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

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April 11. The Queens Apartments, Late into the evening

 

Knaves and Queens

Continued from “The Delicacies of a Lady”

 

 

Their preparation done Kingston and Mountjoy made their way to the Queen’s Presence Chamber. Upon entering Charles scanned the room to gage the tone and numbers of its occupants. Normally the room was rather relaxed and open to all who were well presented with only a few pages and servants about to see to the occupant’s needs and a pair of Lifeguards to add a bit of grandeur and to regulate entry to the inner apartments. Normally Charles did not pay them much attention but now he did observe the guards with a critical eye.

 

If there was no one in the room that required a specific greeting or something that required his attention he was prepared to move on to the Queen’s Drawing Room

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Given that the Queen had retired from chapel early, there was not anyone waiting in the Presence Chamber for an audience or even to be seen. Generally it seemed all of court had taken to having a special care and concern over the wellbeing of their Queen and royal heir. If the Queen had retired for quiet and repose, court seemed agreeable to facilitating it. As was usual, there were a few younger ladies of the Queen's household conversing (perhaps taking note of who might come and go and maintaining quiet) but no one of particular note. 

 

As His Majesty had said, the Life Guard and Yeomen of the Guard had their orders. Lord Mountjoy was not scrutinized and neither was Lord Kingston. 

 

In the Drawing Room the pair would encounter Lord Feversham, as they had been prepared, who was half-pretending to sign papers. His eyes had snapped up, as did his body, the moment the door clicked. 

 

His posture relaxed some as he saw the pair. "Lord Mountjoy, I do not think I have had the pleasure of welcoming you home, yet." He bowed handsomely. "Lord Kingston." 

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Had Kingston any idea of Lord Mountjoy's musings of his character, he would have been exceedingly pleased that such an epitome of propriety had not even thought to suspect such a thing as him being illegitimate. It would have proved Buckingham very right; when most all the nobility felt that nobility was inborn, the evidence of nobility was mostly in being noble, in acting the part. It was something a bastard could not fake if one wished to ascribe to the idea of noble blood. Then again, Francis had never lived with that stigma anyway.

 

When Francis had confessed to his preference for ladies that were neither maidens nor married, it had not particularly been the ladies of which he was hesitant. Rather, he wished to avoid the barrage of justifiably angry fathers, brothers, or sons; for having to kill someone for his slight to a lady's honour was not very palatable to him. Nor were the prospects of dying in such a way, but he had great skill with a sword and plenty of experience with duels. One did not stay in a lady's heart by slaying her male family, so it was truly a very losing scenario. 

 

It all just seemed rather illogical to Francis. Much simpler and happier for all to sate his desires elsewhere.  "It is the fathers, brothers, or sons which seem problematic. Legitimately, for I would protect a lady's honour with my life as well." And he was no wild youth escaping his schoolmasters anymore. 

 

There was no one to greet in the Presence Chamber, so they proceeding into the Drawing Room. He had Lord Mountjoy proceed him there, dipping his head politely, for it seemed proper to defer to superior rank and position when entering a more intimate space with which the other held more freedoms than Francis. 

 

He returned Lord Feversham's bow with a pretty one of his own. He had Buckingham's style, and he made it look very natural. "Good afternoon, Lord Feversham."

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“So it is not Venus that gives you pause but the complications of Mars.” He stated to Kirke’s clarification as they transversed the outer chamber. There was not time to expound on the topic at present but it was very likely that they would have an abundance of time as they stood their vigil so he added. “I can understand that. Later on you should ask me about the affair of my Great Grandfather met and became infatuated with my great Grandmother who, inconveniently, was not married to my grandfather at the time. The affair was complicate and caused great consternation to Lord Rich, who was her current husband, Queen Elizabeth, King James and ultimately almost scuppered the career of the Archbishop of Canterbury! I say it was not simply a brouha but a brouhaha.”  

 

As they entered the Drawing Room he nodded in recognition of Kirke’s ceding precedence. There was no longer any time to explain brou’s of however many ha’s as the Queen’s Chamberlin who seemed to be relieved at their arrival immediately accosted them. In reply to Feversham’s handsome bow and Kingston’s pretty bow Mountjoy performed a precise bow of his own. “Alas no I have not had the pleasure of your welcome until this moment for circumstances have kept me away from these chambers.” He graciously responded. The last time he had visited resulted in him throwing a figurine into the fireplace and he did not wish a reoccurrence of such an act.

 

“Such a congregation that we find ourselves in would be vastly more pleasurable if the circumstances were not what they are. How fares the Queen and what can you tell us as to the state of her household?” He began getting straight down to business. He would wish to speak with his wife but as she might be preoccupied with other duties he would wait until she chose to greet them before he did so.”*

 

“Are the Ladies likely to stir from their chambers? If not His majesty has come up with a brilliant idea that will allow Lord Kingston and I to remain close by for the evening.” To be precise the King did not create the plan but only agreed to it but as it was a good plan it was only fitting that the King receive the credit for it. If something went wrong it would be Kingston’s plan. He looked to Kingston to see if he was willing to explain the plan.

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Feversham had been there since early that morning before the Queen had left for chapel, so he had seen everything that had happened there for a number of hours. There had not been much activity at all, and it had been rather tedious even if necessary. 

 

"Her Majesty retired to rest when she returned from chapel, but she is not unwell." It was difficult to say in a polite sort of way that the Queen was rather large from the child. There was some question if perhaps she was further than expected. "This is quite typical of most afternoons for the last few weeks. The King has made it a habit to visit earlier in the afternoon, so it is generally after that, but it has been a series of long processions to chapel.

