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Defiance

The Delicacies of a Lady

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When the Queen had wished to retire early from chapel, His Majesty had 'gallantly' left early with her. In truth, he was happy for the reason to leave before the end. After seeing her safely back to her apartments and ladies, he returned to his own in order to make arrangements for the discrete safety of his wife and heir given the events of the morning. Thus far he had sent a myriad of grooms, attendants, and even his Gentlemen places to deliver notes or wake and fetch personages.

 

Buckingham had left once more to go home, to await any news that might be delivered directly to him. The King had tired of Arlington being too alarmist, and had relegated him to the other room. As soon as some of his younger gentlemen (who would surely be more useful in protecting him than Arlington) returned, he might send the man to coordinate with the Northern Secretary and be done with him entirely!

 

Soon a few of those known and trustworthy to the Queen (and himself) would be receiving notes in chapel. Then at least the most pressing matters would be settled. He was not afeared for himself in the least.

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Receiving the summons Mountjoy bid adieu to his wife as she as she preceded to the Queens apartments to attend her Majesty promising that he would look in at his earliest opportunity. It would seem that their lazy day together was not to be but he understood they both had obligations greater than themselves.

He was concerned for the Queen but as he approached the wing that contained the Royal Apartments his steps took him to the chambers of the King. He noted the increased activity but that did not provide much clarity of the present situation for there were so many important matters for the King to involve himself with. His first thought was of a surprise attack by the French but that would not explain the Queens actions. Was Danby found?  It could be so many things and it would not be profitable to wildly hypothesize so as he entered he announced himself. If the King felt need to summon him surely he would soon learn why.

“The Marquess Mountjoy presenting himself as commanded by His Majesty.”

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The Marquess was expected and so the door to the Presence Chamber was opened for him (though it was usually open to everyone). The actual Presence Chamber was solidly empty aside from two pairs of Life Guard and Yeomen of the Guard. Again, far more than was usual. From the Presence Chamber the door to His Majesty's apartment was opened for him...into a room that smelled faintly, though distinctly of puppy pee. Thankfully, they proceeded through that room and through another door, where Lord Arlington was talking to a tired looking Captain Herbert. Whether the captain was tired or simply tired of talking to Arlington was hard to tell because the usher guided him right through there as well!

 

Finally, Lord Mountjoy was announced to the outer part of HIs Majesty's bedchamber, where a few of the last final bits and bobs of royal finery were being put away as the King stood by the fireplace with a drink in hand. 

 

"Ah, Mountjoy! Most expeditious," the King greeted, in good humor despite all the strange activities. "You have arrived before the others, but do not fear, Her Majesty is in good health. There is another matter which requires discrete attention, for the Queen. It is of the utmost importance she not be disconcerted and it might be most difficult to hide the evidence of disconcerting matters to so discerning a woman."

 

He handed his cup off to a page. "Right to it, then, my lord." His Majesty was not fond of long-winded speeches, in himself or others! "A foreigner was found murdered not twenty feet from where I was supposed to receive a small group this morning. There is not yet an update from those investigating. I do not wish the Queen to fret, but there is considerable threat. A plot was uncovered some time ago involving Danby and the Dutch and a discrete investigation has been taking place into involvement even at the very heart of our own court." 

 

Mountjoy's own activities on the continent had been thoroughly looked into before he had even set foot back on shore, but what he had been up to and who he had spoken to since had also been watched closely. 

 

All the talk about Mountjoys had been about the Affair of the Ribbon. Yes, the gossipy Queen's ladies (and little else to talk about in the Queen's household these days) had ensured that even His Majesty knew about the missing ribbon!

 

The King took up his cup again and took a long drink, raising his eyebrow and giving Mountjoy a nod to ask whatever question might be brewing. It was a much different conversation from limericks and dogs!

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Mountjoy had barely enough time to announce himself before he had to scurry after an usher that seemed to almost dash into the Kings private apartments, Blount’s red heels clicked on the parquet as he matched the expeditious pace and followed in tow.

Previous to the restoration of the second Charles his father, the first Charles, habitually used the Presence Chamber as the inner most room to conduct business preferring to retain his bedroom suite as private rooms. This Charles was less formal and often used his bedchamber to conduct business of state so it was not unprecedented for Blount to gain access to the Kings close apartments but it was unusual to be ushered in so expeditiously as the Marquess was not one of His Majesty’s inner circle. His sense of trepidation was heightened as he was whisked immediately through that room into the antechamber where he recognized Arlington and was contemplating a polite greeting before he realized that his journey was not complete and he passed thru that room with barley a nod to its occupants into the last room that courtiers were allowed into but by personal invitation of Charles Rex himself.

The tall form of the King was easily recognizable as he stood by the fireplace. Charles, the Marquess not Charles the King, took in a large breath to steady himself from the rapidity of his enterance and promptly uncovered himself as he awaited address from his King. A slight smile and bob of his head acknowledged the Kings preamble and the affirmation that the Queen’s health was not impacted brought a visible reduction in the stiffness of his shoulders. He just was able to swallow the ‘thank goodness’ that was about to pass his lips for it would not do to interrupt ones sovereign.

The pleasantries did not last long however for the King was notorious for eschewing extraneous banter and launched directly to the point. It could be said that Mountjoy was the opposite of the King and was noted for his flowery and sometimes long winded speech. The seriousness of the subject however tempered this propensity and the Marquess took in the information quietly and emitted an “Ahemm” as he digested the implications. It was always tricky when addressing the King for etiquette prevented asking outright questions of the Royal personage but the King’s demeanor indicated that questions were not only allowable but expected in this case. There was a lot to unpack.

“I see” he said analyzing the situation. Mountjoy tried to make it a habit to keep his conversations with the king focused on lighter topics such as limericks and dogs for His Majesty easily tired of many tedious matters put before him but in this situation the business was deadly serious. “I take it that the primary reason for my summons was to assist in safe guarding the Queen without the appearance of overtly doing so?” This was a logical assumption for such tasks could hardly be performed by the Ladies in Waiting or the Chamberlin. “The Queen’s condition will make this task much simpler for she is oft now in seclusion and her apartments could be discretely ringed with extra guards. I and perhaps a few trusted younger gentlemen could make it a point to spend time with her ladies and thereby provide the Queen closer protection without much interference with her daily activities or the appearance of actual guards restricting her activities. I believe one of your Gentlemen, Lord Kingston, has already been spending some time with the Ladies who have become accustomed to his presence so perhaps his services could be obtained. For any public appearance may I assume that Her Majesty would be accompanying your Majesty and thus be adequately protected? I could also solicit my Ladywife, the Margravina to ensure that the Queen’s ladies are kept observed and not send to perform any duties alone.”

He thought for moment thinking back to the previous Queen. “May I also make a suggestion, if it has not already been done, to increase security in the kitchens and with the pages that provide your Majesties with food and drink to guard against the possibility of poison.”

However protecting the Royal personages was only a reaction to the threat and not an answer to it. He obviously knew about the troubles and flight of Danby but the King’s revelation that he had been conspiring with the Dutch came as a bit of a shock and hinted at a much deeper game. “I understand the attack is recent and not yet fully investigated but are you suggesting that Danby might be conspiring to harm your person or that the Dutch are working against you?”  He could fully fathom a noble conspiring for power, influence or revenge but his innate loyalty to the Crown made him resistant that one would deliberately wish harm on the Monarch himself. “I fear my travels have prevented me from remaining current with the current subterfuges of the Court but if you would forgive me I was under the impression that you were not unduly concerned that Danby had run and had not been found.”

“I can assure your Majesty that as your Solicitor General that when the culprits are brought to the bench that they will face the full force of your justice. We are, however, not yet at that point so as a gentleman I assure you that I will undertake any service you require to assist in this matter. I get the impression that the affair with Danby is deeper than I realized and that the situation with the Dutch and perhaps even the French are not what they generally appear.”

