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Defiance

Ridding the muddy aftermath | Ranelagh & Nicci Monday AM

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Ranelagh steered Nicci inside.

 

"You must be cold to the core, mademoiselle. I will have them draw you a hot bath so that you might clean up. We must get you out of sight quickly before panic is sparked, or suspicion." He seemed to think for a long moment of where that might be. Somewhere safe. Somewhere that was not the King's rooms, for the sake of any talk that might come of it and reach the Queen...

 

There was the Duke of York's apartments. Lady O'Roarke's rooms were somewhat vacant, he knew, occupied here and there by one of her brothers that York had taken in his household whilst she was in the country with York's child. But if he was there and sleeping...

 

"Charlotte, we will go to Charlotte's apartments," he said suddenly, aloud. Clearly, he was not used to dead bodies either and his thoughts and words rambled. "My cousin, was she at tennis that one day? I cannot recall. She is the King's daughter. She has apartments at Whitehall for the season but oft stays at her house when she has little Charlie with her." The boy was too young for such things. He would get himself more lost and into more trouble than one of the King's spaniels!

 

A page ran toward them, likely from Etherege's prompting, with a warmed cloak to wrap around the lady.

 

Ranelagh did not even think before he told the boy, "Have them run a bath in Lady Yarmouth's apartments." The instruction sent him scurrying off again.

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"I would appreciate that." she replied.  Otherwise moving rather quietly into the palace buildings, it was still very early and quiet around about, despite the drama they left at the fountain.  

Ranelagh’s voice was surprisingly soothing; she'd not expected this from him when he'd appeared, she'd never seen him in his serious. But life was not all fun and games. Nor was Nicci at that moment.  

"Who is Lady Yarmouth?" While her cousin Louis had met Charlotte and her son, he'd not told Nicci about her, possibly he'd just forgot, more likely he'd chosen not to. They were still for a moment as the warmed cloak was wrapped around her paled form, she heard Richard giving further instructions, and again it surprised her, that he concerned.

Though probably he'd have done that for any lady in the circumstance, or probably because her new friendship with his mother and Mary, or favour from the English king.  She could not read anything in to it - fantasies or not Nicci was a realist. 

"When I came upon the body, I thought for a moment everything was lost. I thought they would blame me, I was but a whisper away from being sent to France, or worse." These dark thoughts she admitted, it was possibly the first plain conversation ever had. "Thank you for taking me from it, and, for stating, for the Life guard, that the death was not possible for me to perform. Or was that your friend Etheridge. I am grateful for you both."     

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Ranelagh gave an absentminded smile, "Charlotte, Lady Yarmouth, same woman." As to who she was in specific, he said quite plainly, "My mother's brother was made Earl of Shannon because the King took an interest in his wife, Lizzie Killigrew. Charlotte has a brother who is viscount of the same." It was not any form of secret knowledge. All of court knew, though it had been something to talk about more than a decade prior. Courtiers generally no longer even spoke in speculation about Shannon, who many suspected was also the offspring of the King. The King had plenty of children, known and speculated, to talk about.

 

"As I said, I do not think she will be there. Anyway, Charlie is her son, the King's oldest grandson, and he's a rowdy boy. He would run off and make havoc if given half the opportunity, so she does not oft use her rooms here if she has him." Then he added in the same stressed ramble, "And she would not mind at all if she was there. She is very like her father."

 

That and Charlotte was quite the dotting daughter, so what pleased the King's interests, pleased her. 
 

He listened to her concerns and exhaled in agreement. 

 

"Lord Langdon is known for being quite zealous in the King's justice," Ranelagh said, with a hint of a smile. "It was merely directing his attention to the most pertinent facts. Etherege, I think, made comment you are far too small to have prevailed against such a man, in such a way. Langdon would likely have come to the same conclusion; it is known a lady's methods are generally poison or taxing a man's heart to death." He gave a small laugh at that, for he did not wish to dwell entirely in darkness. Such was not his way. 

 

"There is no need to be grateful. We are friends, are we not?" he asked, with the raise of a dark brow. "But, yes, I thought it best to get you away before any prying eyes and ears that arrive later can attempt to weave anything of it. His Majesty would not wish that, and you have no reason to harm him in your position, so the thing to do is make sure you are well-cared for." 

 

One did not become a friend of the King without having some level of merit and ability. One did not stay a friend to the King without knowing when and where to show one's dedication and gallantry. Any of the King's gentlemen knew how fond their master was of the mademoiselle, and Ranelagh rather understood why the King was fond.

 

The rooms were on the King's side and were decorated in warm tones of deep burgundy and gold. It was entirely quiet when they arrived. Not unexpected. The servant did not hesitate to let Ranelagh in, but he did say that the mistress was at the town house and not there, and that the bath was almost ready. 

 

"Shall I have one drawn for you too, my lord?" the servant asked, taking in the state of his mistress' cousin.

 

Ranelagh blinked, clearly not expecting the offer. 

