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An Infusion of Virtue to Political life | evening after the Reception

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The second floor of the main tower is much less lofty than the first and contains two bedchambers. The stairs from below split the floor, a simple railing protecting visitors from plummeting into the hole. A second flight of stairs curves from the first in a u-bend to lie against the north wall’s windows as it climbs steadily to the floor above. Turning left, one comes to the narrow corridor off of which lie the doors to two bedchambers. The corridor makes a 90 degree turn at the end, proceeding for a further few feet before turning sharply again to open into the corridor of the octagonal tower. Ribbons of royal blue velvet have been hung on the doorknob of the apartment as well as along the balustrade and stair banisters, affixed there with silver bows.


It had been so long since she spoke with her cousin, she'd not even seen him before his tour to France (though she'd taken an advantage of his intended visit to take with him a present for her Mother.) Truth be told she'd communicated far more with her mother via their regular letters these past few months, than she had with him.  This was largely upon account of her caution with the untidy political mess, but also that Cousin Lisa still insisted upon mothering Dutch charity cases.

Still, as she'd caught sight of Louis across the room at the reception, she wondered how he fared. He had looked well, and in good spirits too - he had survived. 

So it was that as she returned to her second floor apartment, she lingered at the door that was his. Then knocked.     

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The door was opened by Louis' maid, the African servant Diana.  Nicolette was admitted at once, and with a flick of the earl's wrist, she excused herself from the room.  Louis' manservant, Thomas Bromhill, had been given a room at the inn so that he might overhear useful things.

"Cousin!"  Nicci would be able to tell from his happy facial expression that he was delighted to see her.  "Come sit by the fire and let me give you a bit of my candy brandy.  It is much better than the swill they serve here.  I'm having it made in London.  They add just a trace of sugar to make it sweeter."  He held aloft the decanter and an extra glass.

"You are a sight for sore eyes Nicci," he uttered in a more subdued tone.  "Your mother misses you, as does the entire French court., or at least the ones that matter."  He offered a smile as he relaxed into a comfortable chair.  "But you ... you have had a merry recess I hope?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Candy brandy?" Nicci swept into the room, paying no heed to the servant or Louis' dismissal there of.  Hr fingers brushed his as she warmly took the glass, "That sounds positively illegal Louis, do tell me you've a royal warrant for the enterprise?" 

Nicci knew little of the liquor industry, other than it was very heavily taxed (The Scots bleated about that aspect all the time!), and there was some sort of regulation to the recipe.  "Did I ever mention the candy apple medicines I was working on at one stage. We really must make the most of your sugar darling, it is pennies from heaven." 

Sipping the brandy, she focused on the taste, and then with a cheerful gulp drank the rest down. "It shall do nicely Louis.  What a strange day it has been, I am utterly turned around."

"But thank you for news from Mama, my oh my what a turn of events to see her guest of the Compte.  She has nothing to complain about. What a good daughter I have been."


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"The West Indies Company does have the monopoly on sugar imports from Jamaica after all," he replied to her insincere allegation of illegality.  He made sure she was seated close to him by the fire.  "I am mixing sugar with cognac and different brandies.  I have found that sugar makes the ladies drink it faster, thinking it more like candy ... when it inebriates just as easily as unadultrated brandy," he laughed.  "It is like tavern owners putting salt in the bread to make you more thirsty.  A definite economic advantage.  I am finding that sugar can make anything taste good. It really is a wonderful substance."  He then complimented her idea of using candy apple medicines and herbs.  "An excellent idea."

"I have missed your company greatly," he admitted.  Nicci knew him well enough that he was not attempting to flatter her.  He then summarized his travels in France, the time at Versailles with jests of awkward courtiers, and his meetings with their common French friends.  He revealed that Lisa was pregnant again and he was hopeful of using the prong invention to have a midwife deliver the child alive.  He mentioned that he had left Margetha in Basildon to watch the children and to keep her away from court until he could marry her off to one of Norfolk's bastards.  There were laughs along the way and glasses refilled with brandy.

"Now you," he urged.  "I want to know everything you can share." 

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"Perhaps it is my Frenchness, but I rather don’t like to hear of you tampering with alcohol. It seems ungodly some how." She completed her comment on that.   While she did not bother say anything about his 'cleverness' on getting women drunk. He was trying to be funny, this was not the Louis she knew he really was. 

"But of course you have missed me." since candy brandy seemed all there was on hand, she had her glass refilled.  "I’m far better company than most people you dally with." 

Then Louis appeased her jealousy telling her of Margareths (deserved) banishment to the country, and Lisa was hopefully even further away in Holland. "Sante!" she toasted her glass with his, visibly relieved. "Then I need speak of her never again." Meaning Margarethe, but mentally including Lisa too.

"Well I barely travelled this recess, not even going to Badminton. But have had a fine time attending the various celebrations. Oh and I have a new horse now, he's horribly pedigreed, has far more precedence than I if you might know!" she laughed.

"There are to be some sort of horse events this season, and I hope to this time compete..." she paused thinking to add more about her time with the Duke. Or perhaps not. 

"But of course His Majesty has been utterly devoted to the Queen.  I quite imagine she shall be full of child again quite soon." A sip of her brandy, a wrinkle of nose. “Louis, really, can I have some honest cognac?” she then carried on, “so that I have come to wonder really, might we be better served for me to indulge more with His Grace? You know he is terribly fond of me, and I, of him.”    

There. It was said. 


