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A wee dram - Late evening, 15th September


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It was late in the evening, or early in the night depending on your point of view. Having had dinner with his sisters and niece at the house that Catriona had rented and enjoyed a chance to catch up with them all, Douglas was seated on one of the comfortable chairs by the fire in the common room of the Hen's Toes, nursing a glass of whiskey and watching the flames, his mind a million miles away. Who would want to kill Fiona? Yes she was beautiful, self-important and self-absorbed, but surely that wasn't reason to kill her? Was it? Could it be a spurned lover? Or some other woman, jealous perhaps that Fiona had attracted the attention of a man she fancied? Those seemed the most likely culprits, but that didn't exactly narrow things down much. Hmm.

He watched the flickering flames as though they might reveal some answer as they did to the seers of old, frowning slightly and drinking his whiskey. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Henry’s day had been full. Making sure that his instruments had not suffered any mishaps had taken a number of hours. Also, the need to be respectably dressed, as his valet put it, had taken far longer than the Baron would have wished. Still, he had been able to spend some time in his research. Richelieu had behaved strangely most of the day, even though the man of science had rubbed the cat’s chin and belly until the cat wanted no more, but had paid not attention to the cat’s insistence on going outside. So, at the end of the day, a tired but somewhat content Lord Grey had directed his steps towards the Hen’s Toes for a much-needed supper first, and a much-enjoyed glass of brandy afterwards.

He sat near the fire, with notebook and pencil at hand, sipping from his glass, taking notes, thinking about the chromatic aberration problem. As his glass emptied, he signaled Mr. Clark for a refill.

I should set up accounts for Mistress Eleanor in a few of the town’s shops, without her knowing. The pastry shop and the seamstress at the very least. That way she will not overspend, placing her family in an awkward position, but also it will show her mother that I received her letter and acted accordingly. The question is, when? Court is a busy time. Perhaps Reginald can do that for me. The man of science did not know if it was customary in Windsor Town for servants to set up accounts on behalf of their masters or not, but he would send Reginald anyways.

As Mr. Clark refilled his glass, Henry noticed a tall, uniformed man sitting nearby. A Life Guard, so a gentleman. Needing to meet more court gentlemen, especially those that were close to His Majesty, Lord Grey signaled Mr. Clark to refill Douglas’ glass too, on Henry's account. He would respect the military man’s silence, but would reply  willingly if addressed.

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There were a few people in the common room, enjoying either a late supper or a drink, but it wasn't noisy or crowded as it would be in a less select establishment. Douglas ignored them, deep in his own thoughts. He wanted to help his sisters, look after his sisters, and was all too aware that he hadn't been there for them when they were younger, when their father died, having been chased out of the house by his step mother. Cat had managed the situation on her own, which she should not have had to, but he hadn't found out about their father's death until he returned from the continent. Even then he hadn't realised what that would mean for the girls, and though he and Cat had not got along earlier in their lives, he still regretted that he'd not been there to help. Now he walked a careful path, being there for them whilst not stepping on his eldest sister's toes. She'd learned to be independent and resourceful, she'd had to, and there was a fine line between helping and what she would see as interfering, the latter of which would lead to a fight. They didn't need that, but the simple fact that she'd involved him in the recent troubles told just how much things between them had changed, and for the better. Now if only they could solve the problem. But still, why was it always Fiona?

As he sat there deep in thought, Mr. Clark arrived unexpectedly to refill his tumbler of whiskey, indicating that it was courtesy of the well dressed, middle-aged gentleman with the dark hair, sitting nearby. He looked to either be a courtier or a wealthy merchant. Douglas's cornflower gaze followed the proprietor's subtle gesture, raising the glass in the man's direction with a nod of his head. "Verra kind o' ye." He said, not loudly but just loud enough to carry. "Are ye stayin' at the Hen?"* Plenty came in for their supper who weren't, and he hadn't spotted the man before, but that didn't mean that he wasn't. Besides, he was curious about the generous fellow, since he didn't recognise the man. 

Subtitles
* Very kind of you. Are you staying at the Hen?"

