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Defiance

Ridding the muddy aftermath | Ranelagh & Nicci Monday AM

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"Perhaps having been among the Dutch, she did not fully realize what the rumors were here before making her return plans. I am sure talk of rogue Dutch factions was either quiet there or maybe even non-existent," Francis speculated, rather kindly. Most courtiers would be more like Nicci in making an assumption about the mistake that was the Dutch girl. 

 

He did not speak aloud that it might be inconvenient for Basildon if his wife was with child when bringing home the Dutch girl, for that might mean that Basildon might be the recipient of his own illegitimate Dutch girl! He was not sure when last the Lord and Lady had cohabitated last to be able to produce a legitimate pregnancy...

 

It was a topic he avoided out of politeness and also out of his own questionable position.

 

Instead he laughed brightly as she pinched him. "Guilty," he said, holding his hands up in surrender!

 

As to the rest, well, it was far more somber. Perhaps he should have toned it down some more for her feminine sensibilities, but he did wish for her to know him, and to feel safe with him for more reasons than blind trust. 

 

Her question was a difficult one in some ways, but easy to answer in others. "No, of course not. Well, not then at the very least. I was only sixteen." He smiled down at her and took her hand toward where they might sit. It would be some time before he could secret her away. 

 

"Do you say that because you want to know why I would choose that sort of life when I might have had a simpler and happier one as a country gentleman?" he asked, a quirk to his lips. Even when he said it, it sounded ridiculously unlike him. Francis did not have the makings of a quiet, insignificant, country life. 

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Nicci did not linger upon her grudge with Lisa and Margarethe either, it had been wrong of her to say anything at all outside the home she'd been taken into. Echoing Francis charitable thoughts she added, "We were all perplexed of the Hill boys mystery at that time."

At that time she had thought it just another wild speculation to think the Dutch involved. But a Dutchman had been killed, not far from where the King had partied the night before, and where Richard and George lay passed out still.  "Francis, do you know who was in the merry group with His Majesty last evening?"  It was the sort of thing Francis was sure to know, when she'd asked Richard the same question he'd been vague.

Moving to the settee with him, Nicci kept a hold of his hand as they settled. It was comforting, even if she was discovering some merciless or ruthless side of him from long ago. "Most boys of sixteen are busy chasing skirts not the high seas." she commented as he mentioned his age as an excuse.  She looked at this beautiful man, met his eyes and tipped her head, "Perhaps it was that you knew your life would be one out of the ordinary, neither prospect of a country estate nor dusty library thrilled you." she smiled and gave his hand a squeeze, "but that is only my guess, and I have come to learn that you are not so predictable as that my friend."  

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When Nicci asked him who the King had been with the night before, Francis blinked, a bit surprised that she would think he would know such things! It was something of a compliment, really.

 

"No, though I can say I was not amongst them, nor do I believe was His Grace," he replied, with a congenial shake of the head in the negative. "His Majesty has his entertainments with friends frequently." She was oft one of them, so it should not be particularly surprising. "I suppose Lord Ranelagh and Sir George were two of them, for there is little other reason to be here and awake so early." Sir George did not attend the King's person, particularly; he had an extraordinary position to the household (something common to His Majesty's most favourite writers and dramatists). Lord Ranelagh, like Francis, did as one of the King's Gentlemen of the Bedchamber, but he would not have been in the gardens in the morning then. Thus, it was not difficult for Francis to figure out that neither of the two had been attending so must have been part of the circle of friends Nicci spoke about. 

 

"You give me much credit," he added, with a chuckle. "I do not know so very much of my master the King's doings. The Duke is the one you can suspect to know such things. His Majesty might not see me as a boy, but he surely sees me as quite young and inexperienced in some aspects of court life. It is not surprising he feels such. As barely more than babes and small children, the Duke and his siblings were taken into the royal family proper, and the late King let very few near his murdered friend's children, even the Duke's very large family, for fear that they would try to grow influence with a boy-duke or the prince. My grandfather, though, was also in the King's household as a Groom and was very trusted, married to the boy-Buckingham's first cousin, and had children of around the same age, my mother and her brother. They were allowed to play together, learn dancing together, and such. So, you see, His Majesty will always see me as the son of a childhood playfellow of whom he was fond." And that was mostly the truth; though it was not truly his mother's influence on that perception, but rather his father, but both conveyed the same meaning. It might also explain why his mother had been given the title; or at least an explanation other than the King had slept with her.

 

He chuckled at her estimation of skirts. 

 

"Oh, well, I started chasing skirts quite a bit earlier. By then I had my fill of jumping out windows to sneak to brothels," he tried to rein in his amusement but tittered a bit more before continuing. "I started when I was twelve, at Eton, and also did so at Trinity at Cambridge to escape curfew and the house master to indulge myself." 