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"Tamper? Why I just add a pinch of sugar to make it more flavorable," he insisted with mock indignation.  "Now, if I had added some of your herbs or drugs, that could be a different matter altogether."  Of course, the idea of that had its own appeal, but he could save such talk until it was needed.

She relayed her recess summary.  It all seemed rather uneventful.  A pity. "The steed was a gift from the King?"  He wanted to clarify that it had not been a gift from Buckingham.  "Attentive to the Queen means he was less attentive to the most intriguing French lady he has ever had the good fortune to entertain."  He sighed, certain that that was the point she was making.  "After the glow of the new birth wanes, or merry monarch will seek more stimulation in the months that follow."  He intended it as a bit of optimism for the future.

She asked for the unsweetened cognac.  "But of course."  he rose from his seat and selected another decanter.  Pouring it into her empty glass, he added some to his own glass.  He returned to his seat and sighed.

Then she mentioned her interest in Buckingham and that it was returned.  Now he knew why she wanted the unsweetened liquor.  This was to be serious. It caused him to ruminate of a game board.

"Before taking your own feelings into account, a king is a much more valuable friend than a duke.  He could make you a duchess like he did Portsmouth.  I confess that I have imagined calling you Your Grace," he laughed "Having children with royal blood is a thing that would strengthen our family.  isa is the daughter of a duke.  Lucy is a duchess.  Things are always better in threes," he laughed again trying to signal that this analysis was yet to take a serious turn.  "However, the King's tastes could be fickle.  There is no certainty that he might not give up his merry ways and become boring.  There is no certainty in keeping the royal eye."  This was intended as a counter to his prior points so as to try and sound fair.  "Of course, how could anyone who appreciates beauty, wit, charm and adventure grow tired of the likes of you.  My money is on you."  This time he meant to flatter her.

"Any such move would need to be carefully done.  Perhaps you could speak of how proud you are of the attention he has shown the Queen and it has caused you to sympathize with her, and that perhaps he spend the next months focused on his wife and son, while you spend the months pursuing that which intrigues you about the libertine wit and adventure.," he suggested.  "Perhaps he would reward you somehow.  You could mention that it would be lovely if you had your very own estate to contemplate the direction your life should go.  Or, maybe he could give you a title of your own so that people would need to call you Lady Such and Such instead of Miss Vauquelin.  He might award you something nice and you could continue to party with the Duke and friends and, over time, it becomes apparent that Buckingham's life is more in harmony with your own and then Buckingham can seek royal permission."  That seemed the easiest plan.

"Of course, it is said that the Duke cannot have children.  He has no heir after all.  That could be good or bad for you I suppose."  She would not worry about pregnancy, at least by Buckingham.  "Of course, if his wife Mary were to pass, he might wed you and you would be a duchess after all," he smirked.  "She is something like 40 years old, and anything could happen to her in the country.  He was not suggesting foul play, at least not yet.

He sensed her preference for Buckingham, so he indulged her wishes in the advice he gave.  "What are your thoughts on the matter?  How firm are they, or is it just a thought?"

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“Yes a gift from Charles.” She nodded, using the Kings name so casually was not something she actually did outside of her own mind, but she did so now, to impress her cousin.

“Though I have an awful feeling that I messed that up, his Grace, afterwards, mentioned something about a house.  Oh but I don’t dare dwell upon that, using it only as a benchmark I need to now surpass.”

Louis would probably be as dismayed as she’d been about that one.

“Not neglectful however.” She added upon talk of the King, it is much like you say, and his appetite for variety in his amusements is well known. 

“More that is has allowed me a pause, to reflect and consider.  Might I say there are a number of paths I would be happy to tread – but which would I find more rewarding to my soul.” Nicci settled in comfy now with her ball glass of Cognac.  Yes it was a serious conversation she wanted.  It had been literally months since she’d used or been used by Louis for anything other.   

“A title like that would be incredible.” She’d never imagined a lofty title might be bestowed.  This was an example of Louis’s ability to envisage that was beyond the usual persons.

“A child, even a bastard of the royal line, would be a fine thing.” That was in fact the extent of what she’d imagine possible.  (well, until there had been talk of a house!)  “His Majesty is the finest father, he keeps caring eye over his many sons. But will things change some now?  Things are certain to be different now Louis, now that there is a legitimate heir.  And… well what if the Queens power now grows, she might be less accommodating of the stray seeds that have been planted all about.”

Her cousin seemed to back the King in this.  She could understand.

Quieter then she confessed, “I do wonder if it is my heart that reasons with me like this, for I have become more and more fond of the Duke. Though I know the opportunities with him a more finite, for one, there is no son – illegitimate or otherwise, though he’s certainly sewn many fields.”

There was Gwen, but her hunch was that that pregnancy was some dalliance. George Villiers barely ever spoke of her, but if that was a natural child, even out of wedlock, he’d be a rooster crowing.

“Have you ever met the Duke’s actual wife, is she old and feeble perhaps, nearly ready to die? I might not mind being a childless Duchess, even if I would leave naught to the future.”

“Though I am not at all ‘clucky’ as they say… but still, I’d thought that I might suffer through a childbirth to that victory.”

“No, it is nothing but private thoughts at this stage Louis.” She softly assured, and took another sip of her drink.     

Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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Louis felt her consternation and the need to support her.  "I am going to say something that might surprise you," he began as he swished to cognac in his glass.  "I will support you whatever you desire.  You would resent me if I urged you to do something you did not wish to do and I want you to be happy and for us to be the closest of cousins, trusting each other completely."

