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A Reckoning at Rochester's Wednesday Night

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When the game was launched after Christmas, it had been in the wine cellars below the palace.  Given the topic of conversation, such a public venue was inappropriate.  It was time to determine who would win the contest.  Over three months had elapsed and, as such, it was time to declare a winner.

The Earl of Rochester had offered his home as the gathering place and the rest of the Merry Gang was amenable to drinking Rochester's stores of liquor.  Invitations were sent to Francis Kirke and Charles Audley to join, as both had joined the contest.  If they chose not to appear, it would be their loss.

Rochester's home belied his wealth, or at least the wealth of his late wife.  The home was in Picadilly and hardly more than a townhouse.  Perhaps too many funds had been squandered on opium, actresses, and gambling.

Two barrels of ale were at the ready though some had demanded whiskey already, to which Johnny instructed that the ale should be diminished first.  In attendance were:

John Manners, Lord Roos

Alexander Merriweather

Charles Sedley

Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset and Middlesex

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  • 5 weeks later...

"I would rather piss in a mug and drink it than drink what you call ale Rochester," Merriweather complained.

"That may happen before you know it tonight," Rochester warned.  "Once I have won the prize, I shall bring forth the good vintage."

"The only way you are getting any of our money, Johnny, is at gun point," Roos declared.

"That may happen too," Rochester laughed menacingly.  He drank the ale in his mug and swished it around his mouth before swallowing.  "It is a beastly brew, tis true; but are we not all beasts to be here to brag about our triumphs over ... helpless ... women ... or men.  You are all despicable and should be ashamed of yourself.  So drink and sod off."  He looked around the room and went to his window.  "I wonder when Kingston and Audley will show?"

"If they will show," corrected Sedley.  "Each are better gentlemen than us and may have forfeit the game."

"Speak for yourself," Dorset chided.  "We merry gang are but a reflection of the merry court and our merry monarch, forever may He reign."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Francis had not managed much sleep the last few days, but he could hardly not show up; and it was not his vanity that dictated it so, but rather that he was in on a ruse to please His Majesty. His own vanity might have survived being out-fucked and losing some coin! But he was on a mission for the King, as amusing a mission as it was.


The blond usually traveled with a flask, but after Rochester's fun at Brighton, Francis was certain not to forget it. He had also brought a small bag of things to smoke should the company be up to it. And thusly, he arrived on horseback, back to his old neighborhood. He had lived, for a time, next to the now imprisoned Williamson, so he was familiar with the area. He found Rochester's abode in little time and considered, as he dismounted, whether or not Audley was already there.


He walked up the house and waited to be admitted.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Admitted he was.  Rochester's man showed Francis into the small ballroom that had been converted to the Merry Gang meeting Hall.  There was even a place for a stage.  Rochester liked to audition actresses privately.

There was a rumble of greetings from the gentlemen assembled.  Rochester came alive and stood.  "Kingston, do tell me that His Majesty received my invitation and is en route."  No such invitation had been sent but Rochester was disappointed that the King had yet to make a surprise appearance.  Surely, King Charles had far more conquests than the formidable group of despicables gathered this evening.

Merriweather announced "I think the last to arrive should be forfeit."  There was a rumble of agreement.  "Unless Chatham arrived in the same coach as Kingston, I think he should be disqualified."

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Francis nodded to the greetings, returning them in kind. He then laughed at Rochester and said, "Well, the King is certainly not under my coat!" He grinned and said, "You lot have sneaked him away far more often than I have."


His Majesty, though, knew his friends oh so very well, and it made Kingston far more amused than Merriweather's comment merited. He could barely choke off his laugh long enough to reply.


"What I know of His Majesty is that some gent called Rowley told him that you lot were threatened both by youth and beauty and wished to delay this reckoning. I shall leave you to decide which of us is which." Chatham, with one eye, could hardly be 'beauty' but he trusted one of them to put forth that case anyway. Francis always had a habit of poking fun at his own feminine prettiness before anyone else could think he was bothered by it. In truth, Chatham was probably not very much younger than most of them, and Francis just looked like the youngest member of any party despite being nearly thirty years of age.


"His Majesty then advised you would go through any method possible to rid yourself of the best competition to save your coin." He made a circle indicating them all with his hand. "I am forewarned, then, gentlemen that you are not allowed to alter the rules and exclude Chatham. You're just afraid he's getting a last minute fuck in, and none of you thought of that!"

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"He is not carrying your coat then?" Rochester replied absently as he went towards the front of his house to look for the King in disguise. Johnny could imagine the King listening to the ruckus from the hallway.

Sedley grumbled when Kingston mentioned youth and beauty.  "Youth is wasted on the young and beauty draped upon the plain is more remarkable." 