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(OOC - If you are in an earlier plot-related thread, I would stop reading now ;)  )

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.His Majesty was a congenial and generous man and his proclivities hid much of his shrewdness. Thus he listened carefully to all of Mountjoy's ideas.

 

"Yes, my lord, both in the mental sense and physical sense. You have a knowledge of Her Majesty that most do not, and coupled with Lady Mountjoy, are best placed to assure the Queen has no reason to fret and hears no reason to fret and sees nothing particularly odd. As you surmise, your presence and lingering would also not be suspect." 

 

There was the briefest raise of an eyebrow when Mountjoy mentioned Kingston. While he had already surmised Kingston good for this mission; indeed, it was one reason why he had left the cub with Queen's household in Windsor in the first place, a duty which had continued. It would seem the decision had been to good effect if Mountjoy would suggest Kingston so readily now. 

 

"Ahh, yes, Kingston. You approve of the gentleman, then? He is very practiced in a fight, delicate though he looks."

 

As to the threat, the King said, "It is what Danby has left in his wake which is now feared troublesome,. It is what he has already done which is problematic. Any who may have colluded are now in dire circumstances with little to lose, and it seems that at the very least there is Dutch faction which wishes me dead and sees opportunity fading, and the French would have me fear my own nephew at the head of the scheme. There are more of our own that must be involved; Danby cannot have been alone in a scheme this large. It is quite difficult to ferret out the truth of things."

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“I take it Sire then that I have your leave to institute the proposed precautions for the Queen? And while I assume that this conversation is to be kept strictly confidential I will need to inform the Margravina of the general situation in order that she is knowledgeable enough to assist with the Queen’s safety.” He would obviously keep the King’s confidences and wished to define what leeway he had to carry out the King’s desires.

As for Kingston he responded. “In truth I did not initially approve of the gentleman and suspected his motives in insinuating himself with the Queen’s ladies first viewing his attendance with suspicion and to be countered. The Margravina spoke well of his conduct however and I began to notice some small things at Court. I can not discern how he, from a relatively obscure house, rose so quickly in your favor but for any with the facility to perceive he obviously has. Then, if one were to assume he has your trust, which your response just now confirms, it would explain his interest… or more precisely…your interest in the Queen’s household. I am unable to fathom why or how Lord Kingston was able to so easily obtain such a position but it is clear that he has your confidence and that is good enough for me.”

Mountjoy had first thought Kingston was placed near the Queen as a spy to facilitate the King’s dalliances. That might still be true but Blount thought it politic not to divulge that particular bit of his reasoning. He smiled when the King declared Francis capable despite his delicate looks.

“I understand your meaning about his looks. I have been tempted to send to Meissen to commission a porcelain doll in his likeness. I have come to admire such porcelain, so fine and beautiful yet harboring an unexpected hardness. It appears your Majesty has found its like but in flesh instead of paste.”

Blount knew well not to judge a book by its cover both as a metaphor and when actually judging books. There were a number of superb copies in his library of Greek poetry hidden behind ghastly covers. His own cover of manners and fashion belied his inner text as many Barristers had discovered to their determent.

“In fact if your Majesty is interested in porcelain I have several exquisite pieces I would be more than happy to show you… Ahem… well… perhaps now is not the time for such things with dead bodies and state intrigue afoot.” He caught himself before he digressed further into one of his ramblings although if the King professed interest he would be happy to explain his collection in intimate detail.

“What you say about Danby is disturbing, about the possibilities concerning the Dutch and William even more so.” He said getting back to the matter at hand. He thought on the problem and came away with more questions than answers. “The confusing thing, to me at least, is the motive for wishing harm to your Majesty, at least at this time. Without an heir I could see the French and Catholic interests plotting in favor of your brother with the Protestants and Dutch favoring your niece or Monmouth in the succession but with the Queen pregnant your child, whether male or female, would have a superior claim so why show their hand now? Who would profit without knowing, or neutralizing, the child beforehand as otherwise the succession is not changed? I could be mistaken however and the plot may have nothing to do with the succession for I do not know enough about the underlying conspiracy to form a truly informed opinion. Name your foe, give me your trust and it will be more than a ferret that has been unleashed.  My family has served the crown faithfully for neigh on six hundred years. I assure your Majesty that I will do nothing to call into question that loyalty. ”

Mountjoy wished to be helpful and forwarded an obvious hypothesis but he did so with a caveat and a supplication that he could be trusted.

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"Your sense of urgency is most heartening, but there is yet a bit more to discuss before any plans are enacted," the King replied, with a smile. "The Yeomen of the Guard and Life Guard already have their orders." The King chuckled, "Our cause is the more delicate of matters concerning the female minds and to that end, Feversham is not as well-suited, so he is keeping discrete watch for now so immediate safety is assured." 

 

Indeed, there was a reason why Lord Feversham was also a close confidante of the Duke of York; he was more military minded than a student of female sensibilities. That he was to the point in his duties also suited his Queen, but these dainty things...well, Charles Rex would be the first to admit, he did not understand them very well either, so he could hardly fault Feversham. 

 

The King listened as Mountjoy expounded on Kingston to great detail. The gentleman was very astute that Kingston had gone from no one to someone in a short time, but he barely kept his face schooled and very nearly snorted out loud when Mountjoy said the cub came from no great family; Buckingham would have been so very ruffled! Charles would have loved to see such a reaction, alas, his imagination would have to do! And truthfully Kirke was no great name. 

 

"The answer to Kingston's presence around Her Majesty is quite simple, my lord," the King replied. Something of an explanation was required or it might give rise to greater rumors. "Those who prove themselves useful oft find use. I have not seen many gentlemen make the Queen laugh or smile, but yet Kingston does, almost reliably. Her Majesty has trade proclivities and an intelligent mind, and Kingston will take her seriously for such interests. It is a feat I do not fully understand, but I suspect it is because Kingston was raised in exile almost solely by women for over a decade; that is far more exposure to their whims and minds than most of us men get!" He chuckled heartily. "So when the Queen needed both someone who could find her strange culinary requests and surreptitiously be present in such a scenario, the combination of trade, sword, and demeanor was most useful in comparison to others of my household." 

 

The King laughed heartily at the joke about a porcelain figure of the soft-featured blond. That was endorsement enough that if such a thing found its way into his hands, he would probably take hilarity over torturing Kingston with it for the rest of his court career, providing the King with much diversion.

 

"It is coincidental you should suggest Kingston, for he is due back any moment."

 

As to further confidences of the plot in particular, the problem with most courtiers was that they had families and alliances beyond their allegiances to the King, even those who seemed of the Court Party, for factions ruled more than strict lines drawn between two sides. 

 

The young, to Charles, were harder to trust, for he had not decades with which to evaluate them; many were both opportunistic and inexperienced in knowing how to play their cards in dangerous circumstances. Lord Mountjoy had many a variety of experience, including those of intrigue, but he was yet somewhat young to the King and though he had been a loyal supporter for a long time...well, the King did not trust him enough to tell him everything

 

It was easier to place more full trust in those that were his "old friends"; ministers which may have waned some in power at court but who had always placed his interests first, even at their personal peril, like Arlington. Or those who were the family of his multitude of children. Their familial interests were not served by his death or the death of any royal half-siblings!

 

"In that sense, I think the answer is simple. If one has plotted my death or my brother's, it is treason no matter when it occurred. It seems there were too many betting early that I would not father an heir. Those who made inroads and alliances with the Dutch with Danby for the case of my brother becoming King and solidifying with France. When Danby fell, the risk of exposure grew, and then the Queen was announced as pregnant, so such treachery would no longer serve Dutch interest either. One has only a few courses in such instances: hope one can hide it, flee, kill co-conspirators, or finish the plot." 

