elevate you from obscurity to the highest circles of court.  Of course you have been magnificent in your role.  The truth is that I have little control over the King, Buckingham and Nicci in this matter.  It truly presents us with a great opportunity, including yourself.  Give me a moment to explain," he urged softly.

"Let me tell you the story of the Stanleys to illustrate the safety of our position.  In the War of the Roses, as you know, the Yorkists fought the Lancasters.  The Stanley family made sure that one brother would serve the white rose and one would always serve the red rose.  In that way they were assured that no matter which rose was in ascendency, the family would have one loyal retainer to the Crown.  It mattered not who was in power.  It worked beautifully and the Stanleys became the kingmakers of England as a result and ended the war.  This is no war.  We can serve loyally both the King and Queen.  We can be seen as trusted counselors and go betweens.  Who else would have the power to help reconcile the wishes of both the Queen and the King?  It could put us, and you, in an enviable position sister."  He hoped she could see the glass half full.

"The Queen will test you.  She will tell you false information to see if you whisper it to me.  You will not.  I will not ask you to tell me any of the Queen's secrets.  If the false information becomes public information she will know she cannot trust you.  Yet, if you do not breathe a word of it, she will come to respect what you tell her ... that you disapprove of your cousin's relationship and that you understand and empathize with the Queen completely.  Over time, your proven loyalty will result in you being elevated even moreso in her eyes.  Anyone can help her dress.  You want to be her emissary one day.  This could help you achieve that sooner."  He hoped he had sobered her.

"Even if the Queen were foolish enough to dismiss you, there are alternate plans for you and your husband.  It would allow the King to bestow rewards upon you instead ... and he has better rewards to bestow."  He offered a knowing smile.  "I will take care of you sister, just as you will take care of me one day, but I need you to trust me."

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Teenagers were self-absorbed creatures, and Lucy was no exception. Also like most girls her age, she was less confident than she appeared to be. She was very young to be a Duchess and to bear a child. Perhaps motherhood would mature her, but her confinement was still months away and now she felt like she was facing the end of everything she held dear. How could Louis do this to her? How could he put his cousin before his own sister?

 

She blinked, bewildered, when her brother praised her anger. He wanted her to be mad? Why? Oh, of course, so the Queen would believe that she was upset that Nicci had become the King’s mistress. Well, she didn’t have to fake that. She was not just upset, she was incensed.

 

Louis sat beside her and took her hand, reminding her not to let her emotions hurt the baby. His hand was warm and Lucy suddenly realized that she was shivering with cold despite the sun shining down on them. He was so calm, so certain that this new development would benefit them all. Yet he admitted that he had no control over any of the key players in this fiasco.

 

How did he know that the two of them wouldn’t turn His Majesty against him eventually? Buckingham was probably using Nicolette, and she was likely using the King. Both wanted power for themselves and when they got it, how did her brother know that they would still support him and not trample over him and his ambitious in favor of their own advancement? It was definitely possible that he was being used as well. Lucy had been at court long enough to learn that everyone was out for themselves.  They would do whatever it took to achieve greatness, even if they had to sell their own mother.

 

She couldn’t remember hearing the story of the Stanleys before. That period in English history had been included in her studies but the details of the actual war had not. She admired the courage and cunning of the two brothers. They made sure that they were on the winning side no matter what happened and they had been rewarded for it. But … what if one of them had not been accepted because his brother served the other side? The outcome would have been much different then. They were lucky. Lucy might not be.

 

The young Duchess liked the picture Louis painted of her becoming a confidant of the Queen. It was what she had always wanted and believed she was on her way to achieving. If things went according to her brother’s plan, once the Queen had tested her loyalty, she could become even closer to her.  Yet she might be asked about   Nicci’s relationship with the King. Had Louis thought of that?

 

The baby was still kicking, but not as wildly as before. “Assuming that everything unfolds as you think it will, what will happen if Her Majesty asks me to spy on Nicci or dig up dirt on her so that the King will not want her anymore? If I don’t deliver or give her false information, I shall be dismissed anyway for either being deceitful or useless. Who will you support then, Louis, if you must choose between your sister and your cousin?

 

“And what are these alternate plans for me if the Queen dismisses me immediately?”

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It was clear that Lucy was thinking of the various scenarios in her mind yet she gave no voice to them.  At last she mentioned her particular worry.