Everyone present knew Old Rawley. Roos asked "he knows about our wager then?"  Merriweather piped up "he is not eligible to play." Roos was annoyed at the interruption.  "Why, because he has a larger cock than you?  If that was true, we would all be disqualified."  

Dorset looked at his friend and cousin and shook his head slowly.  "If the King knew of the wager and the reckoning, he would be here.  Methinks Chatham owes Kingston a favor, or perhaps the other way round."  He was not calling Francis a liar because tonight was about boasting, falsehoods, and laughs.  It was the favored fare of the Gang.  "As for favoring the young and beautiful, modesty requires me to say that, other than me, my dear Kingston has a chance, though he is hardly young."

"If he is getting a fuck on the way here, it should not count," Merriweather announced about the Earl of Chatham.

Sedley invited Kingston to have a seat.  "Kingston drink the swill that Johnny calls ale.  The cheap bastard is trying to poison us.  I've a mind to send a runner for a keg of rum."

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"Remarkable for the shock of it, perhaps! Shall that be your reason for losing, Sedley? The ladies were too busy being shocked by your plainness draped in finery?"


Francis knew that they were all aware of who Rowley was, but for some reason it seemed more apropos to include the alter-ego in the fun of the discussion.


"Pah, you are far too intelligent to think if I owed Chatham a favor, my way of repaying it would be to lie about the King," Francis said with an amused huff. "Now I know you are desperate to rid some of the steep competition to put forth that idea!" At least Dorset complimented their joint beauty. "Must be our shared relation. And of you all, I thought you, cousin, would have enough vanity to stand on merit and prowess alone, but I suppose you have spent much of your time courting..." He tried not to titter with amusement.


Merriweather made himself an easy target for everyone, so truly Francis felt no need to sally forth there, yet.


Francis sat, leaning against the side of the chair loosely, "And if it's as shit as you say, whyever would I want to help drink it?"

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Charles would never admit it, but he had perhaps been flagging, just a little, upon his return. The day had perhaps not been physically demanding, but Tuesday certainly had been, and he had expended a great deal of mental effort over the course of Wednesday evening. Coupled with his lack of sleep, it had been enough to remind him that he was no longer seventeen. Fortunately, he had Wodehouse, and thus would never need to admit to any such thing. He had been greeted in his study with a pot of strong coffee and several coca leaves, which had given him a surge of energy sufficient, he thought, to carry him through what needed to be done. He would pay for it later, he knew, for it was a false strength, but that was immaterial.

Rochester's was close enough to walk, thankfully, and the cool of the night sharpened him further, clearing the cobwebs, and Charles found himself whistling jauntily as he walked. He had always liked the sting of an English spring night. His pockets were weighed down with a pair of hip flasks, a further bundle of coca leaves Wodehouse had pressed on him, and various other accoutrements, and in one hand he loosely held a bottle of Calvados brandy he had taken on a whim.

He was late he knew, but that had been unavoidable, and surely these gentlemen would not care overmuch for such trifles?

He reached the door and knocked.

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"I think the ladies would disagree with your definition of plain Kingston," Sedley drawled in response.    "They have an eye for wit as well."

Merriweather offered his own wit.  "Chatham does not have an eye for beauty."  It referred to the Earl's missing eye.  Sedley nodded.  "A rare bit of wit from Merriweather."

Dorset smiled at his cousin and replied simply.  "The man is not here.  How do we know it is not a forfeit?"

A knock came at the door.  Much to the chagrin of Rochester, it was not Master Rowley.  Chatham was ushered into the hallway and then into the room.  Rochester, annoyed, scolded the Earl by insisting "swiving your cook on the way here is hardly an excuse."  The others greeted Chatham with muted greeting.  They did not know him well.

Sedley encouraged Kingston to drink the ale because "the sooner it is gone, the sooner we can send for something better."  Roos grumbled in agreement.

"Gentlemen, we are all here," Rochester announced, seeming to want to get down to business.  "We are here to hear tall tales and odes to seductions during the past four months.  Drink up and I have some cigars from the colonies. " He opened a finely enameled box to display two dozen rolled pieces of tobacco and a nearby candle was available.  "The smoke is good for your health," Johnny insisted, having tried everything to get his pox under control.

"You are just hoping the smoke will cover the taste of this ale," Sedley grumbled as he took another swig.  As a stage manager, Sedley had imbibed in the worst sort of ale, so it really did not bother him.  Rather, he knew it would bother Rochester to complain about it. 

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"Perhaps it is," he replied to Dorset. "Though that would be a poor early showing, and he had seemed up for the task!"


It seemed he was the only one who had stuck around over the last few years, so he was hopeful Chatham would prove up to the task.


