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Defiance

Ridding the muddy aftermath | Ranelagh & Nicci Monday AM

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The kiss to her forehead was a fatherly gesture, not that shed been raised by father but grandfather instead.  In any case their relationship was something quite different. But it felt nice, like a mutual care for the other. 

Softly she replied, "Duty is a far tougher master than His Highness is.  I would guess that He would prefer to have you at his side right now too."  Male duty was unlike anything that existed in the female realm, with nuances to it that she found hard to understand.  That the Duke explained he had a role to play that required him to remain here, suggested that there were plans already in place - perhaps in case of just such a thing as todays attempt. 

Perhaps the meetings at Windsor last recess hadn’t only been about the Hill boys and deciding to call in closer the King’s bastards.

"I understand you carry burdens of responsibility and care, and of secrets you must keep. It must be draining... the only way I can think I might help is to be a soft voice of support.  A vote of confidence I suppose, of knowledge that your savvy shall foil those who work against us," she lowered eyes and amended, "forgive me -  I mean against the Royal family."

 

 

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Buckingham would have preferred brotherly rather than fatherly, for he did not wish to recognize that he was well-enough old to be her father! So, it was thankful that he was blissfully unaware of the particulars of her appreciation.

 

He snickered softly at her comment, "Most of the time." He chuckled more. "And some of the time the two are in contradiction."

 

"And my master the King oft has no idea what is best for either him or his kingship." Because no matter what anyone thought appropriate, the two of them still existed as both Charlie and Georgie and the King of England and Duke of Buckingham. Said Duke felt close enough with Nicci to share that sentiment. "The first duty I ever had in life was to protect him; I probably swore it most solemnly when I was four or five..." 

 

To date, it was one duty he had not failed. Charles might not always agree that he had not. In fact, he oft did not agree with the methods or reasons, but Buckingham's own conscience could be the only dictator of fulfilling that duty. He had sworn it to Charles I not Charles II, so Charles II could complain all he wished. 

 

Annoyingly, he was obligated to feel similarly of James, because he did not want to live to see the dolt getting his head chopped off by the mob, no matter how much they argued. 

 

"But I do think you are correct, that if he did not have greater concerns for you and a need for me to be a gathering point of intelligence away from court, I would yet be with him. That is why Herbert came to wake me this morning." He chuckled. "If only to keep Arlington at bay from fussing about him like a woman. He does not like to be fathered to and that happens a lot in these sorts of times." 

 

Ultimately, it was that which had finally seen Schoolmaster Hyde thrust from court; Charles had been done with being fathered to by the man, political reasons and foibles aside. 

 

"He has directed Francis to be a surreptitious guardian of his Queen with Lord Mountjoy or shortly will do so, and while that is a great accomplishment and honour for the boy, I would feel better if he was with the King." He smiled, "That is my own emotion in the matter, for I rationally know the child the Queen carries is more important." But to him, it was Charles. It would always be. "You had best not tell anyone how maudlin I am being right now..." He smiled at her teasingly. "I have not even had that much liquor in my coffee yet today!"

 

Considering his candor of the moment, he said, "You were correct the first time. It is against us, all of us."

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Nicci smiled at the mental image he drew, "Ah the charm of little boy at their most earnest, a charm that is still upon you this day." There was affection in her tone, the relationship shed grown with the duke was surprising at many turns, and always treasured. It had grown little by little, shed managed to disarm him somehow and hed revealed depth far greater than his glittering appearance suggested. Father, brother, lover. any and all she would be happy with.

"Then let us repair that," Nicci motioned a servant. a gesture that was likly un-needed, as the dukes attentive staff stood at the ready to provide his every whim. Neeverthe less she signaled a tippled drink to be brought, and yes shed have another too. Unlike george, this would be her fourth or fifth this morning.

"Lord kingston might be pleased to serve as her majesties protector, he seems to have some attachments in her household mmm?" Nicci mused, brushing a lighter topic, before continuing "Though the assassin cannot have been after the queen in the wee hours of the morning."

 

 

 

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Buckingham's tired visage brightened as Nicci said that he yet had his boyish charms. For a man of his age, he yet felt rather lithe; it was the afterward where the aches and pains came out that was inconvenient! George Villiers would never concede to being an old man. 

 

"I shall only relinquish it to the grave," he replied with a grin. "The charm and the vow," he added.

