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Secrets & Missions | CD (set before the new season)


Francis Kirke
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When the smoking chimneys of London became visible, billowing into the blackness filled only with moonlight, Francis felt a heavy exhale leave him. At nearly thirty, Francis had learned that some youthful resilience was beginning to leave him, and he had less patience for long rides on horseback than fortnights at sea. He had pressed passed stopping at an inn some hours ago knowing home was close enough that he'd reach there before morning if he kept on, and he very much wanted to be home after so long on the road.

 

His legs felt gelatinous as he dismounted in the dark of the yard in front of Buckingham's Pall Mall house. A scuffling and tired servant had come to hold his horse and take him back for his well-deserved feeding and rest, informing Francis that he hadn't been expected until later in the morning or early afternoon. 

 

That had also been part of the decision in pressing on. The Duke was no early riser, and Francis banked that he could bathe the road off and rest before Buckingham was awake and any the wiser. If he returned just short of noon, his uncle would have been on him in an instant with his knackered brain struggling to keep up. 

 

He gave ordered for the servants to quietly draw him the hottest bath human skin could withstand without being cooked and some form of hot alcoholic drink that was not coffee-based.

 

Whilst the sea had made him used to intermittent sea-bathing and little else, his more recent time on land and at court had given him a vast appreciation for finer bathing rituals. After how much his arse hurt from riding hard to get home, he was wishing for that bath more than he had ever wished for a woman when sailing into port after a long voyage! 

 

Bliss! he thought, as he finally lowered himself into the water. As his valet poured some hot water over his messy, dusty head of golden hair, he mentally went through what he wished to say to the duke and how he would say it. The rising steam with scent of sage, rosemary, lavender, and orange-peels rose through his nostrils as allowed his great mop of hair to drip water whilst he leaned forward, allowing it to be combed and cleaned with more patience than he usually had due to the taxation of the trip. 

 

The newly-made earl had perhaps gotten to enjoy a quarter of an hour of his bath before Buckingham's valet entered and said, "His Grace wishes your presence, my Lord Kingston."

 

Francis blinked from his mostly-submerged place, chin touching the steamy water. The idea of Buckingham being awake at that hour not seeming possible. He sputtered mentally in silence, wholly unprepared for this happening. 

 

"Right now?" came his rather stupid response. He really was exhausted. "The Duke is awake? Already?"

 

The servant seemed utterly confused that he'd said anything other than he would come presently. "Yes, His Grace left orders to be awakened the moment you returned if he was asleep. He is quite---."

 

But the servant never got to finish his exposition of his master's state, as Buckingham strode into the room himself, half-dressed and clad in a grand golden robe, saying, "Pah, I cannot wait any longer!" His blue eyes traveled the room before he located his nephew at a far lower location than he expected. Other than that, he seemed unfazed by Francis in the bath with ringlets dripping intermittently into the water and simple said with a flip of his hand, impatiently, "Everyone out."

 

Francis blinked up at him, mouth moving but saying nothing, as his servants and the Duke's valet abandoned them. When he finally found his voice, he said, "Apologies, Your Grace, I thought you'd still be asleep for a good many hours..." 

 

In retrospect he probably should have anticipated that the least patient man in the Kingdom would have asked to be woken at the first sign of Francis' return; his secret mission to Scotland had been of grand importance to Buckingham, and the duke would surely want to know everything he had learned about the Freemasons and their familial secret immediately. Francis was well-aware Buckingham could be frenetic and sleepless when there was something of great interest to him afoot. 

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The Duke was remarkably awake for the encounter as he sat comfortably into his favorite seat.  He looked at his nephew with amusement.

"Am I to believe that you came home by sea and your ship sunk in the Thames and you swam the rest of the way?"  It was all in good sport.

"Out with it Francis.  Don't disappoint me.  There has to be a trail that you sniffed out in the north."  In this his good humor ebbed in favor of avid curiosity.

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Francis snickered into the water as his uncle asked if he had swam the way home. Even in his tired state, he quipped back, "I'd still stink of shit if I attempted to swim the Thames downstream of London, no matter how well-fragranced the servants made the bath-water." 

 

Not that he had smelled much better given he was not keen on whatever water one might submerge in at a road inn, and he had only broken his journey properly at Buckingham's Helmsley on the way back and that was all the way in York. 