 

"Only a few of her closest and most sensible ladies are with her now or attending. I believe Lady Mountjoy shooed some of the others away already which is quite fortuitous, though I am sure she is shortly to be in confidence of the situation."

 

He looked between the pair at the mention of the King's brilliant idea. "Oh? I confess, I had thought that this ruse would become more difficult as the night wore on, though it is likely the Queen may stay in private. Or Lady Mountjoy might be able to convince her of the wisdom of it for the child." It was difficult, in such cases, to be a gentleman, for their advice in matters of birth and pregnancy were rarely taken well or heeded. That was a woman's domain. Feversham was happy for it. "So long as it does not involve Kingston in a dress..." the earl chanced a joke with a small chuckle. It had been a long morning. And His Majesty was somewhat known for various antics, though not generally in such circumstances.

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Francis' eyebrow raised some and then a bit further at Mountjoy's familial story, "Quite!"

 

Lord Feversham gave them a quick summary of events, and it sounded as if Francis' morning and afternoon was significantly more active. He had been going hither and thither at the behest of the King since early that morning. Receiving the peeing puppy was long forgotten, because it seemed as if it had happened eons ago.

 

"Lord Mountjoy has invited me to play cards, and His Majesty has graciously supplied pistols as the prize for the overall winner of the evening. It promises to run quite late and much coin to cross the table," Francis supplied with a cheerful grin. "Alas, I did not wish the ladies to be threatened by my scandalously beautiful ankles, my lord, for no dress I could borrow on short notice would be long enough!"

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He nodded as Feversham explained the situation. It appeared that everything was settled and quiet… he hoped it would stay that way. “Very good, I shall send in a note for the Margravina to come and speak with us when she is able and we can make more detailed plans. If you are fatigued and in need of a well earned respite my Lord please feel free to indulge yourself for I believe that when the morning comes we will yearn for a return of the favor. For now it is only fitting that I would wait upon my Ladywife and whilst I do so avail myself of the company of Lord Kingston. Thus insinuating ourselves into the coop and be the shell that protects the royal yoke.” For some reason he did not come up with a hunting metaphor this time. Perhaps he was hungry.

 

He chuckled along. “No it does not involve a dress although that would be a sight to see. That reminds me of a ruse Italian Sheppard’s use. They have a breed of guard dog that has fluffy fur resembling a sheep’s fleece. They raise the pup among the sheep so it views the flock as its pack and guards it all the while blending in. If our vigil lasts several days we may have time to engage a seamstress and test the stratagem with a new Lady Kingston. If the wagers on cards are not favorable I am in no doubt His Grace of Buckingham would pay a pretty penny to see such a sight and the King is known to be an aficionado of a well turned ankle!” It seemed that it was not only the King and Buckingham that had taken to teasing the comely Lord about his appearance. 

 

 

[OOC: I am still following your suggestion that we ‘play around’ Ursula to give Hope the opportunity join in whenever she is ready.]

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While many found the events of the day to be wearisome, Lady Mountjoy felt an opposite effect. The young Queens wariness inspired her, invigorated.  Through her diligence the scenes beyond the Presence Chamber door were a picture of serenity, ruthlessly maintained by the Margavina. 

She'd even dispatched most of those whom as a rule dallied about Her Majesties apartments, though Feverham had managed to remain, after all he was Queen's Chamberlain or Vice-chamberlain (one or t'other, who could remember?!).  He had worked quietly about his day signing a pile of papers. Ursula could have done his job in a quarter of the time, but had said nothing of it.

But the noise increased, laughter even, and one of those voices was her husbands (unless she was mistaken).  Ursula moved to see what was afoot  ..  thus arrived before Charles next note was even sent.

"Good day My Lords," Swanning into the room she greeted in a soft tone such as was used in Libraries, while her eyes were sharp looking upon Her Lord Husband, whom only the other day had seemed suspicious of the man who'd company he now kept. The three of them seemed in high spirits!  "What is so funny?"

Yes it was a telling off.

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"His Majesty has asked me to spend time between His Highness' household and here, so now that your lordships are here to replace me, I shall head to my rooms there and replace you both once again in the morning." 

 

Feversham smiled as Kingston took the jest in stride. It was a mirror to similar jests that went on in York's household about Sir George, who had a similar delicacy of appearance to Kingston without quite the same feminine sort of prettiness. He supposed if one had such a visage one had to have good humour about it or be constantly unhappy. 

 

And as Mountjoy said, it did rather mean that Kingston could blend in like guardian to tend the flock!

 

He neither had time to say more nor to take his leave before Lady Mountjoy arrived. She spoke in that silent voice that was shaming, like a mother scolding a child for misbehaving in a library with expensive books. Feversham was quite thankful that he could leave Lady Mountjoy to Lord Mountjoy in this instance, and he could stay entirely quiet!

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Kingston had been about to agree with Lord Mountjoy when the arrival of Lady Mountjoy made him go silent as a lamb...or like the golden-fleeced guard-dog pretending to be a lamb!

 

His bow was especially graceful and reverential for Lady Mountjoy in that instant.

 

He had been the sort of child that knew how to overly behave with respect when caught out. Though, in his defense, he had not laughed like the others! Now he was suddenly thankful that his voice was a very singular tenor with an equivalently youthful laugh that was not deep at all. There were some uses to not having the face or voice of a thick manly man, even if he had the strength and ferocity of hypermasculinity. 

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The arrival and admonition of Ursula put Charles in a particular situation. Whatever Feversham was about to say was interrupted and Francis had the good sense remain silent as a lamb. That she would publicly rebuke her husband was out of the question so he interpreted the comment as a general censure in light of the Queen’s state. As Feversham tried not to gawp and Kingston bowed he moved to Ursula’s side.