"You have achieved miracles already.  Even were you to leave court, you have aided yourself and our family.  Anything you do going forward is merely icing on the cake," he admitted with a smile.  "Have a son with the King and he will possibly make you a duchess with a grand estate.  If you are not happy, then what?  Portsmouth gave him several children, he made her a duchess and then married her off to a Welsh no one.  Is she happy?  The King will be kind to her and the children, as he will yours.  If you would be happy with that and married to your Irishman who is mostly an Englishman, then go that direction and get pregnant quickly."  He laughed and took a sip.

"If it is Buckingham, I have not met his wife.  She is twice your age and in the country somewhere.  If the Duke wanted her murdered, she would be murdered by now," he observed.  "Yet, all she needs is one fall from a horse, one cut that becomes infected, one summer plague, or dangerous overseas travel and she could be dead in a moment," he declared in gallows humor.  "I knew his last mistress."  He had met Gwen.  "She is long gone and forgotten.  He bought her a nice yellow house.  She claimed to be pregnant, but perhaps it was a ruse.  The Duke did not impregnate the Countess Shrewsbury or the army of actresses and lovers, so a pregnancy must be unlikely.  Still, he could shower you with wealth, and a grand house for entertainment.  If that would make you happy, then you could hardly go wrong.  And, if you became pregnant, perhaps with the aid of another, who would naysay that the child was his, even out of wedlock."  Louis was considering several scenarios.

"Whatever you choose, I will conspire to have you win your due.  Our French friends will be less interested in Buckingham's mistress than the King's mistress, but they would still be friendly," he mused aloud.

"Perhaps you could bewitch Buckingham, maintain the King, ask him to marry you to Ranelagh with the hint that you might still secretly meet with one or both."  He laughed at the thought.  "How could Ranelagh object?  He is a King's man."  It did sound sinfully delightful.

"Or," he continued to plot, "you come to an understanding between the King and Buckingham that they set you up in grand style and that you shall show them both favor.  Surely they must have shared some ladies in the past.  You would commit to neither and make them compete for your attention with gifts and promises."  He was coming to like that choice the best.  "If you became pregnant, it would be assumed to be the King's."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Louis did surprise her in that he wished only for her to choose what offered her most fulfilment.  "It is warming to hear that Cousin." she spoke, "I know that ambition rules your heart, so your trust in my choice for this is an acknowledgement, you trust in my own sight, I think." 

"Yes I have mulled over such thoughts too. Without vanity I think I am currently at that stage where the Duke as charmed by me as I him, and then the King also fond of me, and not yet seeming to tire. Though I am aware I ought not rest on that score.  I have divined that Boredom is most unwanted by the King, why I would even guess that the great quantity of lovers have has had over the years is but evidence of that supreme fact.  While of course you know I am terribly fond of the rogue Ranelagh, while his family suits with our extended Louis.  Lisa's Mother being so terribly clever herself, is warm friends with Richards Mother. It would make such a fine addition to the family tree.”

This time it was Nicci who stood, though rather than take glasses to the bottle fo cognac, she brought the decanter with her to their glasses. Refilling their glasses she placed the remaining thought-fluid nearby. 

"But perhaps I see a crossroads, a choice to be made, where there is none.  Perhaps I ought simply carry on, and see where the paths lead?"  she mused. 

“Please, tell me of your visions for the season, I need some distraction from my own thoughts mon cheri  – and perhaps I can work with you to help?”

Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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"I do trust your instincts," he admitted.  He was of a different opinion when she first arrived at court but she had demonstrated a keen grasp of what powerful courtiers want and need, and she had the gift of wit to outshine the competition.

"Everything you say is true.  The King has a history of being fickle, but kind.  Buckingham has a greater constancy and passion.  As for Ranelagh, he is a fine match, but are you ready to settle down, marry and carry children in the next year?"  Nicci was so full of joy and adventure, Louis was not sure that she would be happy being a court matron in her early twenties.

"Maybe you continue and see where opportunity leads, though some one needs to give you a grand house," he chuckled "and the finances to afford it."  Mistresses had their financial needs.  He was also pondering what sort of dowry he might offer Ranelagh.  There might be one of the Seymour estates he could convince Lisa should be included.

"My plans?"  Louis was always ready to discuss his plans with a confidante like Nicci.  He crossed his legs leisurely and loosened his cravat.  "Broaden our base of support," he began simply.

"Lisa's mission is to broaden our support with the Dutch.  Already she has the patronage of Queen Mary, but also the Prince of Orange and others influential in government.  The Dutch are out of favor this season, but the wheel of fortune turns every season or two.  Though I have been advised to limit interaction with the Dutch, we earn the most favor when they are in need of us.  I need to find a match for Margetha.  I am meeting with Norfolk tomorrow and will attempt to convince him to give me one of his bastard sons.  It is a smart move.  He needs a Protestant connection when the French and Catholicism is under attack."

"Think of the Stanleys in the War of the Roses," he noted.  "One brother supported the Lancasters and one the Yorkists.  The family was always in favor no matter which way the wind blew."  He laughed at the thought.  "Of course, there will be modest mistrust of both, but a small cost is bearable until we pick one side completely."

"You and I hold the support of the French party.  We have supported them even when the Wheel turned against them for the assassination attempt along the river.  It gained us powerful friends," he observed.  They had shored up the Dutch and French.

