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Sweet Tooth, Sept. 15th, mid afternoon


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CELESTIAL PATTISSERIE

Catering to those with a taste for the continental, Celestial Pattisserie is noticable first by the rich odour of sweet breads that permeates the street before it. The interior is invitingly warm, the air enriched by the aromatic heat from the kitchen ovens. A delectable array of baked sweets catches the eye and tempts the mouth to watering.

After the reception, while her maid was shopping for general goods for the kitchen, Cat decided to take in the town.  She hadn't left the palace grounds much the last times the Court had gathered in Windsor, so she felt a little exploration was in order.  She had changed into a more modest walking dress, in a deep blue shade of wool.  The sun was shining, but the air was brisk, reminding her of a rare day in Scotland when clouds didn't threaten some form of precipitation.  She had been glancing in shop windows when her nose brought a familiar, happy scent to her nose.  Immediately, she turned her feet to follow the tantalizing aroma and found herself outside what was obviously more than just a bakery.  While she wasn't fond of the French, their baking couldn't be found lacking.  Perhaps she should get something to tide them over until she had her first round of stress release.

Moving to the array of delicious temptation, she ran her eyes over each.  Which to pick, which to pick?  

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Sophia was feeling quite energetic after the reception and decided to take a walk through town. She had gown back home first, as the gown she had been wearing was much too fancy for a stroll. Now she wore a rose velvet maternity dress trimmed in white lace and decorated with matching lace roses. Over it was a cloak in a darker shade of the same color held together by a sparkling amethyst brooch in the shape of a butterfly. Luckily, she had not seen Esteban before she left. He would have probably insisted she rest and she wasn't in the mood for an argument.

 

Her back ached slightly from carrying her precious burden, but other than that, she felt fine, at least until her stomach growled.  Sophia was almost always hungry now that she was eating for two. Though she wasn’t usually fond of sweets, she had been craving them lately and turned a corner that would take her to the Celestial Pattisserie. She grinned when she saw her friend Catriona peering in the window.

 

“It is a difficult choice, is it not?” she asked as she approached.

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The voice she heard behind her was a welcome one, so Cat turned with a smile.  "You know I have no restraint when it comes to baked goods," she replied.  She took in the full Madonna picture, the smile turning slightly wry.  "Once again, you outshine me.  Why do I remain friends with such a beautiful soul?," she teased.  The two women were very different in looks.  Sophia with her angelic face and petite (well, in stature at least right now) form was quite the opposite of Cat with her height and reddish brown hair.  They likely presented a very pretty picture together, however. 

 

Having gone through her own pregnancy, she knew the joys and woes of carrying a child.  "How are you?"  The question concerned physical and mental and social well being.  Because even though Sophia was about to become a mother herself, the Scot would still mother hen her friends.

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“Neither do I anymore,” Sophia confessed with a sigh. She smiled wryly at Cat’s compliment. “Thank you, but I must disagree. What I wouldn’t give to have such a lovely figure again! I fear I will not bounce back as well as you have, especially considering my current craving for sweets.”

 

Her expression turned contemplative when her friend asked how she was. “Confused, mostly. Sometimes I adore being pregnant and sometimes I just wish it was over. My back aches and my ankles swell in the evenings. Walking helps, though my lord husband wishes I would rest more.”

 

She placed one hand on her belly. “And he kicks all the time. Was it the same with you?”

 

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Cat shook her head.  “Darling, this figure is courtesy of a very good corset and imaginative stitching.  I’m still wearing more weight than I did before.  But what’s a few pounds when you cradle your child to your chest?”  Yes, a bit of baby fever was starting to creep up on Cat every time Nessie reached a new milestone.  “At least it is sweets you’re craving.  I wanted haggis.  Do not ask me what’s in it.  Just know that sweets are very much preferable.”  

 

She waved for Sophia to enter first, because there were delectable treats to be had.  She should buy extra.  No doubt, Douglas would find their current residence sooner than later and eat every treat in the kitchen.  How the man stayed so skinny boggled her mind.  “Ah yes, I remember those wonderful little kicks, until it felt like Nessia was aiming right for my bladder every time, when she wasn’t attacking anything else in her vicinity.”  It was both amazing to realize you carried life within you and painful when you just sat down and that foot or elbow knocked against something important.  

 

“A nice foot soaking when your feet really hurt and your ankles swell up is just the thing.  Just warm, not hot, with some aromatics like lavender for relaxation in the water.  If you can get your maid to massage them then put them up, it helps too,” she suggested.  Her eyes lit on a beautiful millefeuilles with delicate feathering of the chocolate topping.  Nearby, a tray of profiteroles in the shape of swans floated among the offerings.  She hoped they had some brioche as well. 