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"Oh, yes Shannon, he was there at Tennis. And so the older gentleman refereeing was Lady Ranelaghs brother” the pieces of their family tree fell into place, and it made perfect sense in a way that was Whitehall.  The English King drew his courtiers together in a very different method than his cousin across the channel.

"Hmm…” Nicolette nodded to the Earls further ramblings on his Cousin, there seemed to be a tone within his comments, and she wondered to its meaning.  Perhaps she’d understand if and when she met Charlotte herself.  “Boys are oft boisterous, it is quite part of their charm.”

And so she understood where he had chosen, and why, while she could see for herself it was in a discrete area of the palace – while not so far still from the Kings apartments. 

“And I am well qualified for both.” She added to his jest, "for the former I've an entire apothecary at my disposal, and for the latter -- ah, but you are such a cynic, and in all likelihood immune.”  

Her eyes met his.  "Yes, we are friends,”   His eyebrow had risen with the questioning tone, and he looked perfectly charming, “good friends, I think.”

 

Lady Yarmoth’s suite was boldly opulent, it was a strong style, plainly expensive – but from Nicci’s perspective it lacked some finesse.  Not that that mattered at all. “Lord Ranelagh might be best served with a clothes and hair brush.” Nicci smiled at her future husbands shock. 

Bathing tub next to tub was an appealing thought - but this was definitely not the time for that.

“But would you help me please?” décor preferences aside, the burning desire was to rid herself of these blood and muds soaked clothes.  The cloak was shuck off, while she looked to where the tub was readied, and turning her back begged for help loosing the laces. 

Nicci was not bothered at the thought of being seen in chemise, or less than that, this was out of the usual circumstances. Modesty might return to her some time later.   

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"You would be a very ineffectual conspirator, I think," Ranelagh teased. "You screamed far too much to be secretive or a practiced assassin." 

 

Nicci was correct in thinking him somewhat scandalized by the question. It simply did not seem a situation for conversation whilst bathing next to each other...even if one could no see anything.

 

"Yes, warm clothes and a basin of hot water to wash my face and hands. And my hair apparently requires a brushing," he added with good nature. 

 

Ranelagh was no stranger to seeing a lady disrobe. His desires ran about equal between the sexes, but he surely did not wish to linger his thoughts on the King's mistress naked. That was not healthy! However, he was grown man enough to not be disconcerted by the request in the very least. 

 

His fingers were cold, so he avoided her skin at all costs as he slowly worked the laces loose enough for her to divest herself of the wrecked garment. 

 

"Do not worry, I shall turn away for the actual business of things."

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Being away from the murder scene did her good, as did Ranelagh’s company, whispers of her old self were returning. “I could conspire if I wanted to,” she made a bunched lips protest, “meanwhile it was handy that you happened to be sleeping in the grass so close. If I’d known, I’d have just whistled.”

“You have twigs.” She added re his need for brushing. 

But she could not feel better till she was out of this muck. 

Much to her dismay it was as Richard said; her dress was ruined. She pulled at the fabric as it loosened, finding it hard to be patient as he was careful of her person. “Hurry, please.” With prospect of being freed from it, seconds seemed long and protracted things. “I’ve not had murdered mans-blood on me before, and I really do not like it.” 

"That is very sweet of you to say.” Of his gentlemanly gesture, meanwhile she’d torn apart some buttons, and reached up under her skirts to undo the bum roll.  Clothing was piling to her feet, though the over dress itself was taking it’s time to loosen. “You are truly a darling, now wonder all your cousins love you.”

But before he could reply she breathed a relieved, “There! I think I’ve got it from here.” Her dress was finally loose enough that it was falling down off her, and she moved forwards and out of it – chemise still covering her though hand across bosom area (upon account of his maintained modesty).  

And the tub, for the washing away of another’s sins, was just there.

Nicci could not help the flood of emptions that rushed up with silent tears as she stepped into the water, kneeling down into it.  Seeing the water pinking.  Splashing it up over her arms face and legs. Finding the soap, and rubbing.

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"Twigs? I'Faith, I must have been quite drunk last night," Ranelagh confessed.

 

"Yes, well, I have not either, mademoiselle. I have not either..." It was not that he had never drawn blood, or dueled, but he had never had another's blood on him, nor killed anyone.

 

He increased his speed, though it was difficult with half-frozen fingers. He appreciated men's dress that way.

 

He chuckled, "You have forgotten, but have met my lady mother, I was raised by a she-wolf. I very well know how to behave with a woman."

 

He was a man of his word whilst she settled herself in the water. "Would you like some mulled wine? It might be fortifying for the nerves. I confess to needing a measure of something in hot coffee myself..." He was tired, achey, and yet disturbed and not himself. 

 

Thankfully for Nicci, not too much blood had clung to her skin, so the pink tinge was overcome quickly by suds of soap of the red of the rose petals and purple of lavender that had been put in the water. 

 

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Neither were their usual selves in this unlikely situation, there was an otherworldly air around them.  When these minutes became memories, there would be the mist of a dream over them, had it really even happened at all?  That was what shock did to a person. 