 

He finally did calm his amusement down to a quirky smile, "And it is true neither prospect thrilled me. Much of my childhood in exile we had opportunity of seeing ships, and once His Majesty was restored to his throne, we had been taken out on the ships of a since-dead relation who was an admiral. The sea was quite a romantic notion to boys who had been able to do nothing in childhood. Once the war with the Dutch broke out, we three postulated to run away from Trinity ourselves, like the stories we had heard of the Duke and his brother doing so at thirteen and fourteen." He chuckled. "They ran off to the Duke of Cumberland knowing a prince who had fought battles at fourteen could hardly turn them away, and they knew the King would never have allowed it. So, we ran off from university and asked my grandfather's permission to go to war like the great Duke of Buckingham had when he was even younger than we were at the time."

 

He tilted his head to the side as he shrugged some at her, "That is one of the reasons at least."

 

Francis now postulated that if they had gone to Prince Rupert too, as George had suggested (in order to better copy the example), poor Cumberland would have experienced a serious case of deja-vu to have yet another George and another Francis appear intent on making battle, though it would have been at sea rather than at siege. His eyebrow then furrowed just a bit as his eyes looked upward in thought; if they had gone to Rupert, he realized just that moment, his life would have progressed quite differently. At his age of sixteen then, from what he now understood, he would have looked like the copy of his father, and he highly doubted with the reference of Buckingham and his father doing the same thing, it would have escaped Cumberland's notice that one Francis surely produced the other Francis! 

 

That had been why he had been kept away from court, after all, because there would have been no secret to keep if anyone who had known his father had seen him. 

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Francis knew less of the Kings prior nights plans than she had imagined.

"Yes, they had passed out there." Ranelagh and George were confirmed as having attended. "I would guess Jack to have been there too," CR took young Ashburnham just everywhere! "but the company must have been larger, if only to sustain diversity of conversation."   Giving a shrug she murmured, "it had just occurred to me that if two were left behind, then perhaps there was another stray also. And perhaps this ‘other’ killed the Dutchman at the fountain."

Nodding at Francis expansion of his heritage, and how that affected the Kings view of himself, Nicci commented, " 'The son of a friend' is a fine relationship to hold Francis.  Something I have noted of His Majesty is that he is like a gardener cultivating the next generation of gentlemen, and that quite anyone under his care thrives." 

"La!" she laughed to discover that Francis and George had thought to follow a president, "Have you told Our Duke how he inspired?!" Nicci guessed the elder George would find that very amusing indeed. "but not the part about Brothels.  Besides - at twelve?- really Francis!  Your winkle could hardly have been bigger than my little finger at that age!" She did not believe him one moment that he was whoring at 12yrs old! 

 "What was the other reason though?' they had time to talk, and Nicci had the interest to know. Pulling up her knees she covered her toes to keep them warm as she curled up here on the couch, ready for the next part of the 'young Francis ambitions’ story. “Was is a woman Francis, there is always a woman.”

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Francis chuckled. Many an evening with His Majesty involved people passed out in all sorts of positions! It was hardly surprising to hear such about Ranelagh and Sir George. 

 

"The King is very fond on Ashburnham." Francis did not want to comment on the possibility that His Majesty was the youth's father, but Francis thought it true. Jack was some form of a cousin, but the Duke had a plethora of cousins, and Francis was convinced the King had slept with a plethora of the female ones. Given his own secrets, he thought it rather uncouth to comment on a similar one of someone else's. 

 

"Hmm." He tried to think of any of the King's common companions who might steal off and stab someone to death and drown them in a fountain. Or whichever order. "I suppose one never knows, though nobody jumps to particular mind." He could soundly see the Duke doing such a thing for the King, but he was fairly sure Buckingham had not been with the King or murdering anyone, for at such early hours the elder blond was usually just going to sleep and had been asleep when Francis had left that morning. He had later learned Herbert had woken him shortly thereafter. 

 

"Oh, do not mistake me," he replied, with a smile. "I am not ungrateful in the least, for it is a very great honor for someone like me. It is simply that I am something of a man-youth to the King, I think. Perhaps I am wrong. You are quite right though, any attention from His Majesty is surely court cultivation. I a simply happy to be of some use."
 

He skipped over her query of whether or not he had told Buckingham his childhood tale. He had attempted, in his own way, to acquaint his uncle with years he had missed, but the man's odd response had hurt Francis quite a bit. Perhaps it had been an odd mood, but Francis found he would rather not think about it. Or talk about it. Maybe ever again. Few Villiers were known for finding once stung agreeable, let alone twice stung. 

 

"I beg your pardon!" he said, of the size of his manhood at a more tender age, before he chuckled. "I'll have you know it was big enough to get down with the business of things. I had two elder brothers, do not forget; I could not be left behind the curve!"

 

As to his other reasons for going to war, he said, "No women feature aside from my mother hitting me with a plate when I told her I wished to go. Serving the King at war and in all sorts of circumstances was simply something I was raised with. That was what one did." He certainly had not gone off to impress a woman. Such a notion would have been idiotic to him. It had not been impressive, at that time, for him personally, to think about what happened when a man left a woman behind to go to war. Even then, at that age, he had known that is what had killed his real father. He had just had no clue of the identity of his father at the time. There was no romanticism in that notion for him and never had been. "And my career was not meant to be at court. My grandfather raised me exceedingly well, but he had is own eldest son to advance at court, at least first."

