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Choosing a Gambit, early evening, 15th September

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First Floor: Octagonal Tower

This is where Very Important Persons, Ambassadors & Dukes will stay. Here you will find the following NPCs: Duke of Norfolk & Family, Duke of Ormonde & Family, Duke of Albemarle & Wife, Duke of Lauderdale & Wife


Like the main tower, the octagonal tower is also raised, piano nobile. The door to an apartment is apparent on the left, to the south, while the landing and staircase leading below is directly opposite against the northwest wall, the foot of the stairs leading to the next floor located immediately to the right, against the northeast wall. Little porcelain doves and royal blue velvet bows have been hung on the doorknob of the apartment as well as along the balustrade and stair banisters, affixed there with silver bows. 


First Floor The Versailles Parlor


Inspired by the palace of the Sun King, this parlor is lavishly decorated, with gold detail bordering where the white wall meets the ceiling and the floor. There is grand fireplace on the outside wall, which provides enough heat for the entire room. Large mirrors line one wall in imitation of the hall of mirrors at Louis the XIV’s palace, creating the illusion that there is more space in the room than there really is. The large parlor is littered with end tables sporting fine vases, as well as comfortable spaces to sit and socialize. Of course, a cabinet of fine spirits is accessible to all guests in this room.


Pensive by nature and over-analytical by habit, Cadell Mortimer typically had an above-average amount of difficulty when it came to crawling too deep inside his own head. There were a variety of excuses for this sort of behavior – intellectual curiosity rewarded introspection, a deeply-held Catholic faith rewarded guilt, his childhood being what it was – but today his problem seemed to be much the opposite. By all that was holy, he could not seem to get inside his mind long enough to focus and plan.

This could be blamed on his generous portion of early afternoon drinks, perhaps, or the fogginess that emerged from a wholly-unsatisfying late afternoon nap following said drinks, the latter being of the sort that set one back from their pre-nap aspirations. Ultimately, however, the cause of this distraction was irrelevant. The sum result was that Athenry, having no great desire for a meal, lacking the discipline to read, and with enough of an ache in his leg that a walked sounded unpleasant, had decided to regain his wits with a round of chess..

Athenry had not gone far to set up his chessboard, shrugging back on his dark blue Tourangeau justacorps over his grey waistcoat embroidered a la Turque, forgoing the red ribbon from earlier but keeping the matching heels. The Frenchness of his outfit was well-matched by the surrounding environment, for “not far” in this instance meant a likely-looking end table in the Versailles Parlor, free of the vases that adorned most of the flat surfaces in the room and conveniently near the fireplace. The board was not especially large, so that he might reach across the table and play the black side with ease, for he hadn’t thought to invite another on such short notice.

Stalwart Duncan, a tall, well-built footman of an age with his master, stood off to the side and near the door to their apartment – a pity that the man had little taste for such games, for playing against oneself was more of an intellectual exercise than an actual game, but he had little idea of his wife’s present whereabouts and was uncertain if she’d ever held an interest in chess to begin with. “Perhaps a varied set of strategies…” Athenry mused aloud, moving a white knight as that side’s opening move. Black would retaliate by making a play for the center of the board with their pawns, and so on…

“Not even a recommendation, Duncan?” He inquired after his servant with a snort, idly glancing at the stairway to the parlor. “Fine, but were my opponent not so fearsome, I would deposit the burden of my inevitable defeat on you.”

Edited by Cadell Mortimer
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The first several moves of the match played out according to plan – a statement that might have seemed asinine, at first, but the idea for Cadell was to focus on his improvisation, and in the doing hone his mid-game. White maneuvered its knights into skirmishing position, allowing that side to castle and shore up its defense. Playing that side, he thought to look for openings, to chip away at Black until they could maneuver for the checkmate.

It was tedious, of course, to consider the metaphorical nature of that strategy – It was not wholly unlike the viscount’s current vision, cultivating friends and getting something of a reputation. It had not seen major success, of course, but it was a new(ish) notion. But to focus overly much on such a played-out metaphor was incredibly trite, like something out of an Italian play.