"In England we have the Patronage of the King through you, Buckingham through the efforts of us both, the Worcesters, Somerset, Norfolk, Ibracken, the Hills.  York likes us.  We already have the support of the most important players.  But, we could use more."  That was always true for the ambitious.  "I suppose we could court Maitland to cover Scotland and Ranelagh gets us inroads in Ireland."  That covered the other two kingdoms.

"We have chosen the Howards over the Cavendishes but we should be friendly with the latter as well.  The same might be said of Ormonde and the Butlers.  I want to be respected by all and feared by a few," he chuckled.

"I think my next step is the Lord of Trade.  The office has been open since Shaftesbury fell out of favor.  After that I should try for Southern Secretary.  I can be satisfied with being Deputy Treasurer as I have significant power and less likely to be blamed if something goes wrong there," he mused aloud.

"With my connections with France and the Dutch, if I can demonstrate an affinity for both the Spanish and the Portuguese, it will show me for the diplomat that I am.  I then convince the King that I am worthy of being the Southern Secretary and deal with the minor kingdoms, biding my time until I can make a play for the Northern Secretary position.  Can you imagine us having access to the King's spy network?  We shall learn which Bourbon princelings have the clap," he laughed.  In a lower voice he added "and have all the Kingdoms give our West Indies ships free passage."

He suppressed a cough as the last of his cognac and the laugh caused him to choke. "First the Lord of Trade, then Southern Secretary, and then Northern Secretary."  He offered as a conclusion with a smile.  "This will take a few years and I may have to surrender some of my existing offices in the exchange.  By then, if Buckingham is not the King's Chief Minister, then I may have to offer my services."  He coveted his former mentor's power.  Danby had been Chief Minister and Lord Treasurer.  His power had been unparalleled, which held a special appeal to a man with the ego of Louis.

"Oh, Lucy has fallen under the influence of my old patron Lucinda Hawthorne.  I need to keep her tied to us so we can control Somerset and have a back door to the Queen."  It was added as an after thought.  It was one of his tasks for the season. 


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Louis was a man of vision, very far sighted – which was a rarity at court.  It was his ability to see the big picture that made Nicolette keen upon advice regarding her own prospect. But now, as he explained the thoughts upon his mind, his goals for the next few years or perhaps decades, she understood more of the master plan that did include her.

“You shall be busy a few weeks then.” She chuckled, raising her glass to toast his visions.

“Meanwhile I shall keep my smaller though lofty circle occupied, which adds to the favour shone upon you with each of your advancements petitioned forth.  Southern Secretary might be a fun one, I can just see your dark eyes quietly watching over a room, with everyone there fretting you know things about them even when you do not.” She chuckled at that, “so is there a great difference between Northern and Southern Secretary Louis? I confess I am ignorant to such detail – only that they are rated very highly.”

Highly enough that when they fell they vanished.

What had even happened to the previous Northern Secretary.

“Must we really see Margarethe properly settled Louis? I truly cannot stand her, cant we just keep her money and have her sent to the Colonies and forgot.  With any luck her ship will sink. Oh I am uncharitable I know, but humour me, let us raise another toast to that.” She raised a toast to her own idea any how. “Besides Lady Worchester is still unconvinced that the Dutch girl isn’t a spy.”

“Hmm Maitland, now that is another idea.  I was found a devoted friend in the Scottish Lifeguard Douglas, perhaps there is some inroad that might be found. Though I do not imaging my French toosh might do well in that forum any otherwise.  The Maitlands seem rather anti Europe in a general sense, the Scottish have quite an arrogance that way.”

"But how interesting if you can juggle Spain and Portuguese Louis. That would be quite a marvel, how might you manage to demonstrate that. Perhaps you need to lead some enjoy next off season, but what on earth might England want from either, or between either of these?”   This sort of talk was fun, and she slid her chair closer to Louis – pulling free his loosened cravat in a semi flirtatious way, Nicci then idly toyed with it though her fingers. 

“Tell me more of the role ‘Kings Chief Minister’?  If is is quite grand then I am sure that Buckingham shall desire it. Oh you shall find me conflicted then – I would hate to need choose a side between you and he.  Not that the English King asks me for comment upon such things, but what if he did, and quizzed who was my favourite for that position. I mean after all, I still quite adore you, you are brazenly ambitious. But Lord Buckingham, he is remarkably achieved and knows the secrets of just dozens.  In fact, I’d not be too surprised if he didn’t know your dark secrets too Louis.

Leaning back in her own chair she put swung her feet up to rest atop his crossed knee.

“What ARE your dark secrets Louis?”

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Louis could tell Nicolette was intrigued.  It gave him a satisfied smile.

"As Southern Secretary, I would be responsible for the southern kingdoms in Europe, such as Spain, Portugal, Savoy, the Italian States and the Ottoman Empire," he explained.  "Sometimes it includes France but Sunderland has taken that task with him to the Northern Secretary role, which is responsible for Russia, the Scandinavian countries, the Dutch, and the Holy Roman Empire. "  He hoped that sounded exotic enough for her.  "Henry Coventry holds the office now.  He was the Northern Secretary until '74 when he fell from grace.  Some say that our patron Buckingham had a hand in the fall.  It should be easy enough to make him fall again when I am ready to purchase his office.  He is a mere MP.  It is only right that a peer should hold that office."

"You handle Spain and Portugal by professing friendship to both and engender the notion that England might consider supporting one against the other to keep them bestowing gifts and friendship upon King Charles.  It s simple really," he offered with a smile.