 

The household was quick to attend to their drinks as Nicci wished, and the Duke was all too happy to let her rule the house so that he might be lazy at the moment. Francis was like that, and Buckingham very much liked to be catered to in that way; one of the benefits of age and experience was also that he realized it was their care that made it so. The same thing done in sycophancy was not the same at all, and any great man need learn recognize it right away or get utterly swindled; he oft reminded Charles of that plainly. 

 

Buckingham burst with amusement at Nicci's proclamation. "Of course Kingston would be pleased to play Protector to the first lady of the land, for I do believe Kingston's favoured role in life is protector of ladies!" Something Buckingham was fairly certain said Kingston did not even realize about himself. The Duke roled his eyes, "It might be his master's favoured role in life as well!"  He chuckled more. Truly, that might apply both to Charles and himself, and he was master of his kind-hearted nephew as much as the King was in his mind!

 

"I used to wonder at how he did that at sea for all those years...no ladies on most voyages...but I have concluded with the King that the cub was protecting his dear mother by doing so." Buckingham chuckled more, as such things were rare for a man as they were oft separated from mothers early, but...it did remind him very much of his brother, so it was an endearing trait. 

 

"Does he have an attachment in her household?" Buckingham asked, blue eyes widening some. "Of course, you know Lady Susan Herbert is his cousin? And His Majesty oft posts Kingston there on his accord?" Buckingham wished to make sure it was not Francis' conversations with Susan that were being interpreted as something more.

 

While he understood Francis' position on marriage, Buckingham was certain it was also a temporary one; for Buckingham was certain, one way or another, his objection on passing on Kirke's name was not a permanent state, for he saw Kingston's position as a temporary one. Once it was not, Buckingham was positive he could have Kingston married quickly, and he had a match-making King in his corner, too. 

 

"I think since His Majesty was supposed to be in that very location shortly, that we can assume that particular assassin was not after the Queen."

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The Dukes cheer at talking of Francis being a protector of ladies, and further comment on himself, bought a large smile to Nicolette's face. "You most certainly have been that for me I was really quite lost before I came into your company."

"I treasure the memory of when I first saw you, that night in the ballroom, when you danced so magnificently. You stole the floor. There was no one who could hold a candle to you. I think it was then, that night, that I thought there might be a place for me in England."

Ah but they talked of Francis, their voices fond. "Lady Susan Herbert is his cousin is she? I did not think of that. I've only noticed that he does seem to be delivering pickles terribly often.  And these pickle deliveries take rather longer in most deliveries do!" 

Yes Nicky hoped that there was someone Francis really fancied. She and he were close of course, but they would not make a future together, they would never be matched. She had hoped he'd found a possible prospect, someone's whose fortunes he could unite with, like how she had her plans for the witty and clever Ranelagh.

The lighter talk and the enhanced coffee drink relaxed and eased conversation, while always present in minds was the murder of that morning. 

The Dukes agreement on the unlikely risk to the Queen came with its own suggestion. Nicci pressed hand to her lips with thought. "Then who else new of our planned rendezvous? The message only arrived Sunday after church, delivered by servant in livery. Perhaps that servant was bribed? Or who else was aware of His Majesty's plans."

"I still think that one of the oddest things about it was that whoever killed that  Dutchman did not stick around to claim the victory of it." Nicci had concluded the body was from the seven provinces, partly due to being French with a natural distaste for those sorts. "Has anyone been able to identify the body yet?"

 

 

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The Duke blinked and then tittered as Nicci mentioned pickles and taking far too longer than usual to deliver the pickles. The titter went into a rumble of the chest imagining Francis with an over-large, swollen gerkhin for a cock. After the worries of the day, it felt rather good to have a moment's respite. It did not matter if Nicci meant the double entendre or not!

 

"Let us hope he is not delivering any of his own design to the Queen's household, but only those of His Majesty, for the Queen otherwise finds pickles altogether unacceptable there!"

 

Buckingham, himself, could never perform this duty his master asked of the cub. He could not control himself for long in the face of potential humour, and he would find far, far too much of it in such company. Francis was still awed and also appropriately conscious of his reputation; his tendency toward humility more than outward vanity made him particularly suited to bridge to the proper and staunchy German Queen. 

 

The Duke was the staunchest royalist in his mind, but he was not awed by royalty in the least. Some of the mystique of kingship was ruined by the fact that you had brotherly boyhood conversations about masturbation with one before he was one...

 

"Have you heard of any particular lady he has shown interest in?" Buckingham asked, curious what was spoken about amongst the ladies of Nicci's acquaintance.

