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Sophia de la Cerda

Lyrical Persuasion | Wednesday, early afternoon

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Fountain

 

In the middle of the Privy Garden there was a fountain. It was a simple thing... a wide round of water with a single statue in the middle, sprouting water. Unlike last year both the garden and the fountain had been well tended to, and as a result the fountain itself almost sparkled. Around it sit benches, nearly hidden by rose bushes, both red and white.

 

 

So nervous that standing still was impossible, Sophia paced back and forth in front of the fountain. She had been looking forward to this moment since the Duke of Buckingham had agreed to meet with her, but now she wondered if she was up to the challenge. What if she failed? This was the only chance she was going to get to convince him to build an opera house in London. If he dismissed the idea as too risky or too expensive, there would be nothing else she could do. However, he loved music and the surprise she had promised him at her concert had pleased him. Those things could work in her favor.

 

And Francis would accompany him. He must know what she hoped to accomplish today. Sophia had spoken of it often enough when she had been his ward.  He had influence with the Duke which might be able to help her. Most of all, she wanted him here for moral support and because she didn’t feel comfortable being alone with Buckingham. Oh, he was charming and she loved to banter playfully with him, but he was formidable as well.

 

Butterflies fluttered furiously in her stomach. They felt different than they usually did, a bit stronger and more erratic. She had been feeling them for a few days now, and not only when she was anxious. At first, she thought it might be the baby kicking, but it was much too early in her pregnancy for that. Wasn’t it? Juan’s child was making its presence known in other ways too. Her clothes seemed to fit more tightly every day and her belly was no longer completely flat. If it kept expanding at this rate, she would need her maternity gowns soon.

 

For now, it was enough to just loosen her corset a bit. Sophia wanted to look her best today and was wearing a confection of coral silk, embroidered all over with pale yellow flowers. It was trimmed in Venetian lace around the moderately cut neckline, beneath the each of the four puffs of her long sleeves and around the elongated bottom of her corset, forming a peplum. The sides of the skirt were pulled back with white lace bows so that her yellow silk underskirt, embroidered in pink flowers, could be seen. Her white-gold hair was arranged in its usual cascade of curls, held in place by combs featuring coral fabric flowers. Most of her jewelry was comprised of pearls, but around her neck she wore the cameo Juan had given her on a coral ribbon. Hopefully, it would bring her luck.

 

I’m going to need it, she sighed as she turned to look at the fountain spraying its liquid diamonds into the basin. The rhythmic bubbling usually soothed her and she breathed deeply and tried to concentrate on it. Singing calmed her as well, and perhaps her voice lifted in song would captivate the musically-inclined Duke and make him more amenable to her plan. At the very least, it would lead both gentlemen to her location.

 

Closing her eyes, Sophia began to sing an aria from one of her favorite Italian operas, her sweet soprano voice soaring through the air on wings of exquisite and ethereal beauty.

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It had been a very busy and trying few days, wrought with obligations both political and familial. 

 

And a stress the Duke of Buckingham had not felt in some long time. 

 

Most plots and intrigues were over-reaching and easily thwarted and the persons engaged in them too obvious; courtiers did not generally do subtle very well. However, these intrigues panged at reminders George Villiers did not need. Most of those closest to him in his life, of the most importance to him personally, had been murdered or assassinated. His own real father. His brother. His father's best friend. Then the only father he had ever known. He had not been in the best mood to keep this meeting, but Francis had prevailed upon him. 

 

As he stepped outside from the palace with said cub in tow, he heard the singing. "Well, none can say the lady is either modest or difficult to find," the duke commented. "I wonder, does she speak more or sing more? It seems Toledo has more a songbird than a wife." It seemed the lady was almost always singing whenever he came across her which was all fine and good, but it was rather predictable too. 

 

Francis raised an eyebrow at the Duke and whispered quite brazenly, "When was the last time you properly slept, for I am sure Your Grace's intention is not to be a curmudgeon..."

 

"Hmm," was the only noise of acknowledgement as he looked down a few inches at the boy, who simply looked back at him. "You have some cheek this afternoon. And license."

 

"I inherited it," Francis replied, of the cheek and license.

 

Buckingham could not help  but snort in amusement. The boy surely did. Few could turn his own words around deftly. With his own cheeky smirk, Buckingham said, "Take care that's not the only thing you inherit..." He chuckled lightly and with a bit more bounce to his step moved in the direction of the singing.

 

"Lady Toledo," Buckingham said, as she came into view, "I did not think we would be able to find you."

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As she sang, Sophia noticed a butterfly light upon the edge of the fountain. She watched it flutter it’s beautiful wings. Had it been attracted to her song? The petite blonde adored butterflies and took its presence as sign that things would go well this afternoon. She was still a bit anxious, like she always was before a performance, but that was good. Being overconfident always led to failure, whether one was performing or trying to persuade someone into a certain course of action.