Chess was what the educated did when they wanted to remind others that they were educated. There was no need to sully it further by introducing literary elements to it.

“Cheeky of Beverley,” Athenry considered aloud with a glance towards Duncan, not for the first time. “We have the ducal crowd, of course,” this likely being the reason to have been assigned quarters on this floor. He reached across the table, moving a knight. “But surely there were other options.”

Duncan, for his part, gave a non-committal shrug.

On the other side of the table, with that knight moved, Black had completed its quest for the center of the board. It was a typical, bold strategy, perhaps obvious and a little juvenile, but to a newer opponent, it could be an intimidating one. ’Twas hardly formidable, reciting some doggerel and cutting a deal with the Privy Purse, he considered. But it did work…

Damn it, he was doing it again.

Trite or no, Cadell continued to echo the thought aloud, as White brought a bishop out to threaten Black’s center. “Brought me to where I am now.” A soft chuckle. “Playing chess on my own, whilst trying not to look too deeply into it, hm?"

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The day had been quite windy, and after her outing to the main street of Windsor, Eleanor had thought better of further time spent outside, despite her burning desire to investigate the gardens, and orangery, of the castle. It was a difficult decision, but she had no desire to be seen coming back inside looking windswept and frazzled, both for her own dignity and lest someone suspect such might be due to the attentions of something other than the wind. After her time in the library she had retired to her rooms to rest, take a light meal and change into a modest evening gown of lavender silk, the borders of which she had embroidered with the nodding heads of spring bluebells, and the occasional tiny bee. She complimented this with her necklace, earrings and bracelet of alternating enamelled violets and single pearls, and changed out her sandlewood fan for her ostrich feather one, still with the blue ribbons attached from the previous day. That would do nicely. Mary re-did her hair and added the matching violet-and-pearl pins, and with a touch-up to her makeup Eleanor felt ready to venture into the unknown once more. 

By all accounts there were any number of places where courtiers might gather and find their ease, but after the busy nature of the library, one particular of which she'd heard intrigued Eleanor. The Versailles Parlour had been described as echoing the splendour of the Sun King's palace, and the thought of such magnificence was too great a temptation. With her chaperone Mary in tow, carrying a wicker basket, Eleanor had crossed the short distance to the Octagonal tower and made her way up to the first floor. Feeling a little as though she was intruding on the quarters of the high and mighty, she never the less located the parlour exactly where she'd been led to expect it. Oh, and wasn't it marvelous! Stepping inside, she couldn't help but look around at the gold decoration, large mirrors and fine vases set on even finer furniture. How exquisite!

Muttered words made Eleanor realise that she was not alone in the room. Blushing deeply, her fan raised almost to hide her entire face in embarassment, she peered over it at the gentleman sitting before the chessboard, what must be his valet or personal servant with him. "I do apologise sir, I did not mean to intrude." She said politely, thinking that perhaps the gentleman had come in here for some peace and quiet, away from the prattle of women, as she'd heard her father once describe. 


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Reaching across the table, Athenry toyed with a pawn for a long moment, thinking an instantaneous reaction more befitting of Black’s strategy. Giving personality to the sides in a chess match against myself, he silently chided himself, setting down the pawn and moving Black’s queen out instead. Certainly indicative of a healthy mind.

Before this little intellectual exercise could continue, let alone become muddled by the introduction of fictional characters, there was an interruption: a woman’s voice, coming from behind a fan, the viscount having apparently been too immersed in thought to notice her entrance. She was young, he surmised, if not from her mostly-obscured face then from her use of the word “I” whilst being accompanied by another woman – something he thought to be indicative of that other woman’s role as a chaperone, and therefore not to be minded. “An intrusion upon whom?” He asked with a polite smile, his Welsh lilt quite muted but still present enough to be recognized.