 

Unfortunately for many of the King's advisors, his royal person was willing to endure risk in order to flush such people out. That risk, thus far, had culminated with a dead man in the gardens, which was not so very bad after the Flotilla which had nearly taken off his cock! That had taught him a modicum of caution over plots.

 

For many reasons, he needed to know with absolute certainty that his nephew was or was not involved. That marriage had potentially taken on all new sorts of connotations since this had all come to light, especially considering his position was quite important to the war between the Dutch and French.

 

(*Lord Feversham is the Queen's Chamberlain or Vice-chamberlain, I forget which)

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“As your Majesty wishes.” He replied to the King’s declaration that time was not yet ripe for action against any possible conspirators and that he wished Mountjoy to focus on both protecting the Queen and shielding her from any ramifications of that protection. The tid-bit about Feversham was quietly filed away for later use. Mountjoy preferred to act without prior notice to the indoor staff feeling it is better to inform rather than ask permission but it was good to know that they would be able to act in concert in this instance. A turf war within the Queen’s household would not be a desirable thing “Until Your Majesty wishes I shall concentrate my efforts on securing the Queens safety and the wellbeing of the life she carries for there is no greater service I could give to the Crown than to see your rightful issue continue and thrive.”

Regardless of age or experience his loyalties to the Crown had dictated his support of the King’s brother James and his efforts to thwart the various exclusion laws proposed by Parliament despite his qualms about the ability of James to properly rule and carry on the work of his brother. He has real misgivings about James’s temperament but real service involved more than to strive for advancement. It required loyalty and integrity and Blount would support the Crown despite any reservations he might have. But if Karoline were to deliver the King a legitimate son, a son who would be raised Protestant and groomed to rule, that would alleviate Mountjoy’s misgivings about the succession. If he were to fail in this charge it would not be through conflicted loyalties or self interest.

In this task it was evident that he could rely upon Lord Kingston of whom the King spoke glowingly. The King echoed the Margravina in extolling the fair Lord’s ability to obtain elusive delectables and his easy way around the ladies. “As with you I also sometimes find it difficult to fathom the fair sex even though I have two sisters and my mother was quite doating. I fancy myself an observant fellow and an able judge of both character and motives but I find that the quite logical and accurate conclusions I arrive at when concerning a Lady who are often, for no discernable reason, erroneous. Females can oft times be extremely complicated.” He rhetorically lamented. Even his dear Margravina whom he thought to be a most reasonable example of her sex could confound him mightily. Life would be so much simpler if all women were as transparent and forthright as Lady Oakham.

His, if one were to be truthful, rather flippant comment about a doll in Kingston’s likeness brought forth an unexpected burst of mirth from the King. He really had no plans for such a doll but the king’s reaction made him consider the feasibility of such an endeavor. He could even get a leather doll in the likeness of Shaftesbury to play fetch and tug-of-war with his dog Bran. But such indulgent thoughts were for another time. “Ah!, if that is so, I would with your leave speak to him in regards to our task at hand which no doubt will require some finesse and planning to carry out.” He replied when informed of the porcelain completed Lord’s imminent arrival. 

Making a face he grimaced. “Treason… it is a foul word and an even fouler deed. The depths of Hell are too fair a place for the perpetrators of such an act. I had hoped all that died with Cromwell.” He spat out in distain. The Blounts had the reputation of being staunchly Royalist but even they had run afoul of treason on occasion. During the War of the Roses a few Blounts saw the inside of the Tower or had their heads lopped off but that time was notorious for shifting loyalties and they at least had the good grace to pick a Plantagenet and see him through to the end. “But I digress and indignation will not solve the problem.” He said to explain away his pique. “Suffice it to say that you may always rely upon me to see to your interests.”

Focusing back to the Queen he added. “Has any intelligence been revealed to indicate that the Queen is being specifically targeted or that any of her Ladies have been approached, threatened or subverted?” He thought for a moment. This also begs the question… how much, if anything, should be revealed to the Ladies? Enlisting their aid could be advantageous but it would also increase the risk of Her Majesty finding out what is afoot and increase the possibility of our precautions becoming known. It might also be detrimental to have them keep secrets from the Queen.”

He thought again. “May I have your permission to speak in your name to direct the Queen’s Guards and pages as necessary to ensure The Queens safety as I or Kingston can not be in constant attendance.” He was attempting to delineate the parameters of his authority to carry out the Kings wishes. As a Gentleman of the Bedchamber Kirke already had the authority to speak in the Kings name but Blount did not.   

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Francis, for his part, had not expected the day to go as it had. He had expected it to be busy, between the puppy audience, chapel, and seeing the gift the Queen had commissioned to the King to her in the afternoon, but nothing had been even as simple as that! 

 

The puppy audience went forth even though a murder had been committed, in the precise spot His Majesty was supposed to be short of an hour, and Nicci (arriving early for the meeting, probably suspecting a royal rendezvous instead) had apparently interrupted the end of said murder. Ranelagh had gotten her safely inside and away from everything, but the King had sent him to see her from Whitehall to Buckingham's whilst everyone was at chapel and satisfy His Majesty's desires to make certain she was calmed and okay. 

 

He had forgotten about Nash's creation on commission for the Queen entirely in all of that. However, it had been waiting for him at the Duke's. He had spent the (brisk) walk back to the palace, because he could not ride Nash's sugar sculpture, pondering how he was going to handle said sugar sculpture with the current circumstances. While he was quite positive there were no murderous intentions, given the Queen's rose and such from her ladies had been safe, he was not about to think it a good idea for any foreign things to go near the Queen. 

 

He was still thinking about that as he made his way back to His Majesty's apartments, hearing the boom of the King's laugh echo through the backstairs. It was a good sound to hear in such circumstances, for those who kept the King in good humor were quite valued by His Majesty. He had to admit that he was quite curious who it might be. 

 

Quietly, he opened the door and stayed in the background, holding his pretty box still pondering the predicament.

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The King noted Kingston's expected arrival, but he was too occupied listening to Mountjoy expound upon his contempt for treason to immediately acknowledge it. 

 

"History tell us such things never die with one man, no matter if his dead body is dug up and displayed or not," the King replied, with a level of candor that Mountjoy should feel complimented for it. Whilst his cousin was attempting to conquer as much of the continent as possible, Charles had found doing as little harm as possible to be the soundest policy in many cases, and to make most see him as a King who enjoyed his entertainments made him seem far less threatening. In truth, he was far shrewder than that. His ability to generate coin through ever back door and secret avenues rather attested to that to those who knew of it. 

 

The French were still paying him for things. While they were attempting to 'save his life,' if one believed that, but it was a rather decent place to be if one was the object of assassination.

 

His Majesty took the pause in Mountjoy's approbations and diligence to note Kingston's arrival with a nod. "Kingston, a fine time to join us."

 

Then he answered the questions put forth by the marquess. "It is what our intelligence suggests, but there has been no specific threat."

 

One did think differently when one had an heir on the way. There was more caution than in previous years. "There are a few around the Queen who know in general of the threat, as does the Queen herself from after Christmastide. It must be kept from her that anything is going on currently in her condition. Her entire retinue can surely not be trusted for such matters. Let us think on it." 

 

He pondered this for a moment, suddenly having an image of a Butterfly sleeping under the Queen's window...

 

"Ah, yes, Mountjoy. You bring us to an important point. Any such sudden changes will arouse suspicion. The plan for now is to have either Feversham, yourself, or Kingston there, at least one of you awake at all times, but for tonight the hope was to have the two of you mount watch whilst this initial act is investigated. If any see the two of you having late conversation in the Queen's apartments together, none shall think twice of it, and we cannot place Life Guard or Guardsmen so far inside her apartments without suspicion since they are not there usually. Only one of you lurking about might seem odd. Once the ladies retire to the bedchamber, they shan't know you've stayed all night making sure they are safe."

