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A Walk Down Memory Lane | 15th Early Evening

Francis Kirke

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Windsor is delightfully situated in the county of Berks, twenty two miles west of London, on the verdant banks of the mild and gentle River Thames; which, from its serpentine course in this part of it, was, in King Edward the Confessor's charter, termed Windlesora, (the Winding Shore) hence, in time, it was called Windsor.

The elegant Windsor Town had grown through the ages as a direct consequence of the castle, taking its name from what came to be known as Old Windsor which was further down in the countryside, completely cut off from its colony. The new Windsor Town was created exclusively in response to the castle. All its citizens worked in the castle, made goods for the castle or provided housing for its guests and family of its inhabitants.

The Town of Windsor consists of six principal streets, Park Street, High Street, Thames Street, Peascod Street, Church Street, and Castle Street. The less considerable streets are, Butcher Row, Fish Street, Sheet Street, George Street, Beer Lane and Datchet Lane.



Francis walked the streets of Windsor for they were familiar to him but not in the way of a courtier. Many years earlier, over a decade in fact, these had been a young "Little Frank's" stomping grounds with his brother-like uncles, George and Will, when they attended Eton and the house master had not been able to keep the trio contained.

The nickname of his childhood held a bittersweetness as he now knew it was his father's nickname. He had been around thirteen when he attended before going to Trinity at Cambridge. 


As the sun began to set around the buildings and lanterns lit, it reminded him of those times sneaking off. It made him chuckle to think how many times he'd been sent up for jumping out a window or some such in order to experience the fresh pleasures of The White. 


He, George, and Will had even once made the mistake of running into his grandfather there. Imagine the youthful gentlemen's surprise to find Colonel Legge there having supper when they were descending from one of the rooms of pleasure. Then again, with how often Prince Rupert stayed in Windsor, even in those days, and how much time his grandfather had spent in service with the prince, they should have been far more careful of avoiding such an event. 


It had not been pretty. He would have rather have gotten caught by the housemaster ten times. His backside would have hurt less. His knees too, because they had all gotten stuck praying the entire night. 


The thought made him chuckle aloud without any reservation for the curiosity of any passersby. 

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  • Francis Kirke changed the title to A Walk Down Memory Lane | 15th Early Evening

Before even making it to the Windsor Town bookstore he had visited earlier, James O’Neill had recognized that, despite being rather devoid of artistic direction, he was blessed from above and below. Above, his master the Duke of Ormonde did not seem to have a significant need for his younger messenger’s services, at least not with anything time-sensitive. Equally important was the absence of a certain individual below him in stature: leal footman and informant for the Baron O’Neill of Iveagh that he was, his manservant (as well as former tutor and occasional gaoler) Fergal had been given a variety of assignments, such as livening up the small apartment and ensuring that his newfound, beloved Titian was properly secured, a task unto itself.

In point of fact, the painting in question was rather large, particularly given the apartment’s size. Certainly, it was a faintly ridiculous notion to begin with, to bring it from London, but it evoked a certain kind of Truth, one that James knew for weeks that he must invoke it in a work.

The overarching point, of course, was that without a servant dogging his every footstep and with no immediate responsibilities to His Grace, the poet had been free to spend his afternoon as he pleased, having departed from Angus and Robinson’s establishment to the Hen’s Toes, where – having realized he had barely glanced at a foodstuff in a good day and a half – he had scarfed down a late afternoon meal with a claret. The claret then led to a game of vingt-et-un, which naturally led to another claret, then another hand, and so on until James was eleven shillings lighter in the pocket than he was a few hours ago.

“Luck of the bloody English,” an embittered James muttered as he walked down the street, not paying overmuch attention to where he was going. It was not an especially dramatic sum to have lost, but when one was already prone to dramatics and their spending money was a product of negotiations with stern older men and success at the card table …his surroundings were unimportant, as evidenced by the way he brushed past a man who ought to have been familiar to him “Father’d be right pleased …another O’Neill swindled...”

The figure he’d started to storm past seemed to laugh at this, letting out a loud chuckle. “Pardon me, is something amusing to you, sir–” An irritated, over-the-top James started to growl, dark curls bouncing as he turned to face the chuckler. “Sir…ah.” It was his turn to laugh, nervously, as he caught sight of his supposed antagonist. “My lord, er...Kingston.”

Edited by James O`Neill
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Francis was not unaccustomed to drunk men brushing past him in port town and cities where seedy establishments bred such brusque behavior, but it was entirely out of place in Windsor Town. Honestly, he would have bristled in the port town too, but even as he turned to exchange words with this ill-behaved lout, the youth decided to spout at him!


"What is amusing is that you think you can bump up against me drunkenly and rudely with no consequence," Francis replied, scathingly. Not wearing a cloak against the cold or the night, his rapier was a visible length at his side, and he felt the temptation to teach a lesson.




"O'Neill, is that you?" He heaved a sigh. He could hardly chastise the man after he had done him a favor back when. "I was, in fact, laughing at my youthful behavior at Eton, fucking and hanging out windows, and then getting my arse beat for it. If you must know. What excuse do you have?"

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Earlier, James had admitted to Lord Dundarg that in battle, he may as well have a pen than a sword. Of course, courtly fashions and expectations stated that he carry one at his side, for all the good it would do – the small sword’s fine guard was done up in blue and gilt, the steel blade from Dublin’s Parliament Street done up in a similar style – but in the hands of one who found fencing boring and not once considered a sailor’s career, it was merely a decoration.

