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Baby Talk | Friday morning, 16th September

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Music Room


Like the Drawing Room, this space is a perfect place to escape the autumn weather and find some welcome diversion. This room is richly appointed in hues of emerald, a reflection of the verdant landscape beyond its two velvet-draped windows. The walls are papered with a pastoral block pattern in green on a cream ground, while the ceiling is painted to depict Apollo playing his lyre for Zeus and the divinities of Olympus. The gleaming oak floor is laid with a plush green carpet, trimmed with gold thread. The space is dominated by an expertly crafted harpsichord, and a scattering of elegant wooden chairs, softened with emerald cushions.



Playing the harpsichord while pregnant was not as easy as Sophia had thought it would be. She had left her own in the London house as she had known that there would be one here. The last time she had played, her belly had not been so large. Now, in order to reach the keys, she had to press it slightly against the wooden front of the instrument. The baby didn’t like it, kicking her furiously, but after she started to play, he calmed down. Perhaps, like her, he would have a musical soul. That would certainly please Juan, assuming he was the father or accepted the child as his own.


She was waiting for the other possible father now.  Sophia hoped that Henry’s feelings for her had not changed.  She suspected the baby she carried was his and not her royal lover’s. Would he turn his back on her when he heard what she had to say?   If he abandoned her, she would be heartbroken.  She still cared for him deeply.


Trying to distract herself from her anxiety, Sophia began to play one of the tunes that she had sung at her first concert, which had been held in this very room shortly after she arrived at court. She had performed only a day or two after the King had been injured at some event she hadn’t been able to attend because of its close proximity to water. The young singer had always hoped that her voice had somehow carried to his room and helped him to heal.  Reliving that day, she soon became lost in her music.


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She was  lucky.  No one was in the Music Room at the moment, but that could change at any moment too.

Rather than a random courtier that entered, if was the Earl of Arundel, as expected.  "I waited ten minutes before entering. No one is in the hallways," he assured.  He moved near the harpsichord and sat on a spectator chair.

"How are you my sweet?  How is the babe?" he asked in a low voice.  "Keep playing absently so that it does not look unusual that you are here."

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Henry’s voice brought her out of her trance. Sophia abruptly stopped playing and smiled as he walked toward her. He was even more handsome and appealing than she remembered. Her heart fluttered in her chest and the baby pelted her vigorously. Did he somehow recognize the Earl as his father or was he just playing with the butterflies flitting around in her stomach?


“I don’t think I play well enough to attract an audience,” she replied with a chuckle Her harpsichord skills had improved immensely since she had left Venice and moved to England, but she was still no expert. “Perhaps I shall drive everyone away so that we will have more time alone together.”


Sophia would have preferred to meet with him in a private place, but it was best not to push her luck, especially if the baby was not Juan’s. Esteban had seemed displeased that another gentleman had escorted her around the reception yesterday and she didn’t think he would approve of her speaking with Henry either. Why was he more possessive than usual?


It wasn’t as if she was going to have an affair in her condition, despite the sweet sensations flowing through her body at Henry’s affectionate words. At his suggestion, she began playing again, but more softly than before. “I’m doing well and so is the baby.”


Playing from memory, her fingers still danced on the keys as she turned and looked Henry in the eye. “I think he is yours, my love. I am fairly sure that my husband did not father this child.”


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"It is rare for the music room to be empty, certainly in the evening," Arundel began, "but during the day it can be quiet."  He moved closer.  "We have not much time, I fear."

It was Sophia's last statement that caused him to gasp.  "How is that possible?" he whispered.  They had been intimate but once at the time the pregnancy likely happened.  How could one moment compare to the regular intimacy with her husband?  

His hand touched her shoulder lightly.  "If that is true, both of us will be in the hornet's nest."

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We never have much time alone together, Sophia thought. And yet one quick and loving tryst likely produced the child I carry within me. If he was to help her, they would have to meet more frequently and in a less public location.


“I told you that my husband rarely touches me. I made him sleep with me the night this child was conceived. He did not share my bed for months prior to that, nor at any time afterward.” In truth, Esteban had not slept with her that night, but the lie was necessary to conceal her relationship with Juan.


His touch startled her and she hit a sour note. Sophia had not realized how cold she was until his hand infused her body with its warmth. She wished that he could hold her in his arms but that was much too dangerous. Instead of beginning to play again, she swiveled on the bench to face him. Musicians took breaks or changed their sheet music, so she didn’t think the sudden absence of sound would be considered suspicious by anyone who passed in the halls.


