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Charles Blount

Knaves and Queens: The Queen's Apartments, April 11, Late into the Evening

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Francis chuckled in appreciation of removing the hearts from the deck. 

 

"Ones emotions surely do not belong in one's gambling...for that is how fortunes are lost, is it not?" Perhaps in more ways than in just gambling. For Francis that was true. 

 

"A crown is acceptable to our dignity, I agree," he allowed, with a cheeky grin. "Especially in the Queen's chambers. We should not wish to upset the ladies. Their good opinions are harder to come by than winnings at the table."

 

And it was true that neither of them would be focused on the game as the game was just a cover. 

 

The game was begun, and with it a slight turn in conversation. Or rather a circle around.

 

At first, Francis was not entirely sure what Lord Mountjoy was getting at. His brow likely furrowed in concentration as he listened. 

 

One eyebrow went up. And then the other. Satiate my yearnings? For Latrones?

 

He was half between shock and letting a snort of amusement escape himself, so for a long moment, he said nothing.

 

"I assure you, my lord, I have no particular yearning for Latrones. Or, erm, for the Queen's household. As I said, His Majesty is responsible for my being about, and we all of us are responsible for the Queen's happiness. Lady Dorothea makes Her Majesty happy, so I wish Lady Dorothea to be happy here at court, as much as I wish for anything which brings happiness to the King and Queen. It is merely an additional blessing to be a friend to her. And when she leaves to go back home, at least one more of us will know how to play a game the Queen enjoys to play." It seemed really very simply to Francis. 

 

Then he added quietly, "The King would not appreciate anyone making mischief here, my lord. Even he does not have interests in the Queen's ladies if that is what you wish to know. My frivolousness is firmly exerted elsewhere." 

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Blount expounded upon his view of gambling which they both seemed to be in agreement. “Indeed, although I believe it is our duty to live well and exhibit a generosity with our wealth I have never understood the obsession of gambling for outrageously high states. For me that does not alter the entertainment of play.” He shrugged. “Perhaps because when I was a young man I was not able to be free with my fortune. Much of my family’s lands and assets were confiscated by the Commonwealth and diverted to my uncle the Marquess of Sherborne, who although nominally a Royalist made accommodations with the Roundheads with unbecoming alacrity. Therefore I am somewhat conscious of the financial prudence so often exhibited by the merchant class. At times things were so bad that we had to make do with only half a dozen servants and even fewer gardeners.” He hoped he had not shocked Kingston with tales of his poverty. “With the return of the King my estates were restored but my dear Uncle was not inclined to return my property figuring that my inheritance was better spent on his heir and his gambling debts so I was obliged to take him to law to recover my property.” As a rule Charles would never disparage a family member in such a way but the affair with his Mother’s brother was a bitter one that had caused a rift with his DeCourtenay relatives that had never been bridged.

He calculated his cards and contemplated bidding three tokens but then bid only two. “I now seek to play cards or other parlor games for the intellectual entertainment and camaraderie they offer rather than to make a name for myself a profligate gambler.”

As the conversation moved on Francis furrowed his brow which led Blount to think that he may have drawn a difficult hand. Then, as he explained his reasons for frequenting the Queen’s rooms and his interest, or lake thereof, in Lady Dorothea the expression was understood. His account matched that given by the King which was eminently plausible but then again would be the very explanation one would give if that had an ulterior motive. That was the trouble when dealing with clever ambitious men. He let his eyebrows rise mirroring his partner. “You have no designs on the Lady? I do not accuse you of any frivolousness mind you for Lady Dorothea is a perfectly respectable prospect and worthy of the interest of any reputable unattached gentleman.” He then sought to leaven the question with some humor. “You are, in this instance I do believe, in a precarious situation. If you are not frivolous you run the risk of disappointing Buckingham and if you are frivolous I assume you run the risk of disappointing your Mother who if she is like most mothers believes it is high time for you to settle down and marry!”

He nodded as Kirke made it clear that neither he nor the King had interests within the Queen’s household. That might very well be true, at least at this time, but if the King was daughtered would it continue to be the case? There was no way of knowing that. He felt that it was his and his wife’s duty to maintain a harmonious separation between the two households. For now it appeared that Kirke’s involvement was nothing more than a manifestation of his master’s concern for the wellbeing of his wife and future heir.  

He cocked his head and looked about as he heard soft footsteps but they turned out to be a servant trimming the wicks on the candles. He normally did not pay much attention to servants as they went about their duties. In fact aside from a specific few he could not recognize the faces of most of the Queens domestic servants and thought he should remedy that deficiency. “We can be thankful that her Majesty is lying in for it reduces her exposure.”

He ruminated over the possible political… and personal reasons there could be for wishing to prevent a direct heir. There was the French and the Papacy who of course would prefer to see the Catholic Duke of York remain the heir presumptive. But Charles had an innate respect for the dignity of Monarchy and found it difficult to accept that King Louis, for all his faults, would act against a royal child. York himself stood to lose the most if the King were to produce an heir but again his blood ties to the King and future heir made it difficult for Charles to believe that York would have anything to do with such a plot. It could also be a possibility that the French or Yorkist factions could, without the knowledge of the principles, act. But all this was conjecture at this point. “I would have thought that we English would be past such deviousness after the woe of the Commonwealth.” He said voicing his thought of their current duty. “I find these shadowy threats disturbing.”

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"Truly? Your own relation did not wish to give you back what was stolen from your family by murderers?" Francis asked, rather astounded. "Though I am told that there was much swindling of underage heirs years ago...it is still strange to me; perhaps because my close family is quite close, and I have been custodian of enough fortunes of extended family and family friends to have first-hand experience of the responsibility." He did not feel he needed to specify that he had not swindled anyone!

 

"I can also say life in exile provided even less than six servants..." Which was to say he was not bothered by Mountjoy's woes and poverty. 

 

"Perhaps some unfortunate people have no other ability for making a name other than happenstance skill at a game and a name to use," Francis postulated. "Had I an overabundance of coin, I doubt I would be tempted to such idiocy. There are far more things I could think to do with it which would be far more worthy."

 

Francis looked at his own cards and thought it only passable. 

 

"I fear, my lord, that few would find me an appropriate reputable and unattached gentleman," Francis said, with a rueful smile. He was well-aware of his own short-comings. "I saved the lady from the inappropriate affections of the younger brother of an earl when I met her, and I should hardly think my title makes up the significant difference in rank and wealth either."

 

He chuckled at the comment about his mother and Buckingham. "One might think so!" He giggled to himself a bit more. "Thankfully, both seem to be in some level of agreement over the bar for my behaviour. The Duke is of an understanding that he would far more readily disassociate me from the Kirke name than have me be excessively frivolous; he is pleased enough if I am entertaining and true to His Majesty. And my lady mother understands my reasons for not wishing to marry, even if she disagrees with them."

 

He was not faring that well with the cards, it would seem. 

 

"Lady Dorothea can make a match and deserves a far greater match than one with me. So I have no designs, no. I am fond of the lady as a friend, but I am not such a man that attempts to reach far above my station to the ruin of someone else."

 

He cocked his head and eyed the servant too. He did not have much familiarity with them either, but they were far from the first line of defense but rather the last. 

 

"Indeed. It is also easier to keep the Queen from realizing there is anything going on about her at all."

 

"One might hope, but now we are to the point where some of the younger ones at court do not remember what that time was like, and they might be more willing to risk that again." He was far older than he appeared, and he understood very well what the consequences were of attacking the King.

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Francis was rightly aghast at the conduct described by Charles who was not one to air dirty family secrets but as it was he who very publicly and very scandalously dragged his uncle through the courts to regain his property it could hardly be considered a secret hence he elaborated as he still felt the sting of his uncle’s actions.

“It is unfortunately very true. When the Commonwealth usurped control, I was still in school so even with our history of support for the Crown it was deemed with my Grandfather in exile, my Father killed during the war and with only a Mother and two sisters as direct family it would be safe enough for us to stay in England trusting that my Mother’s Brother, who had made accommodation with the usurpers, could be relied upon to look after the interests of his kin and shield them from harsher excess of the so called Commonwealth. Indeed he was very diligent in securing the lands and income confiscated from us at very advantageous terms…for him at least. But despite this great windfall he, being an inveterate gambler, was still in financial difficulties and came to look upon my property as his rightful due even going so far as to call me ungrateful when I requested the return of my estates.”