And the knock might suggest Chatham's arrival, and Francis turned to see the earl finally making his appearance. 


"Chatham, your tardy arrival means you get the honour of chugging a healthy mug of Rochester's ale. The current record is about fifteen seconds to down one. I swear Sedley has a hollow leg!" Francis informed the last of them to arrive with a knowing glance to seated company. "You are seriously behind!" 


Of course, Francis had not arrived much earlier, and no ales had been chugged that he had seen, but there was no way for Chatham to know that, and he could not really refuse without looking ridiculous.

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Perhaps these gentlemen did care overmuch about such trivialities as punctuality, Charles considered in the face of Rochester's chiding.

"If I had been swiving," he told the other earl drily, "I would hardly have left to be here, and not a one of you gentlemen would expect or behave any differently."

He laughed.

"I shall accept the rebuke, however," he conceded. "I am, by all appearances, damnably tardy."

He laughed again at Kingston's suggested penalty. He would have to had lost both eyes to miss that he was being made game of, but Charles was perfectly willing to play along. Up to a point, of course.

"A fair punishment," he agreed, eye twinkling, "and I will not ever have it said that I willingly lagged behind."

He collected a tankard at random, surreptitiously examined it for signs of tampering, and filled it himself, sniffing cautiously at the ale with his back turned and smelling nothing untoward. (Though the smell of ale could cover a great deal, he reflected.)

Ah well. Nothing for it.

Charles did not usually drink much ale, but he was a sporting gentleman and always willing to step to the mark. Sedley's record was in no real danger of being broken, if indeed it had been set to begin with, but he raised the tankard in cheery salute to the others, brought it to his lips, and did not lower it again until it was empty.

"Christ on the cross!" he exclaimed with a sort of horrified appreciation. "It tastes like Satan's own piss!"

It did not seem that bad, in truth, but Charles knew his role, and he did not mind playing it up a little.

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Kingston's dare was encouraged loudly.  Dorset had a good chuckle.

Chatham was a good sport and gave it a strong showing and uttered curses about the quality of the brew.  The reference to Satan's piss caused a cascade of laughter from everyone present, except Rochester, who uttered "I, on the one hand, cannot claim to know the taste of Satan's piss, so I will defer to experience." 

He turned to glare at the other hecklers. "May you all learn that your last lover was a leper.  This ale was purchased from the Green Ribbon Club I will have you know.  This was to test my theory as to the insanity of the Country Party.  Something had to be clouding their reason and I thought it must be the ale they drank."  He eyed Roos who was a prominent Whig.  "Now that you have had the ale, do any of you feel like declaring a republic here in England?"

"What do you have against a republic?" Merriweather asked, being a wealthy merchant and likely benefactor of such a form of government.

"Because merchants are boring," Johnny replied.  "Nothing is so comic as watching grown men seek to kiss the royal arse and his ministers think themselves so worthy of the riches they embezzle for themselves."

Dorset quipped "then let us practice a form of democracy here tonight.  How many of you want to discuss politics and how many of you prefer to discuss fucking?"

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"Throw some of Satan's piss on him, for fuck's sake, I'm not close enough," Francis said, gesturing toward Merriweather. He did not think he needed to explain why. Anyone who had experienced one exile, did not wish to repeat the experience. Not to mention the last republican experiment had resulted in no dancing, no theaters, no games, no Christmastide celebrations, and the list went on and on. "One exile in a lifetime was one more than enough."


He gave an appreciate whistle to Dorset's form of democracy, which he could get behind.


"I solidly wish to discuss fucking," Francis voted, with a vague lift of his hand. "That is what we are here for...unless this is another clever ruse to distract from the purpose from the underperformers." He made a limp dick  motion with his finger.

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Charles laughed and raised his empty tankard in mock-salute to Rochester's riposte.

"I feel no republican sentiment, though I am seized by the urge to find the brewer and put him to the question, so that he might reveal how, precisely, he produces such an exquisitely foul brew." He paused, considering. "Though upon reflection, perhaps it is simply proximity to Shaftesbury that puts the ale on the turn."

He snorted as Dorset redirected the conversational tangent and raised his hand in mirror of Francis.

"I'll stand with Kingston, and proclaim my support for fucking as our topic of discussion."

Though a political discussion in this company would be fascinating, were we all sober. Or even drunker, for that matter.

Edited by Charles Audley
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Roos spoke up at last.  "Cromwell was no republican.  He was a king in common clothes.  No one supports another exile.  No one wants a tyrant either.  The Kingdom is stronger when a King shares power with those he governs."  Being a prominent Whig, he could not allow misrepresentations of Whig policy to be left unchallenged.