 

The delicate creature suddenly took wing, and she turned to observe it flying away. It soared over the blond heads of Lord Buckingham and Lord Kingston, alerting Sophia to their imminent arrival. She relaxed a bit when she saw Francis. He was like a brother to her and his presence would give her encouragement and moral support, whether he knew it or not.

 

Her voice stilled, the last perfect note hovering in the air as if reluctant to disappear completely. Immediately she dropped the Duke a perfect curtsy and then did the same to Francis. “That is why I sang, Your Grace,” she replied with a disarming smile. “I knew you would be able to follow my voice.

 

“And I have a lot to sing about. It is such a beautiful day, is it not? Spring is my favorite season.” Sophia twirled with her usual youthful exuberance, her coral skirts billowing about her legs. When she stopped, she placed one hand on her belly. “This year new life is not only growing around me but within me as well.”

 

She winked playfully. “But I promise I will not sing loud enough to shatter the fountain like I did to that vase full of roses.”

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The Duke could not fail to notice the growth of a baby belly even before she twirled and accentuated it. With his fondness for the swell of child on a woman whilst fucking, he could see it from across a room. It was a particular weakness and fetish of his.

 

"My congratulations," he said, with a gracious dip of the head. "Lord Toledo must be intensely pleased in so quick of results, an heir on the way already." 

 

Buckingham, being a cynic in romance and libertine, wondered if it was Lord Toledo's at all. Such a vibrant young lady and such a dark, proper Spaniard made little sense to him.

 

"Not as beautiful as a lady flowering with life," he complimented with suave ease, despite Francis have poked him for being in a curmudgeon of a mood.

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"Good afternoon," He greeted with a smile. "It is a lovely day, and you are looking well."

 

Having already given Sophia his congratulations, he allowed her to have the Duke's full attention for the moment.

 

Francis had many of the same wonders as the duke to Sophia's prompt pregnancy with a man like Toledo, but he was not as experienced enough a courtier to speculate to the same lengths as Buckingham. In the end, he was content simply to think the child was Toledo's because it was the most sensible thing. 

 

"I do not need another bath today, so let us keep the fountain intact," Francis teased. "And my ears as well."

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Though Sophia was not aware of either gentleman’s thoughts, they were both right, though they might have been shocked if they knew that the conventional and proper Toledo condoned the affair.

 

Well, one of them anyway.

 

His effervescent young wife basked in Buckingham’s attention and when he complimented her beauty, she smiled disarmingly and performed another twirl, this one ending in a graceful curtsy. “Thank you, Your Grace.” She said nothing about Esteban, knowing that most Englishmen did not trust Spaniards.  So much depended on the success of this informal audience with the Duke.

 

“Thank you as well, my lord,” she said to Francis. She had learned a lot during her first year at court, including the proper etiquette of addressing the highest ranking gentleman first. The young Countess beamed when he teased her. She considered dipping her hand in the water and splashing him playfully, but decided not to. It was possible a few errant droplets might land upon the Duke. “I promise you are safe from impromptu baths and ringing ears, at least from me.”

 

Sophia hopped upon the lip of the fountain, swinging her legs back and forth beneath her skirts. Only the tips of her coral shoes, embroidered with yellow flowers, could be seen. Her nervousness was returning quickly but she tried her best to ignore it. “How fortunate I am to be in the company of two such handsome gentleman on this beautiful day, both of whom share my love of music.”

 

She grinned at the Duke. “I have heard much of your musical genius, Your Grace, though I have never had the privilege of hearing your play.  I do hope to receive that honor someday.  As for Lord Kingston, have you heard him sing? He has a splendid tenor voice.”  The petite blonde didn't want to embarrass Francis, but she had always been impressed with his ability to sing so well without any training.

Edited by Sophia de la Cerda

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Buckingham sensed the transition to preamble to the purpose immediately! He was a man who had been buttered so many times for the bite, that he knew the sweet saltiness of it right away.

 

Handsome! Share her love of music! Musical genius! Oh, yes, it was--------------------------------------.

 

Wait. 

 

Kingston could...sing? Buckingham knew he played the violin passably well, but sing? His blue eyes snapped from Sophia to his golden-haired accompaniment and then narrowed. The boy blushed, of course. 

 

"You sing, Kingston?" he asked, devilishly. "I do not think that I knew that. Better or worse than your violin?" he asked, trying to hold in his teasing torment tone as well as his amusement. It didn't work very well. It was like the smell of blood to a predator, that blush, because it had always signaled a prime topic to turn his sarcasm toward...in his younger days...to a different Francis. 