Margetha came up again.  "Why do you hate her so much?" he inquired.  It was so unlike Nicci to be so emotional about someone in their house.  "Lisa was asked by Mary to help Margetha.  It was a bad idea.  I tried to ship her off as being a spy but Lisa wanted us to try one more time.  So I will give Lisa a deadline.  Margetha must be gone or betrothed before the Christmas season.  We can send her by ship if you prefer," he laughed as he raised his glass in joining her dark salute.

"I shall not oppose Buckingham," he replied.  "Buckingham is old and has no heir to bestow his offices.  He will retire within the next decade perhaps and, only then, will I rise to offer to replace him.  It will seem perfectly natural at the time," he assured.  "You might be a duchess and I might even be a duke," he laughed, knowing the latter was all but impossible for him.  "I will have silver in my hair and look suitably stately and powerful.  I can only hope our allies, including Chancellor Finch, shall be there to assist in the transition."

"Dark Secrets dear cousin?  I wear them on my sleeve.  How can one scandalize a man who was the black sheep of his family, penniless, living on the charity of grateful court matrons, and the reputed father of half the bastards in England?  I suppose," he dropped into a whisper as he massaged Nicci's feet that had been placed in his lap, "that he has a dark secret love towards another lady ... one who is reputed to dabble in herbs and magic, who has ensorceled the King, Buckingham, the flower of French power, a lord of Ireland, and even ... it is said ... her own first cousin to love her as they love life itself.  That is the rumor anyway," he whispered with a blown kiss to her.

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“Ah so that is how it works…” the answer Louis gave was so simple, so that she wondered at how it had escaped her. 

“Sunderland has been a bit greedy taking France as well, for otherwise I’d have said that the Southern role fare more interesting.  Who on earth would want to dabble with the Dutch after all.   Well, Lisa does I suppose.” She conceeded, and then discovered herself to have been bitch enough regarding the Dutch barstard that Louis wanted an explanation of it.

“So I cannot hate her without reason?” Nicci sighed, and took another sip.

“Really it was due to that first meeting where Lisa ‘introduced’ us, and made it so plain that she was to be the important one gaining all your Lady Wife’s focus.  Taking her shopping even, with a grand budget.  Meanwhile I had made do with hand me downs from Lisa’s closet.  Do you see any reason for me to be glowing about the silent usurper now?  For that was a half of it Louis, her lack of voice.  For all the while that Lisa gushed over the girl, Margarethe said barely a word simply accepting that Lisa was turning her world upside down to see her settled to some grand match in the English court. I really cannot abide such.. such, undeservingness.  And now, you say it is York’s daughter that begun this chain of preference? Well that hardly makes it any more tolerable.

“No, I shall happily remain hating her – at the least till I see the Vashe* has half a brain to raise a finger on her own behalf. 

It felt better to get some of this out, though Nicci had no expectations that Louis would agree with her about it.  For, just silently, she’d seen Louis do the exact same thing for his brat little sister, Cousin Lucy.  Lucy had done naught to secure her own future, pulling off the match to the Duke had been Louis’ work entirely.

The Killingtons seemed to not bother about persons who did nothing to help themselves, Nicci however, was of a different thought.  

“Send her by an anchor around her foot for all I care.” She smiled, pleased with the visualisation of the vapid (if fancy dressed) Margarethe open mouthed in surprise as she limply sunk to the muddy floor of the Thames.

“I am so pleased.” She sighed with pleasure that Louis did not intend to compete against Buckingham.  “You think he shall retire from such positions in but a decade?” she’d not thought about that before, “that is ages of course, but might go quickly too.  A Duchess do you think?” Well the King had gifted other lady lovers with such titles.  Though Nicci had some way to go yet before she might gain such.  A pregnancy would help. “Lud, I would be happy with official recognition to be honest.”

“Perhaps that has some to do with why I toy at thoughts of Buckingham – whom had no trouble being seen with me at the Reception.” She gave a shrug and moved on the topic.

“Oh yes, Chancellor Finch, now there is a face I cannot see too often. Did you get to visit him in the recess? Perhaps we should have a dinner he and us together.” Nicci was terribly fond of Heneage snr, whom had been her crush for months when she’d newly been at court.

 “Mmm…” she enjoyed the rub of his hands upon feet, listening to his list of publicly known secrets, and then one of her he invented for humour sake. “That is the darkest of them all.” She ‘caught’ his kiss and pressed it to her heart.  “Fortune then, that I am not so ruined, why I think of you as quite nothing Louis, nothing at all.”

Which was a tease.

And lead into something she’d needed to talk about, for months now.

“Why didn’t you come to see if I was alright after that awful discovery of the body at Whithall? Did you not know I was very upset over it. I literally had an assassins blood all over me – and all day you did not come see me, nor the next or after that even.”

She shifted position so that her feet were upon the floor again, and position erect, while tone was wounded (though she was trying to appear less hurt at his neglect than she’d actually been!)




Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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"Ah, I could see how that may have affected you," he admitted as Nicci explained the hurt from Lisa's attention to Margetha.  "I was blind to it because it was like taking your prize ... cow ... to the market to sell and you buy her a nice bell.  She is a bastard, there will be no grand match for her.  Frankly, we can find no match for her at all, so I guess one could pity her for you have so much more to offer in a match.  But, I understand your hurt and I apologize for not seeing it as an affront to you."  He told himself that he would be more observant in the future and warn Lisa accordingly.