Sophia had wondered if Henry would abandon her when she told him, but he had said ‘both of us’ instead of ‘you.’ “I will not blame you if you wish to walk away, nor will I ever reveal that you are his … or her ... father. Yet I hope that you want this baby as much as I do and will help me figure out what to do.”

Edited by Sophia de la Cerda
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"Your husband is a fool or is a sodomite.  If you were mine, you would be sore every evening and every morning," he spat.  It was clear what exercise he meant.  "Does he spend more time with a particular male colleague?"  Now, Arundel was trying to find a Toledo scandal.

"If it is ours, it will be apparent immediately that there is no Spanish blood in the child," he warned.  "You will be sent back to Spain and imprisoned if things are not planned well.  Of course, if it turns out to be his child, then all will be well."  He let out a long sigh.  If it was certain that it was their child, he might suggest terminating it, for it would do neither of them any good to have her removed from England, which seemed a certainty.

"Do you have a plan?" He asked quietly as he looked towards the door for privacy.  Maybe she had something in mind.

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  • 2 weeks later...

If she had not met Juan, Sophia wondered if she might have married Henry. She doubted she would have cheated if she had a husband who satisfied her all the time. This mess was partly Juan’s fault for neglecting a nubile and passionate young lady who had just discovered sex and couldn’t get enough of it. Yet if she had married Henry, she would have never shared such delight with her dear Eros. Unless she was simply not destined to be faithful. Then this was all her fault, after all.


No matter who was to blame, she needed to come up with a solution that enabled her to keep the baby. Whether Juan’s or Henry’s, the little life growing inside her had become a part of her soul. Sophia didn’t want it to grow up a bastard, which meant she had to either convince Juan it was his or get him to accept it as his own anyway.


“He is always with male colleagues, but I have never paid much attention to them.” She tilted her head to the side. “It has crossed my mind before that he might prefer his own gender, but I cannot prove it. Maybe you can find some proof? It is easier for a gentleman to discover things about another gentleman than it is for his own wife.”


Sophia sighed. “If it is ours, its eyes will be blue. If it is a girl, I might be able to say she looks like me, but that will not work if I have a boy. No matter what happens, he will not send me to Spain. He might try, but I will take the child and flee to Italy. I know Venice like the back of my hand. He will never find us there.” She could even take the stage as the dark-haired, dark-skinned Giuliana Fiore again and Esteban would never know it was her. “He will certainly set me aside, have himself transferred somewhere else, and then I can return to England.”


The petite blonde shook her head. “Not yet. I was hoping you could help me come up with one. I think the first thing we need is a midwife who will be loyal to one of us and not my husband. If she is loyal to him, she will immediately tell him that the child is not his even if we figure out an otherwise foolproof plan."

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While Sophia could point to others, there was really only one person to blame.  Eventually, the consequences of one's actions catch up with the irresponsible.  She had an ally in Arundel, but she might need more.

"I will have your husband watched, but your own household servants may know more." He ran his hand through his hair as he thought on the issue.

"Sophia, my dear, there is no escape waiting for you in Venice.  Your husband is friends with the de facto ruler of Spain and northern Italy.  He can mobilize the resources of the Hapsburgs to find you swiftly.  You would flee to the heart of Hapsburg power.  No, you need to flee where they are not.  France is an enemy of Spain, as is Sweden.  We might find a place for you in the countryside of Ireland or Scotland."  He looked to the door again.

"You really think it could be mine?"  It was rhetorical.  "By the saints, this will require precision."  His mind was racing, hoping that Sophia had laid the groundwork of a foolproof plan already, but knowing such an expectation was unfair.

"I need to find a olive skinned infant for you and we could switch the two if the child is fair.  We would keep our child hidden in the countryside and you would raise the other as Toledo's child."  He was thinking aloud to see if it sounded as impossible as it was.  "When are you due?  Where am I to find a Spaniard, Italian or Greek baby here in Windsor or London?"  Again he was speaking mostly to himself, but hoped that Sophia might know of one.

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“The servants will not betray him as long as he keeps paying them.” Sophia thought for a moment. “But a servant that was fired might want revenge. Those who serve us now have been with us since we married, but the Embassy employs many people in various positions. I shall look into it.” As the Embassy was in London, it would be a difficult task, but not impossible.


Henry claimed that she would be found in Venice. Sophia believed otherwise. Nobody would look for her among the common people. She would not be able to sing opera, though, as her voice was now well-known.  Both Juan and Esteban would recognize it in a heartbeat. Then again, Juan wouldn’t allow Esteban to lock her up. Or would he, if he thought she had betrayed him?