“This is a parlor, not my apartment, and to my inestimable dismay I don’t recall having a castle of my own.” Athenry chuckled a bit, shaking his head once. Worried that his light banter might come across the wrong way to a young lady who already seemed to be quite embarrassed, he added quickly, “Furthermore, any embarrassment at present should belong to the fool who is having a conversation with himself in a public area.”

“Or may as well be,” he put in, glancing at a stoic Duncan. “A grand room though, isn’t it? It lacks some of the touches of the original, but…” His voice trailed off as he shrugged, almost instantly chiding himself yet again – Saints alive, he had to stop referencing Versailles in every conversation.

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She was worried that she might have disturbed the man, who seemed very deeply engrossed in his game, and might object to the intrusion of others. But he answered mildly enough, and this was a public space, which was why she'd come, though if he'd implied that she wasn't welcome she would of course have turned immediately and left. She lowered her fan to her chin and even smiled a little when he joked about not having a castle of his own. "Castles look grand, but modern manors are far more comfortable." She opined shyly, thinking that if he had anything it was more likely the latter. Though he did have a touch of an accent, lilting tones that suggested he might be Welsh, and she seemed to recall that Wales was said to be filled with castles. Did that mean he was untitled, or was she reading far too much into his comment?

If he'd been talking to himself, or to his servant whom she could see, she wouldn't comment on it. A gentleman might do as he pleased, within reason. RStill the topic of the room itself was very welcome. "It is grand." She agreed easily; there was no other way to describe it. But... "You have been to Versailles?" She asked, eyes widening, noting his reference to the original. That must have been a magical experience, or at least it would be to her. There had been no reason for her to travel during her upbringing, though of course she spoke French and Latin and knew those things that a young lady should know. Oh but to see the Sun King's palace for herself!

"Would you mind if I were to sit and sew quietly?" She asked, glancing at the number of convenient spaces about the room where one might secrete one's self. "I promise I shall not bother you." She added, assuming that he would want to get back to the game that was clearly so engrossing him. 

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The girl contended that castles were less comfortable than modern manors, prompting Athenry’s lips to quirk up slightly, slightly confused about her response. “That much is true,” he agreed. “But boyhood fantasies deal with less comfort, more on the image of being an armored knight and hero to a realm.”

Doubly so for those that could never be the modern equivalent, but had nonetheless absorbed stories about their intrepid ancestors, the king-making House of Mortimer, who disgraced themselves in a bid for the throne entirely.

When she asked about Versailles, the Welsh viscount nodded, smile growing from polite to quite pleased to discuss the matter. “I spent much of a year there, following my wedding, when not in Paris proper,” he explained. “To deem it grand would be comically insufficient; it is a work of art, the choreography of a ballet to which its courtiers dance. Whether that is a good or bad thing is the matter of interpretation.”

The English court was much more lax in its standards, and free in a number of ways that Versailles would never be, by design. But le Roi had managed to demonstrate the glory and might of France with a single building.

“That said, both Whitehall and Windsor have a distinct advantage, in that perfume is not a necessary tool for surviving a day there.” Chuckling to himself, he beckoned the young lady over as she asked if she might sit and sew, endeavoring to sound reassuring. “You may do as you please, my lady…although I suppose I wouldn’t be fortunate enough for you to wish to join a chess match?”

"And would you first do me the honor of an introduction, madame?" Cadell’s grey eyes remained on her as he gestured to the board, slowly rising to his feet. His other hand gripped a cane, ivory handle in the shape of a raven’s head, steadying himself before bowing in the girl’s direction. “Viscount Athenry, at your service."

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It was Eleanor's turn to smile slightly as the gentleman admitted that castles featured more prominently in childhood fantasies of nights and chivalry. Stories were lovely, but they were just stories. Armour looked heavy, castles were cold and draughty if not modernised. Eleanor had been warned against the unreality of stories and fairy tales, especially ones involving handsome princes and dashing young men who fell madly in love with you. Such things existed in the realm of fantasy only, but then didn't the Welsh have a reputation as storytellers? Perhaps this gentleman was something of a Romantic. "I am sure that there is more than one way to be a hero." She suggested quietly. After all, the stories of King Arthur spoke much of chivalry and worthiness; of helping those who could not help themselves. 