“As he was very influential in the County he was able to have his friends thwart the Kings directives and deny me the influence and resources to press my claims. As you know that old canard of ‘possession is nine tenths of the law’ is not totally unfounded. By that time I was at Oxford and this perceived injustice awoke in me a determination to gather the wherewithal to protect my own interests and that of my family. It is not common for a young gentleman already in possession of a peerage to take up the law but that is what I did. I devoted myself to mastering the intricacies of English jurisprudence l and in so doing discovered a passion and affinity for the intricacies and pre-eminence of English law. I had a flair for it and did well enough that after receiving my degree I was accepted at the Inner Temple and quite quickly for a person of my age called to the Bar.”

He bid a few ticks and continued with his story.

“I became intimately familiar with title law, in fact I even wrote a book on the subject, and with the cockiness of youth brought suit against my uncle. As I knew I would have no chance in the Shire courts I very publicly filed suit with the Court of Chancery here in London. It was quite the scandal at the time for the press devoured the details of two peers going at each other. I do have to say that it would have been more regular and much less public and rancorous if I had pressed my case through the House of Lords but the House moves very slow in these matters and that would have given him the time to squander my fortune as he had done his own. Additionally the glaring light of public opinion made my Uncle’s position untenable and forced him to settle to avoid his reputation from being irredeemably destroyed. It was a rather nasty affair and it brought me no pleasure but justice was done and in so doing I was able to acquire an advantageous reputation within the legal community as a diligent and meticulous litigator which has done quite a bit to advance my career. Where is it that your seat is located? My own seat is at Athelhampton in Dorset but it is attached to my Barony. Mountjoy Fort which is technically the caput of my Marquisate is a muddy village in Ireland of less than 70 souls and Mountjoy Castle is but a collection of rubble walls. Although I do not complain His Majesty is at times more generous with titles than estates.”

The Nobility did not have careers in general for it was thought to be a common practice but tradition did allow exceptions for the Church, Law and Military.

He gave a wistful look as Francis explained his own type of poverty. “Yes. There is an accepted nobility in a form of gentile poverty suffered for the sake of principle or duty. I would imagine that being a seafaring man would not inculcate an attachment to a specific landed estate. I come from a family with deep roots to the land and it has been pressed upon me since a very early age that we have a noblesse oblige to our servants and tenants for our estates provide for the livelihood of many families. It might be looked upon as an extravagance to employ a dozen gardeners but in so doing one averts a dozen families from destitution. When our finances were strained I was in school so was able to engage in a certain economy as my lack of hounds and horses could be explained away by my devotion to my studies but my distressed Mother was obliged to go hungry and cold in the big house for the sake of providing for as many servants as she could. She was reduced to selling her jewels and family furniture in order to keep up appearances and shield me from the realization of our plight.”

His gaze drew far away as he recalled that time. “That is what truly caused the inseparable rift between my Uncle and me. For him to allow his avarice to cause distress for my mother and sisters is truly unforgivable. I am also not on good terms with his son, my cousin. You may be acquainted with him as he is Lord Avon His Majesty’s Master of Horse. He is a gentleman and can be an affable fellow if he so chooses but if you are inclined to take advice from me I would advise you have a care in your dealings with him.”

He drew his final card, a diamond which allowed him to discard a useless club. “Well I have belabored you enough with my family’s skeletons. Next time, when we are truly at leisure, if you offer me drink and let me win I might tell you some tales from my great grandfather and his escapades with Essex during the rein of Elizabeth. Times were truly different back then. He and Essex fought a duel over the Queen’s attentions but ended up good friends.” He showed his cards. “Four hearts.” He stated. It was a decent but hardly a strong hand and easy enough to beat.

He scoffed at Francis’ demurral of his status and eligibility. “Oh come now… humility is one of the heavenly virtues but it is of limited utility for a Peer. Unless you have your own family secrete and have persuaded a country Vicar to marry you to a Shepherdess you are unattached. You are a peer in your own right with remainder to a Viscounty so by anyone’s marriage standards you are appropriate. And as for reputable, I do not judge what is in your heart but you are a Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber and the protégée of a Duke so even refraining from taking your other qualities into account anyone would strain to call you disreputable.”

Mountjoy had ascended to his father’s title when he was a young boy and growing up with the tales of the exploits of his ancestors had no experience with the feelings of being thrust into unfamiliar positions or expectations or at least it had been so long since he had to deal with such feelings that it could be understandable if he did not share Kingston’s insecurities. “Knowing one’s place is a good thing but it is also a two way street.”

He gathered up the cards, shuffled them and as he dealt out the cards for the next round he turned the focus on Francis. “So you have no interest in marrying at this time? That is not unusual for those that are either young enough to not know marriage or those old enough to know marriage all too well. What is it that you do want from Court? Do you wish to follow in the footsteps of Buckingham or forge an entirely different path?”

He put his cards down and reached for the decanter gesturing to Francis to inquire if he wished his glass to be refilled before pouring his own. It was now that he commented on something that he found a bit strange. “You say that His Grace would disassociate you from the Kirke name. How would that be so? Kirke is from your father obviously and your ties to the Villiers are through your Mother and the Legges’ if I am not mistaken.”

It would be interesting to hear how Francis explained the correlation and if it would impart any intelligence to confirm or dissuade his suspicions. “Are your people any relation to the Irish branch of the Legges’? The progenitor of that line, Sir Edward, was a protégée of and served with my great-grandfather Charles in Ireland as Sir Edward was nephew once removed. My grandfather and father also served with his son William under Prince Rupert in the war. If our obligations here do not interfere I have been invited by Lord Beverly to go riding this Wednesday with Sir George Legge and a countryman of the Margravina Baron von Bruhl.”

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"I have an estate in Staffordshire that I never see, and my lady mother has the house in Kingston," Francis revealed easily enough as he examined his cards and considered his hand. "I am sure my elder family felt such a way, having experienced an estate and the responsibility of its tenant before exile, but I did not know such a thing personally until I was of eleven years. Then off to school."

 

"I can say that I well understand the weight of being responsible for the lives of many dozens of families of those who have served on my ships. My decisions made from leagues away on paper have consequences for many, positive and negative, who are risking their lives." 

 

Mountjoy easily took him in the cards department on that hand. Nothing could be done for it. He chuckled. 

 

Talk of humility made him blush some in his youthful way, despite being no youth at all. "If I were such a man and the title had been long-standing, my lord, I would agree with you, for you yourself have proven such a thing honorable and acceptable. Mine is glaringly new and not even given to me but to my lady mother. I assure you it is not humility when I say that the lady is too far above me, nor is it some fear of being labeled an over-reaching upstart, but it is simple truth. Were I her brother, I would not consider myself. My thoughts on the lady have little place in the entire matter, but my thought is that she could do far better than I, and I would not wish to keep her from it." 

 

The game continued on as they chatted. 

 

"And no, there are no shepardesses n my closet," he added with a lopsided grin. "But, no, I do not wish to marry any time soon, though I shall be of thirty years before another year passes."

 

He tucked a curly blond lock back behind his shoulder, but it slid back up against the side of his face a few beats later when he glanced at the cards. 

 

"When I first arrived my situation was very different and my desires very simply, but that changed exceedingly quickly. I never foresaw either His Majesty or His Grace having much interest in me, so I am content to let my course be steered for me as now," he confessed candidly. "There are many things I need learn before I chart my own course." 

 

"Ah, yes, the Kirke name. More that I had to work to disassociate myself from a very bad reputation attached to being a Kirke, but it is less a sea anchor when you are called instead by your title, so I supposed His Grace had already done a considerable job in separating me from it. My lady mother goes by her maiden name; it was so named by His Majesty on her Letters Patent when he gave her Kingston, so it was - in effect - scrubbed out entirely for her." 

 

His Majesty had a habit of doing as he pleased in such matters...he had also purposefully "ignored" Mall remarrying so that she remained a royal duchess. His royal master had a soft spot for women. 

 

Francis raised a brow as Mountjoy expounded upon his relatives and their interrelations with ease. He had thought he had previously told Lord Mountjoy that Colonel Legge was his grandfather, who had raised him. 

 

He could not help the amused snort that exited. "Sir George and I were raised together our whole lives, he is my lady mother's younger brother, but we are very close in age so are more brothers ourselves. Our other brother is my business partner. We all did our first service in the second war together on our cousin's ship too." They had shared exile, schooling, university, and their early naval service together. "I do not know the other two well, if at all. I have come across Lord Beverley in my conversations with his master the Prince." He chuckled some. "Are you certain you wish sibling rivalry on your ride, my lord?" 