 

"As to who else knew of the meeting...the summons was not one of a private nature, so any of the invitees might have mentioned it to anyone; plus, all of their servants. I knew of it because Francis was summoned. It is his practice to tell me when he's attending the night before, so that I know he will be gone and not likely to be back when I rise. Everyone has routines like that. People speak about people summoned by the King, so word travels quickly." Buckingham paused for a drink, savoring the warmth of it before adding, "That is if it was related at all. Assignations in the darkness of late evening and early morning are not uncommon in the gardens of any palace. If you had not arrived early, nobody would have been very likely to see it take place."

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Nicci had not thought of pickles in that way, and burst into laughter as Buckingham put a naughty spin on it. "Poor Francis would turn as bright red as a beet if he heard this conversation, under some circumstances is really rather prim! It must be highly unlikely he's trying to debauche any of Her Majesties household!"

"... hmm what I'd really thought, was that if one was thinking of choosing a wife, there is a fine array of respectable ones on offer there. So you were right to guess he's never mentioned anyone to me - and I certainly have asked, and I certainly have watched him!"

"No I do not think he will be causing any pickles there." And though the Duke might tease, he surely also knew that Francis thought far too highly of his duty then to malign it with rouge-ish behaviour.

Finally losing a sigh Nicci added "...on that count he's a blinkered horse, a confirmed batchelor, to the best of my estimation."

Ruminating possible leads, Nikki had wondered if the field was narrowed by knowledge of them meeting.  But the King's movements at Whitehall was anything but secret.  "So many? Then that is no help at all."

Talking openly as they were, Nicci thought to ask something she had wondered about. "Your grace, when Lord Monmouth sent away to Holland, was he sent supervised? I wonder because my cousins offhand suggestions result is in so much trouble due to Lord Monmouths ready enthuse; that should his impressionable ears be whispered into by someone truly deceitful, a whole world of problems might be created."

"Please know that I do not suggest any lack of love for his father, for certainty His Majesty is loved especially by all his sons. I have rarely witnessed a man who adores his children so much. They are the most blessed youths."

 

 

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"He surely would!" the Duke chuckled warmly. Francis' tendency for blushing easily reminded him of his brother, who had shared the more feminine trait. "Ironic considering he can say and do the raunchiest of things and not blush a whit." He shook his head. "The setting makes a difference in a man; at least an intelligent one."

 

Buckingham continued, "If the King vowed to stay away from fucking the Queen's Household, he surely doesn't want his gentlemen doing it. If the King cannot do a thing, et cetera." I'Faith, if the Queen started producing boys, Buckingham would fully endorse keeping the Queen happy too. 

 

"One day, perhaps. Francis is feral, yet, you see," the Duke said with a snort of amusement. "He is not completely accustomed to the finery and opportunity of courtly society. Noble ladies were an untouchable thing from were he began, and it will take time for him to settle himself, let alone be ready to make a family." The rest was a temporary inconvenience, so Buckingham figured the cub's other qualms would be resolved some day. "Though I would only say that to you."

 

To the King's most annoying of offspring, Buckingham said, "Someone like Monmouth is never unsupervised, even if he thinks that he is, but that doesn't mean he cannot get up to mischief. But I do believe the roots of this are from before he was sent away, if that is what you wish to know."

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Buckingham had seen other sides of Francis, Nicci was yet to witness his raunchy side.  That the Duke made that statement so freely, had her wonder if Frances had been on best behaviour with her? 

"Yes it must be the setting and company. Which is considerate of him really, I'm not terribly good at the 'English bawdy' thing, if I was to witness him doing it I think it would be me blushing!"

So the king had vowed not to Do his wife's household - which was more news to Nicci, and good to know. 

"Feral," she repeated with a grin, enjoying the mental image. "It might take many saucers of milk till he is ready." She came to agree, making a mental note to herself to simply stop worrying about that. Francis was different to her in that way (he did not need a marriage contract ultimately for his future security.) She did.

Her niggling question on Monmouth was finally asked of a person with the credentials for a qualified reply. "Well that is a relief, His Majesty's heart might be broken further still if he was missused again..."

"... It must take an innocent perspective on his part." She mused of James Scott, "I have never met him personally, but have heard also he's recklessly brave. The tale I heard was his using explosives to halt the fires from consuming more of the city.  Which was clever too, though also destructive."