So he did not reach for it when the man who laughed at him snarled back, although the man’s much more functional blade glimmered at his side, only protested forcefully, “We do not all breeze around in silent reverie –“

No, that was certainly Kingston, a fellow libertine, a relation of Buckingham’s – in whose box he had seen Lucas Cole’s opera – and a collaborator at times in amusing the king.

“Aha!” Another nervous laugh, and James took a step back, giving the earl some room to breathe. “Apologies, Kingston, sincere apologies. It was the cards. The damned cards.” It was his turn to sigh, before providing a rapid-fire explanation, “Fortune was not on my side tonight, my lord. Caught me on the fourth deal. You know how it is with vingt-et-un.”

He took a breath of his own. “I resent the accusation of drunkenness,” he replied with an easy smile. “Three glasses of claret are illuminating,” a pause, as James made a sideways gesture with his hand, doing little to prove his point. The wine had loosened him up significantly, but he was more of a gambler than a drinker. “Not intoxicating.”

Very intoxicating, anyways,” the young poet laughed breathily. Perhaps if Kingston was heading anywhere in particular, he’d walk with the man. “Did you say fucking? Is that what transpires at Eton?"

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"Well, my friend, all I have to say is you have luck that it is me. One could lose more than some coin by being discourteous to strangers in the street," Francis said, an easy bark of a laugh following.


"You went over, I suppose, on the draw of the cards?" Francis guessed. The game was one in which much coin could be made, but if one was not very strategic, it could be lost in spades as well. Card gambling was something a sea captain knew well, in a way different from most courtiers. 


"They oft are illuminating," he tittered. "Or feel so."


He laughed again at the question of whether fucking was what happened at Eton.


"Well, if you have enough coin for it," Francis said. "Or if you favor Ganymede's beauty." For you put a bunch of boys together without any ladies and there was sure to be some of that. Not that Francis had partaken. However, he did have enough imagination to think that a mouth was a mouth in some regards.


"Do you see that window there on De Courtenay House?" he pointed to one already illuminated with a candle. "I used to sneak out that window to cross to The White which caters to wealthy Eton lads with grand tastes and no better sense when court is not held here. Right after the Restoration it was a fucking glory, in more than one way." 

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“I don’t doubt you’re right, friend Kingston,” James allowed, head bobbing agreeably and sending dark curls bouncing. “But I’ve behaved worse in more dangerous climes than this.”

Which was not untrue in the slightest. Inexorably dark though his moods inevitably became, James O’Neill had oft been rescued by sheer, dumb luck and an ounce of charm.

Regarding his poor luck, he explained with a bitter laugh, “Over indeed. Said illumination seemed an omen. The lads had kept the role of dealer for themselves throughout, so I’d put my hopes on the fourth deal in two games straight. My pockets are empty now, they are.”

The poet grinned at the Ganymede quip, being personally inclined to both options, and laughed at the rest. “Surely, my lord, you aren’t implying that Etonian boys – the best and brightest that His Majesty’s kingdoms have to offer – would partake in such sinful acts?” He feigned a scoff, before breaking back into a laugh, digesting what Kingston had to say about the Restoration. It was easy to forget that the earl was not his own age, given how youthful the Villiers cub looked.

“Seems I missed out, it does – at least until I was sent to the Continent, to complete my tutoring there. There was this one establishment in Florence…” A glimmer lingered in his eye, and he followed Francis’s gaze to the de Courtenay house. “Perhaps one as well-traveled as you would not be surprised, but for a green boy from Ulster as I was…well, t’is a Jerusalem for Europe’s artists, and accordingly…”

“You can only imagine my reaction upon discovering what kind of tastes they catered to. It was Noah’s ark but for fucking.” Another laugh. “Two of every perversion you could imagine.”

“Where are you off to, my lord?” He asked suddenly. “I am killing time and nursing that blow to my pride.”

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Francis let out a hearty laugh at the jibe about Eton boys. Yes, it required quite the fees and the admission was difficult, but that did not make them that much different from other boys. Preteen and teens boys were beastly things no matter their rank or intelligence.


"A number of them and without employing much stealth; although, in close quarters stealth is hard to manage. From my admission of climbing out windows, if it was a cock I wanted, I could have stayed inside." He laughed a bit more, a bright, tenor, boyish sound. "No, I was larking off to The White. I managed quite a bit of fucking there until I went to Trinity at Cambridge. I managed quite a bit of fucking there too...and climbing in and out of windows."


A Noah's Ark for fucking! The guffaw at that shook Francis' chest until it hurt. "A ship I would have loved to have captained, I am sure! I have spent time on the continent and most especially in Italy, so my vivid imagination will suffice!"


With a tip of his head to the side, "I was going to head to The White for some food and drink, if you would like to join me. Since I did not lose my coin today, I shall pay too."


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“Ha!” James barked a merry laugh as Kingston recalled his exploits, making Eton and Cambridge sound like quite the romp. “I admit, these tales do make me wish my parents had sent me to one of the Royal Schools…at least until I remember that they’re full of Scots.” Nominally Protestant, he supposed that the Baron O’Neill could have finagled such an education, but there was bad blood enough there.

“And besides, while I won’t say that I’ve never had a Scot, I daresay that on average, a Spanish or Italian town boasts a higher number of comely folk than north of Hadrian’s Wall.” He grinned, recalling vividly encounters with men and women alike while abroad. “I tell you, Kingston, the O’Neills of Spain are visionaries, while we of Ulster are the fools.” Deeply conservative though the Spanish may have been, they made up for it when their repressed façade slipped.