 

Being that Mountjoy had spoken on Heneage Finch being like a brother before, he assumed the other man knew precisely the sort of hijinks to men could get up to who were that close.

 

(OOC - I tried to get most everything in here in response. I hope I didn't miss anything!)

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“Staffordshire has some good deer.” He stated meaning that there was good deer hunting to be had in Staffordshire. If you have a mind to create a park on your estate fallow, roe or red would all do very nicely there and might give you an incentive to visit more.” He naturally assumed that every gentleman wanted to hunt. I have a nice park in Dorset but do not get back there as much as I would like. In fact the Margravina and I have only visited there once in the past three years as our duties have kept us close to the Royal Household. My Mother is still in residence and a sister and her family is nearby but the estate is not as lively as it once was.”

“I am creating quite an interesting hunting preserve in Epping Forest which is much more convenient to access from London. I have all kinds of deer and boar and rabbits and hare and more birds than you can shake a stick at if you are inclined to fowling. There are also bats, they make very poor shooting but they do help keep the biting flies away. I also tried to introduce bear but the neighboring villagers put up such a clamor that I relented. There are many pathways throughout the woods for riding and meadows for strolling and prospects to take in the scenery. It also borders the River Lea so there is punting and fishing to be had as well. Indeed it has everything an active gentleman could wish for.” He was very proud of the improvements he had made to the neglected former royal forest.

“Tell me, as you appear to be knowledgeable in the intricacies of trade and shipping. Would it be practicable to import a breeding group of animals from North America? I have heard tell of a type of deer or ant-of-lope called a Moose that stands seven foot at the shoulder. A heard of such beasts would be the envy of the sporting set.”

He reflected on Kirke’s view of his obligations. “I suppose you are correct. A ships company is in many ways like a small village. Or perhaps I should say two small villages as one also has the actual company and then the dependants of that company remaining on land.”   

He surveyed his hand and discarded three cards and drew three more before advancing a token and looking at Francis to see how many cards he would discard. He listened in silence as Francis explained his humble opinions as to his standing and his rather selfless regard for the Lady’s future and almost overlooked his comment about being thirty within the year. He could not comment upon that pronouncement directly for he did not want to appear rude but he did look at his face more closely. …No… he still looked barely in his twenties and it was not just youthful mannerisms that gave that impression. He thought to himself that Francis might bemoan his youthful appearance now as he was still young but he would come to appreciate it when he became older. Having the responsibilities of his family’s future and dealing with Judges, Lawyers and Politicians since an early age made Charles act older than he actually was… something that he knew he would not appreciate when he actually was older.

As Francis clarified his ancestry, for there was more than one branch of the Legge family it became clear. “How interesting. It appears that your maternal grandfather is my 4th cousin via my connection to the Legge family and your maternal grandmother is my great grand aunt by marriage as she was the daughter of Elizabeth Villers sister to your grandmother Ann.” He chuckled now that the particulars were sorted and jested. “Well I can not say that we are closely related but our great grandfathers seemed to have viewed each other as kin. I imagine it is only appropriate for me now to offer you and your Mother the hospitality of Athelhamption if you ever find yourselves in Dorset. But mind you, if you lose another hand at cards, our relations are not so close for me to stand surety for your gambling debts.” 

He sorted his cards wondering how he could make a good hand out of the mess he was dealt. He bid aggressively to give him time to build up his hand. Their conversation had been relaxed and Kingston appeared to be at ease and forthright, at least as much as he was willing to be. It could be that he was just reluctant about speaking about personal details or perhaps he did not know those personal details that Blount suspected. He was a tough nut to crack.

He tried a different tack, as sailors were wont to do.

“And what course would you wish to chart once you have the wind at your back?” He inquired using a nautical metaphor. He found nautical metaphors almost as amusing as hunting metaphors. “Do you see yourself hoisting your flag as Admiral of the Blue? A Privy Councilor?  A position on the Board of Trade? Or do you prefer the carefree life of a bone vivant ?”   

He listened to Kirke’s reply nodding and taking it in before he put down his cards and excused himself. “I beg your indulgence for I must, as you sailors so vernacularly put it, pump the bilge. Pray, I shall only be a moment” He said as he rose. Despite the opulence of Whitehall it was an older palace and aside from some jakes overhanging the Thames one had to do with chamber pots. As these were the Queen’s apartments one had the luxury of retreating to a screen off in a corner and Charles made his way there to relieve himself. As he took his business in hand, so to speak, he peeked out the window to see if anyone was luring out in the shadows still mindful of his task and reflected that if any would be assassins took this moment to strike he would be at a distinct advantage with only, as he used to refer to it in school, his ‘blunt object’ in his hands.

Hs mission completed he made ready to rejoin Kingston and continue their game and conversation.

 

  

(OOC- No worries. Although you did not say if Francis wanted a refill of wine thus preventing me from going off on a two paragraph exposition of how Henry VIII once offered Charles’ ancestor a sip of wine after a joust… :) I may have been frightened by Proust as a child as I tend to go off on comma laced narratives.)

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"You must be an impressive figure at the hunt with such a collection of game," Francis complimented. "Do I gather correctly that it is a passion of yours? You have thought on this with great detail. I confess, captaining a ship at sea does not oft allow the liberties of land-hobbies, though I partake here and there and was educated and experienced in such before choosing a life where the game more oft swims!"

 

Francis' hand offered some hope, though he could have little idea that Mountjoy had a poor hand. The marquess was skillful in attempting to cover it. But Francis had failed enough at the point, he pursued his hopeful hand more ardently than he might usually, not wishing to lose another.

 

His head tilted keenly as Mountjoy described a moose. Having not been so far to the north, he had never seen such a thing. 

 

"I have never laid eyes on such a beast myself, and wonder if that might be one of the tall tales men tell of their impressive doings, where everything gets larger and more fierce? Although, if it were true, I can imagine it could be done. I have arranged transport of horses on my ships previously, I bought one for the duke for a birthday, so large animals are little problem, but horses are tame. A moose would be expensive and very difficult I should think."

 

Francis let out a snort of amusement at Mountjoy's proclamation of kinship and subsequent caveat. He tittered, "My lord, if one had to be responsible for the debts of any Villiers cousin, one would be broke rather quickly!" For the family was prolific in terms of cousins. "Legge cousins too, now that I think on it." The Colonel had more than a handful of still living siblings and even an aunt or two, so there were a number of cousins out there as well. "And you are very generous. Of course, I offer the same in return." Though his holdings were likely far less luxuriant by comparison.

 

"I would not mind a position with the Admiralty, though I do not like to infringe upon Sir George. He has done far more than I to be worthy of such things. Besides, I am my own little admiral of sorts, for I do hold a Letter of Marque and have a few ships, so at war in command of my little flotilla, I am rather an admiral," he joked. "I am not yet much in full understanding of politics to be on the Board of Trade, but perhaps one day." He smiled and said honestly, "I have done well enough leaving it up to my master the King and His Grace, so I think keeping my own head from the mix not remiss as a stratagem if you are looking for one.

 

He gave a nod as Mountjoy excused himself to do his business. Francis did not even think to cheat at their game whilst he was gone, instead he looked about the room but saw nothing amiss.

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Mountjoy returned brushing some imaginary lint from his shirtsleeves and sat back down. He, like Kingston did not even ponder the possibility of cheating his absence had created. He picked up his hand noting that it had not gotten better with age so the distraction of a complement from Kirke was welcome. Although not quite so modest as Francis seemed to be he was a modest gentleman in a proud sort of way.

 

“I thank you for the compliment. I would not be so bold as to say that ‘I’ am an impressive figure but I am immodest enough to concede that I some of my achievements have been impressive.” The old Royal Forest had been neglected for years as the Stuarts were not inclined to be huntsmen. The areas near the various settlements had been over pollarded and degraded or cleared and the more remote locations had been left to rot and ruin. He had reversed that trend as a healthy forest meant more animals and more animals meant more hunting and to Mountjoy more hunting meant more pleasure so he was rightfully proud of his efforts.