 

There was still yet quite a bit more to discuss before he sent the lords on their way, but it was best delivered in smaller pieces.

 

(OOC - Hope and I brainstormed this set-up together bc she plays Karoline and her mini plot with the egg and Francis as well as your threads with CB and the Margravina intersected with the events of the day a little unexpectedly, I'm trying to keep things to what we discussed since my own character is involved. I may not directly address everything you post for that reason, bc I'm not trying to sway too far off the beaten path especially when she's not around for consulting ;) For example, I'm going to hold off a bit on naming ladies to include since that's more her arena. We can circle back.) 

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From a legal and logical perspective it was always better for the patron to fully explain the situation and motives as it allowed one to fully interpret the desired outcome and act with one’s full capacity but the King was no ordinary patron and was astute enough not to always follow that principle. Mountjoy recognized that and as one who had been able to significantly aid the King in finding coin in unlooked for spaces had an inkling of the depth of the game being played. He recognized the trust and respect he had been shown by His Majesty and although it would be useful to be privy to the utmost secrets of the King’s mind it would also be dangerous. How much of Danby’s current misfortunes were due to treasonous actions or to too deep a knowledge of the kings affairs. It was widely understood by those that served him that to the public the King never made a mistake only his ministers did. The fact that Charles Rex was more loyal to those that served him than many an other Prince was some consolidation.

At the greeting of the King Mountjoy turned and offered a small bow and an abbreviated “Lord Kingston” as his own greeting. He did briefly note the fine features of his face and the pale skin of the newly arrived Lord thinking the Meissen craftsmen could do it justice but really was not given enough time to indulge that line of thought. “We were just speaking of you.”

As the King explained what he wished, at least in the near term, he nodded. “That is prudent Sire. The recent… felony… just might cause the malefactors to tip their hand and do something rash. That may increase the danger but it might also increase the chance of thwarting such an act.” Turning to the new arrival he said. “My Lord Kingston, may I interest you in a game of cards this evening in the Queens Chambers?” Thinking a friendly game of cards unexpectedly stretching into the wee hours of the morning would be a convincing enough explanation if needed. “That should appear innocent enough and indeed may provide one of us the opportunity to earn a few guineas from the evening.” He concluded offering a lighthearted air to a serious task.

 

(OOC: That is fine. In Character Blount would probably show concern for the safety of Ursula as well but, as you say, our threads have been jumbled together, so we can let such details slide till when/if they become needed.}

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Francis had walked into the very heart of the seriousness of the matter as he head the end of talk of treason and the King's allusion to the exhumation of posthumous execution of Cromwell. He gave a swallow, for he actually remembered that day quite well. It had been the day before his birthday, a day that could never be a celebration in his family. 

 

Now though, thoughts of Cromwell and punishing murderers gave him other difficult thoughts and risings of rage; he fought mightily to swallow it down, but he had that hot Villiers blood as much as any of them and while he had gotten enough birching in his youth to calm that mercurial nature, it was still there. If either the King or Mountjoy was paying him any mind, they might have heard a growl of an exhale from him, for he was currently imagining his own father's murder and mutilation that had occurred just twelve miles away.

 

His hands tightened some on the pretty box, knuckles white. He would have rather liked to have heard Oliver Cromwell's screams, for a long-dead body's mutilation and execution had not the same cathartic effect. 

 

Francis realized his jaw was clenched entirely too tightly to talk when he could not immediately answer, so he hid it behind a pretty bow and took a breath as he straightened. There were more important things to think about now, so he paid close attention to what was outlined. His Majesty had left him with the Queen in Windsor to such effect, so he was not particularly surprised at his role. The Queen was not necessarily fond of many of those to whom the King was fond, who also did not have a myriad of duties or positions, so he had found himself on a very short list.

 

"Your Majesty knows I do not require much sleep and can stay vigilant to sounds in the darkness from my time at sea and in the colonies. I will stay near the Queen as long as you wish," he vowed. He had no wife or family to be suspicious of an absence and no position of state to attend to where an absence would be noted. Buckingham knew far more than he about what was going on, so there was no conflict of interest if he did not return home for a bloody fortnight if need be! "And any little extra attentions Your Majesty puts in place might be explained by your diligent care after she wished to leave chapel early. Concern for her and your heir in a health sense, rather than concern over plots and physical dangers," Francis supplied. The Queen had left chapel early on her own, so if the King showed extra 'concern' that would not be strange; it could not explain guardsmen and being armed to the teeth, but it could explain extra measures such as more of a presence of Lord Mountjoy and Lord Feversham from her own household and his own presence to keep the royal husband informed. 

 

Lord Mountjoy suggested that a game of cards between them would work to explain them both lingering around that late, and he nodded in appreciation. Cards could go on far longer than latrones; especially because he was not very good at latrones. Also thankfully, Buckingham paid for his upkeep, because Francis was quite sure his income could not keep up with Lord Mountjoy's otherwise. 

 

"On wager for the evening's overall winner should be a fine brace of pistols that we can lay on the table for all to admire, my lord. Do you not think?" Kingston replied, with a chuckle. "His Majesty has several...dozens...that might be provided." Obviously he simply wanted a reason to keep loaded pistols in plain view and within their reach, because they clearly could not be armed to the teeth in an obvious way (although Francis had one stuck in the back of his breeches and an extra dagger in his boot). 

 

There were small things that Francis had learned at Buckingham's knee that he could put to good use, for his political acumen was yet fledgling, and one of those was that the King in most private moments preferred those who were loyal and true to him as a man, not as King. In honesty, the King always seemed to hate that things took so much longer because he was King! He much preferred to get his business of Kingship done quickly and early without witnesses to the informality of some of it. So, in such instances, while it was quite brazen to volunteer his sovereign's property for the charade, he also knew it was the expediency of the suggestion that truly mattered. 

 

If one was brutally honest, His Majesty's vast collections of "things" that had been gifted were organized such that the household could find what things might be of use with which courtiers if the situation merited it. Otherwise, there was no way the King would ever use many of them. And like many men, the King's favourite of anything was not the finest or most guilt but the one to which he was personally attached for whatever reason. The rest was expendable. 

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It would have been difficult for anyone that close in proximity not to notice Kingston's change of demeanor. The cherubic youth of the cub's face had been the previous topic of discussion with Mountjoy, but the King had earlier that day commented that Kingston could be quite (fondly) Luciferian when warranted. And there was that murderous look in those blue eyes that His Majesty was quite counting upon should any attempt anything close to the Queen. 

 

Lord Mountjoy expressed his disdain for treason with words and pledges, a consummate courtier and lawyer, but just as sincere in the candor of delivery. Mountjoy took glee in facing down boar, and most might not expect that of so polished, stylish, and eloquent a man. So he too was somewhat surprisingly fierce for what appearances and personality might first suggest. The King felt secure in his choices. Both theses gentlemen could blend with ample kindness and care with the ladies, but both could kill a man and risk himself entirely in the doing of it without second thought. 

 

And younger men were never quite so jaded as those lords who had been at court for decades, so they had an eagerness that did not beleaguer him. He rather doubted his young Queen wished stodgy old men to beleaguer her either!

 

"It may be a long duty, Kingston, until we know more, but you sailors are used to long hours and sleeping rough," the King replied, with a hint of amusement. "Stay near the Queen, and should there be any kerfuffle it is my wish that Lord Mountjoy and yourself do not leave her and those ladies closest to her no matter what anyone else may say. I do not wish any Life Guards moving her about and frightening her." He gave a strong look between the two gentlemen. He trusted them to not just serve surreptitious protection, but to be something of a husbandly proxy as he could not himself stay with his own wife in such instances. 