 

 

I need to stop watching the Great British Back Off.  It gives me ideas...

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Sophia grinned at Cat’s confession. “Then you hide it well. I fear that I will not fare so well because of my small stature.” She envied her friend’s height. “I will probably bug you for advice once my child is born. And of course, you are right. If a few extra pounds is the price of holding my baby in your arms, I shall gladly pay it.” It would be hypocritical for Esteban to complain as he was not the most svelte of gentlemen himself, but it wasn’t him she was worried about. What if Juan found her chubbier shape distasteful, especially if he suspected the child was not his?

 

“I have never even heard of haggis, but I will take your word for it.” Now, of course, the curious Countess wondered what it was, though not enough to ask about it while staring through a bakery window. It was probably a Scottish dish that foreigners rarely developed a taste for, like casu marzu, an Italian cheese with maggots in it that was considered a delicacy. One of her friends in Venice was originally from Sardinia and had told her about it.  She had felt like throwing up.

 

Luckily, there was nothing like that in the bakery. At Cat’s invitation, Sophia entered first, breathing in deeply of the delicious aroma of baked goods. She winced at the other Countess’ description of her baby kicking. “He definitely enjoys pounding my bladder,” she agreed. “So far, he has hit nothing else. I guess I still have that to look forward to in the next two months.” A resigned sigh escaped her lips. “Two months seems like such a long time.”

 

Cat’s advice was very welcome. “Thank you. I shall try that. I have been told that the swelling gets worse the farther along one becomes. I also hope my belly doesn’t grow much larger or I might pitch forward every time I stand up. A lady I spoke to at the reception thinks I may be carrying twins but I do not share her assessment. None of the midwives who examined me has mentioned it.”

 

Her stomach rumbled again as Sophia perused the sugary treats on display. “How is little Nessia? She must be growing like a flower.” The German singer often botched English figures of speech.

 

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Cat laughed.  "Feel free to ask as many questions as you like," she assured Sophia.  She had been a mother for most of her life, even before she gave birth.  She did a good bit of raising her sisters, though Fiona was only a few years younger than herself.  She had to remind herself of that whenever she wanted to wonder where she went wrong with her feisty sibling.  

 

"Dear, there's a reason you've never heard of haggis and pray it remains that way.  I'm a Scot, raised on it, and still..."  Her nose wrinkled at the mere memory.  She laughed as Sophia bemoaned having two more months.  "Aye, you are larger than I would expect at 7 months, but every woman's body is different.  Perhaps you just have a very large lad in there.  You'll be fine."  So long as she had a good midwife and proper medical attention.  There was always the risk of death in childbirth, but a bakery was the last place to discuss such dreary thoughts.  

 

The mention of her daughter brought a grin while also letting out a sigh.  "She's growing like a weed, yes.  I swear she went from crawling to running, simply skipping basic walking.  And the climbing.  Her poor nanny is practically run ragged keeping up with her."  She paused.  "I rented a house here in town instead of trying to fit us all into a room in the castle.  You can come by and see her.  I've got all my girls with me."  Safety in numbers, after all.  "I'm still trying to convince Shona being presented at court isn't a fate worse than death."

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Sophia sighed. “I have so many, even now. Everything that is happening to me is a surprise and often frightening until I find out it’s normal. I am embarrassed to reveal my lack of knowledge to strangers. Most ladies have mothers or aunts to provide them with information, but as you know, I have no family at all. I get along well with my lady mother-in-law but she is far away in Spain.”

 

It appeared as if Cat was disgusted by the food she had craved. “Now I am very curious, but I shall not ask about it until after the little one is born.” Sophia sighed again. “Everyone thinks I am much closer to giving birth than I am. If he is a a large baby, I hope he will have no trouble coming out.” While she had not received much advice, Sophia had heard all kinds of horror stories about things that could go wrong. She tried not to worry, as she was given excellent care and monitored closely by highly-experienced (and probably very expensive) midwives. Neither Esteban nor Juan wanted to take any chances with this long-awaited miracle child. Though if Lord Arundel was truly the father, then it was not much of a miracle at all.

 

That dilemma was also not something to think about in a bakery with a friend one had not seen in a long time. “I’m glad she is doing so well. It sounds as if she already likes adventure.” The first time Sophia had seen little Nessia was on the beach at Brighton with her uncle. She had been eating sand at the time. That was also when she had started developing feelings for Douglas that were still as strong as ever. If life had dealt them different cards, perhaps this child she was carrying would have been his.