He had been to Versaille! And he even described it a little for her. Eleanor listened, enchanted and slightly amused by his last observation. There was a fine line between opulence and excess. She drew closer as he beckonned her, entertained by his comparison to survival in Whitehall and Windsor, though it took her a moment to puzzle out his meaning. Perfume made one smell pleasant; or hid a smell. Of course, the French do not bathe... "The scents of French courtiers aside, I am envious of your time spent in France." She said pleasantly, moving towards the chair across from him as he indicated, her gaze falling on the board as the gentleman asked if she might join him in a match. She had planned to sew, but this might be more interesting. "I would be happy to join you." She replied, since it was his preference. "Though with the caveat that I am no grand-master." Not that it was any shame for a lady to lose to a gentleman; rather it was expected. But she had certainly played with her mother and other ladies, and occasionally with her father. 

Ah, yes, introductions. As her chaperone set her basket down near her feet and retreated slightly, she watched the gentleman grip his cane to rise to his feet, clearly using it for more than just fashion. Perhaps that explained some of his wistfulness at the idea of being an old-style knight; some injury prevented such aspirations, even as the age moved on. It drew on her sympathy, she knew what it was to be so marked. "A pleasure, Viscount Athenry." She replied pleasantly with a graceful curtsey, the lavender silk of her skirts billowing outwards as she did so. "Eleanor Bayning, daughter of Viscount Bayning." She said, offering her hand for a kiss should he feel so inclined. Though, given his cane, she was careful to not lift her hand too far until he raised his own, in case he might need to ignore the gesture; then she could pretend that she hadn't done it. 

"I trust that you've had a pleasant day." She said as they resumed their seats, looking at the chess board and waiting to see whether he would re-set it, or ask her to take up the game that was half-complete. 

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Her response was a young girl’s response, entirely civil, mildly optimistic, and provoking the innate current of cynicism within Cadell’s psyche that so often warred with his resolute insistence that one day, he would prove an effective advocate for his causes. “Perhaps, madame, perhaps,” he considered, rubbing the scruff of his chin. “But few means of herois are quite so glamorous as the chivalry of old.”

Content to leave his silly childhood fantasies where they were, in the past, Eleanor might have noticed his eyes brighten up a bit, his features relax somewhat upon shifting the talk to France. “Travel has been the most illuminating experience of my twenty-five years. Should your family or future husband ever offer you the chance to go abroad, you would do well avail yourself of it.” As she made to join him, he smiled approvingly, not having had truly expected the young lady to have an interest in chess.

“Nothing quite reveals truths in human nature as observing the interactions of other cultures amongst themselves…although I was ruminating earlier if chess could not be taken similarly, were that not an entirely pretentious outlook.” A quiet, lilting laugh of obvious self-deprecation accompanied that statement.

The introductions were made, and Athenry grabbed his cane with his left hand to take hers, raising it enough for the customary kiss. “Enchanté, Mistress Eleanor – and you have my most sincere gratitude, for you having courtesy enough to humor a stranger in the mood for a friendly game.” When they sat again, he rotated the board so that the white pieces were hers, setting it back up. “I’ll even allow you the honor of the first move.”

“As to my day…” His words became a slight drawl, considering. I met a friend, and got half-drunk with an astronomer while debating toleration and the execution of Lady Jane Grey. “I’ll say that I’m rather pleased to have returned to court, even somewhat optimistic about what the season may bring. How have you found Windsor?” Bayning was an unfamiliar name, so he was curious as to what ties Eleanor may have brought with her to court.

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  • 3 weeks later...

But few means of heroism are quite so glamorous as the chivalry of old.