 

“How nice of you to join us.” He instinctively sought out her hand to lightly grasp. “I hope our jocularity was not overly intrusive and we shall endeavor in future to blend in unobtrusively.” He moved in to close the distance between the group and did indeed lower his voice. “We were just about to seek you out for we are not here on a social matter.” He looked around even though they were alone in the room. “We are here by order of the King for there is some suspicion that foreign agents or disgruntled traitors may have designs against their Majesties. The body of a man was found this morning in an area the King was to pass not an hour hence and his Majesty commands that no harm is to come to the Queen. He does not wish to risk upsetting Her Majesty by increasing the guards around her person so have tasked we three to ensure that at least one of us is in close attendance at all times to ensure her safety. He prefers that no distress comes to the Queen or her household until this breach is secured but he obviously realizes that you, as the Mistress of the Robes, must be an intrical if his wishes are to succeed.”

 

For Ursula’s benefit he explained their plan to use a card game to mask their staying the night. “I assume you have the keys to the various rooms of the Queen’s suite and ask your assistance to discretely lock or limit entry to privy stairs or private entrances that are usually unguarded. The King commands that we be subtle and unobtrusive and we have no wish to incommode or interfere with the normal operation of the Apartments but if you view anything out of the ordinary or suspicious please alert one of us immediately no matter how intimate the setting.” He looked at his companions. “I think that we would all rather risk having to explain an awkward situation to the Queen than to explain why we failed to the King.”

 

He turned back to his wife. “Have you any questions or suggestions regarding the situation?

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To their credit the three were quickly reformed, and Ursula's manner altered to give a nod of gratitude to that point - for at that moment she only knew what she knew. 

Charles touch to her hand was it's own sort of caution, she met his eyes with a slight tip of head, and there was an unspoken exchange of their renewed closeness.  Her fingers tightened gently on his.  A hold that then grew tighter as Charles relayed grave information, shocking developments and frankly (how did the English put it?) Gobsmaking news. 

Ursula was obviously concerned. 

"How many enemies do we suspect to exist!" spoken in a whispered hiss.  "To this moment I have witnessed nothing out of the usual, but nor have I been looking for such.  Yes I shall assist as best as I might - I am particularly mindful not to alarm our Queen. I must thank you all for your appreciation of that very fact. "  

By her tone and manner Ursula deferred command of the situation quite fully to the three Gentlemen. 

"Just now she is napping, but is sure to wake again soon. Lord Kingston, what can happen of the gift?" she turned to address Francis in particular of this, "Her Majesty has been asking after it's arrival any number of times already."   

 

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Feversham breathed a sigh of relief. He had been signing papers as slowly as possible all day, so he was eager to hand the charades and drama over to the other two gentlemen. Better they deal with the ladies than he!

 

"I shall take my leave, then, and return in the morning to relieve you, gentlemen. Truly my hand is cramped from pretending to write. You both came up with a far better subterfuge for the evening hours." He smiled at Lady Mountjoy, who no doubt had wondered at his ability to spend all the hours not spent at chapel since early that morning at the task. "My hope is for a quiet evening, my lady." 

 

And with that Feversham took his leave, allowing Mountjoy and Kingston to relay what they had learned from His Majesty. 

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"I have brought it with me, but I do not think it safe to present it until it is thoroughly tested; though Mr. Nash's flowers were not nefarious, caution is likely best. Lord Mountjoy has allowed me to put it in his chambers for now, until we can have that discretely done."

 

He then added, "His Majesty has tasked me with many things today, so I can say that it was not yet at the Duke's when I was at liberty to retrieve it and that they are to send it to me at the palace when it arrives. I was not at chapel, so I am certain the story will be believable and shall explain the delay. If needed, we can always say a nameless servant of the palace dropped it later and that it must be replaced." 

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He touched the brim of his hat as the Queen’s Chamberlin took his leave. “Till the morrow then My Lord.”

 

He had thought the sugar flowers were a minor issue but that assumption was obviously in error as Ursula mentioned that the Queen had repeatedly asked about them. He now had a better idea of Kingston’s precarious position and hoped that her Majesty would not press the issue and cause difficulties. “The likelihood of the gift being compromised is slim but every precaution must be taken. We will rely upon you to gently guide the Queens actions to facilitate our mission which you have unknowingly already made easier by imposing calm and quiet about her person.”

 

“Do you think Her Majesty will accept such an explanation and be willing to wait a day or two my Dear?” He was speaking to Ursula and not Kingston. 

 

“It would be advantageous if the Queen stays in her chambers. That would be the safest course. If she or the ladies yearn for some excitement I have a copy of the ‘Aenied’ in my room that I could read aloud for I find dactylic hexameter to be quite stirring. I could also entertain with some of my hunting stories but they may be a bit too exciting for one in such a delicate condition.”

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Fevershams mention of hand cramp brought Ursula to better realise his position that day, "Ah..." she provided a sympathetic noise, "I rue that I was unaware of the full extend of your diligent service Lord Feversham, when we are well through all of this, perhaps following the birth of an heir,  I shall disclose your loyalty to Her Majesty who is sure to reward your person."  

In Ursula’s mind everything was about the child being carried.

The man was bade a deserving farewell, and the matter of the gift continued to be figured.  "The difficulty is she commissioned it for an Easter gift, so even if given tomorrow it is too late - thus her constant enquiries." Ursula sighed.  Her mind still at it's workings.  "What even is the risk to her to sight this before giving it to His Majesty?" 