"I'll take that as  a vote for politics," Johnny announced  sardonically.  No one else spoke up for politics.  "I assume that Roos wanted to discuss politics because he has little to say about fucking, so let us start with the celebrated Lord Roos.  How many points did you collect in the interval?"

With a glare, Roos announced "four, if I do not count your mother, esteemed Earl of Rochester."  Unperturbed about the slight against his mother, Johnny coolly replied "as for my mother, there is a decided difference between lying to you than lying with you.  That is why she does not count."  Turning to the rest of the room he asked "who is next?  What about you Sedley?  You are old and fat.  Surely your count is low, as are your standards."


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"Mother jokes? Seriously? Someone's republican wit is about as sour as the republican ale Rochester has provided us!" Francis said with a lazy roll of his blue eyes. "Surely, we aspire to a level greater than that, for sex provides far more than enough fodder for amusement than resorting to mothers like we're twelve sneaking off from our tutors."


He truly hoped the night would be more elevated than that! His common sailors could muster more wit!


"Let's hear it, Sedley?" Then he held up a hand and said, "Apropos of that, is the number we put forth on the honor of our cock or something? I was expecting to hear at least a little something juicy of these endeavors so that we might judge the veracity of the conquests from the telling!"

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"Why Kingston, are you suggesting that any of this esteemed company would be so underhanded as to lie?" Charles asked, raising a theatrically shocked hand to his face in mock horror, before lowering it with a laugh.

"I am prepared to accept the word of any gentleman willing to extend me the same courtesy, but it does seem eminently sensible that any man who cannot offer a convincing defence of his claims when pressed should receive neither credit nor points for them." Charles shrugged. "And as you say, it gives us something to talk about other than each other's mothers."

Carefully ambivalent support rendered (it would not do for Kingston and he to seem too obviously in cooperation, after all), Charles leaned back to hear Sedley's tally. Roos' score of four was a respectable score (or rather Charles hoped it was a respectable score), enough to make the competition interesting, and he wanted to see how the others compared.

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Perhaps insults involving mothers  were not yet old in the 17th Century.  Roos was upset at Rochester and now he glared at Kingston too.  No doubt, Roos imagined, the blond was defensive of his own mother, who seemed to be held in high regard by Buckingham and the King.  Sensing Roos' frustration, Johnny came to an apparent rescue.  "In defense of Roos, my mother is still attractive and I can sympathize with his lust for older women.  Unfortunately, she is too good for him; hence his failure."

Dorset piped up.  "yes, let us have no simple numbers gentlemen.  Despite the point system we discussed during the holidays, I think the more outrageous the claim and conquest, the more likely we should choose that person as the winner.  If I wanted to play with numbers, I would have become a clerk.  I did not."

"That was not what we agreed in December," objected Rochester.  Dorset replied loudly "boring!  It is one thing to lose your wits to hard liquor over an extended period and quite the other to lose your wit to mathematics."  Merriweather and Sedley found themselves nodding.  "Outrageous should be a multiplier," Merriweather added his own math vote.

Rochester was growing impatient.  "We can discuss fucking all night, but let us acclaim the winner shall we?  Chatham is right to question the veracity  of other claims."  He moved to a letter box on a nearby table.  Opening the lid, Johnny pulled forth a stack of papers.

"Gentlemen, I hold in my hand 33 letters from women that have signed sworn statements in front of my solicitor that they had sexual relations with me during the past four months.  Unlike the empty boasts of winesacks such as yourself, I have proof in writing.  Gentlemen, feel free to peruse.  Three of the letters are from women claiming to be ladies with titles.."  

"Damnation," Sedley uttered with respect.  He knew Rochester would cheat to win, but he had not expected this move. "I thought to beat Roos at four, and a tale of an actress who spoke in languages she was untrained in during the moments of climax.  I swear she knew every Slavic language though she was from Coventry.  But, 33 letters Johnny.  I suppose I am only surprised you did not purchase a papal decree while at it.  I salute your underhandedness sir.  It suits you."

Rochester smiled.  "While supposed wits spent months seeking exaggerated fame, one moved deftly to win the game.  Thank you gentlemen for playing.  You can settle with my accountant tomorrow.  Shall we keep discussing fucking, or shall we discuss the weather?  I do believe I perceive a change, at least in this room."  He supposed he should have delayed his announcement, but he was too caught up in the moment.  "But, by all means gentlemen, feel free to carry on with your boasting.  I do hope you have the evidence to support it."


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Francis rolled his eyes. They were usually not this tedious! He had come to laugh, not sit around drunkenly spouting off numbers.


Francis nodded along with Chatham's suggestion but didn't say anything, not wanting to seem overeager to side with the man.