“Hunting has always been a passion of mine and I have had to put in a hand at running an estate… as one has to do…but my efforts at Epping have allowed me to merge the two. It has always been a pleasure to hunt along the pathways and discover the landmarks indicating game but now I have been involved with design those pathways and developing the land to facilitate game has become equally enjoyable. As The Queen’s lodge is only about and hour or two’s ride from London I am able to be more involved and it is easier to sneak away for an afternoon of sport without being absent from Court for several days.”

 

He could go on for hours about hunting and now about facilitating hunting but he spared Francis an intricate account. “I find that hunting is similar but more stimulating than riding and tends to balance the humors and facilitate a sound hale constitution. Alas, with my increasing responsibilities at Court I find myself behind a desk than atop a horse. If you are so inclined I could keep you in mind for the next chase or go dogging.*” Previously he would have assumed that everyone wished to hunt and expected them to appreciate his offer. His wife Ursula had gently explained to him the mind boggling concept that not everyone was enthused by hunting so he now tended to ask rather than take it for granted that they wished to accept such invitations.

 

As he suspected Francis explained the difficulties of transporting moose type animals and although possible it did not seem practical. “The King of France once sent Henry III an Elephante so I am sure such a thing is possible but as you point out it is likely to be fraught with difficulties and thus prohibitively expensive. As to the verasity of the chronicler, he was a fellow of the Royal Society so I doubt predisposed to exaggeration.” He sounded a bit disappointed but did not allow the prospect of a moose-less future distract him from his current situation. 

 

 He did chuckle at Kirke’s jest about their Villiers relations. “In the intervening years since the conquest we Blount’s have mingled with many families both great and small but I must admit the Villiers do stand apart from the mundane and average. The Legge’s are more like simple soldiers, generous during plenty and stalwart during adversity. My grandfather, St. John,  who was really more of a father to me thought Colonel  Legge second only to Prince Rupert as a comrade and told me many a tale of their exploits against the Roundheads.”

 

All this talk of family was interesting but it did nothing to improve his hand and he saw no practical strategy to improve it so instead relied on the old legal proverb ‘If the facts are against you trust the law, if the law is against you trust the facts and if both the law and the facts are against you trust to luck.’ “I bid two ticks and take four cards. A clear indication that he had a weak hand but it at least gave the possibility that he could draw something useful.

 

Kirke’s explanations of his aspirations were informative yet again confirming that he had yet no overarching political ambitions content to be guided by Buckingham, only natural, and the King, which was also wise. He had been wary of Kingston’s interactions with the Queen’s Ladies suspecting that he might be an adventurer desiring to take advantage of the ladies or an agent of the King attempting to encroach upon the Queen’s household. The former misgivings had been allayed and the latter, while not totally dismissed, had been diminished.

 

Charles almost fleered at Francis’ amusingly naïve comment that a lack of understanding should prevent him from sitting on the Board of Trade. “My dear Kingston, if you think a lack of understanding is a bar to any position in Government you are woefully mistaken.” He chuckled. “Why half the members of governments are idiots, incompetent or ingrates.” He then smiled self-servingly. “Of course those in the legal profession tend to be less so. My grandfather used to say the best person to give responsibility over others is someone who does not want it.”

 

“I do see your point about the Admiralty. A Letter of Marque does provide you the freedom to act as you please but the costs and risks of those actions are also upon you for if your ships are damaged you do not have the Royal Dockyards at your disposal and if captured it will not be replaced.  But I do see the allure of emulating the exploits of Sir Walter Raleigh. Naval service might also take you away from London and it appears that, unlike before, you have some ties that bind you. After all as a Gentleman of the King you are no longer able to wander as you see fit.”

 

The sound of a distant clock could be heard striking a late hour, or to some an early hour which brought back the reason for their sojourn. He shifted in his chair. “I do hope there will be more intelligence uncovered concerning the reason for our task. All I was told so far was that there was a suspicious murder close enough within the Palace to cause concern to His Majesty for the safety of his Queen. The longer this goes on the more difficult it will be to keep quiet and if this threat becomes general knowledge there could be unintended political consequences. The Lords and I daresay even the Commons would bay like hounds after a fox. And woe be it for the Catholics if any harm is done to the Queen or her babe.” He finished quite ominously. Mountjoy had been a moderate voice in the Lords and had often spoken in opposition to anti Catholic proposals but if any harm came from this threat he would be hard pressed to continue such moderation.               

 

 

(* dogging in this case is used like beagling or hunting on foot not in the English slang term that means something entirely different. I caution you if you google it don’t hit images.)

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Francis might not yet be a political aficionado, for even Buckingham could only do so much in a year's time, but what he was skillful at understanding was entertainment and business; that was to say that the particulars of enhancing a forest which enhanced the land, which generally enhanced the employment and bustle of the entire locale, which was all rolled up in an entertaining sport provided more than a bit of studious interest for Kingston. 

 

"Perhaps I have spent too much of my time contemplating food forests rather than hunting forests," he considered aloud. "But the land in Kingston is not truly large enough, unless one wanted to hawk, and my estate in Staffordshire is too far to provide all the advantages of enhancement." 

 

Then, Francis considered, "I would wager His Grace has land of size far closer that he would be open to me turning my mind toward enhancing for posterity and his grandeur, though, especially as he enjoys all such outdoor sports and already spreads himself thin in his own pursuits." Buckingham offered quite a lot visibly to Francis, and all of what Francis felt he offered in his return was one skill Buckingham had never actively pursued: being very good with coin and growing it. And Buckingham had learned one thing about Francis when  Francis had turned down being given the Duke's Helmsley; Francis was not about to steal from him when he would not accept that as a gift free and clear!

 

"I would be honoured to be invited," he replied to the suggestion. "If you ever have taste for the salt air, I would be pleased to offer a day on my yacht or even one of my larger ships when they are a port." Then he added, "It is about time for another yacht race, I think, once all this business is over; perhaps the thrill of a water chase?" There was always room for spectators aboard, after all.

 

"I grew up on such stories as well," Francis revealed. "Perhaps it is inappropriate candor, but it warms me to hear it. I find people do not oft speak of the dead, likely because emotional displays are a societal faux pas, but I miss him greatly. I am not ashamed to admit. I would not have had this life without him." 

 

It was hard to continue in such a way without one of said emotional displays, for while gifted with youthful looks most Villiers were known for very deep emotions. In fact, the major court descriptors of many of his family members bore that judgement, so it was no secret. So, Francis attended his cards, taking only one. 

 

It seemed as if he would win this hand unless Blount had extraordinary luck on his draw.

 

Francis snorted with amusement as Mountjoy informed him that lack of knowledge was no barrier. "Perhaps it is a sense of self-preservation, but accepting such positions while simultaneously being a person of my already generous positions while clearly knowing very little usually does nothing other than get one labeled an upstart," he also said candidly and with much self-awareness. "Which makes many enemies. And I should woe any position which necessarily must bring His Majesty bad news frequently, especially about coin, for those are never popular personages with the King. Thus, I fear, there are no grand aspirations in the near future."

 

By Francis' estimation, he had already achieved grand aspirations and was content. Beyond content in most ways. Greed and over-reaching was the stereotypical way of bastards, but it was simply not how Francis was made. Though now, it seemed, it was because he actually was not one that he was built with more nobility of character.

 

"And no, His Majesty shan't let me wander the seas, true. But whether I had a position in the admiralty or not, my ships would still fight as they do now and did in the last war, because all that I have is at the disposal of His Majesty." He then chuckled. "That is originally why I came to court in the first place; I lost two ships in the last war and wished to recoup some of those losses beyond the baronetcy I had been given, for that hardly feeds the families of my crew, dead or alive." He smiled and said, "I have done far beyond what I had thought possible, so perhaps that is why I seem to lack further inspiration."

 

As to the plot, Francis nodded. He knew a bit more than that and some of it he was at liberty to reveal to Mountjoy. "I think, my lord, that is the point or part of it; that this plot is also meant to reignite suspicion and action against English Catholics and against the French, for such things always weaken us from stronger interference in continental affairs. Since Her Majesty has progressed so far into pregnancy, the fever over Papists has quelled considerably and that does not suit many foreign parties...and domestic ones too, it seems."

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“What I have found particularly enjoyable, and this may be of interest for someone in your position.” he said referring to his work at Epping and Kirks economic interest. 'Is to create something new for myself and by myself. “What I have so far at Epping I have created. what I have at Athelhampton, my ancestral estate in Dorset, is what I have inherited. At Epping if I wish to alter a room, I can do so without having to worry that Richard III once slept there or make do with the yew hedge because it has been there for three hundred years. This may not be something that you are interested in at present but a house of your own making is more likely to endear the feeling of a home when you are in a position to settle down.”