Charles suggested readings to help Karoline pass the time.  "I prefer her to keep the company of her Ladies, which is much as is usual... I would place Dorothea in her company, they are partial to the game of Latrones.  And I wonder if I might call for Lady Richmond to attend also, she might provide her own 'Ephelia' readings, with the added advantage of being a swordswoman in her own right." A butterfly sleeping under the Queens window indeed! *

 

*  ref! 😄 

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"Her Majesty has food testers, so how quickly might we have it tested? If it can be done quickly, we need only delay a few hours and it is yet early. If there is anything suspicious or wrong, that might be the rub..." Francis replied. "His Majesty is aware of the conundrum, though not what it is or anything about it. He saw the box. I demurred as much as possible but could not hide it entirely as I was told this morning the King required me all day. I can blame whatever need be on the commands of a concerned royal husband for me to be here when I returned from his other tasks. Given the Queen's early departure from chapel should not seem too suspicious.

 

"We could say I was, thus, forced to await the box here, rather than wait for it at the Duke's, as I might have if I was at liberty to do so, and have whomever look it over that needs to?"

 

It was one of those situations where the King's orders trumped the Queen's, and he could hardly gainsay the King's (and nor could the Queen), so hopefully to hear that there was a delay because Francis had to return to the King and was then sent to where he was currently would be acceptable. 

 

If it only required a few hours.

 

"We can also relay that His Majesty has several meetings into the early evening so will not be able to receive it for some time yet?" It was quite true, as well. And he could honestly feign ignorance to what they were about, or who they were with, because he did not know. 

 

Francis was about to ask after which Lady Richmond, but he did not think that the younger one was known for being skilled with a sword. His blue eyes flickered to Lord Mountjoy, wondering if he was privy to the skill of Buckingham's sister with a sword! If he was not, he would be in for quite the surprise. The family swordsmanship skill was not limited to those with cocks, apparently. 

 

And as a royal duchess, she was part of the family and had been around the Queen much in the earlier days like in Brighton, so she would not be a suspicious arrival. And the duchess did know a thing or two about bearing children too. She was quite the experienced lady!

 

"Lady Richmond is very devoted to the King and the Queen," Francis replied. "And she will assuredly scare anyone as much as Lord Mountjoy and I if necessary." Before Brighton, Buckingham had informed him that he was required to ride to Brighton (at a fierce pace) with the Duke and his sister, because his sister would do it on her own if they did not escort her! He had never met a woman so inspiring as to pass as the finest lady, but who could smoke and best most men with a sword. "And you shan't hear me object to a relation, my lady," he added with a smile to Lady Mountjoy.

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As Ursula bade farewell to the Chamberlin he noted with approval her mention of a reward from the Queen and wondered if this was a conscious act to strengthen her position as the arbitrator of the Queen’s favor or simply the acknowledgment of worthy service rendered. Both motivations would underlie an astute grasp of the potential of her position and this was something that he wished to facilitate not only for her personal benefit but because they both recognized the importance of securing a protestant heir and what that would mean for the stability of the Kingdom.

 

He let Ursula and Francis mull over the issue of the Easter gift as they were much more knowledgeable of the particulars than he and it would be Ursula’s insights that would guarantee success in whatever particulars they chose to employ. If the gift could be tested in a few hours time it could be all settled before other more complicated excuses became necessary.

 

To his invitation to read some poetry his wife was practical as always recognizing that such stirring verse as proposed had the potential to incite the good Ladies into a frothing state of femininity and offered her own solution to retain a temperate decorum.

 

“What an excellent suggestion. Lady Richmond would indeed combine the visage of a comely butterfly with the sting of a wasp. It puts me in mind of ‘To a Gentleman that Durst Pass the Door While I Stood There.’ He drew a breath to quote from the poem by the named author. When at Oxford he had been required to memorize many poems and felt that if he may as well inflict others with the knowledge as well. But then he abruptly stopped as if an invisible bridal was yanked.

 

Mountjoy’s comprehensive education allowed him to conjure up various classical expressions to illustrate points he wished to make and this particular one seemed an obvious citation as Ursula had mentioned the works of Ephelia but then his mind conjured another work from the Author and his grey eyes moved just in time to see Kirke’s blue eyes flicker to him in a questioning and conspirative manner. That Lady Richmond was unconventional in her pursuits was one of the more open secrets at Court and society often politely looked the other way when a member of the powerful and influential Villiers family chose to indulge in eccentricity.

 

What was being questioned by the over educated, and chary mind of Charles was that Ephelia often used veiled personages for elaboration of her themes such as characters like Bajazet and his lamenting Lady named as Mall Kirke who was said to be a favorite of Lady Villiers younger brother, the pre-eminently handsome and blue eyed Lord Francis Villiers. As he looked into the blue eyes of the pre-eminently handsome Francis in front of him the pieces of the puzzle that had been so frustratingly recusant began to make sense. He turned to the equally blue and pre-eminently beautiful eyes of his wife with a look of perplexing inquiry. Was this pure happenstance or was Ursula subtly attempting to divulge something? It was not often that her Husband could be so visibly Gobsmacked but that word seemed to be very appropriate this day. She knew that there was something Charles could not reconcile with Francis and was this her way of nudging him to a conclusion? He would need to discuss this in more detail when they could speak in private but for now she could plainly see that Charles was mentally processing some information as he turned again to look at Kingston.

 

Mountjoy had always treated Kingston with the respect due his station and had even paid him the compliment of jovial conviviality but for a second or two Francis was treated to a shrewd and analyzing stare that had become the bane of Barristers so unfortunate enough to be affixed by it across the bar. The gaze faded as Charles filed away the information that had so captivated him and his eyes softened once again into those of an amiable courtier.

 

“Forgive me for my odd behavior but I was overcome by the mention of Latrones, a game of which I am inordinately fond.” A statement that was unlikely to be true but politely enough explained satisfy the moment and precluded overt inquiry.