He simply raised his eyebrows as Rochester produced a stack of papers and spouted off with a speech as if...............


"What is this? The Committee of Fucks for the House of Lords? Your lawyer?" Francis started to laugh with little rumbles. "I can soundly say Rochester admits to having no honor of the cock by his need to bribe some tavern wenches so that his own lawyer might provide us with proof! I say!" He couldn't help but laugh a bit more. "Did we not say these had to be court ladies? We shall find thirty-something names there that aren't Morgana Painswick or some such?"


He gave a gesture to the company. "Since it seems we are a Committee with lawyers and the like, I move to exclude him from the contest...How do you vote, gentlemen?" He chuckled and added, "I do applaud the ingenuity and expenditure though, but I fear we now know why we are drinking cheap, Republican ale!"

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Charles could not help it. He laughed, a rich peal of mirth that shook his broad frame.

"Oh, brilliant! The sheer brazenness! Were I wearing a hat, sir,  I would doff it!" He inclined his head to Rochester. "Thirty-three! The shameless audacity is praiseworthy, and I for one deeply admire you for it, but that was not the game. Three claim to be titled ladies, you say? Name them, and their supposed titles, and let us judge the veracity of your and their claims, and score them accordingly." 

He shrugged.

"Or else, I fear, I shall have to agree with Kingston, and vote to exclude you."

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Johnny wore an expression of shock and indignation that anyone would think to challenge his brilliance.  "Not titled ladies," he corrected Audley.  "Merely ladies.  We specifically mentioned some without titles," he reminded the assembly.  "And, really, who are we to judge who is a lady and who is not?" he offered philosophically.  "We clearly eliminated whores," he recalled aloud.  "Is not a lady really just a proper thinking woman?  It is how she comports herself and her demeanor," Rochester argued.

"Rubbish," Dorset countered as he moved to examine the letters Rochester held in his hand.  "Let me look at these."

"You will find them all in proper order," Johnny stated defensively.  "We did say that letters were the preferred means of proof."  As Kingston called for a vote of disqualification, the Earl scoffed.  "Oh now, the Royalists want a vote like a republic and I thought you all were against Exclusion.  You should feel ashamed."  There was a sparkle in his eye as he exercised his political wit.

"What sort of lady signs a certification with an X?" Dorset chortled.  "Really? Less attention to quantity Jonny and more attention to quality."

"Not all gentlemen choose to educate their daughters," Rochester sought to advocate.  "I am happy to see the letters you have all brought.  I hope that they will be subjected to the same level of scrutiny."

"Outrageous actions are not the type that generate letters," Sedley inserted himself.  "We are looking for the outrageous here gentlemen."

Merriweather piped up as he downed some liquid from a silver flask in his coat pocket.    "Not true.  I happened to bring letters that were sent to my solicitor threatening legal action for what I did to their daughters."  He patted another pocket of his coat as if to prove the veracity of his claim.

"You are a sick shit," Roos interrupted.  Alexander had a reputation for not taking no as an answer and Roos could imagine Alexander preying on very young ladies.  "You had better be jesting."

"I just have broader tastes than some of you," Merriweather replied in a defensive snit. All women really wanted it anyway.  He knew that to be his truth.

Roos turned to the rest of the group and pleaded "let us not look at those letters.  Chatham or Kingston, tell us of your adventures and let's return to a lighter mood shall we?"

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"We royalists vote in the House of Lords too or haven't you been sober enough to attend lately?" Francis asked Rochester with an amused laugh as Dorset moved to examine the papers. 


He raised a blond brow as his cousin made appraisal. "An X!" he snorted with amusement and downed the rest of his ale, returning then to his flask. 


Speaking of, he raised it to Sedley's call for the outrageous and that there would hardly be letters generated by such things. "Here, here, that is surely the spirit of things."


Francis' head snapped around as Merriweather said he had brought accusations from angry fathers and the like. It had not been Buckingham that had told him about Merriweather, but Gwen, and he was now reminded of it.


"You are a sick shit," he agreed with Roos. "That is not taste but lack of taste," he added. "One day one of those fathers isn't going to send a lawyer and a note but is going to cut off your cock."


He nodded again as Roos expressed the desire NOT to hear from Merriweather...and for a moment, he wondered if Merriweather had made attempts on one of Roos' many, many, many sisters. He dismissed the thought, though, for he did not think one would be predisposed to sit in the same room as such a man after that.


"Gentlemen, to lead the way with outrageousness of an acceptable variety, I put forth that I have fucked a veritable unicorn. I shall allow you all to determine the point value for such as we never imagined nor discussed a happening such as this...." Francis led in. 