 

"I thank you for that tidbit, Lady Toledo," he said with an impish crinkle of the eyes.

 

Now that he thought about it, Gwendolyn might have said something about it a long time ago, but that had been before he knew the truth of it all. What he now wanted to say was how often Francis' mother and father had annoyed him with her playing and his singing when they were children, but he had to keep that quiet, for now.

 

But apparently the duo had been making all sorts of music and rhythms he hadn't known about too! Good to know they had done more than one thing exceedingly well!

 

He could entertain himself for ages with this knowledge.

 

"I will save you the horror of having to sing on cue for me, Kingston, but you had best be thankful for my restraint!" he teased the blond cub further. 

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Francis' blue eyes went wide as Sophia mentioned to Buckingham that he could sing. Oh what the Duke was going to do with that!

 

He gave the duke a sheepish look and replied, "Not properly, Your Grace, I don't think, but the ladies seem to like it well enough." He licked his lips, "I could not say which ability is better." In truth, if it was his singing, it was not because of training, and that was a rather sad fact. 

 

"Oh, yes, thank you ever so much!" Francis joked to the lady.

 

Francis had almost expected Buckingham to demand a song on the spot, for it was precisely the sort of thing the Duke was wont to do. The man very highly valued thinking (or performing) on one's feet, impromptu, at any moment's notice and about anything whatsoever. Sometimes the most unexpected thing for the situation. Francis could rise to that occasion with wit, but...he was loathe to attempt it with song. In the gardens. Where anyone might hear him.

 

"You are indeed magnanimous, for that would be abject horror."

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Sophia was trying to act more like an Englishwoman now that she understood some of their ways. But while you could take a young lady out of Germany, you couldn’t take Germany out of the young lady. Germans were blunt by nature, direct in their thinking and in their speech. Perhaps with time she would master the art of subtlety. Practice made perfect, after all, and the petite singer definitely needed a lot more practice. Naive and still innocent about many things, she thought the Lord Buckingham was impressed with her compliments.

 

He certainly seemed amused about Francis’ ability to sing.Her former guardian blushed as if she had embarrassed him. Had he not wanted the Duke to know what a fantastic voice he had? Sophia anxiously bit her lower lip. She didn’t want to upset him. Maybe she should have said nothing at all.

 

But after the initial surprise, he seemed to regain his sense of humor. “You’re welcome,” she replied to both gentlemen. She listened to the exchange between Duke and Baron and understood Francis’ reaction a bit better. Did he have to do everything Lord Buckingham said? It seemed a bit odd that one of the King’s gentleman was at the Duke’s beck and call, but it wasn’t her place to question.

 

In fact, she was beginning to wonder if she even had a place here at all. They seemed more interested in conversing with each other than with her. If she slipped away, would they even notice? Sophia felt like an afterthought. Perhaps this whole idea had been a mistake.

 

“Lord Kingston plays the violin?” she asked. Glancing over at Francis, she grinned teasingly. “And I thought I knew all your secrets. Perhaps we can play together someday.” Her full attention turned to Buckingham. “I’m learning to play the pianoforte, Your Grace, and I’ve been taking lessons for a little over a year.”

 

Her legs kept swinging back and forth beneath her skirts. “But I don’t play nearly as well as I sing. I don’t think I ever thanked you for sponsoring Master Cole’s and Master Greyson’s opera last season. None of us could have pulled it off so successfully without you. His Majesty seemed to enjoy it and so did his guests"

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The Duke was wholly unaware of the lady's worries over his attention, which was good for her or he might have found reason to tease her mercilessly too. If the mood struck him. As it happened, Buckingham was, as Francis said, magnanimous enough to spread his magnificence around to both young persons at one time.

 

"Yes, he does, though I think he plays it less now than he ever did, knowing my ears are around," Buckingham replied. "He is not as bad as he thinks," the man revealed. 

 

"Pianoforte?" Up went a blond brow. "Be careful, my lady, that you do not end up with muscular fingers and beefy hands! I do not think that is even a fashion in Spain!" This, of course, was utter ridiculousness and Buckingham was well-aware. He simply wished to see if she would notice he was teasing her and not being serious at all. 

 

He often relied on humor to pull him through such intrigue laden times and most especially so with ladies.

 

"Well, you are most welcome, of course. I was pleased to do so. It was a splendid evening and victory."

 

Was this what she was to ask him about? Another such evening? He had not forgotten that he was being buttered for something.

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"I thought you knew I played...but if not, I had to have learned to read music somehow," he said to Sophia with a smile. "I also play the viol, very poorly...ships are not conducive to the practice of lap instruments." 

