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Hiding Out | Friday Night


Francis Kirke
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Apartment of The Duke of Buckingham (& Lord Kingston)

 

The door to the apartment opened directly into the drawing room, a long, narrow space furnished in dark woods and hung with crimson damasks and silks. The bank of windows looks out over the Long Walk and Castle Hill. To the right of the windows, on the west, is a well-lighted fireplace with a carved stone coat of arms placed into the wall directly above. There is a swath of royal blue cloth draping over the mantel, a wreathe of seasonal flowers gracing the center of the swathe. Against the opposite wall is a long table surrounded by several ornate chairs. An iron chandelier hangs from the ceiling to light the chamber at night, the light glinting off the polished wooden floors.

 

Further down the west wall are two doors leading to the apartment’s bedchambers. The first chamber is furnished richly in dark green, or varying shades of the color, with green and gold damask hangings on the mahogany bed, the verdant counterpane worked with fine gold embroidery. A tapestry depicting a boar hunt covers the door to the closet on the north wall, a fireplace crackling merrily between two generously sized windows in the south. Near this fireplace is a table and chair while an iron chandelier hangs from the center of the ceiling, light glinting off the polished wooden floors.

 

The second bedroom is decorated in golds, the rich earthy colors making the room feel warmer than it actually was. A fire crackled in the hearth to the north while a heavy gold velvet curtain covered the door to the closet set into the south wall. In the center of the room was an ornate mahogany bed with similarly colored hangings and counterpane; however, the bed was so high that it required the use of an ornate set of steps to climb into it. The windowless room was lighted by an iron chandelier, light glinting off the polished wooden floors.

 

 

 

Francis returned from Windsor town shortly before supper time. He had eaten at The White the night before but wasn't feeling particularly social that evening so planned to eat back at the rooms he shared with Buckingham at the castle.

 

After his meeting with Arlington, he could have drank like a fish, but he didn't want to be hung over for an entire day of attending the King. Not that His Majesty would mind very much, he would probably poke fun, but Francis could not afford those appearances at the moment. He had to be a well-behaved and humble upstart.

 

He handed his hat and cloak to a servant, and then shed his pale lavender justacorps and swordbelt to his valet. It left him in a dark slate blue waistcoat that he started to unbutton, but his valet came back straight away. 

 

"I should do that for you, my lord."

 

Perhaps that was true. Buttons were now - hilariously - beneath his dignity. "I can undo my own buttons..."

 

"A man can do many things, but an earl should not," replied the stalwart John Archer, who had served his grandfather at court in his younger years and whom his grandmother insisted he take as his valet when he'd readied to go to court for the first time. At least one of them would know all about court life and presentation. Even after all Francis had learned, John was still something of a roadmap for him.

 

"I am not so very grand. I am not the Duke of Buckingham."

 

The salt and pepper haired man gave him a cheeky look for a servant. Francis moved his own hands aside, put his hands on his hips, and allowed the valet to do it for him before unpinning and untying his lacy cravat. "And what would His Grace say?"

 

Francis snorted, "Also that I am not the Duke of Buckingham." In his defense, the Duke did also say that.

 

"Prettily, my lord," Archer corrected, looking down at the buttons as he worked.

 

Francis rolled his eyes. Archer was right about that. Buckingham was always correcting him to do everything prettily, as if to undo every bit of rust he had gained from the salt of the sea. He could repeat it in his head, the Duke's words: You have noble bearing and pretty movement under there, but you need to undo the urgency that necessity has wrought.

 

Huffing, he held his arms prettily whilst his clothes were fingered. "Leave it on. It isn't warm enough for shirt-sleeves."

 

That done he refrained from plopping into a chair by the fire, and instead draped himself prettily. "Brandy and my correspondence." He paused. "And would you plait half my hair so it doesn't fall in my face whilst I read my letters."

 

He wondered if Buckingham would be back for supper or if he had grand plans. Perhaps he would visit his lady mother later. 

 

Archer returned with his letters and a huge measure of his blood orange brandy, then started to work on his hair. "His Grace's valet asked for me to tell your lordship that the King has asked the Duke, the Duchess, and your mother for supper tomorrow along with His Highness the Duke of Cumberland, Princess Dorothea, and the Margrave Brandenburg-Ansbach."

 

Francis head snapped up, "What?!?"

 

"Your lordship attends tomorrow, does he not?"