"Yours truly was tending the pleasure of a pretty witty widow when what did she confess but that her husband had never done his marital duties! How many widowed virgins do you suppose there are at court? I think rarity and scarcity alone are considerably worthy, as was the utter surprise of it, just before entry!" 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Charles cocked his head to one side and laughed a rueful, self-mocking laugh.

"You know," he mused, raising his empty tankard to Rochester, "I can, now that you mention it, clearly remember that we did in fact speak merely of ladies, but have nonetheless spent the intervening months keeping tally only of the titled variety. Irritating."

He shook his head.

"Still, ladies, Rochester, not barely literate tavern drudges."

He laughed again as Dorset announced the result of his examination.

"Or illiterate tavern drudges, for that matter," he corrected himself, still chuckling.

His merriment faded as Merriweather entered the conversation. Charles might have had little-to-no morals, but he did have standards, and this was offensive to them. Willing partners who knew what they were doing were not by any means difficult to find, and were more fun as well. There was something deeply lacking in a man who would focus his attentions on the unwilling and inexperienced despite that. His sisters would be looking to make their debuts not all that far into the future he reflected, and Charles quietly resolved to murder Merriweather should he hear the other man had ever so much as been in the same building as them. It would not be particularly difficult, he thought, coldly assessing his potential victim.

Roos and Kingston moved the conversation on, thankfully, and Charles ceased his consideration of whether it would be better to open the artery in Merriweather's throat or in his groin, turning his attention instead to Kingston's story. His cheer returned as he listened, and he whistled appreciatively.

"A veritable unicorn is right. A virgin widow may be even rarer, in fact. Were they married by proxy, perhaps, and the husband died 'ere they had a chance to consummate?"


(OOC: Forgot about this at the weekend. Sorry!)

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Rochester huffed as his entries were disputed and repudiated.  For the barest of moments he had been elated at the silence, thinking that he had bested the Gang with a proverbial death blow of legal acumen.  He did not concede and he considered counter arguments as attention turned to Merriweather.  The man was a bore to Johnny, but every group needed a least common denominator of which to measure brilliance.  Moreover, the man had far more money than sense, and he often underwrote Gang escapades financially.

Attention turned to Kingston, who claimed a virgin widow.  "And then came the immaculate conception I presume," Rochester declared sarcastically.

"Likely the girl was so ugly she gave her husband a heart attack on the wedding night," Sedley laughed as an alternative to Chatham's guess.  Kingston was not the type to mercy swive a hag, but it was a logical explanation to the presence of a virgin widow.

"Or a child bride," Alexander added.

"Or the old man could not get it up," Roos speculated, "like Johnny."    The Earl of Rochester gave a unimpressed look.  "How about I get my prick up your arse Roos."

Dorset dropped the Rochester letters back in their box.  "My cousin the unicorn rider.  A tale to make the Celts proud to be sure.  It is better than Sedley's miracle speaking in tongues.  What about you Chatham, what miracle or legend of old have you performed since last we met?"



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"You're just jealous my unicorn is more impressive than your stacks of paper with an X when the only paper with an X on it that is of any use, is a treasure map," Francis quipped back at Rochester.


"Har har, Sedley." He rolled his eyes with a smile. 


"I think Roos has it, that the man was just old, for the lady was by no means homely."


He gave a jaunty little dramatic bow in his seat to being hailed the unicorn rider by Dorset. 


"Chatham is always in the company of some lady," Francis observed with a huff of a laugh. "So let's hear it Chatham. What escapades have you been about?" Then he added, shaking a finger at Dorset, "We've not forgotten you, either, cousin. Waiting to be last so that you can spin us a tale worthy of your theater?"

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Charles cocked his head to one side, considering Kingston's words. The other man was not far wrong, he conceded. Thinking about it, when was the last time he had not found himself in the company of a lady when he stirred out? (Well, Ormonde earlier that day, but that hardly counted). Some masculine company was a not unpleasant change. (Obvious exception aside, he corrected himself, catching sight of Merriweather in the corner of his eye.)

"I have just left the company of three," he admitted, laughing, "which makes this a perversely varied evening, no?"

He leaned back, smiling, and considered how best to present his achievements. Kingston had a very good story, and Dorset doubtless had something up his sleeve, so he would need to be impressive.

"Well, on the legendary front, I played the part of the beast at the centre of the labyrinth," he began, tone light and almost dismissive, "but I imagine most of us have. I have not mounted any unicorns, but I have had a veritable nymph in the park, and the very image of Venus where-and-whenever I have had time and opportunity."

He paused for a moment.