 

Francis was almost to the point where he longed for those times where he had loads of time and nothing particular to do. Things had been overwhelmingly packed for him since Christmas. 

 

Buckingham then seemed to discuss his violin and house habits with Sophia as if he were not even present. 

 

"He is standing right here," Francis said to the Duke, rolling his eyes with a hint of youthful grumpiness.

 

"Well then he is here to hear the compliment and to have his own advice from earlier repeated to him," Buckingham replied, with an air of verbal triumph.*

 

Francis had to fight to keep his face straight as the duke then warned Sophia of beefy hands from playing the pianoforte. It took a lot of self control not to snort in amusement. He waited to see if the young lady might fall for the duke's teasing. Buckingham so loved to needle when he was in certain moods. Nobody was safe!

 

(OOC - For ease of the flow of conversation, I just stuck this in with Francis' post so that we can move off the topic)

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“How could I know?” Sophia pouted melodramatically. “You never played for me.” Music had, of course, figured into their conversations when she was under Francis’ care, but she couldn’t remember him mentioning that he could play the violin. Then again, she had caused so much trouble during that time that maybe he had never gotten the chance. She had been quite a problematic ward, which she still felt guilty for. Maybe she would get to make it up to him someday.

 

Lord Buckingham praised Francis’ musical skills, albeit in an indirect and humorous way. Her former guardian seemed more irritated than pleased. Perhaps he felt a bit like she had a moment ago, since the Duke had been talking about him as if he was not present at all.

 

Watching Buckingham raise a brow, Sophia thought he was pleasantly surprised and might ask her to demonstrate her accomplishments on the pianoforte for him in the Music Room. Her ice-blue eyes widened in horror at his warning that she might wind up with muscular fingers and beefy hands. Was he teasing her or was he serious? Glancing over at Francis, she could glean nothing from his expression. As she had long been told she had a musician's hands, she assumed that the Duke was jesting

 

Hopping down from the fountain, her ample bosom bouncing in its frame of lace, she walked over to the Duke. “Perhaps I should be careful then. It hasn’t affected me yet, has it?” Though her demeanor was serious, her eyes sparkled with amusement as she held up one small, slender hand for his perusal.

 

“Oh it was a most magnificent triumph!” Sophia exclaimed. “I believe it was the first full-scale opera ever performed in London. It’s such a new art form here. In Venice …” Sophia spread her arms out to the side and twirled again. “There were opera houses on almost every corner and people from all walks of life could enjoy the performances.”

 

She stopped and tilted her head to the side. “Did you attend operas often when you were in Italy, Your Grace?” she asked him. “Do you miss them as much as I do?”

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Buckingham took her hand in both of his and pretended to examine it with a practiced eye, turning it softly this way and that way with his own musician's hands. Aside from just a slight hint of ink that one could see only on close inspection, for Buckingham was a voracious writer, he had exceedingly well-manicured hands himself!

 

With a sly grin, he looked at her eyes and said, "No, they are beauteous hands." He gave it a kiss before releasing it. "At least, not yet," he added with a little chuckle, allowing his jesting to be clearly betrayed.

 

Her operatic exuberance was evident. Even he found it unsurprising considering how much she loved to sing. Then again, ladies always loved showcasing their talent and having everyone's attention. For a moment, he wondered if vanity was a blond-headed trait, for there seemed an amusing correlation in his experience.

 

The Duke did not know if it was the first, for there had been various performances of one kind or another at court, especially in the time of the martyred king; the Queen Mother's French tastes and habits had brought such things to court productions just as easily as they attracted the ire of a Protestant London populace. However, if anyone was going to say something of his was the first, he was certainly going to accept the accolades without a word to the contrary.

 

She then asked him about Italy, and she could not know that his time there was an intensely bittersweet memory, and for a man like the Duke whose reputation for mercuriality was as much a confession that he felt emotion deeply, that was a difficult topic to engage in with a near stranger. 

 

His blue eyes glanced momentarily to Francis. It was easy to see a different Francis when looking at him especially when predisposed by the question.

 

"I lived a very long time in Italy with the Medici family," the Duke said, "So, let us just say that the evenings were full of all manners of art and diversion. You could lose yourself in rare  and obscure books all day." He smiled at the memory of it. There had been so very much to take in and learn there and the entertainments were the stuff of a boy's fantasies, and he had lived it. The frenetic pace of it all had nearly made up for being separated from the only family he had ever known; he and his brother.

 

Likely, it would have become the stuff of amazing stories like the way Charles enjoyed telling of his stay in the Royal Oak tree and flight from the country, where it not for the fact that it now reminded him of a myriad of ghosts. And it reminded him that his decision to come home without the King's permission made him responsible for what happened afterward...

 

"There are many things I miss about my time in Italy, including my youthful physique," he added with a snicker of a laugh. 