"If the Queen asks you to spy on Nicci, she is testing you.  If you say you will, she will not believe you.  If you decline she will expect you to put family first.  The answer you give her is that you are willing to do as the Queen asks but she should know that Nicci knows that you are the Queen's creature and will not trust you.  In fact, you will be given false information to report back to the Queen so that the Queen will grow to distrust you.  Explain this to the Queen and tell her that it shall mean your doom because you will likely report either useless things or something wrong which will cause her to dismiss you.  As such, suggest instead that the Queen employ someone unknown to Nicci and the Queen to undertake the watch.  Surely there are servants or guards that can be counted upon to aid the Queen.  They would be more reliable and could report directly to the Mistress of Robes, the Queen herself, or even you if the Queen wishes to test you.  You see, sister, you must get her to understand that she cannot ask you to fail her.  She would be wiser to find ways for you to report on other courtiers where she would not have reason to doubt your intelligence."  It would need to be deftly played.  Hopefully Lucy could see that it would require her not to say no but to convince the Queen not to ask her.

"If you are dismissed from the Queen's service the King will be asked to give your husband an Office as recompense.  After all, you will have lost your position due to Nicci so it is only fair that Nicci ask him to restore honor to you indirectly.  Perhaps we can also get you into York's household or circle if you want, or Lisa ight get you with Princess Mary too.  There are alternatives dear sister.  The Queen would be wise to keep you.  She does not wish to upset the Somersets, Seymours, Killingtons, and our several allies like Finch, Buckingham, and Worcester.  She is not stupid.  You are part of a growing faction at court.  She would be wise to keep us at least neutral. She needs friends, not enemies.  You are blood.  If she offends you, she offends us."

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It seemed as if Louis had thought of everything. The intrigue of it all appealed to Lucy, and she actually looked forward to be tested by the Queen now that he had explained how to handle the problem she had feared most. Courtiers had to be clever and they had to know how to turn any problem they faced to their advantage. There had never been any reason for her to participate in that aspect of court, and now a perfect situation had fallen into her lap courtesy of her French cousin. Because of Nicci’s relationship with the King, she could prove her worth to the Queen and make herself indispensable.

 

Her mistress was intelligent. She would know that dismissing Lucy might anger the King, even if she came up with another reason for letting her go. He knew that Nicolette was part of the Killington family, and might suspect his wife’s true motives. Still, her position was not completely safe, though in truth, it never had been. If Her Majesty began pushing her away now that she was finally becoming close to her, she would need to seek the advice of either Louis or Lisa.

 

She wasn’t as angry as she had been, but she still wasn’t convinced that everything would unfold the way her brother claimed it would. He promised that her husband would be given an office if she was dismissed, but how did he know that the King would agree to the suggestion of his newest mistress? Lucy rather doubted his mistresses could sway him into making important decisions, no matter how good they were at …

 

A crimson blush blossomed upon the young Duchess’ porcelain cheeks. Her back was aching as it often did now, and she stood up and began pacing back and forth in front of the bench. “How do you know that Nicci will ask the King to give Francis an office? Maybe he will not take kindly to her telling him what to do. Or he will not be as enamored of her as you think he will be and she will have no influence over him. Maybe she will never completely win him over and not want to put her position in jeopardy by making a request of him.”

 

Lucy stopped in front of her brother, her hands moving to her back as she stretched upward. Her rounded belly was pushed forward, accentuating its size. “And how do you know she will not turn against you, Louis? How do you know that power will not go to her head and she will believe that she will not need you … or us … anymore? She’s our cousin, yes, but she’s not a part of our immediate family. What if she moved to England planning to seduce the King all along and she has been using us all as a means to an end? Now that she has what she wants, maybe she will only help us if we reward her for her favor.

 

“How well do you really know her, Louis?  We've only known her for about a year.  Can we truly trust her?"

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Of course Louis had thought of everything, or so he thought.  His smile, as ever, was reassuring.

"Barbara Villiers was a waif of a Villiers married to a no one.  Once she became the King's mistress she was named a duchess and was, in her time, more powerful than the Queen and everyone except perhaps York.  Louise was a poor French girl that was a maid to the King's mother.  He made her a duchess and, even though she is out of favor these days, she still holds the King's affection.  He remembers kindly all of his former lovers.  Nicci is a clever girl.  Getting an office for your husband will be child's play.  Even the King will admit that his actions with her is what led to your departure.  His natural tendency is to make amends.  He is a good King."