 

“We are renting a house too. It is where I will be giving birth and I am in the process of designing my lying-in chamber. I was going to invite you to tea, but I think I will take you up on your offer. I would love to see Nessia again.”

 

Sophia was not very familiar with Cat’s sisters. She could only remember meeting them once. “I was frightened myself.” Her debut had been anything but typical … a German girl uprooted from her beloved Venice after the recent death of her father and sent to a strange land where she barely spoke the language. But she had adapted quickly. “Perhaps she will change her mind when she discovers how exciting court is.”

 

She spied one of her favorite pastries, a flaky confection containing ground nuts and honey.

 

Edited by Sophia de la Cerda
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"While you may not have female family around, I do hope you know you have friends who are more than happy to be of any help," Cat said, though while she was in Scotland she hadn't been the best correspondent.  Or any sort of correspondent.  It just too so bloody long for things to go from Scotland to England and back and heaven forbid anyone should be across the channel...

 

There was always danger during childbirth to both mother and child.  There was nothing the Scot could say to change that statistic.   "With the right midwife and medical help, you should be fine," she said instead.  "You're young and in good health.  I have all the faith you both will be just right."  But talk turned to her daughter, a topic Cat never failed to tire of.  "I would be more appreciative if she wasn't so adventurous, but with the family she was born into and that of her father..."  She sighed as though exhausted by the whole thing, but her smile said otherwise.  

 

"Nothing stops either us from doing both," she said.  "The lying in period was the most boring thing ever," she admitted.  Even though she had her lying in at Hampton Court and was given reign in redesigning the gardens and her sisters were with her, she was still bored.  As active as Cat was, it shouldn't surprise anyone.  "If you have need of female entertainment, I'll be more than happy to visit.  But while you're still up and about, please feel free to visit."  She'd have to let the guards know.  While Douglas and the King would be allowed unfettered access, anyone else was considered a suspect in the plot against Fiona's life.  

 

"You did beautifully," she said in regards to Sophia's admittance of fear about coming into society.  She had just lost her family and been moved to an entirely different country with an entirely different language.  "I don't think she'll ever truly enjoy court, but hopefully she'll find something she likes about it.  She's a part of it, no matter what."  Their birth as nobles, even though Scottish and Cat's daughter being the King's natural child made court a necessary evil.  "She just needs to find something that interests her and then I'm sure she'll be fine."  Maybe.  Shona was a classic introvert, much different than her older sisters, especially Fiona.  Cat didn't mind the social requirements of court, but she was just as happy at home with family.

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“Thank you,” Sophia said sincerely. If she followed English traditions, other ladies would attend her while she gave birth, but they would have to know her secret first. Would Cat understand if she told her? She assumed that the adorable little Countess was the King’s child but that the late Lord Alyth had claimed her. Their situations were different but perhaps Cat would not hate her for what she had done. It was something worth thinking about.

 

The petite blonde appreciated her friend’s confidence. Cat had gone through childbirth and both she and the baby had thrived. She desperately hoped that it would be the same with her. Stories abounded about ladies who had not fared so well, and those tales horrified her. Every night, she painfully got down on her knees and prayed for a safe delivery. Anna always had to help her up again.

 

Sophia chuckled at Cat’s description of Nessia. “I was mischievous myself. My lord father often said that he hoped I had a child just like me when I grew up so that I would know what he was going through. I would rather my baby be like be me than as solemn and serious as my lord husband.” There was little chance of that since he was not the father. “Then again, my lord Toledo might have been a holy terror when he was young.”

 

Cat’s offer made her smile. “I will take you up on that. I am currently designing my lying-in chamber, which was originally a downstairs parlor. There is a door that leads to a small garden. Perhaps you could come by and give me some advice on it? We can have lunch as well.” Maybe her friend would even bring one of her delicious desserts.

 

“Do you think so? I doubt Lord Kingston shares that opinion.” Her former guardian had often been frustrated with her. He had even turned her over his knee and spanked her once. “I did find a husband during my first season, so I suppose that is something.” And a royal lover whom she loved with all her heart.

 

“There are so many things to do that your sister should be able to find something she enjoys. And perhaps some handsome young gentleman will charm her. There are certainly plenty of those around.” And Sophia had never been able to resist them herself.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Cat wasn't one to hate someone...unless they were French.  Then all bets were off.  But it wasn't as if Cat could cast any stones.  Mistress to the King before, during and after her 2nd marriage pretty much would make her a hypocrite and she tried hard not to be that.  Tried but not necessarily always succeeded.  And it was natural for Cat to have confidence in Sophia's success in childbirth.  She simply refused to believe anything would happen to her petite blond friend.  It simply wouldn't happen if she had anything to say about it, which she obviously (not being God) didn't.

