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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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