 

"Ha! Mountjoy, you do know how to make your King jealous of an evening!" He would far rather pretend that there was little going on and have a game of cards, himself. "And it will provide the perfect ruse for a late one." Chuckling more, he gave Kingston a clap on the shoulder, "Yes, do find some of my pretty pistols for a prize. If I cannot be there, my pistols shall be." A few more rumbles of amusement escaped him. This pair was doing very well to lift his spirits in such circumstances, in more than one way. "I confess, I thought pistols might be what was in your box there."

 

(OOC - I am sure Lady Mountjoy will be included and we still have quite a bit to go through in this thread, so we will circle back around to that before I send this pair off to the Queen ;) )

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Mountjoy was not so overawed by the King’s presence or self important enough that he would fail to notice a gentleman joining their conversation, even if the King did not announce the arrival himself. Kingston’s inner conflict did not go unnoticed given that on every other occasion that they had met Kingston had been the very model of affability. The recent happenings were enough to give rise to such pique but as Francis was still something of an anomaly to Blount, something that the Kings rationalizations did not totally expel, he wondered if Kirke was feeling irked that the King was willing to take Mountjoy into his confidence for some at Court believed that Royal favor was a zero sum game and begrudged anyone else who had it. Mountjoy was not one such courtier for the King had proven that he was willing to reward all those who served him well and so far he had been amply rewarded for his service. He did not view such a display with approbation for Blount had a bit of a temper himself but he took great pains to conceal it under a blanket of civility and manners. That Francis was able to suppress such a display, whatever the cause, was a favorable quality. Kingston had in fact just missed Mountjoy’s own display bad humor in answer to the plots against the Crown and if they ever were to converse on the character of Cromwell he would quickly discover that they would have very similar opinions. Blount was critical of the exhumation and hanging of Cromwell’s body but his position was not that it was not deserved it was because he thought it was tardy. 

 

“I may require a little more sleep that my Lord Kingston here and prefer active hunting to laying in wait for my prey but am willing to set a blinds about the Queen to ensure that no foxes get into the royal henhouse.”  He said in response to Kingston’s statement about needing little sleep showing that there was no situation that could not be improved by a hunting analogy. “I have little experience with the sea and none of life in the colonies with red Indians lurking under every bed but I was in a particularly boisterous house at Winchester School so am rather adept in the preparation and thwarting of nocturnal skullduggery.”  He thought back to his school days and although it did not involve hunting reminisced … “We had a virulent rivalry with another House and after a painful loss during a particularly rancorous cricket match we wished to avenge ourselves upon our rivals by smearing pig fat on the privy seats of their house during the night so that they would have greased and sticky arses in the morning… Almost got away with it too but were discovered mid-act.” He thought back to that unfortunate incident. “Poor Heneage, he could not run as fast as the other boys and ended up tied naked to the statue in the middle of the quad. It was an equestrian statue and he was tied in a very unflattering and compromising position.”

 

Hunting and old school high jinks aside, The King brought matters back in hand as he explained what he wished from the gentlemen. What his Majesty required was a lose and soft cushion about the Queen that would cosset but not chafe yet be fierce and unforgiving if required, a fluffy lap dog with the fangs of a wolf.  Indeed the King had seemed to choose the participants for this endeavor very wisely. Unlike Kirke Blount did not have the knee of a relative (secret or not) to learn from. His Father had died in the civil war when Charles was but a babe and his Grandfather was mostly away fighting the war or in exile and only had a few years with his grandson after the restoration before he himself passed away and from his Uncle he only received dishonesty and fraud. The little guidance he received from his Grandfather, the history of his family and mentorship of the Finches instilled in him a profound sense of duty and reverence to the Crown. Mountjoy was aware of the Kings preferences and calculated disregard of pomp but Mountjoy, for good or bad would always see Charles as the King before he saw Charles the man. It was one of the reasons he sometimes used the antiquated term ‘sire’ when addressing the King. This may not have made him the sort that the King would choose as a boon companion, something that Kingston was obviously suited for, but, as he took pains never to bring problems only solutions he hoped he would be seen as a man who could be trusted and relied upon to get things done. Besides, no one wanted their Lawyer to be a merry sailor they wanted him to be a ruthless shark.    

 

To indicate that he was willing to act together with Kirke he stated. “Going forward I am sure Kingston, Feversham and I can take it in turn so to speak to see that one of us is at hand at all times without causing any undue notice or imposition. Aside from my duties to the Queen which would explain my attendance during the day, the fact that I have just returned after several months away it would only seem natural that I spend more time with my Lady wife at the Palace during the evenings. I pray that you be at ease for the safety of the Queen Sire for I shall be as resolute as…” Here he wished to evoke a nautical reference in honor of Francis’s maritime experiences “…as what do you call those crustaceans that affix themselves to the bottom of a ship and steadfastly refused to be removed.” He said looking at Kingston for the proper word which once supplied continued.* “A barnacle yes… you are a most accomplished seaman, I shall be as a barnacle attached to the Queen’s bottom.” Realizing he had let his hyperbole run a bit too freely he added. “Er, I am of course speaking allegorically and not in the literal sense.”

 

Mountjoy’s eyebrows shot up in approval when Francis suggested they play for a brace of His Majesty’s Pistols. “My word I can see that ship’s Captains are as resourceful at earning their keep as lawyers! That we shall play cards and His Majesty shall provide the purse is a stroke of genius on more than one level. With cleverness such as that you may even make it to the Bar.” Kirke’s suggestion was very clever for other than a court sword one did not generally go armed into the Royal presence. Mountjoy was not one to secrete daggers about his person but he did have a nifty little sword cane that he was dying to try out and he had a small pocket pistol that he had only ever been able to discharge in order to frighten away the peacocks. “If this goes on for some time perhaps My Lord Kingston you may find a brace of boar spears of His Majesty’s for us to play for as I find that one can really never have too many boar spears. But we must be careful for between the two of us, if this goes on long enough, we may deplete the royal armory to such a degree that there will be nothing left to fight the French!”

 

In typical English fashion they were able to lightly banter about a very serious subject so when the King lightly mentioned that he wished them to stay by the Queen even in the face of the lifeguard he took note. He had the rank and the position to hold his ground even in the face of the highest in the land and that is what he would do. He did not choose to comment he just nodded to indicate that he understood the directive. When it came to the Queen, and his own wife, even Buckingham would receive a sharp nip if he attempted anything that disregarded those orders.

 

But the serious note was soon passed and he again took his lead from the King and said “Yes, what is in the box?”

 

 

 

[OOC: * I have received permission to assume Kirke’s reply.]

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"I will stay as long as Your Majesty has need of me there," Francis replied solemnly. "As your words or your sword." 

 

Finally! Something he was useful for other than pleasing ladies and providing entertainment! For while Francis was humble enough to serve any purpose for his royal master and be happy of it, he also did not wish to feel his only use was...superficial. He was fairly useless politically, for there was only so much one could learn in less than one year of tutelage by Buckingham, and much of that had been spent on basics he likely should have learned at thirteen rather than nearly thirty. There was a pattern followed for eldest sons that had been utterly foregone for Francis, and Francis himself was more critical of his perceived ineptitudes than any others involved. Francis was left thinking that most probably thought him the most undeserving pretty upstart, who had little actual use.

 

And, well, history said that particular situation never boded well for any Villiers. Not one at all. 

 

Any reminders, therefore, that his actual abilities lay more with the sword were overwhelmingly welcome. While he hoped nothing at all happened anywhere near the Queen, for he had seen enough fights not to be idiot enough to wish them, he had long ago faced down fears of injury or death. There was a reason sailors were known for being the roughest of the bunch. His pretty face might hide that, but many persons has seen his plethora of scars. His forearm was littered with the scars of a man who had stopped a dagger drawn on him in surprise one too many times with the bony side. 

