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Tantalising Tranquillity at the Thermae | Early Evening, Thursday Sept 15th

Charles Audley

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'Bathhouse' was, in truth, too austere a word to describe the cornucopia of decadent entertainment to be found at the Windsor Baths. While they certainly served their hygienic purpose well, no elite leisure is ever simple, and such held as true with a bath house as it did with a palace salon. The exterior showed no particular promise, being an older complex reminiscent of the years before the extravagance of the Baroque style fully developed, but a step within proved the Baths were well up to modern fashions. The baths were a place not only for washing, but for primping, preening, and socialisation. The less formal attire required for bathing made for an easier atmosphere to that of the palace, one in which the impropriety Charles' court was famed for could truly run rampant.

Comfort and luxury were the order of the day as far as the baths were concerned, and no expense had been spared. A lavishly decorated foyer allowed access to two separate areas - to the left, a heavy blue velvet curtain allowed entrance to the men's baths, to the right a red for the ladies. A servant always stood watch to ensure proper segregation, but it was not unheard of for sufficient distraction to shake her concentration upon the task at hand.

The hefty sum of a pound was charged for entry.



Wearing underwear sufficient to only cover the most sensitive areas of a gentleman's anatomy, a gentleman entering the baths would find himself first in a room dominated by an enormous, sweet-scented bath. Steam rose constantly from the surface, the heat inside the bath house a comfortable contrast to the bitter cold outside. To one side of the bath, a wall was dominated by a Romanesque fountain, sirens and mermaids lounging amidst cascading water that ensured the room was never silent. Sitting by the fountain, one might almost be assured of private conversation. From one mermaid's hands a fountain of warm water spouted high, then down direclty into the baths.

For those seeking to perform their ablutions with an even greater semblance of privacy, curtained archways gave way to several rooms hosting smaller pools that might fit up to 5 gentlemen.

Another archway was sealed with a door rather than a curtain, behind which would be found a room heated to almost unbearable temperatures. In its center burned coals, with a water handy to be tipped over them and bring forth steam. Just beside the door outside, a stone cold bath was recessed into the wall.

One more door led to a walled outdoor area. The freezing cold air temperature was tempered by a dip into a steaming hot bath. Three sides boasted stone walls - the third was a wicker fence, behind which lay the ladies baths. It was an easy thing to hear and converse with the ladies on the other side, and a very enterprising man might find the occasional illusive peekhole...



Upon entering the central bath, clad only in her shift, the bathing lady would find herself first with a choice - lavender, sage and mint, or rosemary? Three baths formed a ring about a central fountain, occupied by musician cherubs, from whose lips and instruments water flowed forth.

For those seeking to perform their ablutions with an even greater semblance of privacy, curtained archways gave way to several rooms hosting smaller pools that might fit up to 5 ladies.

Another archway led to a room in which the bath was filled not only with water, but also with a hint of honey and buttermilk. From the cloudy water rose an almost irresistable scent, overhanging frescoes giving the room an almost cavelike feel.

In the same manner as the men's baths, a doorway led to a sauna, accompanied by a cold bath.

The women could enjoy an outdoor bath, one wall being wicker instead of stone, beyond which bathed the men. The enterprising lady was just as capable of gaining an elusive glimpse through the fence as her male counterpart, should she so choose.



Charles had very much enjoyed the time he had spent fencing, but there was no denying that it had left him somewhat sweaty and his muscles, if not quite achy, at least threatening to become so. Those facts, combined with his ongoing resolution to spend the day not considering the matter of vengeance (so as to come back to it with fresh eyes and greater energy) and his curiosity as to how the Windsor bath-house compared to those he had visited abroad, had brought him here.

A good decision, if I do say so myself...

He had tried the sauna first, remembering that Juliana had once recommended the experience to him. It had proven novel, and not unpleasant. Wonderful for the muscles, certainly, though he could have done without the feeling he could only assume was his nose hairs shrivelling from the heat whenever he inhaled.

(In the privacy of his own head, Charles would admit that he had probably lingered longer than he should have in the steam room, but childish pride had insisted that he outlast everyone else, and Charles was not above listening to his inner child.)

Still, even his endurance and ego were not infinite, and he had eventually adjourned to the outdoor bath, where he was currently reclining, eye shut as he savoured the contrast between the chill evening air and the almost scalding water.

A while more here, I think, dinner at the White, though no more than that, and then repair to my room for an early night with a book...

He chuckled softly. How positively pedestrian of him. Filled with a tremendous sense of well-being, he let his head loll back further and, eye still closed, began to whistle the opening air to Diana and Actaeon.

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The baths did not have too many visitors this early in the season, so Chatham enjoyed a degree of privacy in comparison to how bubbling with conversation the place usually could be.



To one side of the bath, a wall was dominated by a Romanesque fountain, sirens and mermaids lounging amidst cascading water that ensured the room was never silent. Sitting by the fountain, one might almost be assured of private conversation. From one mermaid's hands a fountain of warm water spouted high, then down direclty into the baths.