On the topic of the Florentine brothel, James smiled, agreeing, “There is a certain…something about the Italians, wouldn’t you say? They have perfected a balance between sophistication and sin. I do not think my lord father thought through his decision to let me live there.”

Kingston then invited him to join in at The White, and he gave a gracious nod. “Food and drink, or…” A laugh, given the topic they’d just discussed. “I jest. I barely thought to eat at the Hen’s Toes, so I can scarcely refuse an offer so generous. It’s that, or eat under the sullen gaze of an Irish greybeard who grows concerned if I favor a sonnet over sleep.”

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"To me, there is little that compares to the finest of Italy's courtesans. Since His Majesty has grounded me to solid land, I admit I do sometimes pine after one in particular." He heaved a sigh. "Bianca...should have been far too rich for me, far out of my reach. She had the highest of society lined up in regular appointments. This noble on Tuesdays. This one of Fridays. Every day of the week booked up. Perhaps one of the richest ladies of any station, I tell you."


Francis led the way into the White. It had not changed all that much from his younger years but boasted richer appointments to the things inside when court was in Windsor. "Let us find a place to sit, there is a good spot by the hearth to the left usually, and I will tell you how I met her if you like?"


"And if we decide we wish a certain sort of digestif afterwards, I am certain all tastes can be catered to as well. It might be as close to a courtesan as we are like to get in Windsor, for the women here do not parade themselves as common whores. They can hold a conversation."

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James’ jaw tensed at the mention of the name Bianca, having had his own Italian lady by that name. His, however, was a story of scandal, dishonor, and eventual heartbreak, not at all fit fare for an outing with the gentlemen. The ladies, however… James was a fervent believer in living as he wrote, even if a passion for Beauty – aesthetic or otherwise – so often translated into a passion for tragedy.

No matter. He was feeling grand tonight, and did not expect that to change – odd coincidences or no. “Oho!” James tittered, joking, “The infamous Kingston pines like the rest of us!” In truth, despite what the broadsheets were saying, he hadn’t known the blonde earl to act as raffish as some. There was an art to the balancing act.

He remained silent throughout Francis’s introduction of his Bianca, following the lord into the building and taking a quick glance around. “My kind of woman,” the poet murmured salaciously. “Or near enough, anyways.” Those who knew him may have known his works to be filled with tragic heroines and warrior women, a stand-in for rejecting the status quo – and simply compelling as well, on a personal level.

Sliding into a spot that was indeed to the left of the hearth, James chuckled, and observed with a surprising amount of self-control, “I think I ought focus more on the food than the drink, as I haven’t much left to lose. Now about this famed lady...”

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"For a certain courtesan, I suppose," Francis said with a soft laugh. "They are a special stock in Italy. Do not try to tell me that you do not have any attachments to a pretty someone?"

He raised a delicate blond brow as the Irishman said more food than drink. He then smiled. 


"That shall not stop me from having some drink, but you have not seen how much food I can consume in one sitting. My lithe frame is a bit misleading in that regard. I am told it is my level of activity. We can have quite the feast." 


Lessons of court that he had learned was that how one spent coin mattered, and it was best to show a level of grandeur and generosity with food. 


"It starts, as all good tales of love-making do, with a swordfight in the streets..."

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Kingston retorted on the matter of pining. “Some ones, I would say,” James admitted, grinning. “My own Bianca, in fact – although she was the daughter of my host in Italy, and…another.” His smile faded somewhat, although he chuckled conspiratorially as he added the dramatic part: “You knew the other anon, as a matter of fact.”

The latter he had barely touched, as a matter of fact. The heartache of Lucas Cole, his closest friend-turned-confidante who had been too overwhelmed by his own misery and addiction to let his literary counterpart into his life, had healed enough over time that he could allude to it without a pang of longing. Would Kingston attempt to guess?

Francis then raised an eyebrow after James disclosed that he would drink only in moderation. “By no means should you limit your consumption on my behalf, my lord,” the poet agreed. “Food or beverage alike. I had no intention of sounding ungrateful.”

“But my plans for my return to the castle…are the kind that recommend to one a clear head and a wakeful body, if you follow me.” A wink following that would clear up his point, and James signaled for some wine while Kingston carried on with his story. “As it should, you damned pirate,” he said approvingly. “Assuming you were in the fight, that is.”

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(Contd. from here)

It was as though the doldrums of the recess and even that morning had never been, Charles reflected as he entered the White. It made sense, he supposed. He was a social creature, and all the conversation and competition of the day had been an absolute tonic after the relative deprivation of the preceding months. The black mood would doubtless return, for he knew his own nature, but the prospect seemed distant and easily dealt with now. He had been lucky, really, for Etherege and Ranelagh were exactly his sort of company, and excellent even by that standard, as Henrietta, Kingston and Mountjoy had all been earlier that day.

Speaking of Kingston, Charles caught sight of him seated with another man who Charles did not recognise, though he fancied he had seen him at the reception. Stepping to one side to allow his own companions in, he raised a hand in greeting but did not approach. He did not want to interrupt, in case the blond was on some private business, but would have no objections to merging parties if Kingston and the others were open to it. 

Edited by Charles Audley
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Francis was about to start his story when in walked Chatham with Ranelagh and Sir George Etherege, one of his most frequent companions other than Denbigh. Knowing O'Neill to be a social sort and also one who liked an audience, Francis gave them a wave to join if they wished to do so, saying "Gentlemen, I was just about to share a story of swordplay and love-making with Master O'Neill here if you would care to join."