 

“I can also attest that if one forgoes Italian plasterers and French Masons and use local woodcarvers and bricklayers one can build a substantial building at quite a reasonable cost. True the House I have built is not of the stature of something Buckingham would build. It is more designed for comfort and convenience and is fit more for hunting parties rather than balls but I think it a perfect retreat for a group of gentlemen or a convenient refuge from the City. In fact, the timber yards, saw mill and brick works I established to provide building materials have paid for themselves and in a year or two the estate will be able to turn a small profit.”

 

He rearranged his hand as Francis took but one card. He would have had a formidable run of spades if it were not for that pesky four of clubs that left him with an anemic two queens worth only a few ticks. He laid down his cards with more elan than the hand warranted allowing some time for Francis to reconcile his emotion towards his grandfather. “We English are not a demonstrative people but a certain laxity is allowed for relatives and those that are close. With my actual father dying so early my grandfather was more of a father figure to me.”

 

He nodded at the acceptance of his offer making a note to include Francis in his next outing and accepted the reciprocal offer in return. “That sounds like splendid fun. I have a barge that takes me up and down the Thames but that is merely transportation and no matter how much one whips the oarsmen never go very fast” he smiled to ensure Francis that he was being droll and did not actually whip his crew. 'A turn on a speedy shallop would be a welcome diversion to be sure. My last outing afloat did not end very well.” He reflected. Mountjoy happened to be standing next to the King at the regatta when the assassination attempt was made.

 

Then, after the amusingly naive political statement Francis expressed another that hinted at a sublime understanding about personal interactions. “Your understanding of the dynamics of Royal interactions are astute and demonstrate an innate suitability to be a Kings gentleman. I myself subscribe to the creed that one should endeavor to bring solutions to His Majesty not problems. As a Minister in His Majesty's government, I do not always have the option to follow my own advice but I have always striven to be perceived by His Majesty as one that removes rather than adds complications. It has also not hurt my reputation that two of my earlier political accomplishments substantially increased the flow of coins into His Majesty's privy purse. That is always something His Majesty appreciates and I believe I have both my Marquisate and title to Epping to thank for following that tenet for his Majesty is generous to those who ably serve his interests.”

 

It seemed that Francis and Charles were like minded when it came to service, obligations and status although Charles had none of the misgivings of his, only slightly, younger counterpart as he had had the advantage of growing up with a long-established family name and an expectation of position.    

 

“I find these machinations incongruous.”  Although in the short term it may be to the advantage of the French to have the King without an heir but then they risk increasing the influence of the Dutch. By the same token an heir would remove any trepidation of increased Catholic influence and should strengthen our alliance with the Dutch. That is unless the Prince of Orange has greater personal designs, that would be a serious threat. I understand that it may be in the interests of some domestic and foreign parties to stir up anti catholic sentiments but attempting to murder the King and possibly the Queen to do so seems absurd.” He did not understand the motives behind these events and he was one who liked to understand others motives.”

 

To Blount's mind the Queen giving birth of a healthy son to rein after his father was the answer to all of the crown's problems... well... most of them anyway. Peace and stability is what the realm needed for the wounds of the Civil War were still fresh enough to be torn open. Sectarian conflicts would only diminish the influence of the Monarchy. “Do Catholics truly believe that if York was on the throne he could reverse the Reformation? Do the Non-Conformists so detest the Catholics that they would risk their ow suppression? “These were rhetorical questions as Mountjoy was voicing his frustrations. “This is beginning to remind me of one of those Greek tragedies where everyone ends up either poisoned or stabbed.”      

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Francis contemplated the other man's property strategy for both the profit and poetics of it. He was uncertain that making a place that was something of his own would give him a great attachment, but he supposed that would be true if he were in Mountjoy's situation. 

 

As he had discussed with Nicci earlier, he now felt that his attachment was much more related to the relationships housed in the place. A childhood of exile had given Francis perspectives that were not among those with whom he now shared space. 

 

"I suppose each peer curates an estate to pass on to his heir, but I would think one also must put one's mark upon what is passed on. I, for one, would not wish my mark to be yew trees," he added, with a chuckle. "But no matter what I might have, Lord Mountjoy, I doubt it shall ever be so old as to have worried about Richard III's sleeping habits."

 

The bright rumble of his chuckle came softly again, "I think I shall leave the house-building to His Grace. I do not think even his generosity extends that far, but he might let me turn my sights to something...smaller."

 

Or perhaps Francis just did not have large enough aspirations or simply could not get passed feelings of taking advantage, for after offering him Helmsley, the Duke might not have seen Francis wanting to spearhead building a duke-glorifying palace as in any way problematic! Francis had not internalized the grandeur.

 

He allowed the emotion-laden topic of grandfather father-figures to pass, but he nodded his sentiment being the same. Francis had never known Charles Kirke beyond a handful of times their paths had crossed, and there had been nothing fatherly about it. Unsurprisingly.

 

"Enough time spent around His Majesty simply makes it obvious that those in such positions may play an important role to State but not particularly one which His Majesty enjoys. If I had great ability in one of those areas, perhaps it would be worth navigating, but I am content with understanding and performing my current role well." He grinned and said, "I have long legs and rise with sea hours, so I am a preferred walking companion, and while I have far less reach than His Majesty, I am tall enough provide a stimulating sparring partner at rapier. And you here see my other skill, and I am not talking about cards, clearly." Which was that he was useful with the ladies. 

 

"Coin, I understand," he said, "I can agree with you that those who bring His Majesty coin enjoy his favor. Your own accomplishments speak to that in a grand way and are rightly deserved." Which was to say that even Francis understood that not all those that enjoyed royal favor brought much of anything to the table by which to be deserving. 

 

And he, himself, did not wish to be combined in with that lot. Nor did he see himself being awarded any grand titles. Not after His Majesty had just given his mother a title and accelerated him by Writ. It was difficult for him to think passed his current good fortune, even after the letter that had been found by his father to his mother.

 

Francis said quietly, "I do not think that is the only reason, but if one wished to threaten not just His Majesty and the Queen but also ensure the Duke of York would never be accepted afterward, one might go about that in such a way. And with the Dutch being implicated in the plot, there is true concern that while fantastical in scope may be what is going on. If you wish any intricate understandings, my lord, I am not the one to provide answers. I only know that it seems Danby was prematurely making plans with courtiers foreign and domestic for what was to happen should anything befall the King in a desire to prepare to bypass the Duke of York against His Majesty's wishes. When Danby was caught moving counter to His Majesty's desire for religious toleration and had his monumental fall, a hornet's nest of intrigue was stirred up to a decapitating degree." And those who might be implicated in that sort of treason oft had little to lose.

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He cocked his head at Kirk’s view generosity and taking advantage. Perhaps dealing with ships, they being more intangible than real estate, gave a sailor a different prospective. It was not his place to judge but he did offer a bit of advice and hoped it would be received as a lecture. “Being grasping and ungrateful are ugly qualities that are not fit for a gentleman that is true. But for Kings… and men such as Buckingham, generosity can also be payment. If you risk your wealth and ship to transport a cargo of sugar and a London merchant pays you a premium for it, would you call that charity or fairly earned? There is an order to things. It is our duty to help and reward those who serve us. It is no less our duty to serve those above us and be helped and rewarded in turn. Your youth was nomadic, conceivably your children’s youth will not be.”

 

Maybe he was just being melancholy about his own situation. All this fuss about the King’s heir had got him to thinking that he had yet to produce an heir of his own and unlike with the King there was not a convenient brother to step up and secure his titles. “Bah… it is getting late and I may be rambling. Take my advice for what it is worth for it and a sixpence will get you a pork pie from a peddler on the Strand.”  He tapped the cards and dealt another hand as he teased his partner. “I give you joy for your abilities with Venus for they must be better than your facility at cards for otherwise you would be very lonely indeed.” He chuckled. Whatever else Kingston was or was not he was an easy man to get along with as Blount only teased those he took a liking to. 