 

Francis laughed as Mountjoy explained the vigilance gained whilst enduring one' schooling. "Well, my lord, I see we can trade stories of such affairs for part of the night." He had not gone to the same school, and he had not spent very long at such affairs before leaving for war, but he had a few solid years of jumping out of windows attempting to evade house masters. 

 

It seemed to him that Lord Mountjoy was quite the enjoyable individual. Or at least they could speak of matters and experience rather than pleasantries and scripted things. His Majesty seemed quite elevated in spirits for the situation at hand, but then a bit of Francis wondered if His Majesty did not enjoy the excitement some; other than the Queen, his royal master seemed not worried in the very least. The King was not one to enjoy dwelling in melancholy, so Francis was pleased they provided some laughter and mirth. 

 

Francis snickered and provided the other lord with "barnacle" at the appropriate moment, having a hard time keeping his mind from imagining the fashionable lord clinging to a ship going through the water. He almost choked on his spit when Mountjoy's further speech led him to imagine....

 

Thankfully, the moment passed quickly for pistols were a far more welcome topic and one the King seemed to enjoy immensely. Francis felt Buckingham's advise was particularly invaluable, because it would not have been his initial instinct. "I'Faith, I would not mind spearing traitors with boar spears, my lord, for I have never speared a boar with one!" Kingston looked to see if the King would indulge their ridiculousness.

 

As to his box, Francis had nearly forgotten he was holding it. "Oh, erm, no not pistols." It took him a moment to compose his thoughts, somewhat caught off-guard by the question. "It is a gift, Sir, that the Queen has commissioned for Your Majesty, but I confess in the circumstances I do not feel I can present it to her to present it to you, though I do not doubt its source. I cannot say more without ruining the surprise, but it is of a nature to be inappropriate in the circumstances and no way to properly deal with it without simultaneously raising the alarm." It was quite an odd position to be in and being unable to truly explain it. "But nor can I fail to deliver it without risking poor Mister Nash, the artisan from Kingston who has made it to whom she has just offered a small position." 

 

With great valor, given the whims of ladies, especially important ladies, he ventured, "I thought of saying that I have broken it, and that it shall have to be replaced so that we might both avoid ruining the surprise for Your Majesty or introducing something during such a time." He could not even say that it was bloody well edible because that was quite a large portion of the surprise! The art of Mr. Nash did not look edible.

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His Majesty did find amusement in the discourse with this pair, and what an odd pair it would have seemed in his mind...however, it seemed the two young lords could find some mutual ground easily. Charles had not anticipated much laughter or ease coming from this  conversation, especially after the first few serious minutes, but he was very pleased of its turn. It was important, after all, for these two to seem as if nothing was afoot. 

 

The King's deep chuckles returned as Mountjoy complimented Kingston for his ingenuity, although he quite thought the cub missed the bit where earning his keep might be as easily construed as lining his pockets as much as earning his keep by performing his duties well. That made it all the funnier really. Mountjoy was very perceptive of different angles and such was a needed ability for lawyering. 

 

"Well, Lord Mountjoy, now you see why I keep the boy around first hand," the King said, jovially, not realizing he likely played into the perception of Kingston's youth, when he was not truly a youth at all. "He might know little about court politics, but he is most surprising in his adaptability and quick wit." Then he added, "And it is good to hear some levity, Mountjoy. I have been too much surrounded already by Arlington with his gloom and doom, and his desire to place walls of people about my royal person." The King snorted. His Majesty was not keen of being constantly surrounded, especially by soldiers. It made it seem as if he was not in control of his own court, and he had seen enough in his father's time of what happened when King's behaved rashly and lost control. Likeability was a survival tactic.

 

"I doubt the Queen would thank me for sending the two of you into her apartments with boar spears," the King replied. "That sounds more of a fair scene for a play." The King snickered. He would have to suggest it the scene to someone who could do it justice, Ephelia or Etherege, perhaps. Maybe even George. Perhaps all three. It might be something to look forward to when this was in the past.

 

"A gift from the Queen, you say. Well, you can hardly ruin the surprise, then. You need not say more," the King agreed, for he did always have quite the soft spot for the sensibilities of ladies. This queen of his, too, he rather had a fondness; the prospect of heirs could do that after so long. "What do you think, Lord Mountjoy. What may we be setting poor Kingston up for if he takes the blame, even temporarily? How might the Queen react in her current state? Perhaps there is another solution?" The King looked between the two. 

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“Is that so?” he said responding to the admission that Kirke had never speared a boar. He thought it odd that one could grow to adulthood without having hunted boar but perhaps Francis was raised in a rather strict religious household. “We shall have to see if we can do something about that.” He opined as he thought this would provide the perfect excuse, as if he needed any, to go on a hunting jaunt. Kingston seemed to be a capable gentleman. Mountjoy still thought him to be in his younger twenties even though he was much closer to Mountjoy in age so his lack of boar spearing could be explained away on those grounds. Blount had yet to piece together that if Kingston had received a formal education and spent several years at sea he could not reasonably be as young as he was thought to be. But for now Kingston’s youthful looks furthered the misunderstanding.

The King however thought that pistols were sufficient for the task and deftly sidestepped the question of boar spears forgetting that before she was the Queen Karoline was a houseguest of the Mountjoys and it would not have been the first time if Blount had shown up bragging about a new pair of boar spears. But he understood the King’s concern. “I am sure it is but a surfeit of caution that guides Arlington for many of us care deeply for your person.” He offered in support of the Lord. Truth be told If Blount had his way both the King and Queen would be surrounded by guards but he was astute enough to realize that there was more to this than was known and that even Kings and Queens were guided by duty and politics. He knew enough of the King’s character to refrain from being overly officious or burdensome.

When Kingston explained, as much as he was able, of the conundrum he was in regarding the mysterious box Blount was sympathetic but then the King asked him directly for his opinion. ‘I see what you mean about his knowledge of court politics for no court veteran would propose taking the blame for something when he could foist it off on someone else.” He said in jest, it being comical because it was true even though he privately considered such a principle to be a sign of character. “It would be a travesty if our young Lord were to suffer for his act of gallantry. Perhaps he could prevaricate and say thru no fault of Mr. Nash the item has been slightly delayed and he begs her Majesty’s indulgence? That might secure the required delay and allow Her Majesty to show her magnanimity. If that fails he would still retain the option of invoking an innocent clumsiness.” There were many times that it was necessary to conceal the truth. He much preferred obfuscation that outright fabrication.

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There was a blush at the King's compliment, for he saw it as a compliment, and he was already well-aware that he was far behind on court knowledge. At least he was not on his own with such limitations. There was some consolation that he had an indulgent Buckingham (and an indulgent Charles Rex too). 

 

Francis then chuckled as Mountjoy commented on his lack of ability at court politics, "Guilty, my lord. I admit that I am such that I would rather put my trust in the forgiveness of a lady, than my own ability at court games. One I understand very well, and the other I do not... Yet." 

 

He trusted that at some later date the true story could be told to the Queen and anything he had lost in regard could be regained. Ultimately, if not, gentlemen had sacrificed far more for their King than their Queen's good opinion. In this case, it might not matter.

 

"Unfortunately, I had thought there one fault in my plan given my new guard duty, and that is if I am the one to ruin it, I might not be a very welcome addition for the next few days. With Your Majesty's plan to have me there, it is something we likely cannot risk. Disappointed ladies can be brutal in their dismissals." 