Lucy began to doubt Nicci's abilities first and then her loyalty.  "She is family enough," he replied.  "She knows who helped her rise.  You can always trust self interest Lucy.  It is in Nicci's interest to help us.  She knows she cannot hold the royal eye forever.  One day she will no longer be exalted above all and she will need her family to shield her once again.  That is what family does Lucy.  We are bound to protect each other out of blood because we have a self-interest in seeing our family succeed.  We succeed when anyone in our family succeeds."  He hoped she could see the truth in it.

"We aim to build a family to compete  with the greatest families in England.  We are rising from obscurity to join the elites at court.  I have a role to play.  So do you.  Nicci has a role as well.  She knows it.  She will benefit from having a strong family supporting her.  We must be wary of enemies and rivals we make.  Watch carefully who speaks ill of us at court," he warned, knowing it was best to give her a task as an emissary of the family.

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Lucy continued to pace while Louis gave her yet another history lesson. This one was well-known to her. The King was indeed generous to those mistresses he cherished most, but would Nicci become one of them? She was a totally against their cousin becoming a Duchess, especially one in her own right. Sometimes the King married off the women who became pregnant with his children. Maybe that would be Nicolette’s fate … to remain his mistress but to wed a man he chose for her, who would most likely not be a Duke. There were few of those who were still single. Of course, he could make any gentlemen a Duke, but there would be opposition to it. There was a balance he needed to maintain. Young as she was, she understood that much.

 

Her brother’s explanation made sense. His Majesty was a caring King and he would surely reward her husband if he was the cause of her own dismissal. But … the Queen was not going to oust her while she was pregnant. She was known for her kindness and would never be so cruel. Such an action would also decrease her popularity at court. So Lucy had four months to prove her loyalty and make herself indispensable. She wouldn’t be dismissed during her confinement either. That too, would be considered heartless. Now that she knew what faced her, she could meet it head on. Louis wasn’t the only ambitious and arrogant Killington sibling.

 

And as for that office, whether or not she was removed from the Queen’s service, she was determined that Francis would have it. There was no reason to mention that to Louis now. She would do so when the time was right.

 

Louis claimed that Nicci could be trusted because she would need to rely on the Killingtons and Seymours when another lady took her place in the King’s affections. It would happen. It always did. The question was when. Picking a flower from a nearby bush, Lucy sat back down beside her brother and sniffed it. She was calmer now but still a bit anxious about her own future and that of her family’s. Her marriage to the Duke of Somerset had been one of those steps that they were taking to increase their influence at court. Nicci’s rise to the King’s favor was another one. There would be others too as time went on.

 

Still, she wasn’t completely convinced. And yes, they would acquire new enemies because of this development. As if they didn’t already have enough. “Nobody will malign us in my presence, though I suppose some of my friends might tell me if anyone does … assuming I don’t lose them because I am related to Nicci. I always keep my ears open, Louis. And my eyes.” Looks could be more damaging than words. Maybe she should ask one of the Queen’s other ladies for pointers. Susan Herbert was an expert at ferreting out rumors that could hurt their mistress. She purposely befriended ladies that liked to gossip for that purpose. Perhaps she would introduce Lucy to them.

 

The young Duchess wove the stem of the flower between her fingers. “What if you’re wrong, and the King makes Nicci a Duchess and gives her so many properties that she will be wealthier and more powerful than we are? What if she expects us to defer to her every whim or she will disgrace us?  I know it’s a long shot, but it could happen. Will you let her rule us or will we all work together to destroy her?”

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Lucy kept most of her thoughts to herself, not allowing Louis a window into each of her concerns.  As such, he awaited her voiced questions.

"Good.  It is a grand game Lucy.  Find friends that are worthy of you, ones that can do you favors in the future; but, do not overlook the palace servants.  They can be the very best of spies for you.  It is no coincidence that I am the Treasurer of the Royal Household.  I have rare access to the palace servants.  Only Arlington has more power as the Chamberlain.  I have yet to decide whether he is more worthy as an ally or an adversary," he laughed.