"And as for the miraculous, I have been inspired by the stories of women being transported into hysteric ecstasy in chapel, and begun an investigation. I can report that I have observed no great variance in the heights of pleasure reached, though the more, ah, outré setting may see those heights reached more easily. To be thorough, I have... experimented, shall we say? Experimented in the Queen's chapel as well, and found no great difference. I had different partners, though, which I gather is bad scientific methodology." 

He snorted.

"And Arundel's new wife arrived to make confession during the latter experiment, which almost put me off my stroke. I shall have to continue my investigations, I think."

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"There is a large difference in being in the company of ladies ... and swiving them," Sedley replied to Kingston.  The fact that Chatham attracted women was not enough.

Chatham opened with a claim of three.  "Are you saying you fucked three ladies today before arriving?" Merriweather asked in disbelief.  If he did. Alexander was likely of the belief that they were not ladies.

Dorset smiled as Chatham relayed his accounting, recalling that the Earl had quite the literary liberty when it came to stories about how he lost his eye. There was a silence at the end, as if awaiting another twist.

The silence was broken by a pronounced yawn from Rochester.  "Boring," he judged, likely still in a pique over the attack on his presentation.  "Every one here has fucked a lady in the park ... regularly.  I think I likely fucked one in every park in London," he boasted.  "Churches are no challenge because they are mostly empty other than Sundays."

Sedley defended Chatham by stating "I think he insinuated that he swived one lady in the palace chapel and another in the Queen's Chapel.  That is noteworthy certainly."

As for the Queen's Chapel, Roos sighed and muttered a bit too loudly "Catholic girls should count half the points."  Roos was a strong Whig leader and disliked Catholics immensely.

"Gentlemen," Dorset calmed.  "Chatham deserved praise for fulfilling the King's preference for religious tolerance.  By fornicating with a lady of the Church of England and then a Papist, has he not sought to be a bridge between the two faiths?"  This called for a limerick.

"This  lord sought a temporal test he could do,

And to tolerance he remained true.

Defying certain blasphemist doom,

He gave to church instead in womb,

Spiritual epiphany upon a sacred pew."

Dorset used the interlude to move into position amidst the gang as it was his turn.   "Gentlemen , all students of the theater know that any performance is enhanced by the warm up act of other actors, and for this I thank each of you for your contribution."

"Let us not forget why we are here.  It was holiday eve that we made plans for this game.  More importantly did we plot to prank the Lord Chamberlain,  man much in need of mischief.  We spoke of entry into his office and befowling his precious white staff of office.  Great plans were laid that night gentlemen.  It would have been one of the grandest escapades of the Merry Gang, living on in legend and giving rise to laughter and free drinks for a generation.  Everyone here wanted to play a part, and why not? "  He chose to quote Shakespeare from Henry V. 

"Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot, 
But Arlington’ll remember with advantages 
What feats we did that day: then shall our names. 
Familiar in his mouth as household words be.

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

The words were delivered with an actor's flourish, drawing a smile from the playwright Charles Sedley.  Dorset owned a theater after all.

"Alas, I was left alone by this gang, a heavy burden placed upon me.  Should I have no stomach for the escapade and seek repose like the rest of you? Or, might I soldier on, to carry the honor of this assembly upon my shield?  No gentlemen, like Hercules confronted by his many labors, I vanquished Cerberus, the guardian to Arlington's office, in the company of my own lovely Persephone, a titled lady of this court."  He paused for a flourish, deciding to shorten his recitation rather than risk rebellion.

"In the abode of Hades, where all of you swore your swords, I brandished my own and gave it to the Queen of the night upon the very altar of Hades.  And when that moment of rapture arose, I chose not to bury my seed in its willing plot, but to spread it all about the altar and the throne behind it, leaving marks that no servant might hope to remove.  And the white staff of Hades stood silent, shrieking if it might, for it knew what fate was in store for it that night."

"The aftermath of battle left a forever soiled altar and throne.  The Lord Chamberlain tried to replace the cushions and refinish his desktop, to no avail.  And he dares not speak of what he saw when he recovered his precious staff the next morning, though tears of rage are hard to hide."

"Gentlemen, I salvaged the honor of this brotherhood, made good on promises made that dark night and now I call upon you to make good on your other promises about this contest."


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"Shall you find a Jew, a Muslim, or one of those natives that dance around naked next, I wonder?" He chuckled, "I highly suggest you investigate a woman of the wilds!"


Francis then watched Dorset's show appreciatively, offering a clap or a hoot at the appropriate places.


At the end of the soliloquy, Francis said to his fellow blond, "So....you fucked one lady, cousin? Is that what you are saying? That you fucked one lady with much conniving, artistry, and poetry?" He sniggered and then added, "My, you were spending far too much time in your courtship of Newcastle's daughter!"