As he hurried his frozen knuckles brushed her back. "Sacre! You are cold as corps." Nicci breathed, realising now why the servant had offered Ranelagh also a bath. It was not just Charlotte's libertine mode of entertaining guests - but he looked in as much of a state as she herself.

Her Richard was not as robust as some other men.

"Warm a blanket to wrap our Lord Ranelagh, and yes, we need cognac in coffee." she managed to request as the suds frothed and concealed the blood in the water - though she did not stop washing still. The uncleanness felt deeper than that. 

“Should we be letting someone know where we are?” she thought to ask, “Kingston probably.”

Because Francis was a middle man over many things.  

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"Yes, that sounds quite good. Is that a French custom?" Ranelagh asked, not realizing that it was Buckingham's take on an Italian drink.

 

"Let someone know?" he asked, absently, frowning. Then it sunk in. He was working with a corpse, a hangover, and very little sleep, so he was not his usual self. "Oh, but everyone of import will know by now, my dear!" Ranelagh said, chuckling at her lack of realization how well put together the King's household could be concerning the welfare of mistresses. "Even His Majesty."

 

He warmed his hands in the water basin as he explained, "The page I sent to order the bath would have sent word. I'Faith there is likely someone gone to fetch even Buckingham. And Kingston had an appointment with some others and His Majesty this mo---....well, I believe the same you were to attend." He finished the last bit sheepishly, realizing the reason why she was in the garden in the first place. 

 

"I am sure we shall find out what is planned before overlong," he said before he washed off his face. A servant held him out a warmed linen to dry himself. 

 

Another servant arrived with the warmed drinks.

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"It is Buckingham’s take on it, so yes as English as late nights and saucy wit." Nicci smiled to think of the Duke, Buckingham had a fine effect on her. Though of course her sights were still very much set upon the darling Richard. 

The darling Richard, who, as her senses begun to return, was here personally in the room with her and they practically alone. 

The darling Richard who distracted himself with the basin, his back to her as she... 

Slipping the sodden chemise over her shoulders Nicci stood up out of the water ready for the warmed towel to embrace.  (One had to admit that Charlottes servants were very well versed in care!) Stepping from the tub her foot was met with a towelling slipper even, possibly to protect the fine flooring, though more likely a ladies tootsies from the marbles chill.  Nicci acknowledged the servant with a smiled nod, and pulled the towel a bit tighter about herself.  

 

"La I forgot how efficient the grapevines are, there are times when they are disappointingly slow." the later comment was not necessary for this one though, Richard was clever enough to have known when the Kings eye was on her. Had that affected his manner towards her? Nicci believed so. 

 

"Yes I was to bring a ribbon." So others had been invited too.  "Well at least the English King - " (Nicci used her phrase in a fond tone) "shall know I tried to attend. I had taken scissors too, neither was adequate for the events. But then even a man raised by a she wolf was not prepared for what we faced today. You were terribly well composed, I thought." 

Nicci was feeling those warm and satisfying urges to sweet talk her future beau, even if it was poor timing.

"Has Lady Yarmouth a warm robe I might borrow?" she asked the helpful servant as she adjusted hold of towel to take the warmed drink.

"So we have some time yet, to talk.”  The thought followed on from his assurance that an instruction would arrive eventually.

“I am still so confused Richie." well that was a huge leap.  She'd heard his cousins call him that pet name, and now she'd done, it, and claimed it as her own.  Hopefully he'd handle the surprise of it.  "Whether to feel sorry for the fellow who is dead, or pleased. We yet do not know if he deserved his fate or not.  Imagine, he might have been a villain. For at the least he was hated by some one. And why kill a dutchman at the English court. Or German, if that is what he was."

No doubt Lady Worchester would have much to say of this latest development!  I must send her a note as soon as I may.

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The Countess whose apartment they were in was an opulent sort of lady. Being the daughter of the King surely had its benefits in the expedience and diligence of the servants. 

 

"Was I? On no sleep, no less." He smiled. "I confess, I have seen my share of duel or skirmish, even a streetfight outside the theater a time or two, and thieves on the road, but I take no joy in dead persons."

 

As to the King, he said, "I am sure he shall be thinking more of you than on the others, but His Majesty has duties as well. Kingship can be a burden at times. Everything that he does is reported on by scores of persons, sails across seas, and ends up in faraway lands." He paused and said, "What we get to see, others do not get to see, but a king is still a king, no matter what name he might go by or what passions he is driven by." 

 

With a murder committed not far from where His Majesty was supposed to be less than an hour from that time? A King could not seem to be frightened by machinations of potential foreign assassins, but measures still needed to be taken.

 

In the meantime, a robe was provided for Nicci. 

 

"Ye-." And then out spilled those pesky feminine emotions.

 

Though, in her musings, was some truth; for if the fellow was a villain, there was little to feel sorry for... "I suppose we do not know for sure, mademoiselle. You are quite astute and sound-minded in such circumstances, and I say that with full appreciation of feminine bravado and intellect!" For his lady mother was something of a pioneer in all such things. And he knew more than one lady who could best a skilled gentleman with a sword. 