"I am rarely wrong Lucy," he replied to her concern about Nicci, "especially about family.  Nicolette will stand with us.  I am sure of it.  But, for every risk, I have a contingency plan.   There are obstacles in our path and we will find unwelcome surprises along the way.  These are to be expected.  This game will destroy the unprepared.  I am moving the game pieces in our favor and now we each need to do our part, knowing that we will fail the game if we fail our family.  It is just beginning for your part."  He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.  "We share the same blood so how can you be anything but a masterful player in the months and years ahead?"  His smile was of the kind that one wore when one already knew the outcome of an event.  "Be sure to keep your husband loyal to you and to me.  He has an important role to play in the future."

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If there was one thing that court life had taught Lucy, it was to keep her more radical opinions to herself. Therefore, she did not tell Louis everything that she was thinking. She trusted her brother more than anyone else in the world, but what could he do to help her become closer to the Queen? He had already given her his advice, and she would heed it. But there were some things that she must do on her own. If she succeeded in becoming one of the Queen’s favorite ladies, Louis would know that she was fully capable of playing the game. The same applied to getting Francis an office whether she was dismissed or not. The young Duchess felt somehow that she must prove herself to her family before they would take her seriously, perhaps because she was the youngest among them despite being higher in status than any of them.

 

Lucy had quite a few friends already. Most of them were the Queen’s ladies or maids of honor, but they were the cream of the crop or they wouldn’t have been chosen to attend her. She knew other young ladies as well, but she wasn’t sure if any of them would do her favors. Her eyes widened when Louis mentioned the palace servants. They were gossips for the most part, and she was very careful about what she said and did around them. She had been so focused on making certain that they didn’t gossip about her, she had not thought of using them as spies. They knew everything about everybody. Gifts such as pieces of jewelry she no longer cared about or small bags of coins would be good incentives for them to become her informants.

 

Back to friends: “Are there any particular ladies I should befriend? Or should I ask that question of Lisa?” Her sister-in-law was probably more informed about which court ladies could assist them in their climb to the top of court society.

 

Why was Louis so positive that Nicolette wouldn’t turn against them? “You might be wrong only rarely,” she pointed out, “but there’s a first time for everything, you know.” He said he had a plan for anything that went wrong, though she wasn’t certain that he would be able to destroy their cousin should she turn against them. Lisa could, and so could she. She definitely needed to talk to Lisa about this. And she should speak to Nicci too. They had never spent much time with each other. Now that would have to change.

 

Louis was the game master, moving the pieces to benefit their family. He was good at it, too, having taken her from relative obscurity and made her a Duchess, among many other successes. Lucy had no doubt that he had connived his way into his two court offices, but he was not behind Nicci’s seduction of the King as far as she knew. He had said nothing to indicate that it had been his plan all along. More likely, it had been their cousin’s doing and he had been as surprised as herself when he had learned of it.

 

She was feeling better about the situation now and was grateful that he had told her so that she could be ready in case the Queen tested her. The baby wasn’t kicking so wildly now. He was still active, though, and when Louis squeezed her hand, she lifted it and placed it on her belly. The child moved beneath it. “Your nephew,” she said, smiling genuinely.

 

I want his life to be secure, Louis. I want him to grow up in the most powerful family at court. You say I have a part to play. I want more than that.” Lucy lifted her chin proudly and a bit defiantly . “I’m tired of being kept in the dark. From now on, I don’t want to be a game piece. I want to move them like you do, to have a say in the what happens to our family. I want to know everything that happens, whether or not it has anything to do with me

 

The baby kicked again. “This baby,  your son. and any other children we may have are our future and I want to make sure they have the best that we can give him.”

 

Lucy looked her brother in the eye. “Don’t underestimate me, Louis. I’m smarter and more clever than you give me credit for."

 

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There was no doubt that Lucy was his sister.  Her conceit rivaled his own, but Louis did not give his sister the credit she craved.  She had proven nothing yet.  He had flattered her so as to manipulate her.  It worked like he knew it would.  Some times this game seemed too easy.  Yet, he found his sister's ego beyond what he had expected.  She was not even an adult yet and she thought she needed to know everything?  Hardly.  As for her thoughts about cousin Nicolette, he merely smiled when she said he might be wrong for the first time.