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“Likely enough Ranelagh’s charming cousins were there as well…” Nicci mused, “do you think they are the ones that Williamson got in trouble about. Ranelagh’s cousins seem rather more Irish than He, and might likely be secret Catholics sworn in. When I wonder at His Majesty drawing persons in closer, that would make some sense.”  For those three were not so usually knocking about English Court. “I have seen them at tennis, and any one of those three would have the vigor and passion for that act, and are no doubt as royalist as they come.”

Now more then ever Nicci wondered what the Royal Family’s meeting at Windsor had been about – she could only imagine it was laying in plans in case of an attack on the Kings life. Which was precisely what had happened today, or at least might have if that Dutchman had been readying to do the worst.

“But Our English King would never leave Ashburnham passed out in the gardens!”

“Francis, tell me Charles is somewhere very safe right now?” tone as much as the use of the Kings Christian name at that moment betrayed a closeness and concern.   

Such dramatic talk was tempered with Niccis gentler inquiries.  If things did not work out with Ranelagh, her sights might very easily be upon Francis – for Francis certainly held a position with preferment, even if his title was only very new and honorary at that.  (A girl with concealed ambition thought a lot about things like that.)    

“Well I have heard the fondness in his tone when he’s called you Cub.  Perhaps it is upon account of your being mentored by Our Duke that he adopts that mood for you. But as I claimed in the beginning, it is your very nature that you are easy to love.” It was curious in that case, that Francis was not one to give his heart in return. She’d never heard him speak about a woman that way. He kept his heart in reserve, for reasons she did not understand.

Nicci meanwhile was an opposite extreme, imaging herself to love a number of men, meanwhile not sure is she truly loved any of them. Wasn’t love meant to be a singular and exclusive thing?

Nicci chuckled at his adolescent genitals defence, “Well I could hardly know such a thing! The only young diddle I have seen was on a baby, and I imagined it stayed much that way until a boy’s voice turned into a mans.  But I am pleased, I suppose, that you were able to properly fill the what I imagine to be cavernous- cravas that is a whores!”   

She didn’t actually like to think of that at all, but was trying to appease him, and laughing as she did so. Laughter was needed on such an awful morning as this.

“She hit you with a plate, what a odd thing.” Nicci imagined one of china, “It broke I expect, I suppose like she feared you might be broken at war?”

“So it was your Grandfather who installed such virtues in you.  But what of the man your Mother married, I must admit Francis, I have not heard you speaking much at all of him.”  Whereas Francis certainly spoke, and glowingly, of His Mother. Well apart from when she hit him with the plate, although even then, he seemed almost fond of that memory!  

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"The former Northern Secretary?" Francis asked. "In truth I did not know him very well, although I believe when I lived in Piccadilly his house was next to mine." Francis had once chased some sort of assassin the man was involved with, but they had not had dealings since. It had not been long after that Williamson had been sent to the Tower.

 

"Perhaps," he speculated, pursing his lips in thought. He was not the intriguer, so he was not very sure how possible her conjecture could be. "Although I know His Majesty also believes the relations of his offspring to be very loyal to him, for their interest being best served with himself as King. The Duke of York would not see to them as well as the child's own father, so in such circumstances such persons are desired at court." 

 

"And, yes, His Majesty is quite safe at chapel, and will return to his apartments afterward. All precautions are being taken." Which was clearly why precautions were also being taken for her.

 

Francis' cheeks blushed some at her 'Cub' comment. He had a feeling it was what Buckingham and the King referred to him by all the time when he was not there (and sometimes when he was...). "I think my hair helped that particular moniker, and Buckingham could not conceit to have another lion around." He chuckled. 

 

"It was my christening plate, which is rather large and heavy and silver, so I am lucky it didn't crack my head open I think," he said, fingering the faded scar on his cheekbone from the incident. "It bled fiercely, as head wounds oft do." He might not have said that to another woman, but with her apothecary and interest in healing, he thought it apropos. 

 

"Charles Kirke was not an enviable man, let us say, and he died when I was young. I did not even know him. My mother fled him when I was a baby, back to her mother with me, and he only found us a handful of times. It is why we were not among the community of exiled English, to keep out of his knowledge. My grandfather spent much time back and forth between the continent and England during those years, so it was the only way to be safe without my grandfather there to protect us all."

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"Yes, I remember the scandal of it after The Lords."  Nicci did not attend those House of Lords sessions for obvious reasons, though she had several masters, it would serve none of them if she was obvious about her political interests. 

Francis replied neutrally, well almost! His proviso of 'believes' amused Nicci into a laugh, "La yes, we all wish to believe the best of Duke M!" Of whom one might currently jest about this way, upon account of his being out of favour.  Of that man Nicci went on to reveal, "I was so embarrassed the other evening, I had thought he was sent to France, and Lady Worchester had to correct me in front of Lisa. I could have died on the spot." 

Nicci spoke very free and easy with Francis though, whom she did not think would hold such things against her.  "If he hears how CR has drawn his family in he might be quite heartbroken to be left out. Or perhaps he was called, but abstained." Which would have broken Charles heart instead.  She sighed. "Families are the most upsetting sort of troubles." 