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Francis stayed silent as Sophia worked her magic on the Duke. Or tried to, at least. Buckingham was not an easy person to wheedle. At all. 

 

When Sophia asked his (secret) uncle about his time in Italy, Francis licked his lips and rubbed them together. 

 

The Duke looked at him, unsurprisingly so. Francis was well-aware that those sorts of questions reminded the Duke of a brother for whose death he felt responsible, and he had a deep understanding that the two had been very close. 

 

For a moment, he wondered what Buckingham might say. Not even they talked about such things. 

 

He swallowed.

 

At least the Duke was skilled enough in his presentation that he did not let on that Sophia's question was a rather deep one.

 

Francis, for his part, was thankful he could just listen.

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Sophia was surprised and delighted when Lord Buckingham took her small hand in his own much larger ones, which were well-shaped, finely-manicured, and so very warm. Her fingers tingled pleasantly and she wiggled them playfully as he  inspected her hand from various angles. Then he met her eyes and smiled slyly, causing the rest of her body to tingle as well. A hint of rose splashed across her cheeks at his compliment, and when his lips brushed over her hand, her heart skipped a beat and her stomach fluttered as it had been doing so often of late. Maybe her baby was a girl and already awed by his presence. If the fluttering came from the baby at all.

 

“Thank you, Your Grace.” The petite singer grinned winsomely. “You have a musician’s hands as well, you know.” Her remark was not courtly flattery.  That skill was still developing.  It was simply a statement of fact.

 

The Duke had clearly been jesting with her, and Sophia wondered if he had done so just so he could kiss her hand. Though married and with three lovers, she was definitely not immune to his considerable charms. She even thought he was attractive. Don Juan was about his age, and she appreciated the allure of experienced older men.

 

She had no idea how her question made him feel, as she knew very little about his life. He glanced over at Francis, and her heart began pounding wildly.  Had her former guardian told him what she had done in Venice? No, she assured herself, he would never betray her like that, unless he had no choice. There was always a chance that the clever Duke had put two and two together and associated her voice with the young soprano, Giuliana Fiore, who had mysteriously disappeared shortly before Sophia had arrived in England.

 

Her heartbeat slowed as Lord Buckingham answered her question with memories of his time in Italy, which was what she had hoped he would do. He didn’t focus on opera, but  on other things that he had enjoyed. He finished it off with a droll comment, but Sophia did not laugh. Instead she sighed wryly: “I suppose I will miss my own figure in a few months time.”

 

That was definitely not what she had come here to discuss. “Perhaps then I shall miss Venice all the more. The Patrician family I stayed with didn’t have an extensive library but they surrounded themselves with scientists, inventors, poets, and artists, and I was constantly learning something new. They also owned opera houses and I attended so many lavish productions that I cannot possibly remember them all.”

 

Sophia tilted her head to the side. “I dream sometimes that there is an opera house in London.” She began to move, gesturing gracefully every now and then with her expressive hands as if painting a picture in the air. “It stands tall and proud, the chandeliers inside casting a golden glow into the street. Lines of carriages glide forward one by one and discharge their finely-attired occupants. Others, more humbly dressed, chatter excitedly as they arrive on foot. Everyone is in a lively mood, anticipating the evening’s entertainment. And then the curtain rises and the singers' magnificent voices draw their audience into a fascinating tale."

 

She stopped, her face flushed with excitement. “Wouldn’t it be grand if it was true, Your Grace? Just imagine how wonderful that would be. London always welcomes new forms of entertainment and I think that it would embrace opera with even more enthusiasm than on the Continent.  And English opera would develop its own unique style and flair that would take the world by storm."

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By the time Lady Sophia was done, the Duke of Buckingham had a very good idea what he was being buttered up to accomplish. The lady was young and clearly did not understand some things about English society (and he suspected the Spanish as well for they were even stodgier about social rules). Married ladies generally did not ask random foreign men to build them something, even men like the Duke of Buckingham. 

 

"And what does Toledo say about your desire to have an opera house here? That would be a supremely expensive and risky venture, especially for a peer who does not permanently reside here. I would think Toledo a man who would be concentrating his efforts in the Arts on Spanish soil."

 

(OOC - Francis doesn't have anything to add this round, so you can skip him this round 😄 )

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After that energetic display, Sophia felt a bit queasy. Maybe I shouldn’t have played everything out. Or perhaps, now that I have voiced my goal, I am simply anxious. Her legs felt weak too, and she returned to her seat on the lip of the fountain to await the Duke’s reaction, which she hoped would be positive.

 

She glanced over at Francis. He knew Buckingham better than anybody. As usual, his expression gave nothing away. Then again, her request would not be surprising to him, as she had already told him about her goal, probably so many times that he was sick of it.