They could make a very merry party if the others wished to join them for food and drinks too.

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Charles was immediately intrigued by mention of a story. He loved a good tale, and Kingston struck him as likely to have a great store of them. A quick questioning glance at his companions showed them at least open to joining the two by the hearth, and so the decision was easy. He returned Kingston's wave and moved towards the hearth.

"I do enjoy a good story, and this one sounds particularly relevant to my interests," he said, chuckling, as he poured himself into a seat and nodded in greeting to Francis and the now-named Master O'Neill. Seated, he caught the eye of a server across the room and signalled for wine, then settled in to hear Kingston's story.


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Kingston had the measure of James down pat entirely: he was a social sort who thrived in an audience. Furthermore, a flicker of familiarity flitted across his face as the gentlemen in question entered, the poet quite liking Ranelagh. It was he that was greeted by James first, finally getting a chance to quip about their encounter over the recess, “Hail, Ranelagh – and here I was bemoaning my losses at the card table to poor Kingston here.”

Grinning, the young Irishman pushed a strand of dark hair away from his eyes, giving the other notables a respectful nod. “And well met to you as well, gentlemen. As Lord Kingston said, I’m James O’Neill. My lord father is the Baron O’Neill of Iveagh.”

“But more importantly, my interests also lie in this direction,” James declared, eyes turning to Chatham as he joined in with the chuckling. “At least with the love-making. I believe that if I cannot talk my way out of a situation that calls for swordsmanship, or if that particular masculine art isn’t part of a narrative poem, then something has gone horribly wrong.”

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Ranelagh sat himself down next to O'Neill with a salute to the young Irish poet. "Do you know my friend, Sir George Etherege?" he asked O'Neill as Sir George seated himself nearest the hearth.


"My compliments, Kingston, on the rousing waste of parchment produced in your name," he said to Kingston. "George here might just put an escaped Janissary in his next play. It was a great work of fiction and a phenomenal idea. Too good to waste, in fact." He could not help but poke fun at the pretty blond.


"Let us hear about this swordplay and love-making," the playwright added with a chuckle. "That always finds a way into my plays too."

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Francis rolled his eyes at Ranelagh. They sometimes crossed paths serving His Majesty as the other was one of the King's Gentlemen of the Bedchamber as well. Sir George also had some sort of position that he could not recall...Groom in Extraordinary, perhaps? Which meant he didn't attend the King but rather did something else, write most likely. 


"The lot of you smell as if you have been to the Baths," Francis commented. Having attended Eton, he was well-aware of the scented water of the baths and could pick it out from any background. He had been intending on making a few visits there during the court season. He was fond of any type of water. His own typical bath was usually scented with sage and citrus, for if he did not sell all the blood oranges and other citrus he shipped in from Italy before they went bad, there was still the peel of which to make use.


For his part, Francis asked the servant to bring a bottle of cognac for the group, and asked what speciality was on service for the evening by way of food and told the servant to put it all on his credit. He could hardly just buy for O'Neill and not the whole group now. 


"So, the story. Picture it, Venice 1675, during Carnavale where one breaks fast before going to sleep for the day. I was staying with the Grimanis with whom I do business, in their palazzo on the Grand Canal, who were then still finishing Teatro San Giovanni Crisostomo and using it only for private events. There were many late nights or early mornings, and the walks of the canals were rife with drunken bravos fighting with rapiers over some slight or some woman. Of course, the occasional gentleman jumping out of a palazzo window into a canal to avoid an angry father, brother, or husband. 


"I was walking back from some party and saw a most unfair scene. Grown men were fighting with some poor youth, two on one, a most despicable scene for the Venetians prefer their fighting honorable, so I thought it was ruffians or thieves choosing an easy target. Carnavale is a dangerous time. The boy was well-dressed, the others not so much." He tapped the hilt of his rapier, which he had set against the arm of his chair. "So, I did the only honorable thing and evened the odds for the poor lad. He was very skilled with a blade but not against two. I dispatched my foe and turned to chase off the other when the youth nearly fell in the water. I grabbed him by the shirt before he could make a splash and the second opponent ran off just as the boy let out the most soprano scream, limbs flailing off balance on the edge."


Francis chuckled, "For a moment, I thought I had rescued a castrato, but then I realized the young swordsman was no youth at all but a woman dressed as a man when she grabbed onto me for balance and then kissed me!"

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"Charles, Lord Chatham," Charles said, offering his own name and style in return of James's introduction. "A pleasure, Master O'Neill. And fret not over the swordsmanship – even a single shared interest is sufficient foundation for amiable acquaintance, is it not, and a man who can talk is a man who is good company."

Settling himself comfortably in his seat, he snorted at Ranelagh's mocking proposal that Etherege include a Janissary in his next play.

"I have thought in the past that Janissaries might make good comic characters," he offered idly. "There's an inherent element of the ridiculous to them, what with wearing spoons in their hats and using soup kettles as regimental standards."

He nodded to confirm Kingston's assumption.

"I felt the need after fencing, and when I grew sufficiently relaxed as to air my frankly execrable musical talents I inadvertently disturbed Lord Ranelagh and Sir George, who were gracious enough not just to refrain from having me thrown out but to invite me to join their post ablution repast."

Charles cocked a leg over the arm of his chair and sipped at his drink as Kingston launched into his story.

Ah, Carnevale.