"I am relieved." Though all of Court knew the King did not believe in hiding himself behind body guards.  "It will be more than Ablemarle overseeing that I hope." 

"La I recall this tale, but I had not known she struck you when you were going off to war. Last time you told the tale I thought she brutal, now my compassion is for the Mother who thought she was loosing her son!" She chided (with dancing eyes) for leaving out one or two significant details last time. 

She knew it to mean he trusted her more now. 

"You were practically an exile of exile." She breathed, "... you could have come to stay with us, with my Grandparents and Mother. We would have hit you with plates too when you tried to leave to sea - my Father was lost to the ocean." 

"It was good that you told her Francis, many wouldn’t have."

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"I more meant Lord Ranelagh's cousins," Francis replied. "I do not know very much about the duke, but I had not been thinking of him since he is not here..." He considered this. "I do not know how much His Majesty would stomach the idea..." Monmouth was indeed amongst the Dutch, but he had not heard a word of suspicion against him; though that would make sense, for the King had a soft spot for his eldest son, legitimate or not. 

 

"I would not feel silly about that. There are so many personages to keep track of, after all." He was not sharp enough about intrigue to ask what else she had been speaking about, and he was not gathering information from her either. 

 

As to chapel, Francis speculated with a large laugh, "It shall be the one time the Duke of Buckingham is awake in chapel!!!" He did eventually nod that there were far more people there to protect His Majesty at chapel than Albemarle. 

 

"I never said she did not have good reason! I surely do not blame her for it. Though she has had the last laugh for she has extracted a promise from His Majesty to keep my feet on land...and without much difficulty either." As Nicci mentioned he was an exile of exile, his eyebrow raised in appreciation of the turn of phrase for it was exactly what he had been. He had also been an exile of the restored court once that had happened. "I think it likely those very difficulties which had the King say that he would keep me occupied here, and he does have quite the soft spot for the ladies." 

 

He chuckled when Nicci praised him for telling her. "Well, it would have been difficult not to, for we needed my grandfather's permission as we weren't of age, and she was living there too. So......" He shrugged with a boyish grin. "She listened at the door, actually." His mother had never been shy or one to stand around. "I would not have left without saying goodbye though." 

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"Oh yes his cousins, of course. They did seem thoroughly good sorts when I met them, and of open manner - they are hardly skulking cloak and dagger sorts." speaking of Ranelagh’s extended family brought her eyes to wander this room here once more, holding an idle appreciation.  

But then Francis mused upon Monmouth, and she was inclined to agree. "From what my cousin had said, the Duke M is somewhat easily led, though surely he'd ever be loyal - we can only hope that the same can be said for the company he keeps..." she paused then admitted, "I am glad he was not in France as I had thought, for my peers in Versailles could not help themselves but to meddle."  

Which was only being realised to say - but where the Dutch truly more innocent?

She giggled with Francis that Buckingham would be awake for an entire service, while it was good to know that the King had such vigilant persons nearby.  

"La, you have been beached!? Oh but Francis isn’t that difficult for any man who was a sailor?" His Mother had had the last laugh indeed. "But you still have your ships, and you can still travel cant you. It must just be for warring that your mother sought to protect you. Which I can agree with quite happily." Said Nicci, who was liking the sounds of Lady Kingston more and more. Spying into conversations at doors, how daring and sensible of her. 

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"I still have my yacht," Francis replied, with a wink. "I can tool down the Thames or along the coast when I feel the calling of the horizon." 

 

True, it was not the same, but he was not the sort to dwell to long in the sad things, the things lost. He had gained other things, other excitements, as it were.

 

"Perhaps I can secret you away in the cabin and then take His Majesty for a secret rendezvous," he mused. It kept his thoughts from assassination attempts and looking to a future time when things were less...tense.

 

"She would like you," he postulated. "And especially your agreement over war. You should all be significantly chuffed that His Majesty has chosen a position for me which does not allow me to stray too far!"

 

For his lady mother, he could stay put for a few years without complaint. He had been gone for enough years. And the Duke had far too much to impart for him to be jaunting off; he was already far behind the curve and that meant he was extraordinarily behind by Buckingham's measurements, even if fondly so and not in a way that made Francis feel belittled. Still, he knew the thought had occurred to his uncle. 

 

Speaking off..."We can probably secret you off to His Grace's significantly more comfortable home now, but do not worry, I am to stay with you until he arrives. You should try to eat after such a shock. It will help you to feel less light in the head. The Duke will have made certain to leave orders for your every need, and the house will want to impress." 

 

For even servants thought grand thoughts that perhaps word of their meal might travel by the King's mistress to the King's ear.  

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"That would be wonderful," Nicci's mind could imagine bay hopping around Bristol, that lovely seaside retreat of so long ago, when life was so much simpler, "but in less troubled times."

 

It certainly would not be appropriate right now, the ocean was a peril itself without possible assassination attempts thereabouts. 

 

With his confirmation that his mother would like her, Nicci was inspired to say, "Then I must make her some lovely gift, perhaps a potpourri or some other sweetness. And I shall say it is a thank you for preserving her charming son that he now has become my dearest friend." Nicci spoke warmly, adoring to compliment Francis while speaking the truth.