However, when he began whistling, he drew the attention of a pair of gentlemen who had been obscured by the fountain...as had their...conversation.


A handsome, dark-haired gentleman came out from behind the fountain and said, "Good taste."


Another, who Chatham might known as the reknown poet and writer, Sir George Etherege, recited, "But if you seek well, you will find the charge of chance, not a crime; for what crime did error have?”

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'Now you may tell, if tell you can that is, of having seen me naked!'

So help him, it was on the tip of his tongue to say it, relaxed as he was. Charles had always liked to show off his erudition and answer quotation with quotation, but this was probably not the best context for that particular line. It could easily be taken the wrong way, particularly when he did not know to whom he was speaking.

I should probably rectify that...

Sitting up and opening his eye, he grinned and raised a hand in greeting. Etherege he recognised after a moment's thought, and the other seemed vaguely familiar too, though it was not as though handsome dark-haired gentlemen were a rarity at court. No name came to him in any case.

"I have often thought that Classical poetry loses something when rendered from Latin or Greek, but that really is an excellent translation," he mused. "My apologies gentlemen. Any good taste I might have is sadly not matched by any musical talent, and the ungodly racket of my attempts at whistling must have doubtless have been disquieting."

He inclined his head and realised, a trifle belatedly, that he had not introduced himself.

"Charles Audley, Earl of Chatham, at your service."

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The pair chuckled at Chatham's admission of lack of musical skill.


"It was no bother," said Etherege.


"We are not at an occasion of State at court," agreed the other.


It was the elder-looking of the two, the poet, who replied to the introduction. "I am Sir George Etherege-."


"Poet and writer extraordinaire," cut in the other.


Etherege rolled his eyes. "And this is the inimitable Earl of Ranelagh. Supporter of writers, building works, and gardens."

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Charles laughed good naturedly as the two waved off his apologies.

"Have a care, gentlemen, lest your forbearance tempt me to sing, which would have me expelled not just from the baths, but from Windsor!" He laughed again. "To say nothing of what it would inflict on you."

The thought that he should have recognised the younger of the two lingered, and niggled at him until the introductions were made and that sense of vague familiarity was explained. Ranelagh, of course. He had seen the other earl at Caroline's Christmas party, though he could not remember if they had been formally introduced, or even spoken.

There had been, in fairness, a great deal of drinking done.

Focusing on the present, Charles took note of the easy interplay between the two. It spoke of long acquaintance.

"I am familiar with Sir George's work. I absconded from school to attend the Comical Revenge at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, and judged it well worth the subsequent birching." In truth, Moll Davis had had as much to do with that as Etherege's wordplay, but the latter had been first-rate nonetheless.

Turning his head and nodding to Ranelagh, he continued.

"And Lord Ranelagh's many endeavours are of course well-known. I have particularly admired your labours in Ireland."

Charles had in fact found them most intriguing. Quite apart from his vocational interest in the funding and supply of armies, they had been in part the inspiration of a plot of his own.

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  • Blackguard changed the title to Tantalising Tranquillity at the Thermae | Early Evening, Thursday Sept 15th

"Many thanks, and my pleasure," Sir George said. 


"An evening well-spent then," Ranelagh said, no hint of Irishness in him. "I was probably there." He had probably been drunk. He and Etherege had probably fucked on the stage long after the play was over after having supped. It had been a typical for the pair for many a years.


"Oh, my labors in Ireland," the earl added. "Yes, yes, lots of work. Not lots of fun. Reforming the treasury in Ireland was a political feat, to be sure, but I honestly do not like it there. The whole affair unfortunately now associates me far too much as a friend of Danby, the fucking monster, for my tastes. I should have been wary of a man who stabs his patrons in the back, but alas one only learns these things as one ages. Those who know nothing but gratuitous self-aggrandizement, who came from naught but common stock, oft do not behave themselves once raised into a position of power that surpasses themselves. I am sure he stole a great deal of coin and was not just a kidnapper of children too."


Etherege filling in the gap, "Richie here was raised in England, his dear mama thankfully left his father flat on his drunken useless arse, so he never developed a taste for the land of sheeps and Catholics." 


One of Chatham's ilk might have also heard of Ranelagh's mother. Lady Ranelagh was the sister and equal partner of Boyle the scientist, and she a renown thinker and discoverer; her house had been the precursor for the formation of the Gresham group. She could give any man a run for his money in the realms of research or thought. 

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Charles might have inadvertently chanced upon a touchy subject for Ranelagh, it seemed.

"I have never been to Ireland," he mused, deciding the only way out was through, "but considering that one of our main, and arguably most successful, attempts at civilising the place involved settling a horde of Scots on it..." He laughed softly. Charles had no real animosity for the Scots (their ridiculous habit of boasting of their non-existent superior toughness aside) but they were hardly bastions of genteel refinement.

"As for Danby, it is easy to think, as a reasonable man, that even such a 'fucking monster' must realise that treachery hacks away at one's own foundations. Alas, as you say, power is like strong drink – some have no head for it, and Danby was one. Doubtless you are right, and he has made off with off with a fortune from the Treasury. Life on the run is expensive, and why quibble at theft when you have already stooped to kidnapping and treason?"