Nostalgia wrapped him in its warm embrace as Kingston set the scene, the sights and sounds and scents coming back to him with such vivid clarity that he was almost surprised to find himself not wearing a mask. England might be the land of his birth, but Venice at Carnevale was the home of his soul. He nodded along with Kingston's descriptions, and could not help the rueful smile that curved his lips at the mention of jumping into the canals to avoid irate male relatives. Charles had taken that route a time or two himself.

(The fact that he had not subsequently died of infection was a central prong of his thesis that he might in fact be immortal.)

 It would not do to interrupt, but Charles raised his glass in salute as Francis spoke of joining the fight against the two bravi. That was a piece of the sort of cavalier gallantry that Charles loved and admired.

The reveal of the true nature of the young 'swordsman' brought forth a huff of laughter. He had thought that was a possibility, but had not been certain that that was were the story was heading. It seemed a more natural point for an interjection too.

"A more pleasant surprise than many a man might receive at Carnevale," he mused, grinning.

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“The pleasure is all mine, my lord,” James insisted when Chatham returned his greeting. “If you are a friend of Kingston, I suspect we shall be good company indeed, being as I am overly fond of a bandied word and, ah, appropriately fond of the art which is on our agenda.” He was unable to resist flashing another dimpled grin, jesting, “Or perhaps inappropriately, if it comes at the cost of my mediocrity in the art of war.”

Greetings were also extended to Ranelagh’s other friend, whom the poet knew by name and his work, first explaining to the rakishly-handsome earl, “We’re unacquainted as of yet, but…” Green eyes turned to Etherege. “But what aspiring member of the literati would I be if I hadn’t read a print of The Man of Mode or She Would if She Could? The former was my primer for life in London, and the latter taught a teenaged me…” A pause, and an easy smile returned to his face.

“’I cannot endure the torture of a lingering and consumptive passion…’” He chuckled, recalling a line of the play. “Perhaps it taught me little, but it deserved greater success than I understand it did. Charmed, Sir George.”

He quieted down as Francis began his story, cautiously taking a few sips of cognac once it arrived – the young Irishman was in high enough spirits as it is that, as explained earlier, he did not need to jeopardize his wits or…’functioning’ through overindulgence. Chatham was not the only one who gave a knowing expression – in James’ case a half-snort of amused familiarity and a long nod – at the mention of escaping through a palazzo window, and he too could recall the combination of mirth, tension, and decadence that came with the Italian celebration of Carnevale.

The story continued, and his eyes widened as the story reached its climax, impressed with Kingston’s swordfighting deeds – and the man’s storytelling ability. “Ha! A lady who would make an admirable main character…were I not trying to branch out.” More quietly, so as not to interrupt, he glanced at Ranelagh and muttered, “And to think I was in Florence at the time, pining over a lass with her Roman nose stuck in a book.”

Edited by James O`Neill
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Ranelagh could not help it, he continued his ruthless teasing. "Do they put spoons in their hat and use soup kettles as standards, Kingston?" He looked at the blond and raised a dark brow, touching the shapely facial hair on his chin. Chuckling, he looked at Sir George, "Don't forget that detail. Perhaps the character should be Francis Spoondale, Lord Kettleston?"


Sir George blushed some at the compliment from O'Neill. He was not known as Gentle George for no reason. "I wonder at the life you've led using such as a map," he said with a soft snicker. "What sort of writing acclaim do you aspire to?" 


Whilst Sir George said that, Ranelagh replied to Chatham's explanation. "Anyone who His Majesty finds amusing is welcomed to join us." He gave a salute of his glass. 


They then settled in to listen to Kingston's story which did not disappoint.


"Next comes the love-making part," Sir George guessed before clearing his glass with a liberal swig. 


"A lass with her Roman nose in a book could also make a good character," Ranelagh observed.

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Francis had no idea about spoons or kettles, and he had little idea how the others seemed to know more about it than he did. Turks notoriously did not welcome people of the continent like the English, French, German, Spanish, or Italians. The broadsheet slanders about him and the Ottomans came from his trade connections with one particular Şehzade, and there were dozens upon dozens of those, one of the same age as him who he had aided at sea. It was why he was even allowed to trade in Istanbul and how he knew they did have Christians (or former Christians) serving them as warriors. He'd never bothered learning what they were called. Or never had learned what they called them in English. 


What he did know is that they were exceedingly well-paid and equipped...not to mention formidable. 


He was half tempted to say that he escaped only with his spoon on his hat but went in to more pleasant stories of Carnavale.


"It was a pleasant surprise," he replied to Chatham. 


Turning to O'Neill he said, "And that is how I met Bianca."


To the group in general he continued, "In gratitude she took me home, and we spent many pleasant hours. It was not until later that evening when I saw her at an exclusive party on the arm of one of the richest patricians that I realized that she was a famed courtesan and that I surely could never have afforded her. Before I made England my home again rather than the sea, she would always make time for me in secret when I was in Venice doing business. Last Christmas was the first Carnavale I've missed in many years, and I doubt I will be able to go for it this year either."


"So, who is next to tell a tale? Chatham? O'Neill? I'm sure you have some good ones?"

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Charles sipped at his drink, appreciating both the liquor and the ending of Kingston's story.

"The brave deserve the fair," he said, raising his glass in salute and laughing shortly as Kingston asked who would next tell a story. 

"Well, so challenged, I'll venture one," he said, sorting through his mental library for a fitting yarn to spin.

Ah. Perfect.

"I shall continue, I think, on the themes Kingston established, but the setting shall move but a little in time and space," he began, timbre of his voice shifting slightly as he warmed to his task.