 

Perhaps it had been her looking about the room, but Francis was triggered to declare that now was an apt time to relocate.  "Might I just write a quick note." Nicci stood, and while seated she'd felt quite good, when she stood she was indeed a bit affected by the fright.  Still she managed to use a sheet of the Lady's own writing paper, to express a thank you for use of her Boudoir as a retreat, ending with the words "...I hope to meet you in person soon.  N.V."

 

"There, I am ready my Lord." she finally announced with a smile. 

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Francis, being all man despite pretty appearances, did not immediately follow Nicci's train of  thought. He thought she was still talking about his mother whenever she asked to pen a note first.

 

Being a woman, she easily found where the lady kept her writing implements. 

 

"To my lady mother? Now?" He blinked, a small confused look of puzzle then appearing in a ridge between his eyebrows. 

 

Of course, when it seemed she meant to leave the note, he understood what her meaning had been! 

 

"You shall need a cloak to pull up so that you aren't seen. A page should be waiting in the anteroom with one, and then I shall spirit you away by coach. We can pretend that it is not all about assassinations," he added, with a wink. "All of court should be at chapel anyhow, and they have been keeping this hallway clear on His Majesty's orders our of abundance of precaution."

 

Once she was wearing the more concealing cloak to secret her identity, he held out an arm to her. Once in the coach, Buckingham's was only a hop of a ride away, being just in Pall Mall. 

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Nicci suffered a seemingly universal affliction of women; that of assuming that gentlemen could keep up with their darting-about mental streams.  

That said it was not so unusual that she, who had arrived covered in a strangers blood to have a bath in another strangers persons bath, even to then dress in a strangers clothes, to be terribly aware of the blessings of that later.  So it was that when Francis blinked at her thinking she'd writ to his mother, she snapped, "Of course not silly." 

Perhaps the stress of the day would take a while to leave - that was certainly not how she spoke to him usually.

Following his advice, she went into a far more usual sleuth mode (For it was completely normal for Francis to be sneaking her about).  Though this was different, and not a thill.  "A morning of restful prayers in chapel would be my preference too. Shall you send someone to tell my Cousin please, he shall likely worry at my disappearance. Or at least he should do." 

She did not want to feel as disturbed as she did, but it took some effort not to feel sorry for herself. She did try. Never the less Francis was likely to notice she did not talk very much at all as they got into the carriage headed for the Dukes. 

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"I will make sure that Lord Basildon knows that you are safe," he replied. "And have them fetch some of your things. I am not certain His Majesty wishes anyone to know where you are, though it is not a difficult guess, to me, at least. 

 

It was fortuitous that Francis had been raised by women in a society full of men who had been raised by men, because he was a bit more adept that most at understanding a woman's upset. 

 

The many different kinds of a woman's upset, as evidenced by his friend snapping at him but then later going silent. 

 

He was the contradictory soul bathed in equal measures of gentleness and ferocity. A unicorn of a combination. So all he did on their coach ride was to reach out to hold her hand and provide a shoulder to lean on. He was used to both dead bodies and being cast about this way and that on the drop of a dime; it was a bit different for her, to be sure. 

 

The nondescript carriage pulled around the back rather than stopping by the front entrance.

 

"We will go in through the gardens," Francis said as he offered her a hand down from the carriage. "It is not odd for His Grace to have visitors who do not enter through the front door, so anyone watching his house will find nothing much different, but things are much different on the inside. Is there anything you wish? Something to eat, perhaps? Another bath? A warm bed? I will wait with you until His Grace returns."

 

There seemed to be extra gardeners.

 

And through the door to the house...extra servants. 

 

It might or might not occur to Nicci that they were not servants at all but protection. 

 

(OOC - we can skip ahead to Buckingham arriving back whenever you wish ;) )

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Nicci appreciated the silence, some time to digest - she took his hand and squeeze it a thanks.  A friendship that could be comfortable with a silence was a rare thing, to be able to share physical company while negotiating private thoughts...

 

The dramas of the day had Nicci thinking how all her eggs were in the one basket with the King.  What if next time the assassin was successful, then everything she'd worked for would be lost.  Yet what surprised her with that thought, was she was less worried about loosing her potential marriage to Ranelagh. She was more concerned of loosing her value to Buckingham, and Francis.  The Duke especially, such a creature of court, if he had no use for her why would he keep her about. Sweet Francis might indulge her a little longer, but eventually he too would cut the ties.  

 

It was probably a selfish tear that slid down her cheek, to be dabbed away. 

 

With a nod at the instruction, Mademoiselle exited the carriage - Buckingham’s house was always well tended but seemed busier that it would usually be for a Monday.  "I could not sleep or eat," she declined, then looked to Francis who, as his norm, put others first. "Is there anything you need to attend to, do you want to check upon your family?"

 

"I think I would like to wait in an upstairs room, and watch out for His Grace's return. Sometimes a room with a view is reassuring."  She turned to look at Francis, and quietly mused, "Did you know, in Paris, my Mother and I rented a loft. It was not much at all, barley more than a dressing room, but had a view towards the river. I did like that." 