 

"All we know for certain is that there was something of a struggle and that fellow was the one who met his end. Perhaps we should be so optimistic as to think it was the victim who prevailed. Or it could even be an assignation interrupted, of the clandestine sort, not the libertine sort." His mind was clearly moving more soundly now too, perhaps inspired by her. 

 

Her use of not just his Christian name, but his childhood pet name seemed to have gone completely unnoticed. Perhaps he did not mind, perhaps he hadn't noticed in the craziness of the moment, or perhaps the mistress of the King could get away with quite a bit. 

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"You were.” She confirmed, “I was much relieved of it, as I still am of your company now.”

She’d not thought too much of Ranelagh’s age, but as he spoke now she imagined he was perhaps a decade younger than CR.  Old enough to appreciate the Royal situation from a point of perspective. “Then I shall hope that Lady Cambrays remaining at the scene blurs the reports aboard, better that the body be found by an English woman, for as much as we cannot know about the story behind the murder, that it is politically driven is a near certainty. I would hate my Frenchness to add any fuel to those fires.”

She’d half expected Ranelagh to give her a ‘tut tut’ look, but he did not. There were bigger matters gaining attention, the Context softened the familiarity she’d taken.  Still, she felt a little pleasure at her application.  It might yet be years before he would call her Nicci, a point he affirmed addressing her ‘mademoiselle’ once more - likely enough he did so without deliberation, simply behaving properly, which was as he should. She admired him all the more for that. 

“I did not feel very brave when I chose to scream, but I did not know what else to do. Were I a man, and armed, I might have tried to give chase instead.”

She was happy to slide one arm, then the other though the robe

“It is the victims nationality that has me most perplexed.” She continued on from his thoughts on the topic. “but I suppose, of certainties known, the style of garments is not proof either.  Of certainty, we can only say that he is not a usual figure at Whitehall.  So he was perhaps a guest, or just visiting, and at that hour. Well. There is not many reasons to be at the Fountain near dawn.  And his reason cannot have been socialising, for socialites like yourself would know of that.”

She sighed as she tied the robes fastening tight, and in the pause she remembered how the Duke had seemed more ‘On Alert’ than was usual last time she’d seen the King.  “… and what we see, that others don’t get to see, might be another thing again. I wonder if there has been foreshadowing of this event that we were not even aware of…” she paused, and then seriously said, “Lord Ranelagh, your Mother and Lady Worchester are dear friends, do they share their concerns?”

To which me might act surprised, like he did not know what she was talking about, which if he did she would accept. A mans loyalty should not by lady be pushed.   

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"I truly do not know him," Ranelagh said, with a notion that he would tell her if he did. "We left before most saw you there. Etherege shan't say anything. Lord Langdon would be idiot to repeat it or allow the other little trooper to do so. If your friend is trustworthy, I think it unlikely any shall know that it was you." 

 

Unless the killer...or perhaps victim...had known her and seen her, but that seemed quite unlikely even if they would protect against that possibility. He did not wish to frighten her.

 

"I do not know if it was happenstance that this happened on the morning His Majesty was to be out there, or if that is part of it all. I believe the safest assumption is that it was not happenstance."

 

Ranelagh frowned some. "What foreshadowing do you speak of?" He surely had not seen a murder in the garden on the season's docket!

 

Her next question perplexed him even further, but he chuckled mirthfully, "I assure you that my lady mother does not see fit to include any man in her machinations on the basis of his manhood or societal position! Even where I the head of the family, which I assure you I am not, she would not feel obliged of my consent...and nor would I force her to be either." Of which, Nicci likely could have guessed. "But, from what I know of ladies, and many gentlemen, most do share their concerns with their most intimate friends."

 

In more seriousness, he said, "Is there a reason why you ask?"

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"She is a very new friend, she'd not be free with information is my guess. But she is definitely keen to impress, so if her own position might be elevated by her knowledge I expect the full account would be told."  Nicolette's hunch was that it depended entirely on who might ask AnneE to what she would say. 

 

"Come, lets sit." It was not a conversation for being stood at a basin, and as Nicci begun to feel revived she was more conscious of the needs of the other - for while his mental agility was not affected she sensed physically he was worse for wear.  Discreetly she indicated a blanket to a servant, with hopes that they would see the gentleman wrapped. 

 

She took a seat alongside him, it was a strange sort of happiness to share this concern with him, it was almost romantic - even if it was not. 

 

"Yes that is the cautious route." she nodded in agreement (she'd have never imagined her vivacious Earl to advise that.)

 

"By foreshadowing I mean the increase of diligent keepers around The King, not Lifeguards of course, we all know he can't abide too many, but more kin than is usual are reluctant to leave him even a minute."

 

A girl noticed that sort of thing when going about intimacy.  There was definitely more cautious overseers close by than there had been last season.  Of requirements in a royal mistress, being able to ignore that sort of thing was a challenge in anyone’s book!