"Lisa is a good choice," he agreed.  Lisa, unlike Lucy, had proven herself time and again.  "Befriend the Queen's ladies surely, but beware that they shall be your rivals for the Queen's affections.  You cannot trust what they recommend you do.  You must differentiate yourself from the others if you wish to be exalted over them.  You have your status as a duchess to start, of course, but you would prove your usefulness by befriending Lady Mountjoy but also reporting back tantalizing tidbits off gossip and information. 

"As much as I might like to tell you everything in the future, I cannot.  It is important that we are not seen conferring all the time.  We want the Queen to see you as an independent woman.  Further, I do not wish to share secrets with you that will cause you angst if you must keep them from the Queen.  Her Majesty is more intelligent than courtiers credit.  She will know when you are hiding something, just as I will know when you are hiding something from me.  It is fine if you hide the Queen's secrets from me.  You do not need to prove yourself to me, but you need to prove yourself to the Queen."  He smiled at the mention of his nephew.  "You know my plans dear sister.  It is to exalt our family.  My moves will be obvious to you.  Likewise, I know that you do not need precise instruction to make moves to help the family too.  We will each work independently to strengthen the future of our children.  At times of major decision-making, we should consult again.  Let us plan to sit together in church unless you are with the Queen and to have you and Francis over to dinner periodically, or you invite us from time to time, like good family, but not so frequently as to create the impression that we are scheming together, even though we are," he laughed.  "Do you and Francis want to join us for Easter supper?"  It was a time for family after all.

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Of course Louis supported Lisa. He would never had married an idiot, no matter how well-connected she was. Lucy often wondered whether they loved one another. They certainly worked together well and seemed to enjoy each other’s company.

 

Her brother, as intelligent as he was, had no idea what it was like in the Queen’s household. In order to befriend Lady Mountjoy, you had to first befriend Her Majesty, or so it seemed to her. Lady Mountjoy’s favor was hard to gain and she was fiercely protective of her mistress. But if the Queen liked you, then so did she. Gossip was also not tolerated. If she had information that would be useful to the Queen, then it had to be backed up by undeniable fact or she would lose the tentative trust she had already gained. “If you know of anything Her Majesty needs to hear, then I hope you will tell me, Louis. Obtaining valuable knowledge will do much to strengthen my position and that of our families as well.”

 

Okay, he had a point about keeping things from her that might put her relationship with the Queen at risk. Lucy knew that she was not yet adept at hiding her emotions; sometimes the young Duchess wore her heart on her sleeve. But she wanted to be more of an active part of bringing glory to their family, not just a pawn to be moved around at her brother’s will.

 

Luckily, he had higher expectations for her. He knew she was intelligent and clever and that she would do everything in her power to further the influence of the Killingtons and Seymours so that their children would have the brightest future possible. Louis had faith in her ability to know what would benefit them and what would hurt them. She didn’t have to know all his plans and he didn’t have to know hers. They were both working toward the same goal and nobody was more worthy to raise themselves in status than the two of them, acting together and apart.

 

It’s not as if we can discuss much at church, but no one will suspect us of anything if we have dinner together occasionally. I look forward to our brainstorming sessions.” And perhaps the first one would occur on Easter? “I’ll ask Francis but I don’t think he has any other plans. You can expect us there.” After a momentary pause, she asked: “Will Nicci be joining us or will she be with His Majesty?” Though she tried, Lucy could not keep a hint of bitterness from coloring her voice.

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"When I find the right tasty morsel, dear sister, I shall share it with you.  Fear not," he assured her softly.

"Family unity is a good thing to demonstrate," he replied in reference to sitting and supping together.  "Let the court know that to attack one of us is to attack all of us.  Oh, and the Dutch girl that Lisa brought home, she is related to Dutch royalty, so it would be nice to have her with us.  I am easy to paint as a French Party sympathizer, so having stronger Dutch connections helps us, as does Lisa's service with Princess Mary."

"As for Easter supper, Worcester has invited Lisa and me to their supper.  I accepted, so let us coordinate our family supper to be at a different time.  Lisa shall send a note."  If Lucy thought that these suppers would be brainstorming, she was likely to be disappointed.