 

But she could never return to that life. Not now. If this current world tilted itself upside down, she would need to make herself indispensable to England some other way. 

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Francis had his skills with understanding ladies, but that surely did not extend to their private thoughts. As such, he thought she was still shaken from witnessing a dead person and the flight of an assassin. He had not anticipated that she feared of losing much of her stature, and maybe some of her friends, if anything did happen to the King.

 

As it was, they were both hiding fears and insecurities from each other, of a different nature but somewhat similar in the opportunity for life ruin. Had either spoken their problems to the other there would have been much reassurance to be had. Buckingham was not so fickle with his friends. Sure, he had those that he used for whatever purpose, but they seemed to understand the transactional nature of the relationship. On the other hand, Buckingham had many unpopular friends, a great many. The Duke, really, was quite fond of thumbing his nose at absolutely everyone. He was egotistical enough not to care one whit what most courtier's thought. Living with the man, Francis was privy to many of these eccentricities about his uncle. 

 

"My family?" he blinked. "I don't think anyone would have much interest in harming my family." Then he added, "His Majesty does not wish for the event to be spread about but would like to keep it quiet, for the sake of his impending heir, so I must do my part in keeping it quiet. There are sacrifices to holding any intimate position, and one is losing most of my own autonomy." In truth, in many ways, he was in a do-what-you're-told sort of situation, on all sides. His own issues had to be tertiary, not even secondary! If they even merited 3rd consideration. 

 

Nicci, too, had secrets that she had to keep because of her intimate position with the king.

 

"We can sit where there is a view of the front entrance-way," he approved. "I am going to have the Duke's favorite drink, for I truly need it. You are welcomed to join me."

 

He smiled at her description. Such a thing was reminiscent to him as well. He had his own images of such times. "That was as exile was for us. In a place that barely had room for three children and three adults, and also oft by waterways, for then it would be easier for my grandfather to come back to us after his trips."

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“Yes, your mother will be safe.” Which while the question had surprised Francis, it was not such a given from where she stood.  But mostly, she did not want to oblige him, though she already knew he was under instructions.

“Ah yes the coffee drink, that would suit perfectly,” Nicolette agreed as they moved to a suitable location.   It struck her as perfectly reasonable that talk of the attack would be repressed in order to keep happiness surrounding the pregnant Queen, everyone knew you had to keep pregnant women happy for the sake of the baby, and this particular pregnancy was extra important to the English King. CR might deny the sun had set, if needed for the sake of his baby.

“ …though not too close I hope, at least in the summer. The Seine was never the sweetest smelling.” Unlike the regularly freshened (tidal) Thames, the river Seine was a placid slow flowing river so that the city waste did linger.

“Did you exile with Lord Dartmouth’s mother also?” she wondered who the three adults had been, knowing his mother to be one, and of course the Grandfather.

“Having lived in modest situations so make us now appreciate these, life’s luxuries.” She thought to motion to her Buckingham-gifted clothing, but remembered she was not in her own wardrobe. “And before you were in Exhile, where was your family home then? It was not Kingston I suppose…” because she knew that was a recent development.  “My family home is in St Aubin D'Arquenay, Normandie – it was a grand house once, but Mother and I could not keep it that way.”  

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Francis sent a servant to prepare their adulterated coffee and then turned his attentions back to Nicci and the window.

 

"Not so bad as that, and we were not always in France either, though that is where I was born and most of exile was spent," he answered. Which explained why he spoke French very natively.

 

"Yes, my grandmother. You are becoming quite the student of my family," he added, with a whisper of a chuckle. 

 

With a brighter chuckle at her next declaration about luxuries, he nodded. "Court seems quite extravagant by comparison to either exile or a ship. I admit, though, I am becoming more used to it. Though do not tell the Duke he is converting me to his fashionable ways; I still abhor tailors." 

 

Their Buckingham Special was delivered to them on a platter, and Francis waited for Nicci to take one before he eagerly took his own. It had been a long day already. He sipped the hot liquid, closing his eyes at that pleasant burn of alcohol down his throat that followed the heat. 

 

"I enjoy this," he said, over the cup. "And the food." He smiled, trying to keep the conversation light. 

 

"When we returned home it was to outside Dartmouth, in Devon, but we also spent a considerably amount of time in a large house in the Minories, not far from the Tower, my grandfather's homes. I have an estate in Staffordshire, but I have only ever been there a handful of times and never stay long. " It was what had been left to him as a Kirke, and clearly he had no attachment to anything from that man. He had divest it of tapestries to pay his crews and secure his bonds once, though. 

 

"Most of my younger years were spent at school at Eton in Windsor and then Cambridge."

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"I could become your biographer." she teased in reply. He was correct to notice she asked after his upbringing often, questions born of affection, and also curiousty to how everything fit in.  He volunteered information freely too, which she took as a sign of affection for her too.  It was friendship that had them sharing this way.

"But I'd not realised you had an estate at Staffordshire - where is that?" she fleetingly imagined it might be interesting to visit.  Perhaps next recess, for which she'd made no plans at all yet. 