 

Biting his lip for a moment, Francis said, "Perhaps as Lord Mountjoy intimated, we could venture close to the truth. I could say that Your Majesty sent me on a task that required me to return to the palace before Mr. Nash delivered the gift and that would explain me arriving without it. Then Lord Mountjoy and I could make sure it is properly looked over officially before it can "arrive" by page to us? Said nameless page could then end up dropping it on the way if need be?" He was fairly certain there were no nefarious purposes, but being the court neophyte, he wished to make sure he was doing things properly for the circumstances. He had seen and heard enough in the last few months to know that caution was compulsory. At least for him.  

 

"Forgive me for saying...but perhaps it is not wise to trust a crossed pregnant lady, even a Queen, to be magnanimous."

 

He cast his blue eyes to the King and then to Mountjoy, wondering if that was perhaps a safe course of action. It was difficult to keep ladies in the dark about their safety and protection! If they only knew.

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His Majesty was somewhat used to unexpected admissions from Kingston (who had confessed to never having had a mistress), but even he gave a look when Kingston said he had never speared a boar. Not that the English ones were very exciting. Boar on the continent were far more fearsome. "Perhaps we shall institute a new precedent for spearing traitors, my lords," the King said, with an amused rumble. He did not doubt that the English mob would absolutely love that event, though Charles himself had a limited attention for executions. 

 

The King noted Lord Mountjoy's loyal voice of support for Lord Arlington. By contrast, he was clearly the superior courtier to Kingston, which was illustrated by Mountjoy's next comment! 

 

"Oh Mountjoy, you are too right," the King tittered. "But in this instance, Kingston, we musn't let you go gallantly down with the ship as it were! And quite true, egads, disappointed ladies and their dismissals. Even a King is aware of them!" he nodded in masculine comradery of the pair before him. 

 

He further laughed as Kingston begged forgiveness to comment that pregnant ladies, even Queens, were dangerous creatures!!! "This once, you have license to comment on such relevant and veracious details," he replied, shaking a faux shaming finger at the blond. Clearly, such behaviour would probably also be rewarded in the future, but some semblance of royal dignity need be maintained. "We cannot fault you such honesty in this instance." He looked to Mountjoy for his agreement though the younger lords had less experience with pregnant ladies than he did himself. 

 

Then he added to the proposed solution, "If Lord Mountjoy feels that you might both safely see the situation through, you shall both be trusted with the details so as to not ruin the surprise for the Queen."

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It became apparent to Mountjoy that in the interaction between King and Kingston the boyishly blond Lord’s reputation for naïveté in courtly politics was not a practiced façade to conceal an ulterior motive but an accurate manifestation of his experience even though he did possess a native quality gallantry which Blount thought was the most important of courtly manners. Perhaps that was why the jaded egocentric Buckingham took such an interest in him. Francis’s reflection on the wisdom of trusting a crossed Lady, although true, brought a snicker from Mountjoy and a faux rebuke from the King. “What can we as gentleman do but lay ourselves at the mercy of a Lady. I have but a singular example of going through the vexation s of a pregnant female and I made it through comparatively unscathed but the Margravina is a singular woman and to be honest I can not claim to be an unbiased judge of her character. Even with the recent issues between the two he still remained fully devoted to her. ‘I think we are both lacking compared to His Majesty’s experience in… shall we say mastering the feminism wiles. You learn quickly my Lord as you say first prevaricate then distract and then if such subtitle subterfuges do not provide a sufficient delay then the unfortunately clumsy page can be fabricated and you, instead of being negligent, are contentious in your duties. Do not fret your Majesty I am positive that our Gallant’s blue eyes and fair face have gotten him out of far sticker situations of a feminine kind.” 

The King was possessively familiar enough with Kingston to engage in such banter which allowed a certain freedom for Mountjoy to play along but he did not wish to take too much license with his banter as Kingston’s personality was still being uncovered so thought to bring the conversation back to the original point. “Regardless we will take the appropriate measures to ensure that no social situations compromise our primary focus.”  

“As of late you have been spending more time in the Queen’s company that I.” He said turning towards Francis and resting his left hand on his hip. It was a casual gesture that he often used to show off the richness of his waistcoat but in this instance it cause him to realize that he was not wearing a sword, something that he had become accustomed to as he tended to spend his time at the Palace or the Law Courts where such gentlemanly accessories were less common. He reflected that he would need to alter that habit for the foreseeable future. “In her condition does she tend to remain in her Chambers? Such a habit would simplify our task greatly.”      

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"Your Majesty is ever gracious," Francis replied with a little bow and a cheeky grin.

 

Kingston smiled along as Lord Mountjoy spoke. The King seemed to find it refreshing to conspire as men in the privacy of his more personal of spaces. It was not simply Francis' words either, for the proper Mountjoy seemed to rise to the occasion.

 

"I confess, I know only from stories," Francis confirmed, for he had never gotten a woman pregnant. "I was also the youngest in the household, so I never experienced a lady's pregnancy that way, either. I imagine it worse and more mercurial than other times of feminine vexation." And he had quite the vivid imagination for the extent a mercurial woman could go. He was of Villiers blood after all. 

 

The bit about his blue eyes and fair face made Francis blush in the infernal way that was like a betrayal of his actual mettle.

 

"And you credit me too much, my lord. I have had considerable time to think on the matter," he replied, with a smile. That was more time than either the King or Mountjoy had in contemplation. As to talking his way  out of situations with ladies, he slyly said, "You would have to ask my lady mother about the rest, for she is most equipped to know." His blue eyes and angelic face had only worked on her a minority of the time, from his perspective. 

 

"I have not that oft been in the Queen's company for as you suspect Her Majesty has spent much of her time privately. Lady Mountjoy has been most attentive in making certain the Queen does not over-exert. I have only seen from the outskirts and done as His Majesty asked in seeing to some of the more fanciful goods, but much of that has been through her ladies. So our task should not be very difficult in that way," he agreed. 

 

Unlike many, he was not one prone to hyperbolic exaggeration of his importance. He was say he was a damn fine captain at sea! His confidence there had the full measure of egocentricity, perhaps enough that might be reminiscent of the ever vain Buckingham. Though, in Francis' estimation, Buckingham had full rights to most of his lofty feelings of superiority! The Duke was, in many ways, almost as impressive as the King to the blond. The stuff of childhood legends and stories.

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"Mountjoy, but you are witty today! I daresay you must have missed our English humour and good-nature in your travels," the King commented merrily. 

 

The King had long ago learned to find amusement in the younger lord's somewhat verbose nature, for such expounding responses were the purview of legal minds. At the very least, the topic of ladies was far more intriguing than most topics.

 

"Kingston has cultivated his dashing reputation very well," the King agreed. "And such looks of youthful guilelessness are hard to punish." He suppressed a chuckle. A favourite royal pass time was teasing the young lords, but Ashburnham, Herbert, and Lord Langdon were other frequent targets. Especially Herbert.

 

As to the rest, the King said with a wave of his hand to Mountjoy's pledge, "There is no doubt that the two of you will be steadfast to your tasks."

 

And with Kingston mentioning, Lady Mountjoy, His Majesty said, "She shall need to be told, of course, of these new developments so as to stay near to the Queen and control whatever whispers of ladies and servants might go near her. It is likely you will need at least one or two more ladies who can be trusted if there are recommendations?" He put this last bit to the pair of them. 

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“Your Majesty is too kind. I have indeed missed our English sense of humor for French humor is sophisticated it must be admitted, the Dutch have almost none at all and the Germans are so dry that it is sometimes impossible to fathom. Foreign customs can be educational and diverting but give me good old English values any day of the week.”

“Ahh, yes.” He commented as Kingston downplayed the effects of his seraphic features, as it was only good manners to do so, “But one must always put Mothers into their own special category for they see us in a unique maternal light for in their eyes we can do no wrong and often can do no right.” He added chuckling at a mother’s effect on their child no matter the age of the child.