 

"Sounds delightful.  Gardens are always so relaxing."  There would be no doubt that she'd arrive bearing a basket of baked bounty.  "Precisely," she said concerning Sophia marrying in her first Season.  Her own sister couldn't claim that.  "And what do men understand about being successful as a female in society?  Trust me, you did marvelously."  

 

As she put in her requests with the sales person, the mention of 'handsome men' made her sighed.  "Honestly, I'm worried about just that.  Shona is a beauty but she is shy.  You know how the men in this court can be.  But hopefully, between myself and Douglas, we can make sure she meets the right sort of people."  Meaning not men just after a beauty or a tenuous connection to the Crown through Nessie or herself.  It was times like this she wished her parents were still alive, just so that they could be burdened with the tasks required of her.  But then she decided they were both more comfortable where they were.  Her father always did hate the cold, so she hoped his particular pit in Hell was especially warm.  

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“Are you free on Saturday around noon? If you’re not, then just name a day.” Sophia was looking forward to Catriona’s opinion on her lying-in chamber. If she was not appalled with her unconventional outlook on childbirth, then perhaps the petite blonde could trust her with her secret. If not, she would appreciate any advice her friend gave her, as long as it had nothing to do with shutting herself in a room with the windows boarded up.

 

Germans and Italians had no such stifling traditions, as far as she knew. Perhaps they, like herself, believed that mothers-to-be and newborn babies needed sunshine and fresh air in order to thrive. Maybe Spaniards were that way too, though from what she knew of their society, they probably practiced an even stricter method of confinement.

 

“I think he was thankful that I married at all, considering how many social mistakes I made. I had no idea what was expected of me. At least your sister is better prepared for court than I was.” Sophia wondered if she would have married if she had not fallen in love with her beloved Juan. Esteban would not have been her choice if she’d had one, but she couldn’t complain. She was now a Countess and the wife of an Ambassador. Not many ladies achieved so much at the age of seventeen.

 

Sophia ordered two of the flaky nut and honey pastries. “I know the type you mean. I came close to falling into their snares a few times. Shona is lucky that she has a sister and a brother to look out for her. And since she is shy, maybe she will be happy to be chaperoned and not try to escape at every chance like I did.” On one of those escapes, she had been with Douglas. She would never forget that lovely kiss they had shared. If only things had been different …

 

“Do you think there will be many court events this time? Last season was rather boring with all those endless Easter church services.”

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Cat did a mental check to try and remember if there was anything she was supposed to do that day, but her brain drew a blank.  So, with the barest of pauses, she replied, "I'll make sure I'm free if for some reason I'm not."  Sophia needed worry so much about Cat having any negative views in regards to Sophia's life choices.  She was well aware that women had to find different ways then men to achieve happiness, if they ever achieved it.  The deck was definitely stacked against a woman choosing her own fate.

 

She couldn't argue with Sophia's assessment of her social skills when she came to court.  Yes, there was a few stumbles, but she landed a good husband with a good position in politics.  So the good outweighed anything bad.  "Over the break, I hired a tutor for both Shona and Aileen in etiquette.  There's only so much they will actually listen to when I say it.  Not that I blame them."  Cat did break more than her fair share of social rules.  It was a case of 'do what I say, not what I do'.

 

She had to chuckle.  "Indeed, I have no doubt she'll stick close to one of us.  But that might hurt her more than help, for Douglas and I both have the tendency to be a bit intense in our protection of our younger siblings."  That was likely an wee bit of an understatement.  That reminded her that she had a strong hope he stopped by this evening.  As such, she opted to purchase another dozen of the profiteroles. 

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She wouldn't have ventured beyond the castle walls, but she had need of certain supplies. That was her excuse anyway. Eleanor also had a certain curiosity; she wanted to see the bustling town for herself. But she had promised Mary that they would only go to the high street, and only for what was needed. She had changed into a cotton day dress woven in stripes of cream and pale green and hand embroidered with trails of darker green leaves highlighted here and there with little clusters of pink silk roses - as though some rambling rose had climbed all over the dress - Eleanor and Mary had set out. 