 

He did however not much like what Kingston said when he lowered his voice about possible motivations behind the plots against the King. “The brashness of it all.” He said disgusted at the possibility. “Louis is a Machiavellian creature that would do whatever it takes to advance his interests but he is also an anointed King and would not stoop so low as to commit regicide as that would lessen his own majesty.” He though but did not voice that Princes were adept at causing actions without assuming responsibility for those actions. “The Dutch labor under no such restraint. I do not think he would be a good King but York, sans deliverance of a son, is the rightful heir and acceptance of that fact is moot as it is so by the grace of God and by our laws.”

 

Mountjoy was rather severe in matters such as these for in addition to his loyalty to the Crown, as Solicitor General, if such treasons were to take place it would be up to men like him to see justice done and punishment meted out. “I have no desire to be part of a new Star Chamber but if that is what it takes to root out this hornet’s nest I will not shirk from the prospect.”

 

The conversation certainly had turned away from the lighter topics of hobbies and hunting which under the circumstances was something not entirely unwarranted. He mulled whether to bring up another topic. A topic he had not planned to discuss but had been on his mind. It was a tricky subject to broach but Francis had given him every impression that he would be inclined to receive the topic in the sprit it was intended. Blount shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “Concerning that other skill of yours that does not concern cards may I speak with you frankly as a member of the Queen’s Household to a member of the Kings Household?”

 

He had to frame this delicately. “The King can do as he wishes. It is our duty to facilitate those wishes but also guide them and to provide honest and true counsel. His Majesty is a man of free appetites with the will and ability to satisfy them. I have no doubt that you have and will continue to serve him well in accordance with your abilities.” He looked at Kingston to verify that it was understood that it was the Kings penchant for dalliances with females that were not his wife. “Her Majesty does not approve of certain indulgences but with the appropriate discretion and moderation is reconciled to looking the other way from such behavior. I hasten to add that Her Majesty has expressed no recent displeasure with the way things are in Mutatis mutandis.” He caught himself and added lightheartedly as most gentlemen had been tutored in Latin but were not fluent. “That is, in case your mind was yearning for the sea instead of attending to your Latin studies, there is no complaint about the arrangement between their Majesties. It is rather an unfortunate consequence, justifiable or not, of your recent interest in the Queen’s Ladies may be more than personal.”

 

He continued before any objection could be made. “You, as well as His Majesty himself have explained the situation and I do not doubt your veracity or question the Kings but gossip will be gossip and perception can create its own truth. An interest, unfulfilled, of a young gentleman is easily explained away and is soon forgotten. It is only natural that young men will search out the Queen’s Ladies as they are desirable prospects but a loftier interest might be a thorny bush to jump and I would urge you, if such a thing were to occur, to nudge the Kings gaze away from such a field if it were so inclined to wonder.”

 

He looked on in anticipation to the way Kingston would receive his suggestion and how he would respond.

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Francis was not an easy gentleman to offend unless one was attempting it purposefully. There were some who saw offense around every corner, but Francis had a good enough conceit of himself to not feel belittled by being offered well-meaning advise.

 

"Ah but one would need a marriage first, in order to need worry over children," he pointed out suavely, with a lifted finger, for he had just said he was not looking to marry.

 

"I am excessively fond of pork pies, but only earlier the day when they are first out," he replied, with a grin. 

 

Francis agreed about the Duke of York, as he had alluded to earlier. King-making was a hobby of those sorts of republicans who had martyred the last king and plunged them all into more than a decade of darkness. It made sense then that such a thing appealed more to the Dutch than to the French. 

 

"I would not expect to hear anything different from two ardent royalists at cards." His eyed his next hand for a moment. "And the Duke of York has always been generous towards me, though many find him difficult." He could not particularly expound upon that for the largest generosity had been when York had been made privy to his secret along with the King and Buckingham which had been astoundingly surprising. 

 

"Of course," Francis replied, with a soft gesture of the hand for Mountjoy to continue with his question.

 

He snorted when Mountjoy felt the need to explain his Latin. "Did you Oxfordians not have rules about speaking only in language of learning during academic hours? And a good portion of my modest library is in Latin." 

 

More seriously, he said, "His Majesty also trusts that I shall preclude the royal eye from wandering there and if need be remind him of his desire to leave the Queen's ladies to Her Majesty, so there is little problem in promising that I will do so here again." As to the rest of it, he added, "Are you suggesting that perhaps I should not advertise that I do not wish to marry, for it is better for the gallery to think me interested of my own accord than perusing for my master, the King?" 

 

Francis had never considered such a thing, but gossip was inventive and needed little truth to fuel it. As one of the King's gentlemen, he was well-aware that his actions with the fairer sex had more weight and meaning than the usual meaning, but as he had spent much of his time with Dorothea (who was nothing of the King's type), he had not contemplated what Mountjoy was expressing as a concern.

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Charles lifted his own finger and said just as suavely. “Marriage and children? Post hoc ergo propter hoc My dear Kingston.” He smiled sweetly before saying… “Do you wish me to translate?”  and then chuckling. But I do take your point. You say your life has so recently changed and that you are still getting the lay of the land so to speak so it is only prudent that you establish your foundations but I do assume that eventually you will wish for a second Lord Kingston to carry on your family name.”

 

“Other than if engaged in a few learned occupations that require Latin I tend to find that most educated gentlemen’s fluency tends to atrophy due to lack of use. I find it is much the same with French for once one settles down there is no longer a pressing need for le langage de l’amour. Oft times older men without mistresses become notoriously deficient in their French. Hmmm… I do believe Rochester and Buckingham are noted for their proficiency.”

 

“You bring to mind an occasion when our rhetoric society was stood to a debate at Cambridge, Magdalene I believe. We were put up near the Porter’s entrance During the night someone painted on the door of our lodgings a rendition of the old Roman graffito ‘Romani ite domum’ but in their haste they failed their grammar and actually wrote ‘Oxoniensis eunt domus!’ “ He was so filled with mirth at the recollection he needed to wipe a tear from his eye. “If we would have ever mixed up the accusative and dative like that our Latin master would have had our balls off.”

 

He regained control of himself. “We won the debate naturally. That was the first time that I had ever been to Cambridgeshire. And I do have to admit that it was not as desolate and savage as I had imagined.” When recollecting his university days Charles seemed to speak with a lighter more carefree air. “I have thought that in the autumn of my life when my joints creek and I have left public life that I might relive my halcyon days as Chancellor of Oxford as I have a great attachment for the institution. I have the impression, and do please correct me if I am mistaken, that your appointment at Cambridge is more out of duty than desire. Do you have a desire to take an active guiding hand in the institution? Making it more like Oxford would certainly be an improvement do you not think?”

 

Kingston seemed to take Blount’s suggestions in stride acknowledging them when they aligned with his views and politely explaining when they did not. He also did not bristle or take offence when Mountjoy touched on matters within Kingston’s official capacity. “Ah, capitol. I see that my apprehensions have already been forestalled. It is good that we have the ability to speak of such things in a companionable manner. May I offer to you that, within the bounds of our service, that if there ever is a potential matter that would disrupt the felicity between the King and the Queen I would welcome discrete contact to avoid any discontent between their Majesties for an open unofficial backchannel could be advantageous for all concerned in certain circumstances.”

 

In regards to Kingston’s concern for his personal behavior he hastened to add. “Oh no not at all. However, I do recommend that it may prove beneficial if you advertise your marital views less specifically for your views may change in time. Perhaps a position of not being quite ready to settle down at this time might allow for an ambiguity sufficient to meet both needs.” He thought for a moment.  “Although it does seem that when a lady gets an idea into her head that she known what a gentleman truly wants it matters little what the opinion of the gentleman is.” 

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Lord Mountjoy had very logical thinking, especially for one who was born into his place of nobility and had enjoyed it for some time. Francis, however, was in no normal situation. There was a long moment where he hummed in consideration. It could have been of his cards or over what he was to reply of carrying on the family name. 

 

"I think, there upon, you have hit the point squarely and solidly. I actually do not wish to pass on the Kirke name to any children, for as you feel of your uncle, I feel of Charles Kirke, and nothing of his name aided me in the very least in life or at court when I arrived. If anything, it made things considerably harder." Though his words bore a hatred in the cut, in a way dissimilar from Francis' usual bright manner of speaking, his face was impassive.

 

"I would not wish anything of what could come of my blood or life to ever aggrandize his name, and certainly not for all posterity." For some reason, clearly, His Majesty agreed, for as Francis had earlier told Mountjoy, she was given her title in her maiden name. 