Perhaps that was true, or perhaps that was because one looked on the past with a kindly eye, though she could well understand his yearning for such. She loved old stories and legends as well, imagining the court of King Arthur and the daring deeds of his Knights. Still...  her mother often said that the eye of imagination was kinder than the eye of reality. Eleanor might have said as much, but her companion was happy to move on, speaking instead of the pleasure of travel and encouraging her to take the opportunity, should she ever be presented with it. "I should like that." She admitted with a shy smile. She'd never been given cause to travel beyond England; the idea of seeing somewhere more exotic was truly enticing. 

She smiled mildly at his comment on culture as a reflection of human nature, and then chess as the same. Was that a pretentious outlook? "Both are social interactions, according to a set of rules." She observed, noting the similarity. And surely there had to be rules, else where would be anarchy. "What do you think a game of chess might reveal about another's nature?" She asked, interested. He seemed a contemplative fellow, and many men had academic educations and pursued very interesting lines of thought. She'd been told that one might learn a lot by listening. 

As soon as he made to kiss her hand she raised it further, making the act as easy as possible given his reliance on his cane, lowering her gaze and dimpling prettily. It was nice to have the polite attention of a gentleman. Seating themselves once more, Viscount Athenry spun the newly reset board around, offering her the opening move. "That is very kind of you." She replied. Since he was keen to play she would not delay, but opened with the King's pawn to E4, a fairly standard opening, then listened as he kindly answered her question about his day. A good start in his eyes, which was what one would wish. 

"I admit, I found the Reception a little dazzling." She revealed, seeing no harm in honesty. "But very enjoyable, and I was most pleased that I am able to be present. I am here with my mother's cousin, Lord Grey." She added by way of explanation. It was her first season at court, and she was somewhat resigned to that being obvious. Clearly it was not Lord Athenry's since he said he was pleased to have returned. "Were you away from court for a time?" She asked, wondering whether he was referring to having missed a season, or simply to being away during recess. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

First impressions could be deceiving, as the cliché went, but the lady seemed to possess at least half a brain, as demonstrated by her interpretation of his chess-based analogy. Kind, as well, he would note in a few moments – it did not go unnoticed that she raised her hand slightly higher than normal.“Ah, well,” Athenry began, shoulders relaxing somewhat. “I’d once had this conversation with my friend the Earl of Chichester. Given that a decent chess player anticipates the next move, while a talented player is able to direct the flow of the moves…”

A hint of scarlet flushed his cheeks, the viscount suddenly realizing he was shifting into one of his pedantic moods. “I would then propose that chess suggests how an individual pursues their own ambitions. Chichester, for example, is bold on the board and not dissimilar in his day-to-day. Whereas I…”

He laughed. “I will not reveal my strategy to you just yet, madame.”

In fact, he played rather defensively, preferring to seek openings rather than make them. “Again, the kindness is all yours, for humoring me.” Most young ladies, he assumed, would much rather go about their day, exploring or stitching or…whatever it was that they did. He tried for a cautious response to her opening, as the game began and they spoke of their days, moving a pawn to C4 – a noted defense* for Black to test the strategy of White.

“Ah, apologies,” he muttered, scrutinizing the chess board. “I was away only in the sense that court was not in session. We stayed in Chelsea for the summer.”It was only natural to be pleased (and “dazzled”, come to think of it – he had felt much the same at the Royal Wedding) by one’s presence at court. “What a coincidence,” Cadell mused. “I have just made the acquaintance of Lord Grey. We spoke at length on a number of different subjects – your uncle strikes me as something of a polyhistor, hm?” And something of an avid drinker. He’d made no effort to keep up with the baron’s, once the latter got truly into the conversation.