 

Buckingham asked what Esteban thought of her idea. “My lord husband supports me in this. He enjoys opera too and would like there to be a venue for it here. We go often to the opera in Madrid. There are already many opera houses there. They do not need more.”

 

She smiled disarmingly. “I love this country and consider it my home now. When I arrived, I was an orphan who had just lost my father and I barely spoke English. Lord Kingston was a kind and understanding guardian who helped me adjust to a new culture and improve my language skills. If I had stayed in Germany, I would never have met my lord husband, not would I have become a Countess and the wife of an Ambassador.

 

“Though I’m not English by birth, I’m English by choice and I want to give this lovely island as much joy as it has given me. To me, there is no better way than sharing my love of music.”

 

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"Well, if Toledo is well-disposed to the idea, what is it that you wish to speak to me about, Lady Toledo?" he asked with an indulgent and charming smile. The Duke quite enjoyed seeing how well people performed on the spur of the moment. He was not one to make things easy if his amusement was enhanced by making it otherwise! 

 

"Do you wish to know if I think such a thing would be a good venture to enhance our artistic culture here? Or if I think it would be profitable?" He kept the lack of seriousness from his face, but he was pretending not to know her purpose, mostly. It was rather odd for a married lady to ask another man for money...presumably to invest in or build her an opera house. 

 

If Lord Toledo lost his wife, he would be the first to hasten to tell him to check such a place! Singing consumed her.

 

He did not comment on her choice of being English, for he thought it rather silly to a lady born German, who married a Spaniard to feel English...after having spent so little time there.

 

Oh to be sixteen and silly again!

 

At least she was charming.

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Sophia had always felt more Italian than German, and she had only lived in Venice for four years. She didn’t see herself as Spanish at all. But she did consider herself English, for, like in Venice, good things had happened to her here, and she had made many friends. She thought it perfectly reasonable to take on the nationality of a country where she had resided for an entire year. A year seemed like a very long time in the eyes of the young.

 

Lord Buckingham seemed interested. That was definitely a good sign. Even standing by silently, Francis was a source of moral support whether he knew it or not. She trusted him more than anyone in England.

 

The Duke’s enchanting smile was mesmerizing and she almost forgot what she wanted to say until his words brought her back to the present. Her own smile was winsome. “You have read my mind, Your Grace. I was about to ask you those very questions, which is one of the reasons I wished to speak to you about bringing opera to London.”

 

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Buckingham then seemed to consider the questions, placing an elegantly ringed finger on his lips. 

 

"And what do you think, Lady Toledo?" he asked, before revealing his own thoughts, curious as to what she might say.

 

"And besides those two questions, I should ask yourself what you think the common people would think of it in London. They support theater, to be sure, but Opera is likely to be too foreign to them. Perhaps even too Papist. Could such a venture survive without the support of the  mob?"

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Lord Buckingham caught her off guard, but Sophia had rehearsed answers to many possible questions she might be asked. Of course, she could not anticipate them all. She had an answer to the first but would have to improvise the second.

 

The third was something she often pondered when considering bringing opera to London.

 

“I believe that the introduction of opera to England is inevitable. It is going to happen sooner or later as it is immensely popular on the Continent and many of those who travel there have already developed a fondness for it. There will always be people who think that opera sounds like cats screeching, but not everyone enjoys the theatre either. I think any fresh and innovative form of entertainment will receive a warm welcome."

 

She paused for a moment, considering her next words. “As for profit, the person or organization who leads the way will reap the most rewards. It will be new and fashionable and everyone will want to experience it. The founders of the first opera house will benefit greatly, as they own the only venue for the genre. Eventually more will open but the first one will always be foremost among them.

 

“The commoners will benefit because there will be more jobs available for them, initially in construction and eventually in every type of position available in theatres. Artistic individuals can compose the operas, join the orchestra, or become singers. Bringing opera to London will improve the economy and the lives of the common people.”

 

Sophia hopped down from the fountain and began pacing, emphasizing her vision with graceful arm gestures. “I believe the commoners will embrace it not only for the money it brings them, but because English opera will not be the same as its Italian, French, or German counterparts. Librettos will be written in English and will cater to the interests of the English people. It will not be considered Papist, for it will be uniquely English.

 

“Interest can be generated by performing arias in the streets. Some performances can be set aside for the nobility only. Other performances of the same opera will be priced lower for commoners. There can even be free ones for the poor. Nobody will be left out and people will be inspired to get involved by utilizing their talents. Children will dream of singing opera or composing it. Carriage drivers will sing like the gondoliers do in Venice.  The stories told on stage will enchant and inspire.  Culture will thrive.”