“Hiding in plain sight has its advantages. I do not want to go to a cold place.” Unless she could hide out with Douglas in Scotland and he wrapped her in his kilt like he promised to do before she was wed. Surely, he would be sympathetic to the plight of a bastard child like himself. No, she would only put him in danger if she asked him to help her flee.  She didn't really want to flee.  There had to be another way.


The notion that Henry could very well be her baby’s father seemed to be sinking in. Sophia was glad that he was willing to help her solve this dilemma, though he obviously knew nothing at all about a mother’s love for her unborn child.


“It would probably be easy to find a woman willing to sell her unwanted baby. There are probably many foreigners who seduce women and have no intention of marrying them when they fall pregnant. But that plan will only work for a few years. As the child grows up, it will not look at all like my husband.


“Nor do I want to raise somebody else’s child. I want to keep my own. He is a part of me and I do not think that I can live without him. We must think of a way to get my husband to accept this child or find a family who will take him in and let me visit him whenever I wish. Do you not want to be a part of his life too?"  Sophia took Henry's hand, intending to place it on her growing belly if he would let her.

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"Your servants will owe their highest duty to your husband.  Remember that and trust no one," he warned as visible signs of frustration appeared on his face.  He had not been ready to concoct an elaborate scheme on the spot.

"Hiding in plain sight is a recipe for disaster.  A blond beauty fluent in German, English and Spanish, with genteel manners would stick out like a giant at a gathering of dwarves," he lamented.  "You could dye your hair but the blond roots would become apparent at some point.  What money would you live on?  Would you work as a washer woman to hide?"  He was trying to paint a bleak picture to dissuade her from Venice.  "You would live life as a peasant and destroy your health because you do not like the cold?  Sophia, there are fires and fur coats to protect you here," he pointed out.

She challenged his plan for the substitution.  "We would place our child with friendly servants in the country where we could keep an eye on him, seeing that he has a good life.  In time, I could bring him into my household.  As for your adopted baby, when it ceases to look like your husband, you will just tell him that the boy looks like your father.  A son can look like his grandsire."  Sophia was a first time mother and likely emotionally fragile on the topic. 

Though he tried to make the case for his plan, he harbored a deep fear that his servants would not be able to find an olive-skinned mother in London that would deliver within a few days prior to Sophia, and be willing to give up the child forever.  He wanted to swear aloud but did not want to cause Sophia to lose heart.

He ran his hand through his hair again.  "Alternatively, maybe I can hire some academic to write a book in the next few weeks about some fictitious study that shows that blond hair and fair skin will trump dark hair and dark skin in mixed couples."  He was talking out loud suspecting that the science was the exact opposite.  "Or that a fair child will turn dark at age four.  That would give you enough time to convince the Count that the child is his, even if the child stays fair."  He needed to hide from Sophia's eyes the growing desperation he was feeling.  He doubted she would choose to end the babes life in the womb.  It might be Esteban's after all.

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“Servants who were fired will not be loyal to him” Sophia countered. “They may be willing to spill his secrets.” Of course, Esteban had secrets. Everybody did. Was he clever enough to keep them hidden? He had married his master’s mistress and had risen in status and position because of it.  He wasn’t stupid.  But he could have accidentally made a mistake that had been noticed.


Henry had a point about Venice. Her acting skills would allow her to pose as a commoner, but eventually she might let down her guard. She certainly didn’t want to work for a living. Working was far beneath her, but if she chose to live as a commoner, she would have no choice. Living a life of leisure would look too suspicious. Her stepmother’s brother would probably let her live with him, but the price for that would be singing in his opera houses, and she had already discarded that option because of her recognizable voice.


“My prospects are not much brighter if I stay. I would still have to go into hiding.” Sophia assumed that Henry would support her and his child, but she would no longer be able to attend court and would have to live far away from London. She would be on the run for the rest of her days. What kind of life would that be for her child? She wanted him or her to have the best of everything and a promising future. There was no way she could give him that on her own.


She didn’t like the idea of him living as a servant in his father’s household either. He deserved so much more than that. “I don’t think we should consider switching babies. There is too much that can go wrong.”


Sophia closed her eyes and tried to think, though dark tendrils of panic were twisting themselves around her heart. Henry’s concept of claiming that fair skin and blonde hair were dominant traits was ridiculous. No scientist would agree to that unless he was paid a fortune and then he would keep demanding more money to ensure his silence. And it was better to involve as few people as possible.