Her target had been Madam Garland's. Not for new clothes for she had brought several outfits, but for sewing supplies. There had been no need for the assistance of the lady of the establishment, Eleanor knew exactly what shades of embroidery thread and satin ribbons she wanted and the shop assistant was more than capable of finding them for mer. Very quickly Mary's basket was heavier than it had been when they'd left the castle, and the older woman was keen to chivvy her charge back into the greater security of Windsor Castle itself. But Eleanor dawdled as much as she dared, looking with interest into this shop window or that. She paused outside the Celestial Patisserie, eyeing off the sweet delights arrayed carefully in the window. Surely it wouldn't hurt to buy a treat? The braided breads with the sweet fruit centres looked delicious, and one would be enough to share between two. She and Mary might have it for their afternoon tea, she thought. "Lets just get a pastry to share." She told Mary, and before the older woman could do more than sigh, Eleanor had ducked into the shop. 

Oh, but there were already two women inside, well dressed enough to probably be courtiers as well. "Oh, I beg your parden." She would not interrupt them, but withdrew to one corner of the shop to wait until they had finished, minding her manners. She carried a collapsible fan of light sandlewood pieces with she held near her face, and the green ribbons she'd tied to the spokes supported more tiny, pink silk ribbon roses, which also adorned her sun hat, her hair and her wrist, with a single larger rose on a ribbon about her throat. Her eye was drawn to the lace roses on the red velvet dress of the shorter lady, the one with the blonde hair and quire obvious pregnancy. Should she not be abed now? Oh but both the women were beauties, and they looked so comfortable and at home here. Eleanor fanned herself lightly, telling herself that jealousy served nobody, whilst admiration was far more appropriate. 

Edited by Eleanor Bayning
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“Excellent,” Sophia replied with a warm smile. As soon as she got home, she would tell her cook to prepare a delicious lunch on the morrow. They had brought their usual cook with them as well as the rest of their household staff, as they would be staying near Windsor most likely for the remainder of the year. Their house had not been Esteban's first choice, but she had insisted on renting the one she liked the best.

 

“I wish somebody would have done that for me,” she said wistfully. “I could have used some English lessons too.” It sounded as if Catriona’s sister would definitely not lack for protection. How she wished she had had a family who cared so much for her. If she met Shona, she would tell her how  lucky she was.

 

Before she would say more, a female voice begged their pardon. Sophia turned around and saw a young lady moving over to a corner. “We’ve already ordered,” she said with a smile. “I suppose I should move out of the way.” She placed one hand on her huge belly. The baby, as usual, was kicking furiously.  “I take up such a lot of space these days.”

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Cat was about to try and comfort Sophia when the door of the shop opened.  As was her nature, she smiled at the woman in the cream and green.  "Your entrance has likely saved me from buying everything on display, so thank you," she said.  Then paused.  While she was searching the reception for her sister, her eyes had scanned many female faces.  She was certain she had seen the lady there.

 

"The joys of impending motherhood.  Never fitting where you once did," she teased, moving with Sophia to the side so the other lady could make her selections.  It was going to irritate her if she didn't find out.  To the new lady, she said, "Allow me to make introductions.  I'm Catriona MacGregor, Countess of Alyth and my friend is Lady Sophia de la Cerda, Countess Toledo.  Please correct me if I'm mistaken, but were you at the Reception?"

Edited by Catriona MacGregor
Because I didn't brain well
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The shorter of the two ladies, the one with the lace roses and obvious pregnancy, indicated kindly that they'd already ordered. "Oh, not at all!" Eleanor assured her hurriedly as the lady suggested that she should move out of the way and was taking up a lot of space. Given the gowns that were fashionable they all occupied a fair footprint. "I just thought I might get something for tea." Both ladies seemed to have ordered not one or two items but quite a few. Was that what was done? Even the taller lady admitted she was inclined to buy everything on offer. Or perhaps both were quite wealthy. Eleanor's family were hardly paupers but they were not amongst the Three Kingdoms' most wealthy either. Reaching the display inside as the other two parted for her, Eleanor studied the offerings carefully. 

Continuing her conversation with the shorter lady, the taller woman then turned her attention to Eleanor, making introductions. Two Countesses! Even if one was foreign. Both titled ladies. Eleanor smiled and curtseyed politely to them. "Eleanor Bayning; daughter of Viscount Bayning." She gave her own name. "And yes, I was indeed at the Reception." She replied honestly once she'd risen. "I'm sorry I didn't have the pleasure of meeting you there." But truth be told she'd been there on a mission, Find Lord Grey, and had been a little overwhelmed. Likely she'd seen either or both but hadn't really registered their faces. She'd have to work on that. 

"Would you recommend anything in particular?" She asked the two ladies, indicating the displays. There was such a variety that she felt somewhat at a loss. 

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