 

The petite singer stopped in front of the Duke, gazing up at him with sparkling blue eyes. “Word will spread and visitors will flock to London, eager to experience the phenomenon of English opera for themselves. More profit will be generated and the founders will greatly prosper. After the success of the opera last season, I believe this venture will succeed in a truly spectacular fashion.”

 

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Buckingham lightly chuckled and said, "Ah, Kingston, youth is always so very optimistic. Do you not think? Or perhaps it is the lady expressed such certainty hoping to persuade me toward something?" 

 

He did not wait for the other's answer before he continued speaking to the lady.

 

"Oft times, the first of something is just as likely to lose everything in the endeavor as to break even. Art has led to many penniless fellows. As you might learn from Master Killigrew." Who had been bankrupt and bailed out more than once by a noble patron. 

 

"My, you do seem to have grand sorts of plans. I do hope Lord Toledo has deep pockets and the spirit of a gambler for such a scheme and such imagination!" He still believed that it would be seen as a foreign indulgence, no matter the language used, and something associated with Catholics and Catholic influence. The mob had gone after the nobility as a whole in their intractability toward what they saw as the Papist threat, and whilst a royal baby would calm exclusion of James, it hardly meant Englishmen were going to embrace anything from the evil Papists! Whether the Duke of Buckingham (or even His Majesty) wished or not.

 

"Do not mistake me, my dear. I greatly enjoy opera and am happy Lord Toledo would endeavor to do such a thing for you, but I also think it a difficult thing for him to achieve."

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Sophia had conceived no delusions that Buckingham would be easy to convince, though she had not believed he would be so dead set against bringing opera to London. She supposed that he might be just testing her, to see how dedicated she was to her goal. Or he really had no intention of helping her at all. She revised her strategy as she listened to his opinion, which was not nearly as comprehensive as she had hoped.

 

“My lord husband cannot bring my dream to fruition.” He most likely knew that already. “If a Spaniard builds an opera house, it will definitely be considered Papist. And the people will be insulted that an Englishman didn’t come up with the idea and will be less likely to patronize it.” She smiled wryly. “You know what the English think of the Spanish, Your Grace.”

 

She felt that flutter in her belly again, but this one was more ominous and made her stomach lurch. All I need is to throw up on Lord Buckingham’s shoes. He’ll never help me then. The Duke had spoken truly about her optimism, and she was not about to give up easily.

 

“Nothing worth having comes without risk. If one does not take chances, one will achieve little in life. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes.” Sophia placed a hand on her slightly rounded belly, partially for emphasis and partially hoping to calm her nausea. “Giving birth is one of the greatest risks of all. There is no guarantee that a woman or her baby will survive it, no promise that the child will be healthy, nor any certainty that it will survive to adulthood. Yet if our mothers had not done it, the three of us wouldn’t be standing here today.”

 

She looked over at Francis. Though he had said little since he arrived, his very presence strengthened her resolve. She had not expected him to take her side or contradict Buckingham in any shape, form, or fashion, but her idealistic hope was that he might mention it occasionally in private and keep it in the Duke’s mind if he wasn't ready to commit to the idea today.

 

“I was hoping that you would wish to oversee this venture, Your Grace. There is no one more qualified that you are. But you are much more knowledgeable than I, and I understand your concerns. However, I am positive that there are gentlemen at court who would jump at this chance. A group of investors would not lose everything they owned if this new form of entertainment fails. I do not know who these gentlemen are, but I am sure that you do. If you are willing to point me in their direction, I will be eternally grateful.”

 

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"It would also be exceedingly odd for an Englishman to fund a foreign lady's venture, Lady Toledo," Buckingham said, kindly. "That opens itself up to its own political implications, as I am sure Lord Toledo would know."

 

In terms of foreign powers, Spain was far down his list allies; although Don Juan changed some of those calculations, Buckingham preferred the French flair and enjoyed the Dutch Egalitarianism (if not their stodginess and certainly not whatever faction murdered someone in the King's gardens). Not to mention they did not know yet who was behind the latest Papist plot, the Davina Wellsley business, but he was certain it was not Le Roi, so that yet let Spain suspect in his mind. 

 

Buckingham was too intelligent a politician to involve himself with anyone or anything that might later make him vulnerable to be swooped in some other intrigue unawares. Many a peer had met their downfall because of mischosen allies and friends. He had not survived a handful (or more) of trips to the Tower without some knowledge of protecting himself in such times.

 

He chuckled at her analogy of birth. "Well, yes, but a lady has little choice over that happening, rather left to nature and God, but one surely has a choice over their business ventures."  He rather enjoyed a young girl trying to out-smart him or out-reason him. It was quite cute in its way.