 

“Your assessment of the Ladies is quite sound and Lady Richmond’s unusual talents could prove to be quite… unexpected if it comes to that.” He directed towards his wife. “I am fully cognizant of the Ladies loyalty to the Queen but I can not help but be concerned that they do not put themselves into any undue danger in their zeal to serve. The Queen’s safety is paramount but I would not wish any Lady to be harmed.”

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"Forgive me if I am wrong," which was a polite way of couching a correction of the gentlemen’s before her, "but the gift is of the same ilk as the flowers crafted, which while made of a foodstuff are certainly not to be eaten. Her Majesties own are on display in her curiosities cabinet. I think the gift may be given safely enough, with His Majesties assistants ready to speak a cautionary word – upon the unlikely instance that CR considers eating it." 

While she considered the men’s paranoia understandable, endearing even. 

 

The suggestion of Mall was well received;  her husband verged upon a recitation of verse but halted himself (of this Ursula was disappointed). She was rather fond of the poem he'd built them up to, and even more fond of Charles voice of oration. His was the finest speaking voice in England!*

But Charles halted himself.

As did she.

For Lord Kingstone spoke rather unusually.  For usually he was a terribly modest fellow.  While there was general view that his acceleration at court was some manner of nepotism, he was never the man to cite it, nor draw such to others attention.   But here, those last few words, suggested Francis reticence with family ties was disappearing.  

 

"Then it is settled." Ursula smiled back to Francis (while her husband surely caught a micro expression to his wife’s face), "some of the Queens lifeguards shall safely fetch her to the Palace. I would feel most reassured if you were both able to remain here constantly. My Lord Husband, you might be delighted to learn that Lord Kingston is a recent Latrones aficionado."  Charles had wanted a chance to find out more about Kingston after her over-familiar use of his christian name - that voyage of discovery was already proving quite interesting, and they had a whole night ahead of them.

"Have you both eaten yet, I send for a platter or two, and perhaps a large pot of coffee." 

 

* her devoted view

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Francis looked appropriately schooled on the matter...for ingénu as he was, he would have surely tasted it at the very least! If not eaten it altogether at some juncture. Then again perhaps it was his lack of court schooling and time in exile and at sea that rendered all edible things edible regardless of beauty. 

 

"I confess, Lady Mountjoy, you would know far better than I would what is best for Her Majesty, but I am not sure that eating it would be the only problem. There are substances which contaminate through the skin. If one knows many Italians, one hears many such stories." He cast his eyes to Lord Mountjoy to see if he had any thoughts on the matter. "Surely a few hours to have someone say that it is safe would also be safe for the rest of us and should not be too problematic?"  He looked back to Lady Mountjoy.

 

As to the matters of the Duchess of Richmond, Francis noted Lord Mountjoy's abrupt stoppage. He was about to ask if his lordship was quite all right, but the man came out of it and offered a strange excuse.

 

Francis could not help but blink once, not quite so sure that explained the very odd look he was being given, but he had better sense than to let on that he did not believe the explanation.

 

"I am yet very new to the game, and Lady Dorothea can very easily trounce me, so I doubt I would provide any good competition," he replied, with a smile.

 

Meanwhile, his own mind was whirling a bit wondering what about the Duchess of Richmond had Lord Mountjoy staring at him so...

 

Surely it was not surprising that he would voice no objection? What gentleman of any sense spoke against a female relation? Let alone a Villiers one! She might challenge him to a duel! That thought almost amused him. 

 

It did not occur to him that acknowledging that the named lady was quite fine with him would evoke such a reaction. It was not as if it was a secret that he was a relation, for he lived with the Duke, and he took it all as just typical talk. 

 

Thankfully it did not occur to him that one or both could think that the Duchess was actually his mother and her Clovis his father, for being raised as the son of a cousin would then not be strange at all! Francis did not have an inventive imagination about potential court gossip. He also did not fathom that someone might suspect the actual truth from his secret aunt's poems full of pseudonyms.

 

"And I never turn down food or coffee, my lady, many thanks."

 

"And I dare you to tell Her Grace the Duchess that, Lord Mountjoy!" And never had a more daring dare been given in his recent memory. That was saying something considering he also kept company with libertines. "You may need a defense more skilled than words in that case," he added, little rumbles of chuckles he tried to hold in escaping, for he was imagining the named lady's reaction! 

 

If the Queen was in danger, Francis was rock-solid positive the last thing the Duchess of Richmond would do would be to call for any man before taking action! 

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Ursula certainly had a point about the decorativeness of the confections but many beautiful things were made to be eaten, especially for royalty. Perhaps it was a German proclivity to view items as this to be admired but not eaten but he himself had consumed many foods finely crafted into pieces of art. Like Kingston, oonce proved safe he had hoped that he would have been able to taste the confecture himself but it appeared that he would not be able to do so. He deferred to Kingston who reasonably countered that there were different kinds of poison even going so far as to cite practices attributed to Italians. He knew of the Italian disease that was attributed to that nationality, along with the Greeks, but that usually referred to the insertion of other things than poison in inappropriate situations.

 

“Both views have merit.” He said offering a compromise. “Would the delay of a few hours prove unacceptably disappointing to Her Majesty or would you be able to assure that if the confection were to be presented to Her Majesty without delay it could then be taken away ‘to make fit for presentation’ and be quietly tested thus satisfying the Queens immediate desire and our protective duty?”

 

He was positive Ursula could deflect any complications to this plan from the Ladies if required and that she also had the tact and influence to guide the Queen away if she raised any impediment. The Queen’s safety was paramount but Queens could be insistent at times and they had also been tasked not to cause any upset if at all possible.