 

"And if I had sailed back, Sir, I would not have caught on to be followed on my journey south," he said by way of a tease, steam still billowing around his face from the bath. "That was, perhaps, the oddest happening, so I shall start with the end. A fellow mason followed me out of Scotland. A well-dressed man by the name of Thomas Isaac, which sounds not like any Scottish family name I've ever heard. He asked me a great many questions about my trip in Scotland, what I was looking for and found, of which I said nothing of import, but there were a plethora of questions about Your Grace and our relation. He said he did business, presumably between Scotland and York, as he was visiting other masons there, but nothing on a grand scale. It seemed to me his trade was likely illegitimate." Which was to say involved smuggling goods. "It made me wonder if his family's trade has been secretive for some time and what he was not telling me. It is no little or safe thing to follow someone on the road. One might be thought a thief. I could have laid in wait for him and cut his throat for such a thing. It was no mere curiosity in my opinion. I offered him to travel South with me, but he traveled only as far as York."

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He let the quip about swimming pass.  The Duke was more interested in the story to follow.

"Very convenient that this Isaac fellow happened to be following you.  At least you caught him."  Buckingham's fingers danced upon the armrest of the chair as he pondered the various scenarios.

"And he told you nothing useful about the Masons in Scotland?  You asked him naught about his interest in our family?"  He was already second-guessing his nephew.  "You let him leave you in York?  What sort of address did he give you?  We could have a man visit the abode ... if it exists at all."

"Tell me you learned more," he urged.  "The name Isaacs may be familiar.  I shall need to research it."  His memory was tickled from the Order materials he read.  "Who do we need to visit in Scotland to get the truth of things?  Did the Villiers die out in Scotland?  If not, why was there no attempt to contact us in England?"  Francis would know that he was vexed by larger questions and he impatiently looked to his nephew for inspired answers.

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Francis watched those long, impatient fingers drumming thoughtfully on the armrest, but as the duke spoke question after question, the youthful looking Francis had a blush creeping over his face. He probably did not even need to respond for Buckingham to know that he felt seeds of falling short, and the newly-made earl was a diligent sort and hated that feeling. Especially as his uncle had done so very much for him.

 

"I, well, he did not, Your Grace...It was a guarded conversation on both of our parts perhaps. I would have had to tell him the secret of what I was there to find to probe him too much, and he clearly was after some information as well." Since the duke had sent the servants away to give him privacy, he was somewhat stuck in his ridiculous position in the bath which was clearly unsustainable. Francis was lucky he had lived much of his life self-sufficient without a cadre of servants - at least his childhood until he was eleven or so had been that way and all of his ship duty as a young man. He reached a long arm out and closed his fingers around the robe that had been lain out, stood up and stepped out of the now lukewarm water, and wrapped it around himself. It clung to the wetness on his body. The tips of his blond ringlets dribbled water onto his shoulders. 

 

Now in full blush, not at having been naked as there was no stigma around being naked around another man in the least, Francis answered the rest of the duke's questions. 

 

"I see now that I should have been more diligent with him, but I did not think it proper toward a fellow brother to force him to come with me at knife-point. As to an address, another mason is easy to find through the lodges, it is not in our way to outright lie to each other, but in the circumstances, perhaps I was naive in that respect and did not ask for an address. My apologies for that failure. And I also did not think to query why the interest in Your Grace, for most ask me about you for you are a great personage that causes much curiosity." 

 

He moved closer to the fireplace but made no move to sit yet, waiting instead for his uncle's permission.

 

"I have no doubt Tom would be able to find him again if you wished to send him back North to follow the man; ports and life on a ship require a youth to learn to be stealthy and capable." He paused after the suggestion to allow his uncle to contemplate it.

 

"I did find out more, Your Grace. There was mention of Freed Masons early in manuscripts which seems to me to be a reference to those who came to Scotland after the persecution, so I imagine our relation among those, but those references died out. The groups would have combined for stealth and safety. There were no specific mentions of any Villiers, but if they truly came with a small fleet and treasure, they would have to begin to use a pseudonym for many would come in search of them and the wealth of it. I did travel to any coves and areas where landing such a fleet would have been possible and visited the buildings old enough nearby. I did not find anybody of interest though there were plenty of writings. If you ask me, someone noticed my unique activities and places visited and wished to ascertain if I truly was there at your behest. ."

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The Duke sighed in frustration.  He would need to send some men back in the north to dig deeper. He gestured for Francis to sit.

"Villiers would have changed his name to something English or Scottish.  In English our name means town dweller.  Perhaps Henry Townee," he guessed aloud.  "If we get the name right we can trace it.  There may likely have been some return to France, perhaps with King David.  They may have resumed the Villiers name then perhaps.  Did Henry hide some treasure for the family?  I doubt he gave it all to the society and Robert the Bruce."