"The beginning of July in Tuscany, gentlemen. Picture it, if you have been, and if not I shall attempt to paint it for you, doomed though my efforts are to fall short – glorious sunlight shining from a glorious sky, blue the way it only ever is in art or a Tuscan summer, the countryside a beautiful golden ochre, and the air itself like wine." He sighed. "For sheer beauty, nowhere has ever excelled Tuscany under the summer sun for me. It is no coincidence that so much art and poetry flows from there, for it focuses a man's mind on the finer things, as Master O'Neill might attest, if his aquiline Florentine lady and her books held him bespelled until summer."

"And at the heart of this golden paradise, crowning the countryside as it crowns the hills upon which it stands, its spires piercing the heavens, stands Siena."

"Now, as you may or may not know, the beginning of July is a special time in Siena, for it is when they hold the Palio. A horse race, ten horses, representing ten randomly selected of the seventeen contrade, or wards, of the city, running three laps around the Piazza del Campo. It's ridden bareback, and it is not uncommon for several riders to be thrown, which of course only adds to an already magnificent spectacle. Winning is a matter of immense pride to the contrade, and so gambling and attempted cheating are rife."

He took another sip of his drink.

"The palio was what had originally brought me to Siena, and I had placed a wager of my own, on the horse representing the Oca contrade, but on this particular evening, the very eve of the race, it was very far from my mind. You see, my eye had been taken by a saucy piece, as fair as a Tuscan summer, whose husband was aged and oft away on business. My interest was thus returned, and that night we intended to see those interests realised to our mutual satisfaction. Alas, men plan and God laughs. The husband, who should have been away all night attending to some civic matter, returned early and unexpectedly, leaving me perforce to make my exit via the balcony, thoroughly frustrated."

He shook his head mock-ruefully and laughed.

"I repaired to a tavern, to nurse my grievance, and it was after dark when I left to return to my lodgings. I chose to walk, for I was in truth not that inebriated and felt the need to burn a little energy. But it was dark, and the streets and landmarks unfamiliar, and I got quite turned around until I found myself at last by a stable. The stable of the Oca contrade, as it happened, from which came light and raised voices, threats of death and worse. Most unusual I thought, and then remembered that I had wagered a not-inconsiderable sum on a horse currently stabled within. I would have to protect my investment from any possible foul play, I decided, and went in."

His lips curved in fond remembrance without his noticing.

"There were three bravi within, typical of their sort – strutting sewer rats and bully boys, reliant on size and fury, spewing their threats as though sound and vitriol alone would serve as a cudgel – and, facing them, a most atypical young woman. Proud as any queen, wild as a tigress, and magnificently, volcanically angry. Tall and fair and terrible, Penthesilea in the flesh."

Charles shook his head. "I am no artist, gentlemen, and oil and canvas could not hope to contain her even if I was, but I dearly wished to be at that moment, for even the tenth part would have been a masterwork."

He roused himself and continued.

"Naturally, I did as any gentleman would, finding a lady so menaced. I strode in to confront the bravi and told them that, while I could understand why they might have thought to find their mothers working in a stable, they had in fact found men sufficiently drunk to purchase their services two streets over. The sewer rats, evidently sensitive souls, took exception to this, and went for their blades."

"Now, three on one is difficult, very difficult, but I had two advantages. The first was that the rapier, while a supremely excellent weapon, does require a relatively large space to draw safely, and I had been very careful to close to just within that distance when I entered. Thus, when the biggest of them (whom I assumed to be the leader on account of his size) went to draw, I simply stepped smartly in, trapped the wrist of his sword hand with my right hand, and put him down with my dagger, a faster draw and a much handier weapon in close confines."

"My second advantage was that my opponents had turned their backs on Penthesilea, who seized the offered opportunity and smashed one of them flat with a bucket over the head. He dropped, dead or senseless. The third, evincing greater courage than I suspected of him, came for me. I pushed the body of the first at him, so I could draw my own rapier, and, well, he was the sweepings of the gutter, aggression with neither art nor science. I put him down too, though not as cleanly as I might have liked. I had not quite fully adjusted to the loss of my eye, you see."

He tapped a finger to his eye-patch.

"That unpleasant business attended to, and stable hands summoned to see to the equally unpleasant task of removing the bravi, I naturally offered to escort my Amazon back to her home. Her name, she told me as we walked, was Serafina, and she was the bastard daughter of the man from whose stables the Oca contrade had selected their horse for the Palio. She had been looking in on the beast when the bravi arrived, intending mischief. Oh, she was something, though. It was not features or form – she, too, had a very Roman nose and a strong chin to boot – but there was a certain je ne sais quoi to her, in the way she moved and spoke and looked at you, that fired the blood. She was a creature of passion, I suppose, as was I, and that brief fracas had roused those passions in us both. It seemed natural, then, that having accompanied her to her door I should accompany her a little further for a while longer."

Charles grinned. "I passed a most pleasant night, albeit a far from restful one." The grin became rueful as he approached the last little sting in the tail of his tale.

"Unfortunately horses are fussy, sensitive creatures, and the beast I had wagered on and helped save came stone dead last the next day, but frankly I would have held it cheap at ten times the price."

He laughed and drained his cup.


(OOC: Dear God, this one got away from me once the writer's block broke. Sorry!)

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James snickered alongside Ranelagh’s quip at Kingston’s expense, despite himself – perhaps he was not quite close enough with Buckingham’s cub as to claim to know the workings of his mind, but there were scandals and then there were scandals. Some were worth owning, others – such as those in the broadsheets – seemed more like to be irritating in the best-case scenario.