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Henry raised his glass in response. “May His Majesty Charles II live a hundred years”, he toasted. That should be a safe toast to make with a Life Guard. “Lord Grey of Codnor, at your service. May I ask who I am addressing?”, the baron said as way of introduction. He would wait for Douglas to introduce himself before raising his glass again, this time to the Scot’s health.

“And no, I am not staying here. I rent a house in town. Much more space than at the Castle. Many need spatial proximity to the Royals and the Greats of the realm. I need space and tranquility a bit more”. Trying to design the best curve for a telescope’s mirror would be close to impossible while residing in the Castle. He needed silence to think, and a large table to spread many papers to scribble on. Henry was certain he would get neither in Windsor Castle.

Feeling talkative, the Baron also added, “I turned the rented house’s dining room into a laboratory. Without a proper place to eat, I come here to have my meals. Cooking is quite acceptable here, and so are spirits, so it is a fitting arrangement”. Henry was more used to university fare than to what was offered at court. Although Cambridge’s table was more than adequate, it was not a royal banquet. Thus, the natural philosopher’s bar was not too high. Still, he found the Hen’s kitchen good.

“How about you? Are you staying at the Hen’s Toes?”

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"His Majesty's health." Douglas echoed, taking a swig from his glass and watching the man curiously. Lord Grey of Codnor. The name meant nothing to the big Life Guard; perhaps he'd come to court whilst Douglas had been away? Or perhaps they'd never moved in the same kind of circles. "Cap'n FitzJames, Baron Dundarg. At yers, Laird Grey."* He replied in turn. Even if Henry had never heard of the place, which was likely, it was pretty obvious that Dundarg was in Scotland. 

So, like himself Lord Grey was not accomodated in the castle, but had probably been far more organised and secured himself a house in which to stay, much as Cat had done. Space and tranquility, interesting. Lord Grey seemed in a talkative mood - natural tendency or the contents of his glass - explaining that he turned the house's dining room into a laboratory. He had to be a man of science then, which explained why they'd never crossed paths. Douglas had very little inclination and a good deal of suspicion in that direction, really only interested in inventions like gun powder which helped him to do his job. And even then he didn't want to know how it worked. Still, scientists tended to be mostly harmless, often too caught up in their studies to do much political damage at court, so he was probably a fairly safe acquaintance. Douglas mused that he was meeting an interesting variety of people in the close quarters necessitated by court's current location. This afternoon it had been a poet, and some apparent relative of the Queen.

Henry's enquiry was answered with a nod. "I, aye am. I made a rather late decision tae cam tae coort this season." He revealed evenly, speaking as carefully as he could since unlike O'Neill, Grey didn't sound like he had any kind of Gaelic ancestry. "I thocht it best tae sort my ain accomodation, rather than make mysel' Laird Beverley's problem." The man didn't know him from Adam, but he had no wish to make the first impression one of annoyance. Plus he figured there'd be a pretty good chance of him being put in the Life Guard barracks. "One o' the larger rooms here is plenty fer me."** He didn't tend to spend a lot of time in his accomodations anyway, being an outdoor person by inclination. 

The big man cocked his head, regarding Grey with a curious gaze. "Can I ask whit type o' 'laborat'ry' taks up a whale dining room?"*** He enquired, visions of convoluted glassware and bubbling crucibles playing in his mind. If Grey was refining quicksilver or seeking the philosopher's stone, the house's owner might have something to say about stains on the ceiling. 

Subtitles
* "Captain FitzJames, Baron Dundarg. At yours, Lord Grey."
** "Yes, I am. I made a rather late decision to come to court this season. I thought it best to sort (out) my own accomodation, rather than make myself Lord Beverley's problem. One of the larger rooms here is plenty for me."
*** "Can I ask what type of 'laboratory' takes up a whole dining room?"