 

Fantastic. He had to attend the table at a formal dinner where he'd not only have to worry about the King and Queen, but the evaluation of Buckingham, the critical eyes only a mother could provide, and a host of princes and princesses.

 

Just...fantastic.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Buckingham strolled from his bedroom, resplendent in his attire.  It was obvious that he planned to meet someone.

He saw Francis and could read much from his face.  "Arlington is an ass, but play your role.  Play your role."  It was a form of support from the Duke.  It was his way of saying chin up.

"I am going out for a stroll, intending to have a chat with York."  This was not typically something he would enjoy but there had to be a purpose behind it.  "Did you learn anything about your broadsheeters?  I think I may know something."  It was a way to tease his nephew into a better mood.

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It was difficult to even try to get up from his spot by the hearth when his valet had fistfuls of his hair in his hands and was halfway through plaiting the top layer of his hair back so that he could read without hair in his face. Francis kind of mentally flailed which showed on his face, but in the end he just settled for dipping his head and shoulders from his spot sitting.

 

"He is an ass, Your Grace. An ass who pretended to be offering friendly advise. I might have bought into it if I was not well-aware that he has never liked me from the moment I joined HIs Majesty's household." He nodded and offered, "I am playing my role, Sir. I said little , defended myself and my honor sedately, and told him I intend to ignore the entire thing and act as I always have done. He did not seem to like that. He tried to insinuate that I should leave court to save His Majesty the shame of such a servant." He sighed at that idea. 

 

"You might have told me these sheets said I was some sort of formerly imprisoned Turkish slave-warrior who escaped and broke my oaths!" he added, with a smile of a little amusement. "Is that accusation supposed to make any Christian European cross? I rather think it would be a recommendation."

 

His blond brow rose as Buckingham revealed he was going to see York and go for a stroll. The prince was not one of his uncle's usual companions. He knew the pair had a rocky and oft head-butting relationship, but they had gotten on during his Swiving Tour when all of his paternity was revealed. York had always been kind to Francis since the Flotilla the last time they were in Windsor.

 

"Nothing other than they aren't merchants or commoners based on what they're attacking. And it must be someone who knows enough of me to know that I've been to Istanbul and traded with the Turks. Someone with a trade position, I would venture. What have you learned, Sir?"

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"Arlington is in on it, but not foolish enough to be the leader," Buckingham speculated in response.  "Of course he would recommend leaving," added sarcastically.  As for the part about the Turks, he shook his head.  "That one was a curious one.  Too complicated and not offensive to a right thinking person.  It shows them to be desperate."  He would have laughed but Francis looked so wounded.

As for York, the time was at hand to gather allies.  York was feeling isolated now that the heir arrived.  A show of kindness would go a long way.

"Oxford is in on it," he revealed.  "His men have been spreading tales in taverns across Oxford and London."  Francis knew that the Earl of Oxford had his own regiment and was a rival to his uncle.  "He has an aide, Burgoyne.  Used to be sweet on our Nicolette."  He gave Francis a knowing look.  "Also Basildon owns several print shops in London and the south.  I could summon him to assist, I suppose.  Or we could ask our favorite Mademoiselle who, I suspect, is as fond of you as she is of anyone."  Here he afforded his nephew a smile.  He needed to empower Francis, who was looking vulnerable at the moment.  "What would you recommend?"

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Francis was uncertain if his uncle knew or was making an educated guess that Arlington was involved. It would, of course, make sense.

 

"I am planning my own method of seeing in Arlington is involved," he revealed. "If he is not the leader, we could use the ammunition to threaten him into revealing who is."

 

As to his Turkish escapades, he shook his head derisively. "Desperate and not so intelligent," Francis added, with a snort of amusement. He did find the Janissary accusation to be hilarious, and it would have been wholly so in the absence of all the rest. "It made me think to equip myself with a scimitar for my swordbelt and other Turkish accoutrements for a day. Perhaps for the masque," he smirked, not completely despondent. "Maybe host a late evening harem night at The White." He could make a joke out of that accusation, because it was so poorly done and ridiculous that it begged ridicule. 

 

Whilst he knew Oxford was an enemy of his uncle, he did not think he had ever met the man. "A weak man aims for a weaker target than his true target," Francis said. He almost suggested a tit for tat by going after this Burgoyne, but he was not one to stoop to such methods. He did not wish to embody what he just said about Oxford.