Unfortunately, just as James’ wit was quicker than his wisdom, so was his reaction to wit. At least Etherege provided an easy out. Modest, hm? Or…? “I cannot politely speak as to the quality of the life yet lived,” he replied to the older playwright wrily. “But as to acclaim…ah, hm. With little disrespect intended, sir, I share not your generation’s love for Thalia. The soul of the Gael is in poesy, tragic and divine. Which is why I say that I failed to fully digest the lessons of your work.”

His eyes sparkled with mischief, resisting the urge to expound upon Etherege’s rejection of lingering, consumptive passion. Instead, he joined in the salute to Kingston’s story, throwing back a moderate amount of cognac in appreciation. “You’ve a poet’s soul, my lord. That was a sonnet writ in the blood of a damned fool bravo. The metre, ah…” He made a gesture with his hands, as if grabbing a woman by the waist.

Chatham volunteered to offer the next story, allowing him a moment to think of one of his own, get the measure of the man, and most importantly, finally eat something. This tale, too, involved swordplay, but was equally entertaining, prompting James to first quip, “Egads, gentlemen. Were you not told that it is indeed very possible to swive in Italy without shedding blood?” Chuckling, he grinned more directly at Chatham, and added approvingly, “A fine tale, and an intriguing lass, this Serafina. Before your arrival, I had told Kingston that I find the Italian spirit perfectly balanced in sin and sophistication, but Toscana is where that spirit is most tempered, would you not agree?”

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Etherege snickered, "He both called us old, Richie, and insinuated our 'generations' lesser creative endeavors in our love for Comedy!" He chuckled. "Just whose court do you think you've arrived in, O'Neill to criticize the value of Thalia!" He had a good laugh at that before they all settled in to listen to Chatham following Kingston's story.


The pair laughed and clapped at the various ups and downs of the narrative. Ranelagh had far more appreciation for the endings where one ended up bedding the lady all night long. Etherege, whilst married and having bed a woman before, took little true pleasure from those endeavors but faked it nevertheless.


"Ladies are so impressed with swords," Ranelagh said to the pair and their tales of rapier.


"Now, we shall hear if O'Neill has mastered a lady into bed with his quill?" Etherege added, turning to James to next tell a story of conquest. 


"You do say it's possible to swive in Italy without bloodshed," added Ranelagh. "Let us hear the first-hand experience."

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"I think my cousin, the Duke, would be pleased to hear it," Francis said to James of his 'Poet's soul,' for Buckingham would have found that perfectly suited to the family lineage. Poems and fucking both. He chuckled and then turned his attention to Chatham.


The detail of his tale was far more given to a vivid picturing of the event. Francis had never seen the horse race in Siena, but he had heard of it. Many towns did lesser versions for men ever did like any activity which could get them killed in some grand spectacle in front of crowds. The Italians had perfected such macabre interests since ancient times and it did not seem to have lessens very much over the years.


"Bravo, Chatham! Three at once. My my. You certainly beat my tale of two!" he said, with good-natured cheer. "Let us have food brought before these tales and their toasts have us unable to stagger back to the castle or stagger into the arms of one of the denizens of The White."


He waved over one of the girls and ordered the best offering of the night in food - at least for now - for the group.


"There are some gambles certainly worth taking whether you win or not."


As the others turned their attention to O'Neill, Francis did as well.

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"Oh, I've managed it on occasion," Charles said, eye twinkling with appreciation for O'Neill's quip, "but I find that having just walked away from wagering one's life and skin on the speed and skill of your eye, hand and foot adds a certain... spice, shall we say?" His grin widened. "And as Lord Ranelagh says, a prettily flourished rapier can serve a man as the peacock's tailfeathers serve him, with the right sort of woman."

Which was not infrequently the best sort of woman, or at least the most exciting, which was generally the same thing in his mind.

He swirled his cognac, savouring the scent as he savoured James' description of the Italian character.

"Perfectly balanced in sin and sophistication," he mused. "An appropriately poetic notion. An accurate one, too, I think. And I agree – an alloy forged best in Tuscany. There is a certain... earthiness in the Tuscan character that improves the metal as charcoal does steel."

Kingston then ordered food, which was probably for the best Charles decided. He could, and frequently did, ignore demands of his appetite but he was also enough of a voluptuary and a sensualist to take great pleasure in a good meal.

And I have drank a not inconsiderable amount today, and could use the soakage.

"I only really had to fight one," he said to Kingston with a shrug as the serving maid left the table, "and had planned for that from the start. I knew, or at least thought it very likely, that Serafina could put one down or hold him occupied if I could draw and keep their attention, and I was certain that I could deal with one immediately if I could get close enough. I honestly expected the third at that point, but perhaps his employer was a proper ogre, and scared him more than I did."

He settled back and turned his attention to James, adding his encouragement to Ranelagh's and Etherege's.

"A poet's quill must be at least serviceable a peacock's tail as a rapier," he mused.

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(OOC: Jesus Christ I couldn't stop myself here)

“I made no such insinuation, sir!” James retaliated, grinning at Etheredge. “But there is a time to laugh, and a time to feel. If Thalia were to reign supreme over Melpomene and Polyhymnia, her value was depreciate. The inverse holds true as well…but t’is not those two muses fair who have held the reigns for London’s literati, hm?”