He took a sip from his flask and added, "Though I bow to your trouncing of Arlington and defamation of his staff - that is an accomplishment worthy of accolades - I'm not quite ready to say it's worthy of all our coin." 


Then it struck him, "You should put on a little play about it for the King, though. He would enjoy such a recitation immensely. Arlington has been annoying him more than usual the last few days. That might garner a reward greater than coin, you know better than I." Everyone there knew that there were few things the King liked better than being entertained. He oft rewarded his friends more than some of his diligent servants! 

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"And did they sign their name with an X too?" Charles asked Rochester sweetly, and laughed. "And as for chapels, I shall forgive you, for it surprised me as well, but they are far busier than one would expect — deacons and chaplains bustling about, attending to this and that, pious unimaginatives bent at prayer, and, in the Catholic ones at least, inconvenient ladies seeking to make confession. They are not a thronged tavern, by any means, but it is an interesting challenge to find a... quiet moment, shall we say?"

He laughed again as Kingston suggested an expansion of his inquiries.

"Hmm. We do have a synagogue in London," he mused, "and those dancing natives, so far as I know, consider anywhere under the sky to be their chapel. Perhaps I will continue this experiment. It is important to be thorough."

And then Dorset took the floor. Charles applauded for the limerick, and then again for Dorset's theatrical rendition of his storming, and soiling, of Arlington's office.

"Oh, bravissimo! Both the deed and its retelling. I toast you sir!" Charles produced one of his flasks from his pocket and raised it in salute before drinking. "A worthy feat, and you have my earnest admiration for it, but the contest and the wager was not to shame Arlington, nor to compose a brilliantly audacious and underhanded scheme of forgery, nor to promote religious tolerance via fornication, nor even to mount a unicorn, praise- and prizeworthy though those things may be. It was to amass the highest tally of points."

He paused, both for drama and to take a moment to run his own tally.

By the scores set then, I have five within the Christmas season, and four scored outside that. No one else has named any names, so...

"Since our meeting in the Wine Cellar, and according to the terms set then, I have amassed nine points, though in the interests of sportsmanship I shall disclose that only five of those were scored in the Christmas season itself, which was, strictly speaking, the original planned end point of the wager."

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It was Dorset that reacted first.  Kingston tried to proclaim that he had swived only one lady.  "And you cousin, was your story about a unicorn an admission that you have fucked one lady since the holidays?  One?  If so, I think we should give you the money in the pot as a measure of mercy so that you can purchase whores for the rest of your life."

"As for me, gentlemen, for public consumption, I have not fucked any lady at all since I entered into negotiations with the Duke of Newcastle to marry his daughter prior to the Christmas season.  I would have to deny this whole affair in the lair of Hades so as to not upset my fragile betrothed and bring dishonor upon her."  The sarcasm was evident.  "Do any of you believe I have sat, as a monk with fallow fields, bereft of the company of ladies during the holidays, let alone in these four months later?"

"I do," Rochester announced in a cat call.

"Anyone other than an alcoholic, pox-ridden, sore-loser?" Dorset retorted.

"I resent and resemble that characterization," Rochester replied with a snicker.

"So, we are left with a dilemma gentlemen," Dorset continued.  "Already tonight we have different memories of which type of ladies contributed points, whether the swiving needed to occur between Christmas and New Years, or whether we carry the count forward to tonight.  We also have mixed memories on whether the count needed to be supported by letters or just good faith claims of pure numbers.  I recall too that Chatham was tasked with getting points from Susan Herbert.  Did this happen?  No, for she is worth more than five points and she would never agree to sex in a church, let alone sex with anyone, given the pugilistic brother of hers.  It would have cost Chatham his other eye to try."

"Are we to just rely on a cold single digit number like that offered by Roos, or Chatham now?  Or, if numerosity is supreme, then perhaps Johnny is the winner, for he brought legal letters that might support the highest score ... if one is blind to falsehoods.  No, the one thing all of us agree on tonight is the fuck that was the most daring should be the winner, as well as the promises made that night and which promises were kept.  I will represent to this body that I too have five points for the holidays, but I put forth the quality of my points against Chatham."

There was silence, which was unusual for this group.  Perhaps they wished to see a further debate from the three that offered the most unusual or daring antics.

"As for your idea cousin, given my predicament with Newcastle as well as my humility,  I propose that we tell the King that Johnny did it to Arlington.  Recall, I am the one that participates in antics yet never is to blame."  Sedley nodded his agreement to that assessment.  "Alternatively, I am happy to give our other daring contestant the credit with the King, which is sure to capture his royal interest."  With that he gave Chatham the look.  "He can add the chapel stories for extra credit and a lifetime achievement award by our beloved Merry Monarch.  It would be a bar that none could surpass."   

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