"How long will His Majesty keep him away?" She had slipped well off the topic of the dead body in the garden. But this seemed important too, in it's own way it was like a precident that might one day apply to any number of the youngsters growing up around His Majesty's heels. Little Lord Ossory, for instance, was bound to make eager-accidental trouble.

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Buckingham chuckled and nodded his agreement on the milk and Francis. "At the very least, he is housebroken!" Francis had come fairly far in a year, but it had required considerable effort. He now bowed with a pristine turn of leg like a proper Villiers!

 

As to Monmouth, of whom Buckingham was no fan at all, the duke said, "Taking down adjacent buildings was no novel bright idea of Monmouth, but is something of standard practice in cities in fire, though he did aid in the execution of the deed. Though, even James did that." She might guess that "James" was the Duke of York. 

 

"His Majesty told the boy what would happen if he spoke or made moves against his uncle, the Duke of York, many times. It was far from the first time. His presence inflames the mob against the King's desire for religious toleration and inspires connivers to use him, even with Ashburnham keeping an eye on him. It will not be for some long time, perhaps not at all." It did not sound as if Buckingham cared in the very least, for he was happy to see Monmouth gone. He would not come between the king and his children, but he had his own views, and Charles had plenty of worthy offspring to focus on, after all. "York will vote for not at all, vociferously." 

 

It was hard to think that Monmouth was of an age with Francis. Monmouth forever would seem a boy and had a considerably childish streak.

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"La - so the standout fact that had me thinking more of him, was not 'standout' at all."

Which was disappointing to Nicolette's ears, she was one who prefered to think that everyone had some quality redeeming. Even now, with Duke Buckingham's viewpoint plain, in her heart she still believed the King's eldest bastard son had an unknown potential.

It was less of a surprise to hear that York did not share her opinion, no,  the surprise came from something else: "Vote?!" Nicci partly laughed, thinking this must be a turn of phrase not fact, "is there a vote to be made sure there was only one vote that decides!"

Perhaps it was her French upbringing under King Louis, that made the notion of voting seem remarkable. England really was a different place.

But speaking of CR's younger brother, "His Grace York keeps a low profile in recent times. I had wondered if he pined for Lady O'Rourke?  or perhaps it is with the approaching birth of a new heir he reassess his situation. Hmm... it might do his public image much good to be wholly supportive of the new entrant. 

"I have heard Duke York is a remarkable military strategist, yet in the arena of court we do not hear often of his victories. That is perhaps because he is Catholic? It is the thing defines him. Perhaps it is possible, if CR's efforts towards toleration are day successful, then that religious label shall mean less to all men." She mused in that half-cut way of solving all the world's troubles. "Oh. I wonder if Charles efforts in that way, a quite particularly towards Yorkss favour. He must surely want the people to love his brother also."

She realise belatedly that she'd used the king's Christian name, which while allowable for Buckingham, might be over familiar. But it was already said. And this was a quiet manner of conversation, far far from pomp and ceremony.

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Nicci was never going to get a stellar appraisal about Monmouth from Buckingham, no matter what the boy did. The Duke hated the King's eldest son with a passion. 

 

"It is not as simple as that. Yes, of course, there is only one vote that counts. If the King were any man that would be all that mattered, but there is one very important thing that my master holds to very fast; he will not have the order of things in his country disrupted whilst he is King.

 

"Monmouth has proven repeatedly to disrupt the order of things, and that is sometimes the problem with natural children born utterly common." And Monmouth's mother had been of no birth or consequence and had previously been the lover of more than one man. In Buckingham's opinion, Charles was utterly daft for ever making the boy a duke! "For a King, it is the worst problem when your heir presumptive is unpopular like York. The King has to support his brother over his natural son, Nicci, no matter how he feels as a father and a man. That is the order of things and that is the burden of being King. And that is why those that have forced him to hold that position by using Monmouth's common ambition have fallen so spectacularly. Danby was a fool to place the King in a position where he had to choose between his royalty and his eldest son."

 

Buckingham neglected to mention that there was a premonition a few years back that everything would crumble if Charles turned his back on James, and while it was never spoken about anymore (technically treasonous to have the King's fortune read...), Charles had felt its impact, superstitious or not.

 

"The Catholics, as you should know from France, take Lent to a very serious degree, and York has no shame over reminding us all how very Catholic he is..." Buckingham replied with a snort of amusement. "No doubt, more shall be seen of him soon, though I cannot say I have missed his presence so very much." He grinned boyishly. To him, James was like an annoying little brother who was always trying to play with the big kids and wasn't very good at it. 