"Then you have hardly put down your roots anywhere Francis." Nicci concluded.  "Not that such is an easy thing to do, but is is surely a desire isnt it? One day I shall like a home, somewhere in England that feels as comfortable to be as was my family home in France...

They were well off topic now, though sipping on the cognac sweetened coffee, and watching for the Dukes carriage all the while. "... I have wondered if one day, I might be able to send for my Mother." 

 

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"It is far north," he replied, "Not so far as Yorkshire, but far enough."

He held his steaming cup down for a moment. "I suppose I have always been a traveler. I have never had much chance to think of one place as home, so I don't think I truly know what it is that I am missing."

 

As he contemplated whether or not he wanted roots and all such things, he took another sip.

 

"I shall say there are certain benefits to stability, but, in truth, I have not even been here at court long enough to feel any great sense of belonging." Then he amended, "Beyond my friends and family, of course. Court, though, I do not know if I have appreciated it long enough to know if I would miss it. And I do not know any place in England all that well, aside from the ports."

 

Francis realized he had a difficult time with attachments of all sorts and kinds. Perhaps even moreso than most men. Ladies, on the other hand, seemed much faster to form attachments to all sorts of things....places, objects, animals, people. 

 

For a moment, he wondered if that meant anything about his distaste of love as a concept, or whether or not he could even feel it in the romantic sense...whether that might also carry forward in other senses of attachment.

 

Perhaps roots did not make sense for wood that sailed on rough water.

 

Instead of attempting to voice any of that, he said, "My lady mother clearly thinks it is not too late for my root-growing capabilities." He chuckled. 

 

"And I am sure that you shall have one," Francis said, with a smile. "You have not been here all that long either, although it feels like awhile." 

 

Francis did not know all the details of Nicci's mother being in France. Nor did he know about the arrangements for her mother's safety that Buckingham had spoken about with her. 

 

"If you wish to, I am sure you could bring such a thing about." How easily he spoke about it made it clear that he wasn't really totally privy to the details.

 

 

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"I wonder if Traveling can be it's own sort of home, if that is what you were raised to." Nicci pondered that thought. It was hard to imagine a life with no attachment to a place. Even now she still thought of the family home in Normandy as the home of her heart, though her lifes choices had her want her future to be in England.  For Nicci, that meant a house, and one day her mother too. 

"If 'Home' is a concept that is not a house, then what is  Home for you?" she did not even known if it was possible to answer that question. But could Francis really have such a void within himself? 

Of her thoughts regarding her mother, she nodded.  "Help with this was offered to me once," by Chevaruse, "at the time I declined, I was not confidant you see.  But now - well, not today of course -but generally England is the basket I would place my eggs into, and the mother hen also." she smiled, relaxing.

 

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"That is exceedingly philosophical," he observed. "And not easy to answer. The home after exile is not particularly home since my grandfather's death. Kingston is not either, though perhaps it is so for my lady mother. Surely not my northern estate as I've barely ever even been there." 

 

Then he conceded, "Perhaps I am not predisposed to be attached to places. My time in Devon felt like home when my family was there. Home must then be where one's loved ones are congregated in one place, and where memories and deep emotions are..." Francis had not experienced much of that either. Exile could not count as home, though most of them had been together. 

 

"Then I shall help you too if you need my help." He smiled. "Sail her here personally."

 

 

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"La, I know, I am terribly sorry." Nicci chuckled an apology, though dear Francis valiantly tried to answer anyhow. And he did it right, she at least liked his answer.

"Yes home is the people. For me my grandparents is a large part of that, while they are passed they are still in my heart, and when with my mother they feel nearer still.  So for you it must be your mother and uncles with your memories of grandfather, which might make home quite a transportable thing really." smiling she added, "We could practically be gypsies."

Which was what she said, though she was thinking about how he'd mentioned his mother and her hopes - that and their previous conversations of how he was not one to court.

Perhaps he never would.

"That would be a fun way to do it." she replied to his offer, "I'd wondered how to do it, the most difficult part is she afraid to travel by water. I'd thought perhaps the right herbs might help, to calm any agitation. And if it was upon your ship it would be easier surely, most captains would question the carrying on a drugged woman," she grinned lopsidedly at that, "or at least charge me double" . 

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Francis nodded his agreement to her sentiments. The fondest and most carefree times of his life had been just after His Majesty had returned and exile was behind everyone. That had been a comparatively short time for him in comparison to many of his court peers. 

 

He could understand her wishing to be with her mother. Or at least in the same country. It was difficult to be separated from all of one's close family. 

 

"I do believe we had to drug Lady Sophia as well," he said, and then he amended, "Before she was Lady Toledo. So, that is to say that there is frequent drugging of ladies in transporting them over the seas." He chuckled, as it sounded as if he was some especially talented kidnapper. "And I do not charge my friends."

 

It was at that moment that Buckingham's return could be seen in the entryway below. It was a bit early for chapel to be over, but he could also imagine the duke making the earliest escape that he could. 

 

"Alas, this means that I shall have to leave you and return to His Majesty," Francis said with a smile.