 

Taking a sip of her hot drink, she sighed gratefully and relaxed shoulders. His reply revealed he was as much in the dark as she, possibly even more.  Was it a betrayal of the Worchester’s for her to say more? But then he was practically family, and might even would be one day. 

 

"I wonder why that is Richie?" softly said.  Perhaps his Lady Mother was concerned her social son might slip and say something he ought not? Or perhaps she'd not realised he was grown enough now to handle important truths. "I'd wondered if it was Your Lady Mama's idea for your Irish cousins to attend court this season, or was it a suggestion from even Higher up. In any case, the reason I ask, my dear, is that there seems to be a great deal excluded from a truth known by an inner circle. We can only guess at what that truth is, while meanwhile it is like we are all tested to our loyalty."

 

She'd decided to talk to him as she would wish to talk with him when they were married. It would be quite different for him, used to a woman’s lead rather than equality, but Nicci one day desired a relationship like Lisa And Louis, or Lord and Lady Worchester. She did not want to replace the role that his mother currently held – even if it was a more powerful position.   

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"Then I shall be sure that she hears in passing that it would not please the King to be loose with information about his royal person or those close to him," Ranelagh said. He, and the household of the King in general, did not leave much to chance. As evidenced by his hiding her away, both in safety, and away from where the Queen might hear a thing of it.

 

He allowed himself to be pampered by the servants and then sat down, exhaling heavily as he listened.

 

"Yes, that is certainly on purpose. For Her Majesty too." Though such things were more subtle around the Queen so as to not raise the pregnant royal's suspicions; Kingston was uniquely qualified to look innocuous and not just qualified in gaining rare treats for a pregnant woman! "York is always surrounded by military gentlemen." As was Rupert but such a thing was exceedingly obvious to a lady like Nicci. 

 

"And, no, it was not the Lady Ranelagh," he replied, with another little chuckle. "His Majesty asked for Charlotte to attend so that he  might be certain of her and Charlie's safety. As to a truth, well, there are things being kept close as there oft is in such situations, but it is not something you need worry about; you are not suspected of anything." 

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"She is quite new to court and ambitious, while still learning how these things work. Would you believe she seeks positions both in the Kings and Queens household." Nicci could no resist that little bit of gossip, eyes flaring to punctuate. "I tried to explain to her that one, to most purposes, excludes the other. But yes, so you see she is in need of guidance, a word to her ear might be prudent."

His heavy exhalation was like a world of weight rested on his shoulders, for all his light talk Nicci was learning there was much more to this man. 

"While some see a company of uniforms a show of strength, our English King sees it as the opposite." Buckingham was more like CR in that regard, and for no reason at all the memory of the toy solders popped into her mind. "Perhaps they had enough of soldiers when they were boys." she took another sip of her drink and looked at Ranelagh once more. 

At every possible angle he was charming. 

"Oh, I see.  Well that makes sense, although I'd have thought Ireland to be rather safe." Nicci paused here, her gaze sliding thoughtful to the tiny bit left in her cup, and a frown grew. "This makes me wonder if the unknown threat we live under may not be just about the Country and War so much, but targets the Stuart family." 

Nicci was shocked at that thought, if the King and possible hairs (even bastard ones) lives were at risk, might be killed, what would that mean for her?  (It was selfish of her to think of herself, but also very natural to do)  Not for the first time today Nicci saw how quickly everything might be lost. 

"Oh dear, it is very upsetting. I think I should do as you do, and just think of those things that are confirmed." And as it was, Ranelagh was reassuring, and at the very least she knew that she was not a suspect. 

"I think I need another caffe corretto, hold the coffee."

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Ranelagh raised an eyebrow at her description and then he chuckled, "There are no official positions of any stature within the King's household for ladies..." Then he clarified, "I mean, there are maids and the like who are women, of course, but not even a mistress has an actual household position. Perhaps they do things strangely in the wilds of her native country!"

 

Nicolette, on the other hand, was more refined. Perhaps it was the impact of the French, who were renown for their manners, or perhaps it was simply being raised a lady in a proper state! 

 

"The Colonies, all of them, are rather frightening. And they think Ireland is wild, or the Highlands for that matter!" he scoffed in amusement, thankful for the respite from seriousness. Like many around the King, he could find humorous halos in most moments.

 

"I guess I shall do my best on that score! At the least, I know I can make it clear not to speak of your presence this morning to others." He did not wish to attract the lady to himself! Not that he did not like ladies at all, for he did, but his other activities made it difficult to put trust in court's minions being in his business. Though he was the libertine sort, he was quite aware that he also held considerable power too. Humor and idiocy was a good guise. 

 

"I do not know if Charlotte has ever been to Ireland other than as a child!" he replied, with a laugh. "Her title is English, and her husband is so. Yarmouth is a very large port, in Norfolk." 

 

Much as Ranelagh himself had not spent very much of his time, or childhood, in Ireland.

 

"Oh, it is surely such," he agreed. "Danby has left behind quite a mess." He could say that without revealing anything of consequence. 