 

"Well, I suppose the question is, Sir...Do you trust Lord Basildon to help find evidence with print shops? I do not know him barely at all. As to Nicci, do you think she could charm Burgoyne out of useful information about his master? I suppose it is worth a try if she would not mind batting a few eyelashes." He would certainly never suggest she sleep with the man, not while she was sleeping with the King, and not to sleep with someone to help him. He was not that crude and uncaring of his friends.

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"I suppose I trust Basildon to aid us in this matter," came the reply.  The answer might be different for something more risky and sensitive.

"Speak with our Mademoiselle.  No need for pressure.  If she is uncomfortable, then we will choose other paths.  It is not essential."  Yet, the Nicolette he knew seemed game for any adventure.

The Duke paused as he prepared to depart.  "Anything else?"

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"I will suggest it to Nicci when next I see her. I am sure she is missing the company of staying with us in London since she has her own accommodations here. I have missed her on my travels North for you," Francis replied truthfully. "I saw her but for only a moment at the reception before Lady Worcester stole her away for some female conspiracy," he added, with an amused snicker.

 

"You will speak to Basildon then? Since we are not as well-acquainted as he is with Your Grace, I would feel odd in making such a request." His uncle had helped Basildon with the Danby debacle, so the earl was likely deep in the Duke's debt of favors.

 

"No, Sir. I do not wish to delay you with my troubles. Please give my regards to the prince," he said with a nod and a smile. "Shall I wait for you to have food brought?" he added as an after thought. 

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"I shall summon Basildon unless you believe Nicci would know the answer to this as well."  That was unlikely.

"Yes, I shall pass along your regards to the Prince during which will promise to be a most tedious encounter."  He flashed a quick courtly smile and then offered a brief scowl for humor.  He waved his fingers prettily and then moved towards the door that was opened by a servant.  The door closed quietly behind him.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Some hours later (Nicci's body clock was rather screwed up after hanging out with the Duke & Co), possibly in the earlier hours of Saturday even, came another arrival to Buckingham’s suite.

As a familiar face she was admitted by the servant freely, which was just as well for she was carrying a oddly shaped parcel. 

"Do tell me that Lord Kingston is in" She spoke to the door-opening servant, before moving forwards to put the parcel in the table with a clunk. 

 

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Although it was quite late, it wasn't quite the wee hours of the morning yet, probably more like an hour short of midnight. Francis had just retired to his room and changed into his nightclothes and re-emerged wearing an opulent baby blue and gold brocade dressing gown, carrying a book. He had intended to read by the hearth in the better lit parlour before retiring to sleep but found Nicci there instead!

 

Considering she had seen him naked many times in preparation for joining the King's bed, he hardly felt odd receiving her in his house clothes and slippers. He did, however, feel odd considering the extravagant taste had clearly been inspired by Buckingham, who could be found wearing such a thing whenever anyone thought to bother him in the morning.

 

"He is, indeed, in," Francis replied, with a chuckle. "And what is that strange thing?" he asked, pointing to the parcel.

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Nicci tried not to appreciate the fine figure he cut in his opulent robe de chambre, his golden locks falling down over his shoulders in such a casually magnificent manner. Her heartbeat never the less quickened and unbidden thoughts rushed in...

"It is a gift darling, come closer. Oh but not too close or I might hardly contain myself.  Francis what is the meaning of this sultry appearance, I hope I have not intruded upon you in midst of a seduction?" 

Because Mon Dieu, even if drowsy eyed, he looked ready

She had fond recollection of her first time together with him, eventually she had come to know every inch of his heated flesh, and they had savoured with the vigour of youth together.  She knew very well how swiftly her ex lover could rise to the occasion, but tried not to think of that right now. 

"But yes, this is a surprise for you. Need we find some scissors, or shall you risk breaking one of your pretty fingernails." the latter was a tease. 

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He let out a snort of amusement so bare that it would have been undignified for another to hear it, but he needn't worry about that with Nicci. "I shall take care then," he replied. A snicker and he added, "No, no seduction, unfortunately. Do you truly think I would leave a lady alone in my bed to come into the parlour to read?" He raised up the book in his head and then set it on the table by the gift.

 

It was a well-worn book. Older than Francis. 

 

When she asked for scissors, he gave a look to his valet John Archer, who disappeared and then reappeared with the required tools, presenting them to the lady on a little silver platter, both scissors and a letter-opener knife if needed.