 

It was then that Ursula brought up a personal complication that he had not considered. He had relished the duty of staying near the Queen as that meant also staying near Ursula but he had not considered that although close physically they would have different duties that must be attended to and he realized that he needed to concentrate on working with Kingston to guard the Queen and although Francis was a congenial fellow Charles would much rather have been able to spent an evening at cards with his wife. He sighed to himself for this day was to have belonged to Charles and Ursula themselves but, as he himself had taken pains to explain to his wife, their duty to the crown took precedence. He would have to make sure that his close proximity to Ursula did not interfere with his main task.  

 

The awkwardness of his possible revelation was allowed to pass without direct comment although it was clear that Francis knew that his explanation was but a polite deflection. This was a bit embarrassing to Charles as always strived to be calm and collected in polite company. It was not that Charles was attempting to disadvantage Francis in any way or that he desired to create gossip, it was just that he liked things to be logical and tidy and his current supposition certainly made Kingston’s situation logical.

 

“Well, perhaps we could play a few games in-between cards.” He said when Ursula explained Francis’s newfound attraction for Latrones. “I will do my best to be as charming an opponent as Lady Dorothea and for your part you have yet to disappoint in your competition or conduct.”

 

He was looking forward to spending some time with Kingston.

 

“Oh, that would be lovely.” He said as he looked happily at Ursula and gave her hand a little squeeze truly thankful at her kindness and consideration. “With all that has happened I have not had time for lunch.” He had planned to have a quiet luncheon with Ursula but that was no longer to be. “And thought I would have to do with some dry bread over cards for sustenance.” He was not a Gourmand but he was an active man and enjoyed his food. “I have sent for Padeen to bring a cask of watered wine for the evening but a platter of some kind and coffee would be very welcome. I do apologize for only offering watered wine but we do need to keep our wits about us and our vigil will last many hours.” The last was directed to Francis to whom he added with a smile. “I do not accept your dare my Lord. I would not wish to challenge or bring the possibility of harm to any member of the Villiers family let alone to a Lady of such quality.”

 

The last statement was not strictly true for he had challenged the Duke on occasion in the House of Lords over political matters but that was business not family.

 

“Oh, and may I also impose upon you for the services of a seamstress? I do not have time to go home to remedy this but I seem to have lost a button and really can not be seen near the Queen in such a disheveled state.” He held out one arm with three decorative buttons of gold set with garnets and then the other that had but two buttons. “I must have lost it in Church or in the King’s chambers and I feel tremendously unsymmetrical and unbalanced. My only comfort was that Lord Feversham did not notice my wretched state and I beseech you Lord Kingston to please keep this travesty to yourself.”  

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Kingston made his own strong points, while her husband navigated between (he was a natural politician!). 

“I must agree under the circumstances especially, with this news you have presented me with. I am still trying to adjust to this new state of emergency we find ourselves in.” Which was something of an apology.

The great lady, for she certainly possessed a ‘presence’ then took on the role of hostess to these very qualified guardians.  Shortly enough servants would arrive with two large platters, one sweet and one savoury, and an overlarge coffee pot was wheeled upon a device that had hot coals in it to keep it warm.  And ice bucket also arrived, along with a felt topped games table. More discreetly positioned po’s were also positioned   The men’s every need for their vigil would certainly be met.  

A final personal moment was then shared right there in front of Kingston.  “I would be pleased to attend to your button myself,” Ursula held Charles gaze, and briefly a turbulence of repressed emotions showed upon her face. While they might not be in the same room, they would bravely face this new threat together!  Breaking her intensity with a smile she then jested, “If our Lord Kingston can contain himself once you are stripped to your shirtsleeves.”    

Content to have personally taken on that little task, Lady Mountjoy exited the room. She would send for Mall forthwith.

 

 

OOC: the room is yours!

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"Lady Dorothea is ruthless at Latrones, so you need not concern over charm in mimicry of her," he chuckled. It was true. She was very skilled. 

 

"And never fear, I am not concerned over the beverage of choice in the very least. We can share our finest at a later date."

 

He had to prevent a smile at Lord Mountjoy's comment of being unbalanced and in disrepair. "None shall hear it from me."

 

Francis smiled but ducked his head for the further intimate exchange, allowing them what privacy he could allow for their close proximity and circumstance! 

 

Until he was addressed. Then, he chanced raising his gaze to reply, "I am not that sort of pretty, Lady Mountjoy," he teased. "Nor that sort of gentle."  If she had truly been wondering, though, he had allayed any suspicions that he shared the first George Villiers' proclivities with a smile. 

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Ursula did not press the issue of the confections which he interpreted as her acquiescence. If she disagreed she certainly would have the fortitude to press the matter and if pressed would just as certainly have the support of her husband. Kingston likewise did not feel the need to address the matter further so it appeared that the issue was settled. He smiled at Ursula’s plea that she was still adjusting to the unusual situation they found themselves in but guessed that like his own recent explanation hers was also a polite offering for however fair she chose to be there was not much that could overwhelm her.

 

His attention was momentarily distracted as he surveyed the assortment of victuals the servants provided but Ursula soon brought his attention back. As a traditional man he thought it only proper that a wife perform functions such as sewing on buttons and the like but her position and the demands on her time, for although they were to keep guard she would have to single handedly shepherd the Queen and her ladies, made her domestic offer unexpected as he had not meant for her to perform the task herself. He took the offer as an affirmation that even though they did have duties and obligations to the Crown they also had obligations to each other and he felt that it would do him good to remember that fact and not let his attention to his own wife suffer for it.