To Chatham, he nodded with great enthusiasm. “They say the Tuscan brilliance has started to fade.” Pisa in particular, he recalled, had struck him as a city somewhat in decay, a palace whose paint was chipping and stone starting to crumble. “But it is rot that replenishes the soil – sin that gives sophistication its meaning.

He was, in fact, starving, but the conversation at hand was a fascinating one – and it seemed that it was now his turn to tell a tale. There were stories he could tell of courtesans, too, and catamites as well – but neither were as compelling or relevant to the banter between the group as the origin story of his first truly torrid affair. James tossed back a large gulp of cognac, bracing himself to tell the story, and began: “Ah, well. I had said to Kingston before the three of you arrived, my lords, that I had my own Bianca.”

“Now, I was in Florence to study for awhile under what they call the Accademia e Compagnia, which is ran by a local guild of artisans but frequented by the scions of the Medici court, while also being tutored in the science of the poetics privately at the house of my host, Don Pietro Sangallo.” The poet’s eyes darted around between the assembled lords as he contextualized the introduction, “Besides Ranelagh here, I do not know how familiar those of you are with the Gaelic nobility of Ireland, gentlemen, but the O’Neills and O’Donnells have many cousins in Spain, and it is through them that we have trade relations with families like the Sangallos.

His smirk grew sharp. “All of which is to say that I was expected to be respectful in the utmost of what was the don’s, which included, of course, his daughter. I am possessed of enough restraint, believe it or not, to uphold this…but when the daughter in question has the look of a Cleopatra – nose and all – and a caustic wit to surpass that of a great satirist, well…our minds may lack hearts, but the inverse is not so true.”

“I was smitten, and I am unafraid to admit that. No poet should be.”

Sighing pleasantly, he went on. “Now, then, I have ever had a reasonable command of the Italian language, but t’is one thing to speak a tongue, and another to write in it. But…being an even younger fool than I am presently, it seemed the done thing to win Bianca over with my poetry. Heavens above, my friends, I tried, I did. My first attempt was a sonnet in that decadent tongue – it prompted naught but a bemused shake of her delicate head, her curls bouncing in a way that has never truly left my mind.” As if to accompany that point, James’ own dark curls swayed somewhat as he made a similar gesture.

“The second, she laughed at, and justifiably so: my attempts to praise her skillful means and striking visage came out clumsy, marking me the obvious foreigner.” The Irishman chuckled, recalling that laughter. “Weeks later, I attempted it again, reciting one of Petrarch’s works to her while walking through the market with a chaperone. This, you might expect, gave itself up rather quickly: “my” poem was too good to be my own.”

“Ah, but I grew sick, my lords, that way one only can when they give themselves emotionally to another. That was my fault, my sin, my true stupidity, but apart from my previous time in Spain and tour of the rest of Italy, I had never left Ireland. Never truly fallen for anyone. Foolish stuff, in other words. But one day, the muse came to me. Etherege’s muse, in fact, dearest Thalia.”

He looked at the playwright, eyebrows raised, as if daring him to say something, raised his glass in silent salute, before taking a sip and pressing on.

“For Bianca was too clever by half, but had a bully of a cousin, one whose mother had risen high as a lady-in-waiting to the Grand Duchess. It is not often that villains are as ugly as their hearts are, but this girl…mmm, it would be easier to list off what flaws she didn’t have as opposed to the ones she did. And by Jove, was she cruel – I knew she had to be taken down.

Consequently, I took it upon myself to pen an anonymous poem “hailing” each of her cousin’s awful attributes – the primitive brow she possessed, the jutting teeth, and so on – without telling Bianca, having it sent to her quarters at the palazzo.” The poet made another slight shake of his head, exhaling through his nose. “And so, the next time she visited Don Pietro’s, I was armed to defend Bianca – each snide insinuation or act of aggression upon another at the Sangallo estate was met with a reference to this poem, until she grew so irate that the Don had to banish me to my room for that evening…only to be graced by Bianca once it was certain that I was alone.”

His smirk having returned to bare a dimple, James concluded the tale: “Two nights later, I learned precisely what Kingston means when he speaks of jumping from a palazzo window, once it was ascertained that the lady’s quarters were much more plushly appointed.” Finally, he glanced over at Chatham, and added, "'twould have been easier to take up the rapier, even if it ended with my corpse in some God-forsaken alley. But that was how I learned to brandish a quill as a weapon - and that every muse has her place."

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"Biancas must be most troublesome creatures," Ranelagh said, snickering. He waved a hand for James to continue.


"Ahhh, young love," Etherege put in at the appropriate moment. "Haven't we all been struck by one we seemingly cannot have for one reason or another?" Of course, in Etherege's case, they were mostly male. He had gotten himself a rich heiress wife last year, though, so there was something to be said for a woman.


"I don't know about you, but I've always gotten the ones I've wanted," Ranelagh teased. He doubted the company had any idea that he and George had been fucking friends for over a decade. Ranelagh, though, had an equal taste for women and the effusive charm to make it difficult to believe he entertained other men. 


They laughed raucously as the bully was described. Bullies oft had many bad qualities for only such things made one so loathesome. 


The room was consumed by barking laughs. Nobody could get a word out for laughing.


"You got a woman by being sent to your room for being a naughty boy by her father!!!" Ranelagh finally managed between breaths and laughs, shaking a faux fatherly finger at James. "Go to your room young man, you misbehaving Irishman!"


"Oh yes, go to your roooooom," Etherege finished in his most female voice. "Naughty boy."


They tittered more at the mimicry. 

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