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“A pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Baron Dundarg”, Henry said raising his glass with a tip of the head. A captain of the Life Guard, and a Feudal Baron. A good man to meet. Although Henry had no ability with weapons, he understood the need for those that did. If Dundarg was a captain of the Life Guard, he was most probably very good at shot and blade. I need to do something about my utter defenselessness in the absence of my bodyguard. I have tried instruction in short and long blades, and short and long firearms to no avail. They are like horses… they hate me! I will have to ask around what other options there were… fisticuffs were not appealing to a member of the old nobility. I am no Pembroke!

“I got a very good report from my agents regarding the Hen’s Toes, Baron Dundarg. Were it not for my unusual needs of space, I would have stayed here too. The possibility of having your meals brought up to your room is quite the convenience…” Lord Beverley? Oh? “This… Lord Beverley you mention… is he in charge of the castle’s accommodations by any chance?” Now Henry understood why Lord Athenry had brought up the man’s name. If Lord Beverly had a say in accommodations, he would probably have a say about use of the roofs too.

Then, a question regarding his most favourite topic in life. “Of course you may! Truth be told, a dining room is barely adequate for my needs. I am an astronomer, and a student of applied optics… lenses, and the like. The dining table is full of telescopes and spy glasses in different states of taking them apart, modifying them, and putting them back together”. That there were a few semi-useful books on alchemy and kabbalah piled on a chair was left unsaid. Those topics were not for newly met company. “If I had access to a furnace, I would probably melt, grind and polish some new lenses too, but that was a lot more difficult to bring and set up. So I will order glass pieces from Vauxhall and Ravenscroft's glassworks, and polish the lenses myself”.

Dundarg did not seem to be the scientific type, probably a very capable man of action, though. Still, they all served His Majesty Charles II, each in their own capacity. As such, the Scottish Feudal Baron deserved his, most likely hard-earned, measure of respect.

Edited by Henry Grey
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"Tis guid tae meet ye tae." He allowed, having no reason to think otherwise. "T'haes been verra comfortable." He added on the subject of the Hen's Toes. And the food was good too. Well, perhaps not as good as Cat's cook's, but hearty and plentiful and vastly superior to the fare during his time in the Regiment du Dumbarton. Mind you, having a blisteringly fast metabolism, Douglas tended to look for quantity first and quality second. He hadn't had his meals brought to his room, still in the military habit of having to be fully turned out before eating, but that wasn't a bad thing. Still, it was a point worth remembering. "Aye, Laird Beverley. Bruik's son, Cumberland's richt hand man."* Which was the sum total of what Douglas knew about him. And Prince Rupert was the lord of Windsor, so it made sense that he'd palm a responsibility as irritating as courtier accommodations off onto Beverley.

An astronomer. Someone who looked at the stars. And lenses. Douglas listened with a measure of interest, since he'd asked the question. Stars were used for navigation of course - not that he was a Naval man - and he understood the uses of spyglasses well enough. Presumably Grey used his lenses for looking at the stars rather than approaching enemies, but at least it had some practical application. "A guid spyglass is worth it's weight in silver." He opined, interested that Lord Grey was working on his own lenses. He pulled at his lip thoughtfully. "Do ye ken that Cumberland haes a furnace here at Windsor? Prolly more thain one. If ye framed a request tae use it in a way that was relevant tae the navy - fer example, better spyglasses - he'd likely let ye use it, wi' his blessing."** He suggested.

Of course, Cumberland would want a design and probably a prototype out of it, but Grey might just find himself with a patron. Now there was an interesting thought. The promise of such a useful device might see Prince Rupert very intrigued indeed. "If ye cuid develop such a thin' as a better spyglass, the Prince wuid likely be verra interested indeed." He mused, rubbing a thumb thoughtfully along his jawline, to the rasp of stubble. 

Subtitles
* "It's good to meet you too. It has been very comfortable. Yes, Lord Beverley. Brook's son, Cumberland's right hand man.
** "A good spyglass is worth it's weight in silver. Do you know that Cumberland has a furnace here at Windsor? Probably more than one. If ye framed a request to use it in a way that was relevant to the navy - for example, better spyglasses - he'd likely let you use it, with his blessing."
*** "If you could develop such a thing as a better spyglass, the Prince would likely be very interested indeed."

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