It was not the money that he needed or wanted necessarily. It was solving the riddles that were likely left behind for him.  He was now the Grand Master of the Order and he clearly had the resources to get to the bottom of this.  It would be more satisfying than any Parliamentary victory.

The questions Buckingham posed were largely rhetorical, but it was clear that Francis was invited to weigh in with his own perception.  "Perhaps a glass of Scottish whiskey will clear my head," he mumbled to himself but he did not ring for a servant.  He also wondered silently if the Knights of Malta might be an offshoot of the Templars as well, hiding some of their treasure; but, the Duke was becoming convinced that the fundamental answers rested in Scotland.

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Francis sat down as prettily as he could after closing the fastenings of his robe and listened to the duke ponder aloud attentively.

 

Town dweller. Not the most noteworthy of meanings. 

 

His notes on his findings were still packed, and he was working on little sleep, so he was slower than usual. He nodded along with the duke's assessment, wishing he had found some grand key to the entire mystery. 

 

When he heard the mutterings about a glass of whiskey, he stood to get the duke a drink. In the absence of servants, it fell to him to do the serving, and he was happy to do it. Any room they frequented was always stocked. It took him a moment to find whiskey in the selection of bottles, as it was not Buckingham's usual fare, but he did find it. He watched it slosh into the glass as he thought. 

 

He handed his uncle the drink with a dip of his head, and then sat back down putting the bottle and another empty glass between them. 

 

Then he said, "Town Dweller...like Hamlet?" He wet his lips and then added, "The first Grand Master was a Sir Percy Hamlet. He had a son who married into the Bruce's family. They did flee to France after a conspiracy of some form. If that was the name the switched to then they probably did take up our family name when returning back to France, probably to other relations that were still there."

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The Duke's frustration was abated only by the news of Percy Hamlet.  "That could be Henri's son."  Hope returned to his face.  "I will have our friends in the north visit the churches and trace the Hamlet line.  I wonder if any are still in Scotland or England.  I cannot fathom that they would leave everything behind and return to France.  The Order flourished.  It did not die out."  That was evidence enough that some Hamlets remained behind, perhaps in hiding.

Pouring whiskey into the empty glass between them, the Duke sat back and took a swig of whiskey.  "One step closer Francis.  One step closer.  I wonder whether this Isaac fellow might present another step."

It would take weeks to get a family tree of the Hamlets in Scotland.  Buckingham was not a patient man; bu.t despite his immense wealth and power, there was little he could do to speed things enough to have word delivered to Windsor before the season likely ended.

 

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(OOC - I'm assuming since Francis handed Bucky his drink, that Bucky then poured the empty glass for Francis, if not let me know and I'll edit ;) )

 

Francis perked up when the duke did, for he did not wish to be a disappointment in anything, and raised the drink his uncle had graciously poured for him to his lips. Though he'd never been given any reason to feel that way, he had always felt a modicum of charity in how his grandfather had taken care of him because of what he had thought he was as an adolescent and a youth, and he did not wish to feel that way with Buckingham. He wanted to both feel worthy and be worthy. 

 

"As you say, Sir, I'm sure some must have stayed behind, and I doubt they would have given over everything to fund the Bruce's wars and for the formation of the group. It just would have probably been those without a known and recognizable face with which to be persecuted, and it is certain that they must have kept correspondence with those who went to France. Freemasons are known for their prolific ways of communicating and providing aide to each other; that had to have originated somewhere for preservation of the group, no matter what happened to an individual or family," Francis postulated.

 

Masonic signs and codes were recognized across lands where masons had formed as a universal. In their modern times, it was an effective form of communication and identification no matter one's country of origin or situation. Francis was well-enough traveled to have experienced that. It was considered compulsory to surreptitiously identify oneself when meeting people or in large public places where one was not familiar; it was why they had hand signals that were employed in specific ways against one's clothes or chest. Communications never ended with lack of proximity. They were even used in war. Their brotherhood had rules of universal protection especially in duress. 

 

"I doubt he would have followed me in such a secretive way if he was not. Secrecy within the group must signify something of imminently great importance."

 

(OOC - In his recess Francis came back a few weeks before the start of the season bc he would have had to join the King early, before moving to Windsor, as part of the household. I also said that the King and Queen arrived at least a week before the entire menagerie of court, so you can feel free to determine how much time there is for Buckingham to find something out without a terribly limiting amount of constraint as there's at least a fortnight between Francis coming home and the start of the Windsor season, probably more like 3 weeks.)