It did give her an idea, though. She opened her eyes and met Henry’s gaze. “You might be onto something. If it is a girl, I may be able to convince my husband that she takes after me even if she has blonde hair and fair skin.” She believed that Juan would love a little girl who looked just like her. “If it is a boy, I can say that those traits run in the family. My stepmother was Italian. She had no children but I can claim she had a son who was blonde and fair and died before his first birthday. Then I can keep my own child and you can be part of his life."


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Sophia was not willing to terminate the pregnancy.  She was not willing to substitute the baby.  Arundel was feeling like there was little he could do.  It was not uncommon to place illegitimate children in the countryside.  Yet, likely because she was not sure it was illegitimate and because she was a first time mother, coupled with her young age, it seemed she could not be swayed.

Henry could only hope it was Toledo's child and that they had nothing to worry about.  The question was how much to warn her that her plan was as weak as a newborn, or play along to help her not panic.  He opted for the latter because he was certain the former would have no effect but to cause her sleepless nights.

"Perhaps that could work," he replied cautiously. "That seems the only way for you to keep and raise the child.  Maybe he will believe you."  She would need good luck.

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Sophia sensed that Henry did not believe his own words. He showed no enthusiasm for her plan, nor did he smile at her.


“It won’t,” she sighed. “He will never believe it without proof. And there is none.” Whatever they chose to do, she would have to live with her deception for the rest of her life. Though she had no problem fooling Esteban, she wished she didn’t have to lie to Juan. Maybe she should just do nothing at all and accept the consequences.


No, then Juan might cast her aside for making a youthful mistake.  If that was true, then she would be better off without him. Sophia did not believe that he was so callous, though. He truly cared for her, just as she cared for him.  They shared a bond that could never be broken.  Even if he couldn’t have a child of his own, she wanted to give him one, but she really didn’t want to switch babies.


There had to be another way.


“No matter what we decide, we need a loyal midwife. You have a lot of influence, my lord. Do you think you could find one who is trustworthy?  Our situation is certainly not unique. There are probably midwives who specialize in helping people like us.”

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Arundel was heartened that Sophia was still pondering options.  "I think I may be able to help find a discreet midwife," he replied quietly.  "We do not want one from London or Windsor.  We shall find her in the country, to where she can return and never be found again."  The latter was important because money could buy discretion but, later, more money could buy scandal.

The door to the Music room opened and in walked Karl.  "Oh there you are milady.  I have been looking for you everywhere."  Somehow, Sophia had slipped out unnoticed and Karl was frantic to follow her so as to not incur the Count's wrath.  She was to never be left alone as she might need assistance at any point. Esteban was concerned that she might go into labor prematurely.

"A spirited melody," Henry spoke to Sophia as if that had been their conversation.  "Do you know a tune from your homeland?  Did you say it was somewhere in the German States?"  He ignored Karl.

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“Maybe there is one who wishes to leave England. She will never be found if she moves to a foreign land. I will want to meet her before she is hired. And you and I should see each other frequently, preferably in a less public place. Once we settle on a plan, we will need to work out the details.”


Sophia sighed. “And if switching babies turns out to be the best option, I shall have to resign myself to it. We will need to locate a woman who is due to give birth to an unwanted foreign child shortly before I am. A week older should not matter much.”


She heard footsteps approaching from the hallway and quickly turned back to the harpsichord. Hopefully, someone was just passing by. The door opened and Karl entered the room. He actually had the gall to speak to her as if they were equals! She resented his presence more now than she did in the past and wanted him out of her life for good.


Her dear Henry was ready for the interruption, pretending that they had been discussing music all along. “Yes, my lord, in the Palatinate. And I know a song I believe you will enjoy just as much the one I just played. And please forgive my bodyguard’s rude interruption. He shall wait in the hallway and not disturb us again.”


She began to play, expecting Karl to obey her, even though she had not directly addressed him. There were still matters she wished to discuss with Henry.


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"I will look for a midwife and see if we can find an expectant Spanish mother or two in London."  This was going to take serious work and there was little time.  Arundel exhaled as a runner might at the start of a race.

Karl noted the snub.  Any servant was used to that.  Karl paused, at conflict with his instructions.  The Count indicated that he should be with her at all times.  He assumed he could harmonize the instructions by waiting outside.  As such, he nodded his assent and moved outside, the door not shutting all the way.


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After glancing towards the door and realizing that her infuriating bodyguard had left it ajar, Sophia played a bit louder so he would not be able to eavesdrop on them. It was a lively tune, after all, a German song she knew by heart. She really needed to talk to Esteban about Karl. He was annoying her more every day.