 

"The King's position on Toleration is philosophical, but also a response to his life experiences. In his flight as a youth, there were numerous Catholic subjects who helped him leave the country. He does not believe that loyalty is tested by religion but by action. And he has never wished to be a King who harms anyone for undue reason; he has lived too much of that."

 

So much so that Buckingham felt the King was a little too predisposed to forgiveness; the Duke conveniently forgot that he had benefit numerous times from the King's forgiving nature. He might have topped the charts on the number of times to be accused of treason without living out his life in the Tower or losing his head! So there was that.

 

Buckingham did not even notice her calling Charles by his Christian name, for it seemed quite natural for her to do so. Just as he also used it in privacy and with certain company.

 

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Buckingham spoke of the Kings regard for the 'order of things', a reference she did not understand at first. Hers had been more of an accident for mentioning York so soon after Monmouth, but as Buckingham continued on she understood it was the order of succession that he spoke of.

"Ah, yes..." The brunette nodded slowly, "and there cannot be any higher topic on our minds at this time. So much unrest shall be settled with the birth of a new heir, it shall be a whole new era for England."

"I suppose therein is the wisdom of the King's keeping Monmouth away at this time, his son is even protected by his absence." Nicolette reasoned with herself out loud, though she still found it sad for Monmouth to be removed from his father. At least James Scott could not be blamed for any oddities in England at the moment. She like to imagine that that was a foresight the father provided him.

While the Dukes further words, thoughts on toleration and the suffering the King had been through, brought a fresh softness to Niccis tone, "Your Grace, Duke Buckingham, or George if I am so bold," she sat her hand upon his, "do you know what a conduit to love that you are? You make me suffer such a sweet confusion, is my adoration of your master - which you let me view through the reflection in your eyes, in fact a love of the storyteller? Please don't answer, for it is a happy bliss to feel both - my heart is content to be bursting with it."

Yet again Nicci rued the existence of Gwendolyn, and also Mary Fairfax for that matter.

 

 

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Buckingham was wholly unprepared for Nicci's declaration that he was a conduit of love - and not the fucking sort, although he was that as well - so she was the recipient of the rarest state for the Duke of Buckingham: he was struck entirely silent for longer than a mere moment. 

 

In fact, it was such a profound statement, that it gave him pause. He almost did not notice her put a hand on his. 

 

If another woman had asked him not to answer, it probably would not have stopped him if he wished to expound, but instead her pleasure for him to leave her bursting in the moment was obliged. 

 

"You are a rarity amongst women...and I would say you are a consummate court flatterer if I did not know you better," the Duke replied instead, with a pleased little smile. "And my close friends call me Bucks, though you can call me George if it pleases you." A compliment of the highest degree, for exceedingly few people had ever called him George. 

 

Buckingham was known as a man of the people and friend to many, but he was certainly not known as a man to dispense with his own formality. In fact, his exceedingly open and friendly manner generally ended right at that border. 

 

He was the Duke of Buckingham and nobody ever forgot to give him his due. 

 

So, it was that Nicci was the recipient of the highest of praises. Perhaps she was even perceptive enough - or a close enough study of him - to realize as such. 

 

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Her heart swelled, for she knew she had dared, and might be reproved. (She had a memory of asking him once what she should call them, and he'd said, as though it was an indulgence 'Duke Buckingham'. ) 

"That would please me a great deal." Though Nicci could not know how very few persons were allowed to call him George, his lack of usual banter was its own sort of punctuation. She let her hand slide so that her fingers slid between his, stroking in an interlocking fashion. 

Although all she wanted was to kiss him. 

Looking to the fair haired man's eyes, she wondered if he was anything like Francis. She and Francis had spent many times together, and she had learnt a thing or two of how he liked to play. But perhaps The Duke, with his greater experience, was different?

Nicci's eyes darkened as she half stood, hand abandoning his, so as to touch his hair. "I can hear the fun for your friends who call you Bucks, that it rhymes with another thing that we love..." She whispered as she pressed his hair back off his forehead, and placed a kiss there, while sampling his name. "George"

Truly, Nicci would have liked a good romp at that stage, and could argue that it would be good for Buckingham too. 

Had she drunk too much that morning?

 

 

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Perhaps one day Nicci would find out the answer to her wonderings about whether or not Francis and Buckingham had similarities in bed. Though she could not know, the King had found it roaringly amusing that Buckingham and Francis made similar sounds when finishing***; something easy enough to notice with the regularity at which the King visited brothels with the Duke over the years.