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"Ah Lady Toledo, I oft forget your connection with her. Though it was never so plain as that night at the ball." when Nicolette had witnessed Sophia beg Francis blessing on her marriage.  "So if not for a little laudanum she'd still be in Europe too." 

 

The easy conversation flowed, on topics that bore no relation to the dramas of the day. It was a quiet time much needed.  

 

"It is too soon yet, but I shall call upon your help in due time, my friend." 

 

Francis saw the Dukes carriage before she did, the light in his eyes brought her to look thence too. Instinctively she smoothed her bodice, hand running down over skirt. "His Grace is early, is it a new fashion president." early would never be in fashion of course, she was making an English joke, but mostly she was just pleased.  

 

"Thank you for staying with me." Of course there was a part f her mind that wondered if Francis was monitoring her as much as anything else. Even she did not trust the French to have no part of this incident. But still, if one was to be kept an eye on, it could not have been in a nicer way.  Reaching for his hand she squeezed gratitude. 

 

 

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Francis chuckled at Nicci's words. Little did he know that he was truly fortunate to have gotten Sophia settled when he did. It was probably better that he did not know he current exploits and what that might mean of her child. 

 

"She had been terrified of water," he said. "She would have gotten here, but it would have been highly unpleasant for all the rest of us!" He could jest about it now that it was over and the lady in question not there to hear him.

 

Laughing at her joke, Francis nodded, "Leaving chapel early is always His Grace's goal if possible." He continued chuckling. Buckingham was far from devout. He did what he must and made enough appearances to not be branded an atheist or against  the state religion, but he was habitually sacrilegious. 

 

"I will head down to meet him," Francis said, reaching for her hand with the intent to give it a kiss before he left. 

 

Buckingham had just entered the foyer and was walking in, shedding layers like a snake, when Francis came to the bottom of the stairs. The duke informed him that the Queen had retired early, the King along with, and that Francis was likely going to mount vigil in the Queen's apartments for the foreseeable future. 

 

With the utmost of seriousness, Buckingham said to him, "Now is one of those times, Francis, where you do not hesitate to use the King's words if it is required. I know you think that lofty, but that is a duty of your position." 

 

Francis could tell the duke would rather it not come to that. He knew Francis well enough to know that using the King's authority seemed far beyond him. It was advise he would heed if need be, just like he had heeded the duke's word to be true to his ability when he had sparred rapiers with the King. Francis had not grown up with the necessary egotistical vanity!

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It was only a few minutes later that Buckingham strode into where Nicci was waiting, looking tired around the eyes and having already discarded his justacorps and cravat. 

 

"God's Blood, my dear Nicolette, but only you would happen upon a murder and unknowingly give chase!" he said, to diffuse any formality and also inject a small bit of levity. "But I am very glad that you all right, and you are in the safest place you might be, here with me," he added as he closed the distance between them and held an arm out to her in offer of embrace. 

 

 

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The Duke looked tired, and not just the tiredness that comes from sitting in Church being really bored. Crossing the room, she abandoned protocols, moving towards an embrace even before his arm begun to lift.  

She had needed every moment of physical contact she'd managed today, a hug, a touch, a kind word. No doubt the Duke, with even more to loose than she, needed it too.

"It was not on purpose, I messed up the time for the meeting with the King, and when I heard sounds thought it was him leaving. So I hurried after, but that was when I tripped. Over a body. Mon Dieu, what a day.'  She breathed, and squeezed a bit tighter before letting go, and looking into the too tall Duke's eyes uttered, "Are you all right?" 

Which she knew was not what one should ask the Magnificent George Villiers, but she asked anyhow, with notes of almost motherly concern.  

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The Duke was known for his emotional displays, mercurial nature they said, so Nicci was not remiss in anticipating that the Magnificent George Villiers could stand some familiar comfort and to be asked how he was doing in this instance. That, and they were friends, and he was quite naked with his friends and those close to him. 

 

He could pretty much put his chin on the top of her head. 

 

When the embrace was broken, he gave her a kiss on the forehead. "You are sweetness personified for deigning to ask," he replied. 

 

"My master the King is well-protected, but he is not a man cautious or concerned with his own life in many ways. I must be here to serve my purposes for him, even beyond your protection, when I would rather wish to be there with him." Buckingham did not like being out of control, and not being in control of that immediate protection of someone he loved was very difficult for him. He and Charles had their periods of differences, but some bonds did not break though tested. Both of them had experienced great losses over their lives, and Buckingham had already experienced the death of a King who was his family first hand. On his own birthday, no less. It was not a trauma anyone could wish repeated. 

 

And he had already failed to protect one brother and felt responsibility for his death. He did not wish to add to that either.

 

But, he had to be here to receive intelligence from his spies, and since the King had trusted him very early in this Dutch business, his spies were very employed in trying to unravel it. None of them were as at risk of any collusion with Danby as some of the King's own network, and a good number of his had been spying on Danby and associates for years and years. He was also the hub for Chevreuse, who could not be continually seen to meet with His Majesty, and he expected it would not be overly long before the Duc would be at his door too. So, he was unfortunately stuck away from the one person he would rather stay near. 

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