 

Ranelagh gave a nod to the thoughts of a drink, without coffee. "Indeed." He was a libertine after all. Who cared about drinking before most people at court were awake? He signaled the servant.

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"I would not know, but she is so new to court so is surely learning. It was one of those sorts of things I think she would believe if spoken by a man."

And somehow the topic of Ireland grew, though Richard could not realise how curious Nicci was of it. "Well it is not so far away is it." By the sounds it might be quite civilised even. "Is the capital like a little London perhaps, with churches, markets and a great deal of bustle. Does it have it's own parliament, for I do know Irish peers do not sit in London’s House of Lords, but instead the House of Commons." 

It was far too late for him to think of Not attracting Nicci.

"I would like to meet your Cousin Charlotte, do you think she would like me?" as their cups were refilled she nodded a smile to the servant, her eyes swinging back to Richard as she thought again of her life plans, "and You must have met her husband, yes? Is he also a nice man, I do not see any gentleman’s things here in this room."  she goaded to hear more, and more importantly to try read his personal feelings about that all. 

 

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"Nothing is quite so big as London," Ranelagh said. He was not a large talker about Ireland, for though he helped take charge of it, he did not view himself as native to there in any way. 

 

The Irish did not see him as a native either, so they were in agreement!

 

"Oh, I am quite certain after hearing of your visit here, she will wish to meet you!" the gentleman said with a burst of a chuckle. "She is surely the King's daughter, so I do think she will like you. She is well-aware of her father's roguery." 

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The pair likely heard the signs of the arrival of someone else to the apartments, though not yet the room. Nicci would probably recognize even the quiet wafting of Francis' tenor voice through the rooms and door.

 

Francis had been quite alarmed to hear the truth of the fountain incident when the King had sent him to see to Nicci in his stead; after all, the King was in the unfortunate position of being unable to do so himself for a myriad of reasons. Francis was the surrogate for the instance. 

 

Now he rather understood all the extra guard and Lifeguard presences about, as well as Ashburnham's behavior in the gardens before they had been taken to  the King. 

 

He did not know Lady Yarmouth personally, aside from when he was attending the King and she was there, so it felt a bit odd to show up at her rooms to see someone else! Even when one had the license of the King! 
 

Francis entered the room to the scene. Ranelagh looked a wreck. He was usually quite the fashionable fellow. "I am here to relieve you, my lord," he said, with a small smile. "His Majesty wishes any details you might give."

 

Then he said to Nicci, "And HIs Majesty is most concerned about you. He is most anxious to hear how you are." Which was why the earl was being sent off. 

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Nicolette tipped her head, her eyes thoughtful as she viewed the man whose comments gave so very little - and also so much away. 

Lips forming a smile at Ranelagh’s jest then, she mused "Roguery is it? I should say it is charm renown - I for my part have a dreadful weakness for a gentle heart with a playfully sharpwitted mind."   Nicci thought it quite impossible for Richard not to know that she fancied him, but best that things were left right there. 

"I can hear Kingston." even before he appeared she heard his arrival, and with that she stood and straightened Charlottes robe. (Was that a guilty gesture?)   That was how he found them, Nicci standing and Ranelagh sitting. 

"What is the word out there Lord Kingston, have they caught the villain yet?" Nicci quickly asked Francis, while nodding her understanding that Ranelagh needed now to report to the King. 

On that score she said, "Please tell His Majesty that I am grateful for his concern, while delighted to have met his dear Lady Yarmouth via her warm bath and comfortable robe, I very look forward to one day seeing her face too!" she smiled, denying the underlaying upset of events, and also thanking the Earl for his part.    

Once Ranelagh was left she might reveal the fuller measure to Francis, but she did not want the King to know how shaken about it all she actually was. 

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Ranelagh did not have a reaction to her standing up, though he was not certain why she did so. They were not in any compromising position given the situation. 

 

"Oh yes, I am quite sure His Majesty will be most anxious for details," he replied to Francis, rising finally. 

 

"I shall tell him exactly that," Ranelagh said to Nicci, with a bit of a chuckle of appreciation.

 

With a bow encumbered by his accoutrements, Ranelagh took his leave to report to the king. 

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Francis shook his head, "No, I am afraid not. I do not even think they have figured out who the chap is who was killed, but I trust they shall before long. There has not been much time, yet." He paused as if he were done, and then he added, "Most are preparing for the service at chapel." He was not sure what that meant about investigating, but it seemed an important tidbit.

 

Thus,  he also filled the earl in on the details since he had brought Nicci to safety and seclusion. They were not many. At least, the details were not many that Francis was privy to. 

 

Ranelagh's diligence had him leaving straight away, as was expected. One did not make kings wait on such information.

 

Once he was gone, Francis moved closer to Nicci. "How are you? I see they have taken some care to warm you up. Are you well? Truly?" 

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There was a great deal that went on in Nicci's mind, and being extra cautious could not be foolish. 