 

Buckingham might have sensed her affections of a different sort when she held his hand, but he had not in that instance sensed anything aside from her usual closeness. He had many things on his mind other than women, so the usual adeptness in that realm was momentarily lacking. 

 

When she kissed his forehead, though, he sensed it. And he also understood it. 

 

There were certain things in life that one experienced that quickened one internally and many times that quickening needed an outlet; for many, that was sex. It was true for men after battles or duels or particularly daring intrigues, and he was experienced enough in the world of capable and daring women to know that it was frequently the same for them. 

 

Instead of the rousing kiss (or something of the like) that she was probably wanting or even expecting, he put his arm around her shoulder with a soft squeeze and kissed the top of her head. 

 

"I feel what you are feeling after a death-defying duel, so it is most natural. As your friend I would surely give you what you crave most happily, but Charles is more important to me, though of all people he would most likely be less bothered by an interlude with me than others."

 

Though it was not a thing a man generally spoke of aloud, the Duke was well aware that his lack of issue was not for lack of sex, and that was very obvious to the King as well. Statistically speaking, any pregnancy would be much more likely to be of the prolifically fertile King than himself.

 

Nicci had not been around long enough to realize that the King had a tendency to send romantic rivals away, especially if a particular insult was given in the execution of it; he seemed to recall something with that Scot FitzJames and Heather...and then the lout had gone and done it again (or attempted to) with Francis' ward. Some men could not control their cocks. 

 

(*** OOC - Thanks to Tanja 🤣 who thought that an amusing addition!)

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The Duke was a fantasy, one that had preceded any thoughts towards the King -  perhaps Nicci was foolish to still entertain thoughts of him, but in so many ways she was far closer to Buckingham. 

It was her understanding of George's regard for his honour that made his reply unsurprising, "I understand..." Nicolette replied, her accent thicker with regret she wished him know.  Though, he already did, she was sure of that now.

"La, but I do not like the words 'less bothered'." eyes that had closed as he'd kissed her hair then opened and met his, "please know Our beloved English King shall never find bother 'less' or 'more', for my inclination is towards a most singular devotion." Although in her heart she imagined that devotion was towards the Duke, which he knew, but that the Duke, loving his childhood friend so deeply, gave the treasure that was her love as his gift. It was perhaps a convoluted thought but made such a beautiful sense to her romantic mind.

"The days going forward from now shall be different, won't they." In a reflective tone she considered. "There's a part of me that wants to stay here for ever. But I can't, can I?"

 

 

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Buckingham smiled at her reply of less or more, and he nodded.

 

"We all have our burdens to bear for my master the King, but it is no burden at all for me to be your protector, you must know." His regard was thus laid down in the bare for her to see. He did not always speak so plainly. Then he added, "Our Kingston is my protégé in this matter, of course." A perceptive and capable lady such as Nicci had likely known as such from the outset, where the font of Kingston's courtly education originated, but he wished her to know from whom her security would always come; it would be from the Duke of Buckingham. One or another, if he had his way. There was much yet for these young people to learn.

 

"Indeed, there is no mistaking it," the Duke replied. "His Majesty will need to choose between hunting traitors and Her Majesty's safety, so I doubt my master will keep court for long." Buckingham sighed, "We shall have to play the long game in ferreting out those involved."

 

As to her statement about his house, he smiled more widely and said, "You are welcomed to stay as long as you would like, whenever you might like, but at least until the King is satisfied that you shall be safe. I do hope you can find entertainment in my humble abode for a day or two?" 

 

 

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"Oh hush before I give you a token to carry," Nicci simmered a joy at his words, her smile beamed as she teased, "though more correctly I would give a kerchief to Kingston to tote about, on account of how he fetches and carries so prettily. And so obliging too. Was he always so, or is that due to your tuition too?" 

The French belle gently digressed from the more meaningful revelations, for she appreciated that it was an uncommon conversation, and easier couched with those more familiar. 

It was a milestone though, and clearly marked, no mistaking - the Duke was her Protector. 

"Your house is second only to the Palace when it comes to entertainment," she grinned, "and only because it would be improper to surpass. Hmm, but really yours is quite a different sort..." And likely the freedom at Buckingham's was a sanity break for the King often enough. 

"But I would be very pleased to be allowed a room for a time, if I may,  far longer than to preserve my flesh."