She still planned to implement Charles’ suggestion for ridding herself of him permanently, but that would probably have to wait until after the baby was born. As would Lord Buckingham’s challenge to find investors for an opera house. This season, the issue of her unborn child’s paternit was foremost in her mind.


Sophia preferred not to raise another woman’s baby. The only advantage to that course of action is that it would give Juan the child he had longed for so long … even if he was unable to father one of his own. Imagining the smile on her beloved Prince’s face when he held his 'son' or 'daughter' for the first time filled her heart with joy. After waiting thirty or so years, he might be so elated that he would never notice that it bore little resemblance to him.


Then what of her own child … this sweet little life that was kicking inside her? “If my baby must be raised by another family, we need to find a wealthy couple who can’t have children but has always wanted them. This precious little one deserves the best of everything.” She continued to play with one hand while wiping away an errant tear with another. “Loving parents, a happy childhood, and a promising future.”


Would she be able to give it up at all, knowing she would not see it often? If only there was a way she could keep her baby while also raising a child whom Juan would accept as his own.


“We cannot stay here much longer or my bodyguard will become suspicious. When and where shall we meet again?”


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It seemed that Sophia was considering the child swap more seriously.  That allowed Henry to breathe more easily.  He nodded his assent.  "Of course, I shall see to it," he assured her.  Frankly, if the child was his, he would assure her of anything to keep herself and the child free of Spanish imprisonment.  He would be powerless to help her then.

"If your bodyguard follows you, we cannot be seen together again.  Go to the dressmaker in Windsor.  There is an assistant, Rita.  Give her your sealed letter.  She shall bring it to me and I shall give her my reply.  Keep the letter short, avoid any emotion, and do not sign it.  I will burn your notes.  Know that I will visit London next week and see to matters personally.  There is little need for us to communicate again.  I know what must be done," he assured her.  "Trust me and write only when critical.  It will take weeks to find a suitable child."  If at all.  It was a tall order.  "Stay well my sweet and pray that you carry your husband's child, and this proves unnecessary."

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How could she leave everything up to him?


Sophia knew Henry cared for her and she trusted him completely. He would not simply walk away and leave her to her fate. But it was impossible to just go on her merry way and assume that he would be able to find a midwife and an olive-skinned baby.  She needed to be involved in the search, even if it was from a distance. Traveling to London was not an option now, but he could keep her informed.


“The midwife is most important,” she said, still playing the harpsichord. “The baby will be born here at Windsor. We rented a house in town. The midwife must be approved by my husband and allowed to remain with me during the last month. I would also like to meet her before she presents herself to him so that I can tell her how to impress him.


“I would also like to see the woman who is willing to give up her child as well.” She wanted to make certain that she wasn’t ugly. Both Juan and Sophia were attractive. They wouldn't have a homely child. The woman needed to be healthy, clean, and not addicted to alcohol, opium, or any other harmful substance. Then again, she was confident that Henry would not choose a pox-ridden whore.


“Please send me notes about your progress. I will pick them up from the dressmaker’s assistant and will dispose of them before I leave the shop.” Lifting one hand from the keys, she reached out to him, hoping he might squeeze it.  "We are in this together, my love, and I need to know what is going on."

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"Yes, the midwife is key," he agreed as he felt a heavy burden in finding someone suitable in such a short time.  He looked at her stomach and feared that her time was near.  Sophia was a small figure, making her stomach look much larger than it might otherwise seem.

"As for the mother," he began, likewise feeling a heavy burden, "it may be that time does not allow us to be picky.  If the infant is healthy, it is enough."  Sophia acted as though it would be a simple matter of placing an advertisement in local newspapers as one might for a servant and having a wealth of applicants when, in fact, the mother would likely be of the lowest class and would need to be a foreigner. This was going to be very difficult, but Henry would not reveal the risks to her.  "It shall be fine.  You shall see."  He needed to provide her hope so that she would not become despondent.

"I should go.  Stay well and keep the faith," he counseled as he looked to the open door.  Her servnt might begin to suspect something if they spoke in low voices for long.


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After bidding Henry farewell, Sophia continued to play. He had tried to sound hopeful, but she sensed that he didn’t believe his own words. She felt guilty at putting the burden on him, but what choice did she have? Disguising herself in her condition was possible, but she couldn’t travel to London and search for midwives and mothers who were willing to sell their unborn children. As a pregnant noblewoman, her options were limited.


Still not convinced about switching babies, perhaps she could come up with a better solution, one that would allow her to keep her own child. She didn’t want to fake the baby’s death either. There seemed to be no easy fix for her predicament.





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