Wishing Ranelagh well as he left, Nicci then moved and hugged Francis once alone.  She had needed a hug all morning.   "I am fine Francis." her voice was a tad peaky, "it was just an awful shock really, I think I must have got there barely seconds after the murder. Well I think I might have even heard it, though I didn't realise that was it at the time. There was nothing at all I could do for him, it is an awful feeling to be helpless like that. I could not help myself from thinking that he was loved by someone, and now that is lost."

Expressing those feelings helped. "But I am sure you know quite what it is like, men need confront death quite often, and you've been to sea and at war.  However do you deal with it Francis."  

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Francis closed his arms around her readily, pulling her close in a familiar way, his usual scent of sage and citrus lingering. 

 

"I cannot imagine fine an appropriate description...You are incredibly lucky," he agreed, in a soft voice. "I confess, I do not know many details but that you came upon the person just after they were killed. If you had been but a bit earlier..." He took a breath, "His Majesty is quite disturbed...and not of the threat to himself, but he is most concerned for you...and pleased Lord Ranelagh took you away so quickly."

 

Blinking once, Francis wondered about her ability to sympathize with a dead man when there was a killer running about. Her empathy knew no bounds. 

 

He was reminded that she was a lady and ladies had different ways of thinking about such things. They had different sensibilities than men. 

 

"There is nothing you could have done," he replied. He had not known if the man was dead dead when she arrived, but from what he had been told, the man was beyond help. "Healing only goes so far. No tincture from any apothecary would have saved a man from such a wound."

 

Francis licked his lips. Few asked him questions about the death that he had seen or the death that he had caused, for many had met their end from a weapon of his either at war or at sea. Or a duel. "Yes, many times." The way he did not elaborate likely detailed that a considerable portion had been quite gruesome. It was not something most associated with his youthful, soft appearances. "The first time is most difficult, but boys such as myself grew up knowing they would see death in battle one day, and we are not kept from such conversation or images of such things as girls are, so I do imagine it is very different for a woman. I was raised on war stories and lived a third of my life in exile, not in a gentle way at all."

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Nicci tensed, shock hitting her.

"You are right." she gasped, only now realising that she'd have been in the line of fire also.  Her pulse quickened, and she felt suddenly hot but cold also.  "I'd not even thought of that." 

Which made her feel stupid, and embarrassed of that fact.  "All I could think of was that poor man..." 

Which was not really an excuse for not noticing personal danger she'd nearly been in.  

"... the last dead person I saw was my, my Grandfather." she whispered.  Francis understood her rather well, and realised that her interest in herbals and healing played a part in her response today.  By nature she wanted to help in some way.  "I could not help Grand pere either, though I know it's not at all the same." still her feelings were a bit jumbled, and she felt far too much concern for the dead man than was explainable.

Francis replied to her question of him, she needed to hear his story, to help take her out of her own thoughts. "Is it your honour of service to the King that makes those thoughts bearable?  You hear men speak of sacrifice on the battle field like there is pride to hold from it.  Yet, the reality of things is death holds no romance, it is cold and it is brutal. It is a tragic thing for little boys to be raised into..." she squeezed Francis, then loosed him.  "But then look at you my dear friend, raised so, but perhaps the gentlest of men and with such a large heart also.”

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He had seen his own grandfather dead, but that had not been the last dead man that he had seen. 

 

"I am certain whomever that is dead is embroiled in something that has brought the event about...in this case," he replied. His Majesty had said that he could tell her what was going on, or what he knew of it, after her part in the morning and the danger to her. If her life was at stake, it had not seemed fair to keep her ignorant of the why of it entirely. He was trusted with how much to impart. The King did not wish to distress her either.

 

"One day there shall be someone who you can help," he said, by way of comfort. "It is not for us to choose the when and the how."  He was not known for his religiosity or for being in any way devout, but he had his own relationship with God, as most who went to sea generally did. 

 

His chin on top of her head, he nodded to her first sentence, but as she continued it would be impossible for her not to notice that his breath did not come easily after that. Though he did not tense, per se, his chest heaved  some with a heavy exhale. 

 

Many details of his own life, and the one that had cause his to be, had been pressing on his mind lately, and it lately seemed that many were saying things which pricked at his own trials. 

 

Things which now pricked about his childhood or about what had happened to his father. Her commentary could have been one lamenting the fate of Francis the Elder. His own life was the result of raising boys up for such things and of the cold reality of death. 

 

There was much honor, yes, but a lot of what had been left behind to suffer of the ones that had loved Francis Villiers, or had been created by him, was even colder indeed. 

 

"What you say is very true. I am the product of that in more ways than you can fathom. And your estimation of me would find many in agreement, I would hope are also true of me, but had you seen me in different circumstances for the first time or ever thereafter, you might not feel that it was so. My life has not been a coddled one. Not from the very beginning." Perhaps it was the understanding of everything harsh and having watched horrid things ladies suffered without much recourse or superior physical strength that gave Francis his enduring gentleness. If one had known his father, where such things had come from would have been obvious.

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"I did not recognise him," she almost whispered, "he was dressed like the Dutch.  I told Lady Cambray I thought it was a message sent to frighten someone, why else kill a dutchman in England? - but I suppose that makes no sense. I trust Our English King has his cleverest minds upon the riddle that it is, and that they can solve it swiftly." 