 

“Thank you My Dear! That is very kind of you.” He said earnestly as he took off his coat and offered it to Ursula. As he did so he went to kiss her hand but missed and ended up kissing one of the buttons which was not as romantic as he had wished but hoped Ursula appreciated the effort. Kingston was forgotten for a moment as Ursula made her goodbyes. “Until the morning then… and call at the slightest inkling and I will be there.” He added concerned not only for the Queen but for Ursula herself. He had been having strong emotions concerning his wife since he had returned and he was glad that they now were the more familiar feelings of the past.   

 

Turning back to Kingston as the door clicked shut behind his wife he addressed Francis’ last statement concerning the sort of man that he was and took on a mildly surprised look. “Really? And here I thought you went to Cambridge… how odd.” As an Oxford man he had unwavering presuppositions of all who were unfortunate enough to have to settle for that other university and it was not only a duty but a joy to point out the superiority of his alma mater. But as fun as it was to tease a Cantabrigian they also had other issues to settle.

 

“I feel like I am back at Athelhampton and about to be scolded by Nanny for running around in my birches and nightshirt like a savage Red Indian.” He said as he fluffed up his shirtsleeves somewhat ill at ease at now being even more inappropriately dressed. “I do not know where I will hide the marked cards now.” He added truly in jest for although it might be necessary to kill a person if duty required there was no justification for a gentleman to cheat at cards.

 

He sat down at the table that had been provided and perused the victuals provided taking portions of this and that in preparation to set into an impromptu luncheon. “It was very thoughtful for the Margravina to see to our needs in such a thorough fashion but the Margravina is a very capable woman.” He of course gave every appearance of expecting Francis to join him if he wished. “One detail of our vigil I would like to discuss is its method. Do you recommend that we sit here throughout the night in the center of the room with candles blazing in an effort to dissuade any would be intruders with our mere presence or should we retreat with a candle or two into an alcove to be inconspicuous in the hopes of luring in any would be intruder? The former could prevent any occurrence at all, which would be the safest to the ladies, but it would also alert the perpetrators and allow them to flee or plan a more stealthy intrusion. The latter may lull the would be intruders into a false sense of complacency and increase the likelihood of gaining intelligence but would be riskier for all involved. Have you any views on the proposed stratagems?”  

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Francis was not shy in helping himself to the generous offerings. He had been going hither and thither all day without much of a pause for drink!

 

"I am not surprised an Oxfordian failed to come up with a better quip than that," Francis teased. 

 

"Perhaps I should dress down to my sleeves to put you at better ease, but who knows what any ladies happening by might think then," he added, as Mountjoy mentioned his discomfort again. With a smile, he continued, "Then you call feel assured I have nowhere to hide the cards either." He paused, "And freer movement with which to stop any evildoers too."

 

He was, after all, the (former) captain of a ship. They did not oft fight dressed from toe to chin, though he could fight in any state. 

 

"Your lady wife is, indeed, an enviable woman," Francis complimented, for what else was a gentleman to say. One had to be both polite but no so complimentary as to see too...interested. That could be a slippery slope, for some were quick to offense in regard to their women.

 

Francis raised an eyebrow as Lord Mountjoy asked him about the method of their duty. 

 

"I should think we do what is normal for two gentlemen playing cards, my lord," he said. "We are not supposed to do anything odd, and if our presence deters any attacks, I think we would have served our purpose to His Majesty in protecting the Queen." Then he chuckled and said, "You Oxfordians like lurking about in the dark hiding rather than meeting your foes head on?" 

 

In truth, Francis had not considered benefitting himself by catching any assassins. It was not his way. That was likely why all though him a neophyte at this intrigue business. 

 

"Is that how you lot steal other's academic work too? Hiding about in the dark alcove before sneaking in and reading all the secrets?" He smiled to reinforce that he was speaking only in jest. He found Lord Mountjoy to be exceedingly upright, youthful exploits aside.

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Their conversation slowed as they both sat and availed themselves of the food so kindly provided. The interludes between bites and sips of wine were filled with lighter and more trivial banter. That is to say trivial by general perception of those who had not the good fortune to have graduated from Oxford or Cambridge. To those educated few the rivalry between the two institutions, wile good natured, was anything but trivial.

 

As tradition required Francis took up the cause of his alma mater, a brave, thorny and ultimately futile decision according to Charles due to the obvious and indisputable superiority of Oxford University over its closed rival. He smiled at Kirk’s opening riposte. “Given your youth and inexperience I did not wish for you to be ‘Taken Aback,’ if that is the proper nomenclature you nautical fellows like to use, so I presented a simple and well known peculiarity of those inhabiting the banks of the River Cam.” He said referencing the river that flowed through and gave its name to the town Cambridge and obliquely reaffirming the superiority of Oxford as that city could boast two rivers.

 

He did not expect Francis to offer to divest himself of his own coat, an offer that indicated tact and belied youth and inexperience, which Charles thought to be quite gentlemanly. “I would not expect that of you but would not take it amiss if you were to do as you please. You are correct that it would provide more freedom of movement. It is for that exact reason I have my tailor cut my hunting clothes more generously. It is not quite as sharp but it is more comfortable and when out in the field even the strictest proponent of haute couture is willing to make some allowances. It may also help us play the part of two rakes intent on their cards to the exclusion of all else. And if I may add, the fireplace draws quite well so we are unlikely to find ourselves uncomfortable chilled like we would if we were afield the chase.” It was here that Charles was hoist on his own petard for now was the perfect opportunity to launch into one of his many stories of the chase. Perhaps the one when he and Heneage were out on the moors of Dorset and Hen strayed into a bog and got stubbornly stuck requiring Charles to pull him by the armpits for fully a half an hour to free his friend. To add insult to injury Heneage’s boots were pulled off during the rescue never to be seen again and the unfortunate younger Finch had to walk back a full three miles in his (wet and muddy) stocking feet complaining of his sore underarms and every pebble he trod on. But as tempting as the story was, and the fact that Francis was duty bound to stay and thus couldn’t flee as he was under the obligation to stay he declined and continued to tease his companion, who still would not be able to flee, for his regrettable choice of higher education. It would be a long night and perhaps there would be the opportunity to tell his muddy story at a later time.   