 

"But, I shall give you an opportunity," Buckingham began as a preamble. He could almost sense Francis' groan next to him although no noise came forth from the cub. "If you find 4 other English peers or gentlemen who are willing to invest an equal portion in the project, I will agree to be the principle investor, but there must be no foreign involvement and entanglements." Which meant that they could not profit from the project; it would have to be an entirely English venture. Buckingham would see how much the lady truly just wanted Opera in London versus some sort of profit from it.

 

Francis' eyes went large, blond brows up. 

 

"And," the Duke added with a raise of a regal finger, "One of them cannot be Kingston and you cannot use my name. You can say you have a principle investor, but not who. And it shall be up to you to make certain you don't include those that I would not involve myself with." Which was to say that none of them could be his political or personal enemies. Such information was not difficult to come by. Most peers made their friends and dislikes very clear. 

 

"What do you say to the challenge, my lady? Hmm?"

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Sophia didn’t consider this project as her own. She saw herself only as the catalyst that would bring opera to the English people. Her intentions were pure: she simply wanted everyone to be able to enjoy her favorite form of entertainment. She didn’t want to profit from it and she knew that she would not be able to sing there herself. It just sounded to her like an idea whose time had come.

 

Her heart sank. It seemed that nothing she said or did would convince Buckingham to invest in building an opera house. She’d had such high hopes, but even using all the charm she possessed, she had been unable to sway him. If he was as dead set against it as he appeared to be, then Sophia would have no luck with other gentlemen either, especially if he made his disapproval known.  Nobody in their right mind would dare to risk his disfavor by endorsing her plans.

 

He was  wrong about women not being able to avoid having children. There were herbs one could take to prevent pregnancy or one could simply not have sex at all. Not every lady at court married, and among those who did, some of them never fell pregnant. Perhaps God had chosen not to grace them with a child, or perhaps the ladies decided to take matters into their own hands. Sophia couldn’t point any of this out, though. She knew better than to contradict a powerful and influential Duke.

 

Had she just heard him right? If he didn’t plan to assist her, then what kind of opportunity was he going to offer her? Her ice-blue eyes widened and a spark of hope kindled within her soul. Buckingham was willing to invest in the project, but only if she could find four other gentlemen to do the same.  As she listened to him outline his conditions, her despair was replaced by a sense of joy. Sophia understood his concerns, and even if she could not use his name, simply saying she had a principle investor would do much in persuading other gentleman into contributing to the venture. And of course, gentlemen he didn’t approve of could not be included. She had no idea who these men were, but she knew somebody who did.

 

At that notion, she glanced over at Francis. His eyes were as large as her own and he looked a bit shocked. Was it unusual for the Duke to offer such chances to those who asked favors of him? Was it possible that she had well and truly charmed him, or was he just indulging her because he knew that she wouldn’t be able to do it? I’ll show him that I can. she vowed, and that when I set my mind to something, I never give up until I achieve it. Idealistic and naive she might be, but she was stubborn and determined as well.

 

“Yes!” she exclaimed, unable to hide her excitement. “Thank you, Your Grace!” Without thinking, Sophia launched herself toward him, intending to hug him, but she came to her senses in time to stop the impulse. A bit embarrassed, she tried to come up with a plausible reason for rushing up to him. After a moment’s thought, she held out one small hand. “Shall we shake on it?”

 

Edited by Sophia de la Cerda

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It would not have been the first time a lady had hugged him in excitement, so Buckingham had readied himself for impact. 

 

He then chuckled as she stopped short. He raised a delicate brow as she thrust her hand out at him, ready to "shake on it" as her explanation. 

 

"Nay. I think not." His blond periwig curls rolled over his shoulders as he shook his head. "But we may kiss on it," he said, raising her hand toward his lips and kissing it. 

 

 

 

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That was such a stupid thing to say, she berated herself. Lord Buckingham chuckled.  It did not sound malicious but more like he was amused. Sophia enjoyed making him laugh. The reason she had stopped herself from hugging him was because if somebody saw, they might jump to erroneous conclusions. If Esteban heard rumors that his wife was having an affair with the Duke, he would not be pleased. Francis was in plain view, though, so it wouldn’t look like they were stealing a private moment together.

 

He didn’t want to shake on it; he wanted to kiss on it instead. She grinned as he lifted her hand, which tingled when his lips brushed over it. The petite singer was very happy with the results of this conversation. She had been worrying over it and rehearsing for it for a bit more than a week. Finally, she was on her way to bringing opera to England!  Sophia didn’t think about how difficult it was going to be to find investors. Her young, idealistic mind saw only the results.

 

"You are so generous to me, Your Grace!” Impulsively, she hugged him anyway and then twirled toward Francis and hugged him as well.

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