As for Buckingham, Louis observed "the throne of the Chief Minister is fragile, rarely does the occupant last a decade."  Clarendon advised the King for a long time, but royal favorites would come and go.  "Even were I to gain it, I would lose it in time.  The key is to make the most of it.  It is not unlike your throne dear cousin.  Play your cards correctly and your power will be great, but only for a limited period of time."  It was a warning to them both.

 "Yes, we should have a dinner with Finch.  He is one of our closest friends though it does not appear that way to outward observation."  Finch knew the secret of Lisa's true parents and he also allied with Louis to defeat the lawsuits threatened by a flock of gentlemen claiming Louis had debauched their sisters and daughters.  Instances like this proved the greatest loyalty.  "I was also thinking of a dinner with the various ambassadors.  i need to begin my move on the Southern Secretary," he added with a smile.

Louis laughed at her tease.  "Then should you be left with nothing ma cherie, I shall be there." In that retort was a pledge as well.

Nicci then revealed her hurt, which surprised him.  "It seems that I misunderstood then," he began.  "You seemed to be growing more aloof from staying in the house.  Now I suspect it was the Dutch girl, but I thought maybe it was a ploy to get closer to Buckingham.  I did not learn of your attack until later than I should.  If this is a time for confessions, dear cousin, I must say that I was hurt that you did not come to me, but fled to Buckingham.  I learned that you were there and safe ... and I guess ... I guess I felt like you did with Margetha.  I had been your strongest and most loyal supporter.  You could come to me with any crisis and I would have saved you and punished the wrongdoer.  But, perhaps I felt my love was taken for granted and that you preferred the grand trappings of the grand Duke and his entourage.  He was your lovely new evening gown and I was just becoming your day dress.  The note you sent me was cold and formal, and, truth be told, cut me to the quick.  There was no mention of coming home or any indication that you missed my company and counsel."  His tone was serious but not accusing.

"Do not misunderstand me.  I cheered on your rise with Buckingham.  I still do.  As do I with the King.  I fear that both have supplanted me in your thoughts, though I pray not in your heart.  It is a price that I pay but if it brings you success and happiness, I shall pay it gladly."  An ambitious man must make sacrifices.

"But your words gladden me in one sense.  It means that you did want me to be there to comfort you, which I would have gladly done had you but signaled that you still felt a need for my hug and reassuring whispers.  I have told you that I will ever be here for you my dear.  But I have given my blessing for you to be free of my oversight if you wish it.  I would far prefer that you come back home, if I am selfish.  But, that is not best for you.  So, I shall be happy with the time you can find for me.  Your visits bring me joy, as does our plotting to take over the realm."  Louis offered a an encouraging smile.

"Having said that, I apologize.  It seems that I was not there when you needed me, or there to assure you that I was worried about you.  I wrongly thought that Buckingham's protection was all that you sought in that moment."  He paused to look into her eyes. "If it is not too late, I would give you a reassuring hug now."

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"I do not feel greater, other than that I was born after my parents marriage.  The things that recommend Margaretha are far more tangiable. Her money, and Inheritance too I expect, with a Queen’s favour, and a Countesses too of course.” Mary and Lisa.  

Nicci really did not like to dwell on negatives, but then this confession seemed needed for her cousin to understand.  It was due to his family relation perhaps, that he paid little mind to utter lack of recommendations Nicci had.  She’d arrived with naught but a letter that she was his cousin come to stay with his mother, whom alas, had already passed.

“Thank you Louis.” She was grateful that he understood her point of view, and as he then spoke on further, she realised that during her own hurt she’d overlooked his own feelings.  Suddenly feeling like an ingrate, emotion raised up within her heart.  And Louis fully explained himself in a way that was not his customary.  

For some minutes his bravado was gone, his shields lowered and she saw something quite beautiful in him. Heart. A heart she believed was bigger than people thought.  A heart that now exposed, and with vulnerability.

Comte de St.A, Buckingham too, would have liked to see this.  But Nicci would never tell anyone of it.    

“Oh Louis, I am sorry to have seemed ungrateful, for truth is furthest from that.” She moved to embrace him tightly, all her upset at him vanished, “It seemed like we had become at odds, and the girl, Margarethe did not help that. What with the murder too. It seemed only sensible to hide under the Dukes arm, had I done anything other there might have been difficult questions posed.  And…”

“...And Louis I have wanted to not be such a burden upon you. Especially after Lisa had returned, and, I felt she did not want me around.  I am fairly certain of that still in fact.”

“Yes, we must make lives separate.” She agreed with nearly everything he said on that, although she would hope to live beyond a mere decade of influence.  So added quietly, “Till I become the Prime Court Matron manipulating, and you the Prime Patron.  By then we might be sought after by the new arrivals to court, who shall want our sponsorship. I, we, hope.”

Well, she was pretty much certain that Louis at least would gain such a role.

“Shall I help you plan the dinner for the Ambassadors then Louis? We spoke of something like this two seasons ago, but became distracted. At the time I thought I should not attend, but, I wonder now that it might be acceptable if I did.  While I am not publicly recognised, more surely understand that I might place a word in His majesties ear.  Thus, perhaps I may play a part in your political board game.”

“And I would like to feel a reunion with you, my dearest. For whatever in life passes, family shall always remain.” She gave another squeeze before loosing her hold.

 “I should have sent my maid to you directly, and called you to Charlottes rooms. Lord Ranelagh was there, giving comfort.” She explained, for perhaps there were details of that day that he was yet to know.  Then smiling she added, “I still consider him an option you know -  and you did promise me a dowry if I managed to hook him. But that shall be no time soon in any case, so no need to get out your pen yet.”