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OOC~ Yes the drink was poured for Francis.  Understood on the fortnight.

"There are still some lurking in the Three Kingdoms.  The odds favor it," he speculated. "The question is why they still hide.  It has been three centuries.  I think the remaining members must have lost the history.  Maybe they no longer know their origins.  That could explain why they did not seek us out."  He finished his Scotch as he pondered the various scenarios.  "Mayhaps some correspondence with our French relatives could be fruitful."

As for Isaac. the Duke was less certain the man held some link to the lost branch of Villiers.  Perhaps he was merely curious.  "A fine riddle," he grunted as he adjusted his seat and crossed his legs.  "I think I shall have some breakfast and then begin some correspondence.  You ;ook like you could use some rest."

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"True, perhaps they do not even know that one of their family is once again Grand Master if they do not know their true surname."

 

Francis smiled slyly at the thought of the duke enjoying his correspondence. His uncle generally had at least three or four large stacks of it, even with both a secretary and a Francis to do his bidding: important, friends, when I get to it, and ignore receiving it. 

 

"And what of that painting of Melville's? Might it be related? We never came to firm conclusions on it," Francis asked.

 

He duke grunted, and Francis tilted his head. The duke had a variety of morning grunts, and this was exceedingly early for him. For once it wasn't a cranky grunt, which were generally most prevalent if he was woken before he woke up naturally. 

 

"I do, indeed, but you know I shall never pass up food in favor of sleep, Uncle. Far better to sleep on a full stomach if you'd forgive me for falling asleep whilst breaking fast the once? It's a distinct possibility my eyes might shut." Buckingham - with all his friendly good-nature and frequent use of license - did have his own vanity and sticking points. Francis was well-aware that the duke wanted him to do things the proper way, if only to further school him in it, and one did not fall asleep on the Duke of Buckingham. With the frequency at which he heard 'prettily, and not like a sack of potatoes' and 'you've used all your license for today' from the man, he'd rather ask forgiveness first in this instance.

 

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Correspondence was a chore and a bore, except when it was not.  Writing relatives to gain information made the chore almost enjoyable.

Francis reminded him of Melville's painting.  "Oh yes, I had forgotten that.  Remind me again why it is a piece of the puzzle."  Was he already becoming so old that he was forgetting things?  He viewed himself as vibrant and not feeble, but there were moments when memory failed him.  It was one of the few things that a man of wit and intelligence feared.

A rolling laugh greeted Francis' desire for food.  Some things never changed.  "I demand eggs.  Now what will you demand to pair with it?  Best we get the cook to scamper."

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"It seemed to have some form of hidden codex involving numbers and alluded to some prize to be found. There were several masonic references and the like*."

 

Knowing how much the duke liked needing to be reminded of anything, Francis then assured, "It is not Your Grace's usual hour of intellectual ponderance. After so long and hard a journey, I must say that nor is it mine." Truly one would do better with the Duke after midnight than in the morning hours. 

 

"I have learned much from you, Sir. I demand all the best things for the breakfast table," Francis declared, in homage to the Duke's excessive opulence. "Most especially those saucy smoked fish," he added, stomach beckoning even as he thought of it. "I have traveled hard and long in your service after all. I deserve the best before passing out for at least twelve hours, and then I shall require it again for supper. Do you not agree? I've tired of Scottish fare and inns." Buckingham's table was far beyond better, and Francis had truly missed being spoiled.

 

(OOC - all threads regarding this painting are mysteriously gone from the boards and I can't locate them. The auction where it was one, where Francis' agrippa book was one, where Duncan gave it to Buckingham, where DUncan talked about it with George, all gone. Bloody strange. ANyone that's as much as I remember LOLOL)

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"Melville has disappeared," George observed.  "He has a history for illness."  The Duke, for the first time, began to wonder whether there might be foul play involved, given the subject matter.  "Where did we put that painting again?"  That was uttered mostly to himself.  "Let's pull it forth and take a look."

Only one thing, in that moment, was more important than Masonic secrets.  "Yes, breakfast."  He rang the bell for the servants. "Warm bread, slathered with butter and honey," he added as he stood. "  As Francis asked for fish, his uncle nodded in a fashion that approved the petition of young Kingston.  "Anything you want my boy."  He patted his stomach.  "Bacon and ham," he announced, mostly to himself.  After all, how could a hearty helping of bacon, ham, butter, and eggs not be good for the health of an older man? 

 

OOC~ Finis?

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