*The Sicilian defense, apparently analyzed multiple times between the 16th and 18th centuries.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Given that a decent chess player anticipates the next move, while a talented player is able to direct the flow of the moves…

Eleanor listened as Lord Athenry gave his views on the nature of chess and it's players, and what a person's play said about them. To be able to direct the flow of movement on the board... ah, to have such skill and grasp of tactics. She supposed it was no different at court or in any other interaction; a decent player anticipates, a talented player guides and directs. And those who were neither were swept along for the ride. Eleanor feared the latter fate, though it was so much more common for women, who had much less control over the paths of their own lives. But even her mother had indicated that there were feminine ways to navigate such situations. One, she had decided, was to gather information, and the best way to do that was by listening, which she did so with interest. Athenry felt that Chichester, whom she had not met, was bold both in the board and in his day to day doings; that was worth remembering. She dimpled then when he laughed and stopped just short of revealing his own strategy to her. "Then I shall have to let you show me." She replied, amused that he had not been so easily caught out. She enjoyed the more intellectual banter. 

His first move was defensive, bringing out a pawn to C5, offset from her own first move. It could however be a defense of invitation she felt, inviting her to over-extend her own pieces. But Eleanor was not so bold nor over-confident, rather a careful soul. So after a few moments' consideration, she moved her knight to C3, to back up her pawn and potentially open up her field a little. 

"Ah, of course." She demurred as Athenry confirmed that he'd only been away for the off season, and not missed a season of court. Still, the idea of being able to travel overseas during that time was quite enchanting. As was the idea of having a summer home in Chelsea. Really, the thought that she had so much to look forward to in her future, if she played her cards - or chess pieces - right, was a warming one. Still, she was a little surprised to hear that he had already met Henry, if perhaps heartened just a touch by it. Perhaps court was not so big and overwhelming after all. "He is quite the academic." She agreed, when Athenry asked, though the fact that Henry had been the younger son and well settled into a life of academia wasn't her information to give. "I can only assume you have academic tendencies yourself, Lord Athenry." She added a little shyly, thinking that if he'd had an involved conversation with her uncle, then they must have had things in common to talk about. He was certainly well educated philosophically, but then one expected that in a gentleman. 

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Eleanor kept up quite well, conversationally, an endearing trait for a lady of her age. Educated (or at the very least clever) women were a credit to their sex, a view supported by Athenry’s foremost hero, the martyred Sir Thomas More. “See, such a move could bely one of two things,” he observed. “Either your knight moves forth to scout out an offensive, which would be in line with your earlier exploration of this parlor. Or…” The viscount looked up from the chessboard, modifying his earlier plan by moving a pawn to E5.

A strategy had begun to unfold before his eyes, but he’d wait to see what Eleanor had in mind before confirming that. “Or you might be fortifying the center, lying in wait.” His grey eyes searched for hers, curious to see if they would betray any reaction. While not quite the model of sprezzatura, Versailles had taught him the value of knowing when to affect disinterest and when to demonstrate the opposite.

“Naturally, I do not expect an answer.” Cadell laughed softly, a brief, amused thing, frankly grateful that somebody had joined him for a game, If I could only get Louise to play… It seemed unlikely, but on the other hand, he could also see Portsmouth as having some talent at the game. Those tears were not always simple tears, he’d come to realize. “As to your question…”

“I haven’t your uncle’s official experience as a Fellow of any university of note, but…” The viscount paused, considering how to answer that question, remembering something he told Lady Toledo. “Being unable to participate in most of the things young boys do,” a pause as he glanced meaningfully to his cane, “books were ever my closest friends, and my mother imparted upon me the meaning of faith. Later, my education taught me that all the Lord’s children are citizens of the world, and I began to pursue knowledge meant to be in line with that maxim.”

“My interests differ somewhat from your uncle, then, as he is quite the natural philosopher, but I am drawn more towards theology, linguistics, and the humanist disciplines such as history and moral philosophy. And that…” Scarlet crept up the back of his neck and graced the part of his cheeks not covered in stubble. “That is far more information than you asked for, Mistress Eleanor.” Still blushing, he reached into the pocket of his justacorps and pulled a pewter flask, burying his embarrassment in a long pull from it.

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