She would not say it out loud, but living with the Basildons recently had been very hard. Lisa's insistence on nursmaiding the Dutch girl, and Louis weakness to telling her no, was very trying to watch. There were other things too: Nicci's, and the Basildon's thoughts rarely matched.

Drawing a deep breath, and feeling suddenly emotional with the relief, she looked away. "Have you watched a stray feather floating, caught around and about on the breeze, sometimes tumbling down and you wonder if it shall land? And you know if it lands, this is not likely to lift again. And then a twirl of air lifts it up, and with it your heart, up into the blue."

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Buckingham could not help a dignified snort of amusement at her description of Francis and question.

 

"Dear Kingston was a gentleman in the rough after a third of his life in exile and half of it at sea, but he was born with a natural prettiness that merely needed attention and cultivation." He smiled and allowed, with a little sweep of his hand, "There was much tuition involved, as you saw with the tailor some time ago." He laughed. Kingston hated tailors and suffered them like a 6 year old prone to tantrum! 

 

"I am pleased to hear it, though, that he lives up to the gracefulness of the Villiers blood. He is of a naturally likeable disposition." As his younger brother had been. 

 

"Far longer? Have you some reason to be displeased with your cousin's house? Or perhaps it is the arrival of his lady wife and company?" Buckingham guessed. Having been the only lady in the house must have been far superior. "No matter, as I said, you are welcome. And I wager His Majesty shall wish to come here to see you ere long." Once the situation was more clear. 

 

"In such matters, I oft fifind it better to be a feather, though sometimes I am also predisposed to being the rock. The rock upon which other things are crushed."

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Francis did not seem yet 30, but 30 was the number she used to understand the Dukes math. That would be 10 years of exile, and 15 years at sea, which seemed about right. Perhaps Francis actually was 30 then. "A life of fractions. It is all rather poetic, I dare say your clever sister could make verses with that."

"...and has Your Grace known Kingston for the Whole of it - or just for the Tenth he has been at Whitehall?" 

She did not know if Francis had been at court 3 years actually, but it seemed a fair guess (and she tried to impress the Duke by matching his quick math)

She smiled at the memory of the day they chose the seasons outfits, that had been an incredible day, never before had she shopped indulging every whim. 

Frances however, would rather be doing _anything_ else.

"I just remembered" her voice dropped to a conspirational hush, "the costume made of a dozen  colours we ordered for him. As a tease. He has managed to avoid wearing it all season, though he must have noticed it within his wardrobe. I think he's been hoping we have forgotten about it." 

Which they sort of had.

Nicolettes eyebrow mischeviously rose,  but then she sighed "But this is not the time. And as you say His Majesty is unlikely to remain much longer in London, not now, when he has wife and unborn child to protect.  Sober times such as this does not suit frivolous jackets."

Francis had dodged that prank.

Nicolette nodded quietly to Buckingham's perceptive question. Reluctant to say more, but also wanting to, for Buckingham was her friend. "I do not want to argue,  but find hard to remain silent."

Nicci wished Cousin Lisa would heed her Mothers council, and that Cousin Louis would commit fully to the Dukes camp.

Bucks cheerier thought was that Charles Rex might come to visit. Nicolette smile flashed back into place, "That would be fine, perhaps we'll get to spend some time out at the riding ring." She paused, then added with a laugh," One way or the other there might be riding." 

From a floating feather lofting on a breeze, to an unforgiving Rock upon which 'other things' could be crushed. It was such a man-thing. A counterpoint of violence. But given that mornings events, very understandable

"Other things like traitors and assassins" Nicolette surmised where he'd like to direct the lack of mercy.  

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"I daresay she could," Buckingham replied with a laugh and a roll of his eyes. His sister was as oft a collaborating writing partner as she was a critic and competitor in the literary realm. 

 

He sighed, "I have only known Kingston for a few years, perhaps two, though we were close with his mother as children. Circumstances of war and exile, and her misalliance of a husband, had us losing touch as adults until Brighton." That seemed a bothersome thought for him, for a crease crossed his brow momentarily.

 

He paused and added, "I had made Kingston' acquaintance first when he presented himself on my doorstep prior to the King's wedding. Another poor relation, I feared, with little to recommend himself. If I recall he made quite a splash for his actions during that harrowing attack during the Flotilla. Not even the stink of the Thames prevented many important personages from learning the cub's name." He chuckled.