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Lucy nodded, knowing her brother would keep his word. “I shall do the same, if I come upon a tidbit that will be useful to you.” She could hardly wait to employ the palace servants as her spies. Why had she not thought of that idea herself? Instead of fearing what they would say about her, she should have been utilizing what they said about everyone else. Her household servants probably knew a lot as well.

 

Sitting together at church would definitely show solidarity. Not many courtiers would know about their family dinners unless the news was spread around court. Louis mentioned that Dutch girl who was living with them and Lucy wrinkled her nose. They had not spoken a word to each other so far, and the young Duchess envied her because she was so undeniably beautiful. Of course, she would have to be related to royalty too. Was there any advantage that the redhead didn’t have?

 

Now she knew why Lisa had brought her back … to diminish the effect of their French connections and to show that they were well-connected to the Dutch, who were England’s allies since princess Mary had been married to the ruler of the Netherlands.

 

So they would not be sharing Easter dinner after all. Louis and Lisa would be dining with Worcester. Lucy wondered if they were taking Nicci along as well. He had not answered her question about Nicci attending the family dinner, maybe because he didn’t know. She knew her brother well enough to understand that he would rather ignore a question than admit that he didn’t know the answer.

 

Will the Dutch girl be going with you?’ she asked. “If not, maybe she can join Francis and myself.” She had no idea what the girl’s name was, probably something unpronounceable. Even though Lucy was jealous of her, nobody should spend Easter alone.

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The conversation was coming to a satisfactory conclusion.  Both Lisa and Nicci would be pleased with him.

"A good idea Lucy.  Why don't you invite her to sup with you when we are at the Worcesters?  Let's find some English husband for her.  She was born on the wrong side of the sheets so it need not be a duke," he laughed.  'Maybe Francis knows an English lord that would like a Dutch beauty for a bride?" Margetha would prefer to stay in England too, to get away from the scandal he knew.

"Come, let us get you back inside before you catch a chill," he offered as he held out his hand so that he could assist her standing.  "Next Easter we will have a special remembrance of this conversation and celebrate our further rise."  He offered his arm so that he could escort her back inside.

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Lucy smirked inwardly. So ‘that Dutch girl,’ which was how she referred to the Basildon’s ward, was not so perfect after all. She was an illigitimate relation of the Dutch royal family. The Prince of Orange was not old enough to be her father. Perhaps she was his half-sister. Maybe Princess Mary had sent her back with Lisa because she considered her presence a reminder that all royals could stray. Or they could have hated each other on sight.

 

“I’ll ask Francis, but I don’t think he’ll mind.” It would be interesting to see if that Dutch girl tried to seduce her husband. If Francis had taken any mistresses, she didn’t know about them, which was how she wanted it to stay. She fancied that he was faithful to her, and perhaps he was. He was often in poor health and might not have the energy to keep both his wife and a mistress happy.

 

For the first time since Louis had told her about their cousin’s affair with the King, Lucy smiled. “I wouldn’t be surprised if several of his friends are interested. Maybe he’ll invite the most handsome and highest ranking among them to share Easter dinner with us too.” Perhaps it would be best to befriend the other girl, who was about her age. She really shouldn’t envy her. Lucy was stunning herself and she was married to a Duke and carrying his heir. That Dutch girl would never accomplish that, particularly since Louis didn’t think she would attract a high status suitor because she was baseborn.

 

It was a bit cold in the alcove and Lucy had not brought her cloak, believing that their conversation would be brief. She placed her small hand in her brother's and let him help her rise. It wouldn’t be too much longer before she would have to bring her maidservant with her to assist her. “Next Easter, I’ll be holding a baby in my arms,” she said, a dreamy expression in her eyes. Taking his arm, she let him lead her back toward the palace. “Is the Dutch girl considered family now too, Louis?”

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"It sounds an excellent idea," Louis praised when Lucy offered to have Francis invite his most handsome and highest ranking friend to share Easter supper.  "That is how we need to think when we plot favors for our friends."  Lucy asked whether the Dutch girl was family now.  "She is not family but she is a guest and one that was entrusted to Lisa with care, so we should treat her as if she were our ward," he explained.  That was close enough to family.

Leading her back to the palace, Louis could not help but feel as if he had succeeded in yet another tricky situation.  And to think Lisa had been worried ... .  Her smile was returned as Lucy was delivered inside.  It was then time to take his leave, so he bid her au revoir and went on his way.

 

~ finis

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