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Margetha did not have inheritance or much dowry.  She had her looks and a bit of gold, and the sympathy of Queen Mary for being cast out by her stepmother.  There was no use saying more.  The topic of the Dutch girl had done enough damage to his relationships.  She had to be gone before the next season.

As Nicolette came to embrace him.  He returned it in a more brotherly way.  Although they had been intimate on more than one occasion, this was a moment of familial bond.  They were somewhat similar creatures and could show their gentler side only to those who were no threat.

"Though we live apart, you always have a home with us.  Lisa supports you too," he insisted.  "She does it not only out of love for me, and the love for family, but she knows you are special in ways that others are not."

The topic of the ambassadorial lunch was raised.  "Yes, you could help me, as could Buckingham," he agreed.  "Last season I was thinking a dinner at Somerset House, but here it needs to be impressive I should think."  He released his embrace as he visualized it in his mind.  "A room with maps and a globe ... to project world politics.  A round table would be ideal with exotic food from every country.  There are rumors that a Russian Ambassador is among us even.  We invite the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch.  I do not know if the Danish ambassador is back this season.  I am hoping a Turk or Italians show up," he chuckled.  "What do you think?  Perhaps you could play a role of moderator, indicating whose turn it is to speak and who should respond to a question?"  Louis knew she would want a role.  "We need some challenging questions about the Continent as well as the colonies.  Buckingham should attend.  Rupert perhaps?  We should invite the King surely."  He watched her reaction to each name. The ambassadors were more likely to attend if the King was to attend.

She gave him another hug, which he returned.  "Of course I shall give you a dowry, but he should pay me to have such a talented wife," he flattered.  He supposed that the King and Buckingham might add notable wedding presents as well. 


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Lisa he told Nicolette that Margaretha had a considerable sum of money from her Father that she had received when she turned 16, also an estate in Holland, along with a number of royal blood relatives*. 

So either Lisa lied to Nicci, or to her husband, or Louis was pretending not to know. 

Nicci thought it was the latter, and he was in trying to cheer her along. 

As that moment passed Louis was happy to think about an ambassadorial dinner party. Though went all a bit fantastical in his imagining of a venue.  

"I don't believe there's any place that fits that description at Windsor, and if there is, it would seem more The Kings dinner party than yours to use it."

Things had still changed between the cousins, for Nicolette now thought herself free to state the situation as she saw it. 

"Therefore It would be better to rent a room in Windsor town,  there would be no mistaking who's event this is then."

"Moderator, youmean like a chairman at a meeting? Hmm, that's not adinner party after all, I see mistook your vision. 

"Although no, I would deline that responsibly. One thing that listen I do agree upon, Is that I should not be seen actively involved in politics.

"Let me make some small talk, and oversee the servants. But keep me away from managing the nations representatives.  I would be bound to get bad press if I did so, and that might reflect upon The Duke and His Majesty. I take care to be careful Louis. 

"Now now it's too late to change your mind!" She came to laugh as he teased of changing their deal. 





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Louis had paid little attention to the details about Margetha, that is why he did not speculate out loud.  Lisa made it seem like she was a waif with some illegitimate royal blood and a request to marry her outside the United Provinces.  It did not matter because Margetha was now toxic to his ambitions and his relationship with Nicci.

He had gotten a bit carried away with his initial vision, wanting the scene to impress.  "The only place to rent a suitable room is at the White, which is a fancy brothel," he noted.  "I would not want you seen there I think."  He paused to consider further.  "How about we reserve the Crimson Drawing Room in the Upper Ward?  We could speak with Beverly about it.  We would reserve the room for cigars and different flavors of brandy to taste.  You could still oversee the servants and make small talk around the room.  We would want to make it an exclusive event -- one in which the ambassadors and the elite at court would push to attend."  He was beginning to think that this was the better solution.  The King would not need to leave the Upper Ward to attend.

"I am thinking I could pose questions for spirited debate," he added, indicating that the event would need some diplomatic substance.  He would think on that further.  "Most of the ambassadors will have arrived to present gifts.  It is an optimum time to have this event."

He laughed with her on the subject of a dowry.  "Curses," he teased back as she said it was too late.

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The Crimson room sounds more like it, though that is then not a ‘private’ event. Unless you wait for next season to host it at your house?"  That had been the original plan, but Louis had been distracted with Lisa's return, and so the season had passed without.

"Perhaps in London is the better place, you shall have a free hand and Prince Rupert’s 'oversight' to the event will not be implied?  Meanwhile, this season you might work with individual Ambassadors. Learn more about their individual aims at English court.  Research is surely paramount to future success." 

Much of this Nicci said in a declining role as co-host of an event at Windsor.  Perhaps Louis, given this pause, would come to see that would not be a good idea.  The Mademoiselle with her ambitions needed to take care she was not seen to politically show boat.  Louis however, and his respective goals, was practically compelled to do so.

Yet of Doweries. "Though really I think you are well and truly off the hook -  His Majesty, should he see me settled, will no doubt provide a most flattering amount." 



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As Nicci suggested a delay, Louis shook his head.  "The Roman Poet Horace once uttered carpe diem, which means seize the moment."  Louis was no scholar.  Much of his schooling had been wasted, but he remembered who uttered quotes that he liked and used.  "I will merely hire guards to keep every one out of the Crimson Drawing Room for the three hours that I need it.  They will say that it is a private event for the evening.  I just need Beverley to sign off, and then it is done," he uttered confidently.