 

As the subject changed, Francis chuckled quietly and said, "And what manner of French are we speaking about?" He grinned, "His Grace will be chuffed to be yet known for such." With a slyness of smiled he added in very pretty French, "I speak both versions like a native speaker too." He had, after all, been born in France, so he had learned French alongside English and had spent much of his childhood in exile speaking a lot of French. His accent was better in French than his well-traveled English allowed. "Languages are useful when one's life has been spent at sea, and in Italy where I spent much of my sea-faring, the vast majority of curious tomes are in Latin, and certainly not French or English." The impact of which was that he read old or scholarly things, for most other things could be had in a language easier than Latin in many places. 

 

"Ours would have as well." Then he added, "My first year, my Latin was a little rough in all honesty." He explained with a soft gesture of hand, "The years of exile made for many years of catch up to where we should have been."

 

As to his appointment, Francis said, "His Majesty encourages my intellectual endeavors. A shared interest of novel things. So though I did not ask for it, there was purpose in its gift, other than it having been His Grace's. I think the King finds my bookish side amusing, honestly, for it being unexpected." There were many things about their king himself that were unexpected, for any who knew how much time the man spent in his closet and what was in there, truly realized that a large part of their Merry Monarch was closeted away scientific tinkerer. It had been the first place Francis had a private audience with the King. 

 

"I say to your potential posting, that it would put us in competition if I am yet in my position then!" he kept his amusement down to a little rumble in his chest, not wishing to disrupt the sanctity of where they were or forget their duty in being there. In truth, he could converse and be vigilant. "But I do not shirk from competition, even when I am in my grey hairs."

 

As to their discourse and attentions keeping the happiness of the royal couple, Francis had a feeling that His Majesty might have foreseen that all along. He was a monarch who wished his problems taken care of before inconveniencing him after all. 

 

"Of course." The King trusted the two of them with this duty and that was in agreement with keeping the royal marriage without unnecessary dramatics. His Majesty did not like tears and unhappy ladies and preferred to avoid those states.

 

(OOC - that was a long one! I left out the last bit at the end since Francis zapped him with not wanting to carry on the name at all at the beginning in answer to another question.)

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Francis, to Charles’ mind, had proven himself to be a logical and reasonable gentleman who had views entirely understandable but he also had an unsettling habit of punctuating those conventional views with statements that ran so contrary to Charles’ Weltanschauung  that it bewildered his comprehension. Charles did not stare at Francis in disbelief but he did everything but as he digested Kingston’s statement on his lineage. His statement was just as unfathomable and unexpected as if Francis had calmly stated that he planned to cut off both his legs and eat a baby. He reorganized his cards to give himself time to absorb the situation and just barely stopped himself from discarding the ace of clubs which might prove very useful if he could obtain another face card.  

 

To a man like Blount his family and ancestry was everything for although his family had had its share of reprobates and rapscallions it was to him a lineage deserving of respect and emulation and he took pride and purpose in his own life from standing on the shoulders of his forebearers. That someone would voluntarily wish to disassociate himself from his ancestry was utterly foreign to him. Even as much as Charles despised the actions of his Uncle, he still counted them as family and would not unilaterally act against their interests. But Charles also had the talent of listening to and dissecting what was actually being said and although it was expressed with such candor that he had no doubt of its veracity it was not as declarative as it first appeared to be and thought there could be nuance in Francis’s declaration.

 

He said carefully. “Although I find it difficult to fully comprehend your reluctance to further your family name, I can begin to understand your motives if your attachment to your ancestry goes no further than your father. I do note however that your reluctance seems to be with the continuation of the lineage of the house of Kirke not necessarily with procreation and marriage in general.” Mountjoy’s legalistic mind had begun to analyze the situation and search for technicalities and stratagems to achieve one end without the necessity of a certain means. “If that is the case, why do you not change your name and start your own lineage? There are several ways that can be achieved although you will be tied with the Kirk family in one way or another as you carry your father’s blood.” He paused for a beat. “When you succeed your Lady Mother to the Viscounty… and I sincerely wish that Lady Kingston enjoys her title for many years yet to come… a private bill submitted to the Lords could allow you to ascend to your mother’s name as well as dignity. It is a request that is not all that uncommon and as long as there are no objections from the King, which is unlikely, or from the Leggs’, which I deem to be also unlikely, it would be a simple and routine matter for the Lords to approve. It would also be possible for you to marry an heiress and take her name. That is something that is also not uncommon and it also has the benefit of marrying into money. And lastly, I hasten to point out, if it is a Kirke you are bound to stay, and if it is you who raises the name in dignity and prominence, it will be to you that the Kirke name attributed. Take His Grace of Buckingham. It is to his father the first Duke that posterity turns to when the Villiers name is remembered not his forefathers who were respectable and honorable but still but minor country gentleman and prosperous sheep farmers. Or indeed you may look to our first King who was a Bastard and created his own dynasty. There is much that could be done to assuage your apprehension of undeservedly raising the status of your legitimate father.”       

 

It was Kingston’s family and Kingston’s life. He had proffered advise which he hoped provided Francis options he may not have thought of and would provide counsel if asked but he would not belabor the point or impinge upon Francis’ private prerogatives as head of his family to act as he saw fit.

 

He smiled back, this time in amusement, as Francis responded in perfect French. He replied in English. “My French is more academic and while conversationally fluent, no one would mistake me for a native of Paris. As for the other application for French when I find myself in that situation, I tend to use German. To my ear Teutonic tongue is a bit guttural for romantic utterances but the Margravine seems to like it so I indulge.” Then considering the laxness of keeping to strict marital vows among the nobility he saw fit to add. “As the Margravina and I have yet to be blessed with a son I feel it would be ungallant of me to indulge elsewhere therefore I limit myself to one lingua franca at a time.” Before continuing. “The one thing I can say about German is that they do have the best swear words. I must say the number of expletives I can shout at the stableboys without offending the female staff has doubled. I would recommend to you German for your swearing but I have found that sailors seldom need and help in that area.” In reminiscing about their language studies, he supplied. “Greek was my Achilles heel… Oh… that was good…Ha! I was unwittingly droll.” Pleased with his unintended pun he continued. “To this day I still speak it like a drunken Corinthian arguing with an Athenian fishmonger. I find reading it more of a chore than a pleasure but as you said many of the old scholarly things are not to be had in a more convenient language. Latin has never been a hindrance to me, which is a blessing considering my occupation, and reading the old stories in the original can often provide nuances unavailable in translations. I of course did have the advantage of uninterrupted schooling. One detriment I have found from having a reputation for fluency in Latin is that when at dinner parties I am often sat next to a Bishop or a foreign Ambassador.”   

 

As their conversation moved on, he again misinterpreted the statement that their postings could cause competition as he initially thought that Francis was referring to them working together and not of their possible opposing positions at Cambridge and Oxford. He returned the smile in commiseration with the poor delusional fellow for actually thinking that Cambridge could ever compete with the likes of Oxford. Still, he could respect the man for his loyalty. “I would wish that such an eventuality remains far into the future for there is still much to do in the present.” Indeed, their very presence here proved that they had more service to offer than shuffling about the corridors of higher learning. As to Francis’ actual reply to the possibility in them working together to facilitate relations between the King and Queen he had no objections and indeed seemed to welcome the opportunity. There obviously would be issues of substance that would come between their Majesties but hopefully this newly created avenue for dialogue might prevent small issues from becoming large ones.

 

He arraigned his cards and was rather pleased with his draw as he showed his hand. “I have a run of clubs led by the Queen. I believe you will need a King in your pocket to overturn such a hand. How apt.” He looked over to the armament sitting on a side table.  “I must congratulate you on your taste in firearms. You certainly chose a fine pair for us to play for.”

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"Yes, changing my surname would be a possibility, and could be done by one mechanism or another, true," Francis replied, arranging his cards.

 

"And I would be honoured to carry my grandfather's name, but as it stands now to do so would be unfair and detrimental, perhaps, to Sir George. It is his name and family now, and whilst he might happily share it with me, my outranking of him would mean I would usurp him in its use, in a way. It is not right for me to steal that from him. It is not how we are. He shared everything with me for much of his life, and that one thing is his alone. He was gracious of his sister receiving a peerage in a peculiar way before him, in her maiden name, and my raising...so I would not deign to even suggest it."

 

He heaved a sigh as Blount won another hand and then chuckled. "It is good I am not vain about my card playing acumen or luck, my lord, but I do think I am too vain to take a lady's family name." He considered this a bit deeper and then said with a grin, "Yes, I am entirely too vain for that." 