 

"Ha! I had forgotten that as well. And we might yet make use of it one day. When he least expects it."

 

Drinks were refilled, and Buckingham said, "It is my limited experience that more than one strong woman under one roof is unadvisable. You cannot be faulted for finding difficulty. More so if there are disagreements." And as he had said earlier, the Dutch girl's presence there was enough to have them concerned over Nicci, what with the Dutch plot.

 

"Thankfully, His Majesty enjoys both activities," the duke gave a bright laugh. 

 

He nodded as she guessed when he wished to be the rock. "It is best one is not easily swayed, settled, or lifted by traitors and assassins, do you not agree?"

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"Until Brighton, why that is very recent indeed." Nicolette was surprised that the Duke and Francis mothers reunion could have been so recent as to be within her own brief time in England.  "I wonder if she was there at the bathing pools with the ladies? That was where I first saw your sister holding court, which she did magnificently."  Mall had been the star of the show that day, though Lady O'Rourke had been a close second.

"I've heard very little of what happened at Windsor." she replied to the Duke's descriptions of Francis big splash there made.  She'd been in France still at that time.   "The French papers reported almost nothing of it, while at Versailles there was wide eyed aghast, much whispered but nearly nothing said out aloud."  To the best that she could fathom at the time, Le Roi was furious.

"It was a poorly executed plot, probably the Dutch."  No good Frenchwoman spoke well of the Dutch, even an expat one like this. 

With a laugh of the jest, and glasses refilled, she gave a nod to the Dukes comment.  She understood. "One must choose wisely the moments of vulnerability - for when with those who have been proven, whom one can trust."     

 

 

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"The dear Duchess can shed her skin to show herself in best light in any surroundings, and with the wit to back up the ability," Buckingham replied. "And I doubt Kingston's lady mother would stay in Brighton and not sample the waters. She and my sister share a few qualities..." The way that he said it suggested that it might be more than a few. Lady Kingston did not have the rank and privilege to be so bold as his sister, but she was a formidable and intelligent woman in her own right. And had just as much beauty. 

 

"When she hears of this, she might find reason to call round for tea," he mused. He was referring to Mall, but it could have been about either, really. 

 

"Then you should ask Francis to tell you the story. His ship had a prime view of the altercation, and it was he that apprehended Ruvigny's bastard son." Of course, many things had happened that evening, and many persons had done things to protect the royal family, but he had little interest in any of them. Not by comparison to his interest in Francis.

 

"Indeed, and the number of persons one can truly trust is fewer than one generally likes to accept." The duke had a dark look for a moment as he added, "Betrayals make one more jaded over trust, and I have experienced my share." It was offered as if advice to someone who had yet to be hardened by a stab to the back. 

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"And I would offer her Brandy." If Mall heard about this and called round for Tea, it would be a stiff drink that any of them wanted.  Dramas like this were not to be taken tea total. 

Ruvigny was very much a French name, though Nicci still did not want to believe the attack had been French endorsed. Hadn't Buckingham said that regicide was not the Sun Kings way. "Yes I must ask Francis to tell me the tale, there is no doubt many facets to it..." 

Her eyes turned with a questioning openness to the Dukes then dark statement.  While it was advice, it came from a perspective of having been betrayed. "Can also loyalty come from places unexpected?" She hoped he had found this too, that in his past, some dark moment, there had been an unlikely hand to help at the right moment.

Unless he was speaking of today even, and this dire and dark, and it was an immediate warning to herself.  "Your Grace..." Nicolette softly mused, "these dark things are the stuff one peers at, squinting, trying to fathom. But right now I can hardly care of them. Let us speak of life, not the death of things, even if what we greave is innocence to enjoy without cares. Let us pretend that carefree again until it is our reality.  My Duke - " she stood to her feet and extended her hand, and with a grin asked, "- may I have this dance?"  

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Buckingham snorted, "Yes, well, she takes what she wants and that's always on offer here, no matter the time of day."

 

As to her question about whether or not loyalty could be found in unexpected places too, the duke considered. 

 

"Charles would say so and then tell you of his Great Escape from the country. In my experience, it is best not to depend upon such things. Not that it never happens, but it is far more likely if you are a king or a prince."

 

Unexpected loyalty had not touched him since he was far younger. Most loyalty that he had experienced was from expected avenues. 

 

While he too could do to dwell in finer topics, Buckingham was not ready to surrender to dance. "It would take a lot more coffee and alcohol to get me to succumb to that request, my dear."

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