 

Kirk need not have worried about overly effusive compliments concerning the Margravina for although Charles could be tempted by the green eyed emotion, exampled by some of his conduct during the recent misunderstandings with his wife, he was not so possessive as to as to take umbrage at praise or admiration of his wife which he thought was deserving of from any discerning gentleman. But it was prudent not to overtly covet thy neighbor’s ass or thy neighbor’s wife.

 

Francis then gave his own reply to the taunting about their alma maters. “Oh not at all my good fellow! My time in the learned halls of Christ Church taught me the value of determination, study and meticulousness. It was later at sport that I learned the value of guile and patience.  The Chase… meeting your foes head on… offers great sport, pleasure and exercise which I recommend to all vigorous gentlemen but if one needed to hunt for sustenance, for efficiency, then one would do well to hunt by stealth and pitfall. Not as pleasurable as ballyhooing about the countryside but more likely to result in meat in the pot.”

 

He thought for a moment weighing the possibilities and the remit of their charge. “Hmmm… if His Majesty simply wished for any would be assassins to be captured he has a plethora of discrete and nondescript characters at his disposal but he chose us. I believe it would be fair to describe us as discrete but one could hardly accuse us of being nondescript.” In fact Mountjoy would be horrified if anyone would have considered him nondescript. “Upon reflection I believe that, as you say, His Majesty would wish us to deter rather than apprehend. In Law the exact written word governs what and how a thing is to be done. When dealing with Princes it is often not what is actually said but how it was said and what was meant to be inferred which is truly of more significance. As a Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber I suspect discerning what the difference of what is said and what is meant is a skill you have learned to be quite adept at.” It was settled that they would ‘act normal’ and not take any outward steps at instigation. 

 

“Sneaking in and stealing all the secrets!” He reiterated in mock horror. “My dear Chap, One would never do such a thing to a fellow Oxonian and I inquire if there has been an academic work of a Cantabrigian worthy of theft?” he made a gesture as it to serve up the question and dabbed his lips with a napkin “As it was I did not learn such underhanded tactics as those until I joined the Court. The Law and politics my good fellow, nowhere else will one find such a collection of honorable villains.” He was a good enough sport to allow for some self deprecation along with his banter.

 

By this time he had satiated the bulk of his hunger and was in the mellow state of ‘filling up the corners’ as his childhood Housekeeper Mrs Took used to say, so was not in the mood to belabor the subject of their inter-scholastic rivalry but he was interested nonetheless. “I seem to recall hearing that you have been appointed to a position at Cambridge. To which Collage did you matriculate?” Charles knew of his appointment and wished to see how Francis would frame it

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"But you know how we sailors are known for our ballyhooing," he added with a grin. Life at sea did not have the most opportunity for stealth! There was room for strategy or planning, but the open sea was not the most stealthy of environments.

 

Francis chuckled at Lord Mountjoy's unwillingness to be nondescript.

 

Indeed, Francis' hair and height made him far from non-descript as well, whether he liked the attention or not. "His Grace would be mortified to think his taste in clothing nondescript," he said between the amusement. "I think the darker and shorter far more likely to hit the category of nondescript than I! And you are far too fashionable for that."

 

The more serious words on the minds of princes had Francis' reflection as Lord Mountjoy expounded on his thoughts of their mission. The minds of princes were quite a dangerous place, for to know any of it was something of a precarious position. Francis did not particularly think himself adept knowing his King's mind, but he was also not the most boastful of men, either.

 

"In honesty, my lord, I think it must seem so, but it is not from any skill at knowing the royal mind myself," Francis replied. "Or any ability to read particularly more." Kingston was clearly not skilled at the court ability of assuming any advantage another thought you might have! "It is history. His Majesty will say many things which carry forward to other situations." And, as he had said previously, he had the benefit of Buckingham, who did know the King in such ways to say he knew the King's mind. "In this case, keeping things calm is also of paramount importance to our impending royal prince. Clandestine apprehensions might help His Majesty know the plotters, but my master can hardly wish that knowledge at potential cost to his heir. Thus, my knowledge is only that the King has said so before."

 

That was no special ability at knowing the royal mind; the royal mind had said so previously! 

 

"Though there are some times when I know His Majesty's thought on something or humor and catch him saying the opposite, and sometimes it can be quite difficult to keep a straight face, depending on the situation," Francis said with a grin. Their King was not known for constantly being the most serious of men. In fact, now that Francis thought of it, that was more the challenge. It was knowing which of the King's moods dictated which set of guidelines and behavior. 

 

When Lord Mountjoy went back to the defense of Oxford and asked what graduate of Cambridge would have something worth stealing, Francis wagged a finger at him. "Oh no, my lord, you will find I am more sly than that! If I know who is working on something of great value, I shall hardly name him so that you lot might try to steal into his quarters in the dead of night. No, rest assured, such persons remain unnamed." Though if one had gone to any of the Gresham lectures to see who Francis kept company with, one might have quite a good idea who those unnamed individuals might be!

 

"Court teaches one many odd skills and vices, and here I already had quite the collection before arriving," he added with a laugh.

 

"I spent a few years at Trinity before I ran off to fight at sea in the second Dutch war, so I assure you my record beats the previous Chancellor," he replied, making a running motion with his fingers. The previous occupant of his position had been Monmouth, who had taken no interest in it whatsoever (and had never attended either). 

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