"Off the hook, no," Louis disagreed.  "I'll not have that Irish lord think you a charity case.  He needs to come to me to ask to court you.  He needs to come to ask me for your hand, and I want him to grovel," he jested.  "If I am to torment him, then I should reward him for his suffering, and his good taste."

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It was a curious thing.  When they had first discussed his gentlemen’s evening last spring, she had encouraged it.  The result was Louis had then dawdled and nothing had happened.   But now, a season later, when she suggested he delay, Louis seemed inclined to push forward as though it was the easiest thing he could do.

"Lord Beverly is a very busy man these days... and the Crimson Drawing room is so popular."

But still she'd not hold her breath at this stage. 

"La! But I do not believe it shall proceed like that at all." she laughed, "If The English King arranges a match for me, your consent is hardly necessary.  Nor do I imagine Lord Ranelagh has ever been disposed towards grovelling, and you can cannot believe I would want a man who did." 

"Here, instead you might provide me with an allowance since you feel compelled, it might save your face some in my usual company. For usually I put everything upon the Dukes accounts."  Nicci's eyebrow rose as the conversation turned to suit her rather well.  "Besides, it would be some recompense the distress you have caused me over Margaretha." 


Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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The plans laid last season for the dinner went up in smoke when the Dutch assassin struck and he found himself under suspicion because of Margetha and Lisa's Dutch connection.  He had explained to Lisa that the season was lost to them.  There would be no advancement possible that season and they would need to wait for the following season.  

Despite exiling the Dutch girl to Basildon, she continued to haunt him.  He was not going to place his ambitions on hold until she was given away.  She was gone, as was Lisa from Windsor.  There was no further time to be lost.

Nicci announced that the King would make the match.  Louis rather doubted it, but it was possible.  "Well, I am your nearest male relative," he reminded her just to toy with her.  "Yet if the King arranges it, that is His prerogative and, in such case, my consent is unnecessary, only yours.  Yet, I wonder what it might mean if the King wishes to marry you to another?"  Might it be the way Louise was unseated, or might it be more like Barbara Villiers, where marriage was but a subterfuge?  Would her husband be as pliable as Roger Palmer?

"Oh, you can open an account in my name, which pales in comparison to your benefactor," he agreed.  "But I am Treasurer of the Royal Household, and my own," he laughed, meaning he would audit the accounts.

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Nicolette had given the topic a great deal of thought, it was her life and ambitions after all, and she was happy to explain to Louis how she envisaged it playing out.  "When I become with child, His Majesty shall see me settled. You must have seen for yourself how he cares for his many children, they are not raised without legal fathers, the term bastard is not his preference for any one of them.  They then may live a full life without the bars that illegitimacy places. Greater in fact, for his oversight and guidance is a boost that anyone else might envy. 

"When one day I become that way, he shall see me settled with a match that is mutually advantageous I have no doubt, and my children shall want for nothing." Which was more than she'd ever had, being raised largely by her Grandfather, a retired merchant. Louis's Aunt (his mothers sister) had married for beneath herself, and had paid the price ever since.

"But Cousin it is purse money that I am lacking of, for such times as I might attend a market or fair."  Perhaps there was some book keeping reason he did not want to give her actual coin. Louis cheerfully added that he would audit any accounts she did make. Which was basically telling her he did not trust her -  if she'd been so inclined she could have paused to wonder why he doubted her still? 

With a shrug Nicci let the idea go. She was hardly without other means to get what she might want. "But it is no mind, for I shall simply ask my companions to purchase this or that whatever for me.  They likely shall be delighted to do so." 


Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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Louis agreed with Nicci's assessment of how things might play out if she bore the King's child.  It was his aspiration as well.  Nicci and the child would be well cared for as long as the King lived.  After that, there was less certainty.

She asked for purse money, which was different than he had thought she had wanted.  Purse money was for daily expenses and treats, as opposed to an unlimited account.  He had feared that she might, in a pique, charge something horrendously expensive to his account as a way to outsize anything the Duke of Buckingham might offer.  There was no way that his wealth could match the endless wealth of Buckingham.

"If it is only purse money you seek, I am happy to assist.  Tell me what you need and you shall have it," he offered.  "You need not ask others to pay for your purchases.  You can have your bills sent to me."

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 "I would like to carry enough coin for the bathhouse, or other such things.  It will not be so much Louis, a few pounds I suppose." as he agreed she was more inclined to appease, and with a tease "don’t worry, you shall not find I've ordered a dozen pairs of shoes."

Lisa liked shoes an extraordinary amount of them.  

"Thank you."

Inhaling slowly, the warmth of the liquor had crept in that she felt a tad sleepy.  It was more than just the drink really.  "I feel much relieved to have talked tonight Louis, we really must not argue like this, especially as it was all in secret."  As in they had been at odds but neither had even told the other why. 

She felt ready to gather herself up and retire to her room, on the same floor as the Basildons but further down the hall. 

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"Oui, must never be disappointed in the other again.  My door is always open to you dear cousin," he agreed as she stood to take her leave.

The mention of a few pounds made him feel the miser and he was embarrassed by it.  He had wrongly supposed that Buckingham had showered her with coin.  "Thomas will bring you 50 pounds in coin tomorrow.  You will need coin to speed along servants, and to gamble," he offered with a smile. "Never a dozen shoes please," he laughed, knowing that she knew of Lisa's spendthrift ways that he had tried to curb.

It had been an awkward but fruitful conversation.  "Good evening and good luck with whichever path you choose to take.


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