Privately, he wondered if Ranelagh had been embezzling himself, and now found Danby a convenient scapegoat. It was what Charles would have done.

He had heard of Lady Ranelagh, though he had regrettably never met her, and Etherege's words tallied with what he had heard.

"A most formidable woman by reputation, and I gather every bit of it earned." He smiled ruefully. "I'm something of an intellectual dilettante, and I've always had a great admiration for those of greater gifts and focus."

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"Aren't most of us?" Ranelagh said, agreeing about dilettante-ness. "There are far too many pursuits and distractions. That, also, takes a particular disposition."


Etherege continued some, "Formidable in the extreme. The Royal Society do not conscience any other woman but she, and she is always about something secretive."


Ranelagh added, "It is sometimes most frightening!"


"So what do you focus on, Chatham, that is it not those scientific pursuits?" Etherege asked. 


"We were planning on going to the White after this. Perhaps Chatham would wish to join us. If we linger much longer, we are all going to prune!"

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He would have to try to meet Lady Ranelagh, Charles decided. He loved and admired excellence in all its forms and, even beyond that, he was entirely unabashed in his regard for formidable women. A conversation with Katherine Jones would be highly enjoyable, he felt, and certainly highly educational.

"Well, I have been a soldier and a traveller for most of my adult life, and have always been fond of... lighter pursuits, shall we say? But when not so distracted, I suppose I am something of a classicist, and a student of history," he answered Etherege. "And now, of course, I am a courtier, with all that that implies."

In the last year or two Charles had also began to stray (on occasion) into the philosophy of power and conflict, though he had committed nothing to paper and would frankly have been embarrassed to admit that his intellectual efforts extended so far. In twenty years or so, if he lived so long, perhaps he might venture to pen a monograph on the topic and his thoughts on it, but for now he deemed those thoughts schoolboyish and likely to be obvious where they were not simply incorrect.

He laughed softly, amused at the coincidence, as the two extended an invitation to join them at the White.

"I had in fact been planning to dine there myself," he said cheerfully, "and would be delighted to join you both, should it not be an imposition. And yes, let us not linger. My skin is in poor enough condition without pruning."

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(OOC - Going to join these two threads since they are occurring at the same place and the same time. ;) You don't have to join the other two PCs, but you definitely can if you wish to! https://q282854.tryinvision.com/topic/16550-a-walk-down-memory-lane-15th-early-evening/?do=findComment&comment=256532 )


"Lighter pursuits? Is that what they're called?" Ranelagh barked with a laugh. "Is that a polite way of saying base activities or rakish revels?"


"What lighter pursuits are you favorite?" Sir George asked with a titter.


"And no lighter pursuits for a courtier, neverrrr!" Ranelagh said. "So in between your vices, you attempt to climb the court ladder. I know His Majesty finds you amusing."


"Perhaps reacquainting yourself with the classics when you've tired yourself out of all that?"


The pair exited the water when Chatham agreed to accept the invitation to join them. Conversation continued as they redressed, sore muscles far less sore now. Ranelagh checked his facial hair in the mirror, fingering it back into perfect place. He was a handsome man and used it and humor to disguise his biting intelligence and capability. Sir George had easy and kind mannerisms. He fit his moniker of Gentle George, although his wit was not always so gentle. 


"Shall we?" Ranelagh said once he was once again impeccably attired with his sword at his side.

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Charles laughed along with Ranelagh.

"Indeed it is my lord," he admitted cheerfully. "Revelling, raking, roistering and raising riotous hell are all very well, but a gentleman should always be polite about it, no?"

He nodded to Etherege.

"And as for my favourite... well, when I feel particularly daring, I play cards with my siblings for penny ante stakes."

He had, in fact, taken to doing just that over the recess, both in an effort to distract himself and them, and because he considered learning to correctly judge risks and stakes a vital life skill.

It was encouraging to hear that the King found him amusing, proof as it was that his efforts at court thus far had had at least some effect. The next thing, he supposed, was to be found useful, but such plotting could be left until later. 

"In such little time as I have between my other vices, yes," he agreed, for there was no point in denial or quibbling, "but I am far too indolent to be ambitious very often."

He grinned to give the lie to that statement.

"And when I allow myself to be tired, I do like to contemplate some of the conundrums that continue to confound we classicists. Currently, for instance, I am attempting to divine what, precisely, was 'the lioness crouching on the cheese grater.*'" He laughed.

Stretching languorously, Charles rose to dry and dress with the others. Like Ranelagh, he took some time to make sure his facial hair was impeccable, and then even more time with his hair. It took, after all, a staggering amount of art and effort to have it fall into such artless and effortless perfection. Making one last quick adjustment, he straightened and nodded.

"Let's," he agreed.

Contd. here

*A reference from Lysistrata, where the women specifically vow 'not to crouch down like the lioness on the cheese grater,' as part of their sex strike. It was also apparently the most expensive item at Greek brothels, hence Chatham's interest 😄 

Edited by Charles Audley
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