 

He could, of course, not say that it would wound him in a soulful way to continue a line that belonged to his true father and name it something different as well. If there was lauding to be done for the proliferation of a noble family, it would go to Francis Villiers or to no one, and the current Francis did not think anything could change his mind about that. Anything else seemed false to a memory of a man many people had loved. 

 

Then laughing at the thought of German sex-talk , Francis nodded. "I do not think many gentlemen got far with using Latin or Greek in such a way," he said, cheekily.

 

"But I know swears in several languages. One for each port I've ever arrived into, at the very least! My German is pretty mediocre. Neither Lady Toledo nor Lady Dorothea succeeded in improving it over much in everyday conversation." He had said plenty of comical and nonsense things in his time with them, he was sure. 



His eyes turned to the pistols and nodded. It would seem that it likely Lord Mountjoy would be  victorious at the end of their watch. "Alas, I cannot claim such lofty company in my fold!" He tittered 

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Evening continued to progress relatively quietly, to Lords Mountjoy and Kingston at least, what with the barrier of a door between them and whatever the ladies were doing.

Was it the incessant decorum there in that drove one of the known occupants to then exit? It was the leggy form of Mall who strode out, dressed in comfy woollen knickerbockers (a Dutch style: essentially pants that rolled up to the knees) with a green velvet coat that covered her shapely hips. 

"Gentleman, I see all is well on your front." Said she. As she drew closer it became evident she wore a rapier partially hid beneath her coat, "though you are well prepared." The duchess having noticed the pair pistols on the table just there, "I fear we may not see any action, which would be a shame after the news we've heard today I for one would be wholly satisfied to deliver a good thrashing to the upstarts." 

Mall needed to relieve some of her energies after having spent some few hours with ladies being especially banal (so unlivley that even the young Queen had suggested an early night to bed.)

She very well remembered how England had been when it had lost it's King, so that any threat to the royal family she took very seriously. 

 

 

 

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Mountjoy noted that in Kingston’s rejection of assuming the Legge surname he used the very same reason that Mountjoy put forward for making the Kirke name his and not his father’s. It appeared that Francis’ resolve stemmed more from stubbornness or emotion than from practicality but since he obviously had strong feeling on the subject and Charles was not in possession of all the facts it was not Charles’ place to press the issue so he accepted the reasons. As to the opinion of taking one’s wife’s name he responded “I believe that practice is done when there is a large discrepancy in the status of the families or a great deal of money to be inherited. I suppose the inducement of a large fortune can overcome many objections but I take your point nonetheless.”

 

It was time for another story about the history of his family since Francis was reticent to elucidate upon his. “Something similar occurred in my family. A few generations after the conquest my forefather had the opportunity to wed the sole remaining heiress of a prominent Norman family with large estates in Derbyshire. At that time inheritance was defined by different customs so the estates were split between the two brothers thus my forefather, a younger son, inherited the estates of his mother and his elder brother the estates of their father. When the Edward III thought fit to ennoble my sire with a peerage he did so by writ in the name of her family thus creating the lordship of Mountjoy, her family name, instead of after the location of one of their estates. Thus, the name Mountjoy lives on as a singular honor distinct from a family name or territory. That is why although I ultimately inherited my great grandfather’s Barony I did not inherit his Earldom… or indeed my uncle’s Earldom. Apparently, my family and Earldoms do not mix well for twice now we have been raised to that dignity and twice now all the direct male heirs of the grantee have perished without issue. The creation of such peerages is interesting from a technical point of view but such things are generally no longer done. Three times may be the charm but I did not want to tempt fate so when His Majesty offered me an Earldom I politely declined but he was then good enough to raise me to a title equal to that of my wife so I cannot complain.”

 

Moving on. “As a linguist one would have to be cunning to seduce in Latin.” He said with a straight face as he shuffled the cards for the next hand. Certainly a gentleman with a reputation for being a prim and proper sort could only have meant that last comment in the literal sense Francis could not be sure for Mountjoy could exhibit an eclectic sense of humor in private. “I am sure that your travels have taught you that the surest way to master a language is to immerse yourself in it and the culture. That method is much more comprehensive than pure academic study. I learned the classical languages at school naturally but my German, which has become quite passable I must say even if the Margravina snickers at my pronunciation from time to time, was learned almost entirely colloquially.” He chuckled at a fond memory. “If you ever find yourself involved with a German girl take care if you wish to call her the love of your life for in German liebe is love and lebe is life. I often get the two mixed up which at first perplexed the Margravina and now amuses her.”

 

He though for a moment as he dealt a new hand and arranged his cards and let out an excited “Ah!” in an impish attempt to fool Francis into thinking he had a good hand. All was fair in life and cards… or was it love and cards? “I am glad to see that in my absence the margravine has settled into her position as Mistress of the Robes and believe that Her Majesty has come to rely upon her. She has always been a very organized and reliable Lady and I am pleased that she and the Queen get on so well. Both being German that is not surprising. Being close to several of the Queen’s Ladies are you in a position to speculate upon the opinions of the Ladies to the way the Margravinea interacts with them? Given the current circumstances I believe it is imperative that the Ladies feel comfortable in their interactions with her for she is our conduit into the inner reaches of the Queen’s chambers.”

 

It was true that Ursula’s relationship to the Ladies and their opinions to her were germane to their task but he was also interested in how his wife was viewed at Court. He had no doubt she knew what she was doing but it would be likely things could be said to him that would not be said to her and knowing these things would be beneficial in both cases.  

 

It was then that Mountjoy became aware of a door being quietly opened then closed followed by soft muffled footsteps suggestive of Dutch commendare sneaking through the polders or perhaps Jesuit assassins sneaking Papally into the palace. He sought Kingston’s gaze his eyes, heretofore soft and amiable became steely and alert and his muscles lounging and languid became taught as his hand moved towards the pistol case.  

 

The sound of a woman’s voice sounding neither Dutch nor Papal broke the allusion and Mountjoy relaxed. He stood in an act of automatic courtesy and gave a small bow acutely aware that he was uncovered and in his shirtsleeves, relieved that royal protocol did not cover the required dress in this particular situation. “Duchess, all is quiet out here as I assume it is within.” He pulled up a nearby chair in case Mall wished to join them. “Nothing much to report other than the danger of Lord Kingston losing a fine pair of pistols.”         

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Francis listened to Mountjoy's story and then replied, "I hope I have not given offense. I surely did not know one of your great ancestors was in such a situation. My apologies." There was a slight blush on his face which was typical for him in such situations. "A king, of course, can writ whatever he likes," he added in jest, but it was a jest that held some truth. 

 

The arrival of the Duchess of Richmond meant that Francis never had an opportunity to answer the question about Lord Mountjoy' wife. He was almost happy for it! Speaking about another gentleman's lady wife was difficult terrain.

 

He rose to her arrival and offered one of his (well-tutored by Buckingham) bows. 

 

"Are they to Your Grace's taste?" he asked. "A pair put up for the evening's game by my master the King. You should take my seat and play my next hand or all of my hands. Perhaps your luck will be greater than mine and you will be the victor of them this evening and thwart us both."

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"That it is" she replied to Lord Mountjoy's supposition, "what a relief it is to speak of it, for I've spent the evening furthering the ruse that there's nothing out of the ordinary! The institution of shielding the minds of those who are with child is an inconvenient thing. I rather imagine Karoline to have the strength of character to bear it..."

That thought brought her to look at Lord mount Joy and ask "Did your lady wife allow you to keep her in the dark during her confinement?"

Though Mall was entirely unqualified to launch any change to societies opinions on that matter, having never endured the happy state to fruition.

"Oh well that there explains it, my Lord Brother's taste in such things is never less than perfect. A Wender, would it be one of Claude Cunet of lyons?" One of the most distinguished French gunmakers of the age.

"A rather Lofty prize for the evening... mmm, It is loaded no doubt. It would do my brothers ego good if his weapon was used to shoot any infiltrator. This is how he manages be two places at once!" she chuckled affectionately.

"Has your luck turned rum Lord Kingston? -  need I ask to inspect your deck Lord Mountjoy!" she teased. "But no, please do play on, I'll take a que from our Lord Albemarle and just watch." It was frankly refreshing to be amongst the gentlemen, and she settled to the chair Lord Mountjoy had drawn over for her.

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