She thought of Lord and Lady Worchester, who no doubt would want to hear about the latest developments, if they were not already advised. 

 

Nicci gave Francis a further squeeze at his empathy, it felt nice to hear that assurance, and even just his confidence that she'd achieve something good some time. 

 

While her quiet comments of his childhood accidentally touched him more deeply than she realised.  From Francis tone she recognised raw sincerity.  Not understanding what was different, she carried on none the less. "Circumstance and behaviour were different then but I cannot imagine that your true nature changed. Only possibly repressed perhaps, so you could do what you had to to survive..." she was trying to visualise him about one of his ships, fighting tooth and nail (even then he would have looked quite beautiful she guessed. "...in a lifetime we all have many faces. I was not always as I choose to be now either, though I think all those faces we wear still exist within us."

A smile touched her tone as she lightened the moment in honesty and jest, "I can be quite a la chienne* when I feel like it." 



* Trans=bitch 

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Francis nodded and smiled and said, "I think my master the King knows far more about most things than he lets on." He then added, "Far more than he shares with the likes of Lord Kingston." 

 

In truth, it was somewhat relieving that His Majesty did not expect him to have much political acumen, and whatever arrangements existed between the King and the Duke concerning Francis included Buckingham's tutelage and oversight. That fact they had discussed right in front of his face at Brighton as if he truly were thirteen and they were discussing his court career. A different man might have found it utterly insulting, but Francis had simply found it bizarrely uncomfortable at the time. His thoughts on the matter had only been slightly included...as if he were thirteen or something...which had been an odd sensation. 

 

"The Duke knows far more than I do, which is why His Majesty wishes me to secret you away there whilst everyone is engrossed at chapel shortly. I can tell you some things there about what this all means, for there is strong reason why my master does not wish you to go home to Basildon's. The Duke has taken some pains to prove that your cousin was not involved in the Danby affair, but the King became somewhat suspicious again when Lady Basildon returned with a Dutch houseguest amidst rumors of Dutch plots...though it is likely nothing, it is better to have proof it is nothing rather than supposition." He forgot to explain that if the murdered or murderer were Dutch and the girl was involved in the plot, if Nicci was suspected of seeing something to do with the murder, one would not want anyone unknown and Dutch sharing the house with her. His Majesty knew too many female English spies, apparently, and their deadliness, to be comfortable with that. 

 

He listened to her feminine defense of his character. She looked at the world as ladies generally did...though a veil that was somewhat sunny and rose coloured. 

 

A light chuckle escaped him as she said that she could be a bitch. She knew his French was very good; in fact, it was much prettier than this English in many ways. His accent in English was not untouched by exile, travels, and spending very little time in England. His accent when speaking French would pass as very native, for his first decade of life in exile he heard far too many Frenchmen.

 

"Comme toute femme," he parried. "...mais mieux que d'autres." (Like any woman...but better than the others.)

 

"I wish I did make a habit of misrepresenting myself to my friends, Nicci..." he then said, quietly. "Very little of what I have done has been in the necessity of self-defense or because I was placed in circumstances I could not control. I did not have to go to sea or to war, any of the times. It was far from my only option in life either; I left university to go. I was not ignorant, at any point, of what I would find there or what I would have to do. It is not glamorous, or perhaps what you see as being me here, but the truth is that I am more killer than I am courtier." He licked his lips, "His Majesty did not choose me merely because I am your liaison; he has an intimate idea of my character and capabilities." 

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"But of course..." It all made sense as Francis revealed she was not to be taken home to Basildon’s - it was the same reason that the Worchesters had been left out in the dark. Margarethe. Lady Mary had a hunch that was it, and now Francis confirmed. "My cousin should keep a firmer hand with his Wife." there was repressed anger in her tone, Nicci had no love for woman Lisa had thought to bring home. 

There were times when Nicci wondered if she was just more ambitious than Louis, for she would have kicked Margarethe to the curb as soon as they learnt that she placed a question mark over the family.  Or was her cousin just too arrogant to belief his perch precarious? 

Loosing a sigh she commented, "Cousin Lisa is usually far more politically astute.   I wonder if she is pregnant, and has that thing the English call 'nappy brain?" Nicci was being a bitch to say that, but it made her smile. 

A smile that grew and needed to be pinched in - as Francis augmented her confession in seamless French.  "Flatterer!"  Upon an impulse she slid her hand down from her embrace and gave his bum a pinch. 

Light moment past, Francis had a very serious point to make.  While she did not doubt he was a warrior, he impressed that it was a life he'd chosen over a life more academic. More specifically, that he'd had either option.  The rough life had been his specific choice. 

Falling silent, the French woman did not have any points of reference to understand this (beyond the man stood before her himself).  "... did you, seek death Francis?" 

It was an easier thing to understand that the King entrusted her safety to him due to his qualifications, of which she was pleased, but a bit frightened of as well.  

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