He was inwardly please as Kingston’s further comments about the activity of the Queen reflected favorably upon his wife. The King echoed that sentiment giving them license to divulge the situation to Ursula. “I understand. The Margravina’s judgment and inimitable access to her Majesty’s person will be essential in this task.” He again referred to Ursula in the third person as was his wont. Although such an address appeared rather stuffy and formal it was a term of endearment that Mountjoy was able to use even when speaking formally. “As to the suitability of one or two of the Queen’s Ladies, I think it would be wise to consult first with the Margravina for she is assuredly more knowledgeable and better situated to offer such recommendations. I would dare say that she is also not subject to our male deficiency in assessing the female character.” Like Kingston he had older siblings, all female, and had seen how cutting they could be to another of their sex.

He looked to his two companions one more satyr and one more cherub to see if such a deferment was acceptable.

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"Mothers are remarkably similar in that way," the blond agreed with a chuckle.

 

He then nodded at Mountjoy's words to defer to the lady in putting forth those other ladies likely to be trustworthy.

 

"Indeed, I do not wish to overstep in the domain of the ladies, for there is no doubt it is as Lord Mountjoy says."

 

Francis was well-aware ladies had their own webs of relationships and pecking orders aside from rank and the like. He was not about to put his foot, or mouth, into it. Nor did he wish to chance the lady putting him in his place, because he had absolutely no doubt that she would do so. 

 

There was a reason the Queen ladies, even the flightier ones, did not cross Lady Mountjoy! He waited to see if there were any further instructions.

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"Mothers, even royal ones," Charles Rex added, with the raise of a finger. His own mother had been a challenging (and oft infuriating and inflaming) woman. She had surely been critical of him for much of his life. 

 

"Very well, my lords, you are both wise for your years. It is best not to cross a formidable lady," the King replied, his chest rumbling with amusement. He, himself, preferred the more strong-willed and intelligent of women much of the time; few ladies were formidable without abandoning their feminine mystique, and the King appreciated those the most. "

 

"Now, as Kingston has just returned, there are a few things yet needed to discuss that should take but a few minutes before you both might be on your way," the King said as a dismissal to Lord Mountjoy. He could converse for a few moments with Lord Arlington and Herbert in the anteroom if he wished.

 

Once Lord Mountjoy had taken his leave, the King asked Kingston to give him further details of how Nicci was doing and that she was safely stowed away at the Duke's. The King did not wish to take any chances that the Dutch girl Lady Basildon had brought back was somehow involved and would find out that Nicci had interrupted the earlier murder. They were yet attempting to find out information about the girl, because none of his spies had known she was coming to England until the journey was already underway. In the meantime, it did not seem wise for Nicci to be staying there given the circumstances, and he could not place her in the palace without risking the upset of the Queen, which he could not do. Buckingham's was the next safest place, and Nicci was fond of George. 

 

It was only about five minutes later that Kingston would emerge from the King's presence and rejoin Lord Mountjoy.

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“Indeed.” He punctuated the other’s agreement on Mothers. By the time Mountjoy entered official society the Queen Mother was no longer active at Court so he did not know from personal experience but he had learned that Charles once he became King did not have a very felicitous relationship with the Queen Mother. As to his own relationship with his Mother, whom he did not see as often as he would have liked as she preferred the quiet of the country, it was good although the strife with his Uncle, her brother, took its toll at the time. Of Francis’s relations he had not a clue.

 

He bowed when the King stated that he wished to speak with Lord Kingston on other matters. “As your Majesty pleases.” He addressed the King then to Francis “I shall await your Lordship in the Presence Chamber.” With that he excused himself and made his way to the said chamber where he did indeed occupy himself with chatting with Arlington and Herbert.

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Although the King had received an update from Lord Ranelagh on events, Francis provided the more personal sort of details for he was close with Nicci and was the frequent go-between of their relationship. 

 

It did not take very long before Kingston emerged again with his secret parcel tucked under an arm with a page trailing behind a short distance carrying the pair of pistols they had been conspiring about a few minutes before.

 

After providing the required brief niceties to Lord Arlington, who Francis thought exceedingly boring and avoided at all costs, and a smile to Captain Herbert, Kingston turned to Lord Mountjoy.

 

"Shall we, my lord? We ought not delay."

 

He did not wish to invite Lord Arlington to stick his plastered nose into matters, for Arlington did so oft love to make comments or critiques to the younger members of the household; that included those younger in appearance like Francis. 

 

As soon as they were out of hearing, Francis told Lord Mountjoy that thing he could not say in front of the King. "The gift Her Majesty commissioned is made by a sugar artist from Kingston market whose confections look like glass trinkets, so that they are edible is a large portion of the surprise but limits the safety, given the circumstances. I should think it will need to be tested rather carefully and fully, moreso than usual before it goes near either of their Majesties. That is why we may need the story to justify it not being presented."

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Charles had no such problems with Arlington for, as he cultivated the solemn professional demeanor that was so common to those that followed the Bar he was generally treated with the probity reserved for those of more advanced years than his actual age. But, as this was not a professional encounter he was deep in an animated conversation which seemed to captivate his audience.

“And to this day no one knows how the goat came to be on the roof!”

As Francis had obviously arrived at the end of some story it was a simple matter to quickly conclude the encounter and be on their way.

“You will forgive me Gentlemen for Lord Kingston and I must now away so I bid you a reluctant adieu.” He would have normally invited Arlington to accompany them to play cards but, as circumstances were not normal and as their proposed revelry but a subterfuge, he did not.

As he and Francis were walking Charles made a confession. “My Lord Arlington is an excellent fellow but I must confess that when in conversation with him I find it difficult not to look at his nose and feel I need a scolding from Nanny if I do.”

When Francis also made a confession of a sort it caught Mountjoy’s interest. “Oh! I have seen the like of such. There was this French chief who could make beautiful bouquets of flowers made from naught but sugar. He did flavor them so they tasted like flowers which I thought was a bit unimaginative but they were both beautiful and tasty. Such trinkets can be quite delicate so I hope you are not jostled for then indeed we will not have to fabricate our story.” He thought. “I suppose you placed the commission well before this affair started so there probably is no danger but in a hunt such as this probably is not good enough so your concern is well warranted.”

As they approached the wing containing the Queen’s apartments Mountjoy made a suggestion. “Would you mind terribly if we made a brief detour to my apartments? As the Margravina’s duties require close attendance on her Majesty we have a few rooms close to the Queen’s bedchamber so it is not out of the way whatsoever. You may even secrete your sugary package in my bedchamber if you wish.”     

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Kingston could not help but laugh rather more than he could completely contain when Lord Mountjoy commented on Lord Arlington's nose. Pulling in his titters, he replied, "I had a similar problem when receiving all the numerous instructions and rules on joining the household, for his lordship droned on for hours." Francis smiled conspiratorially, "Almost the next moment, His Majesty told me to ignore half of it."

 

For how precisely could gambling whilst on duty be forbidden when half the time when they were attending, they were all actively wagering on all sorts of things. With the King.

 

"I rather feel like Lord Arlington might like to scold me like Nanny a good portion of the time." He chuckled again quietly.

 

"The ladies of the Queen who I took to have lunch with my lady mother and see the market at Kingston saw such sugar flowers," Francis replied. "That was what they brought back for Her Majesty and what garnered Mr. Nash this Easter commission." 

 

He had never thought to ask what they tasted like. His business-oriented mind set to a brief whirr about what flavors might be novel and desirable. However, there were more important things to think about.

 

"Last Thursday, yes, but that is not before all of it, more just before the current bit of it. I would be more worried in someone trying to adulterate it after it was made than on the artist being of devious mind. Abundance of caution seems best." And he would not wish to be caught in any accusations, either; if he had learned one thing from Buckingham it was that at least half the time, someone's downfall had nothing to do with something they had actually done.

 

"No, I do not mind," he confirmed.

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