 

"Ah, and thus my pretty fingernails are salvaged!"

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“Oh I don’t know - perhaps she needs a rest from your vigors?” she returned brightly assured that that was not actually the case. Francis was too diligent to leave any job only half done.

She had a gift to give!

Swiftly enough Archer found a letter opening set: and of course it was beautiful of it’s own. Buckingham did enjoy delighting his eyes. “But you must open it darling, for it is yours.” She waved away the instruments directing Francis man to offer them to his Lord. 

As he made the first few cuts and could see a little of what was within, it was Francis inner-engineer that recognised a grouping of small water wheels that bound together. Further exploration via unwrapping revealed there was multiple small water wheels in fact on this mostly wooden device, with rails and pipes and parts that moved when touched, that became more complicated looking as the more of it was uncovered.

“Can you tell what it is?!” Nicolette delighted in quizzing her friend (whom she knew enjoyed models).

 

 

*It is a miniature Machine de Marly - does he recognise it?  

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"But haven't you heard the gossip, dear Nicci? I am enamoured of men!" he snickered as the absurdity of that revelation. After all, just because a Villiers-blooded man was youthful and pretty did not make him a Ganymede on appearances alone. Francis quite solidly enjoyed ladies, as Nicolette well knew.

 

"You did not need to bring me a gift," he protested, leaning over with the intention of leaving a soft kiss on her cheek.

 

He gently made use of the instruments to open the package. He could place the wheels as something to use for moving water, most surely, and the piping only made that the more obvious. Francis had never, however, been to Versailles to see such a machine in real life where it powered the vast fountains. 

 

"It looks like a device for moving water, but I confess I have never seen such a thing in real life. Does it have a name?" he asked. 

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"La! Do they not know that the best lies need to be believable."  She replied, matching the cheer she heard in his tone. Cheer that she suspected was fakery.

In a serious voice she added, "The gossips know better than to tell me these things. I would debunk and then call them fools to their face.  No, the gossips rally with the gullible of court, it is only those simpletons that would believe such a thing.  Do those people even matter to us my darling Francis?" 

But she knew the power of rumour and gossip, in France an ill word could ruin someone’s life forever.  But here in England.  Nicci could only pray that there was a coming back from such foul rumour. 

She received his soft kiss of thanks, and squeezed his hand in return.  "But I wanted to, I had my Cousin collect it when he was in France over summer.  A miniature of the water machine for the fountains of Versailles. You are right, it is a water pump of great innovation.  I know you to be enamoured of science and models, and... well you were telling me once of your sub marine machine.  If water can be pumped up to the top of a hill. Then perhaps air can be pumped to the bottom of the ocean."

"Might it hold a clue to how your sub mariners can breathe?" she moved to look at the device more closely with him. 

While she wondered how she might help her dear friend.   

 

 

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"They shouldn't," he said, "They don't to my cousin, His Grace. He urges me to ignore it or make a joke of it, and I will in public..."

 

He sighed and was quiet for some moments. "But that doesn't change that it does real harm. Not just to myself but to others as well. To those who do and have associated with me. His Majesty has used me very often around the Queen's ladies because of his trust for me, but now that seems a very ill-advised thing. I'm sure there are plenty of brothers and fathers of those ladies who have seen me there with their daughters and sisters and are now afraid of me and my reputation."

 

The truth was that he cared about innocent people being taken up in what was aimed at him or at Buckingham. He knew that he was not the bullseye on the target but the arrow by which to hit it, or try to. Buckingham was the one. Francis was not politically threatening enough to be worth the expense of coin. If it was truly him, it would have been gossip and verbal slanders, not a fortune spent on printing.

 

"In private, it impacts me greatly. No matter the worth of those behind it or the worth of those who believe it."

 

Trying to focus his attention on her gift he said, "I have never been to Versailles, but I have heard about the great number of fountains. It must be quite the engineering feat."

 

Eyeing it softly as she spoke, he said, "I shall also need to keep water out if it gets in, which underwater could be likely..." As to bringing air in and out he said, "Perhaps so. It shall take the help of greater minds than mine to figure it out. Thankfully, with friends like Sir Isaac and being Chancellor of Cambridge, I have access to said greater minds." He grinned.

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"... but in private it nettles, and upsets horribly."  she empathised, "I dare say Our Duke feels equally, or perhaps more so.  This touches his eyeball, you are the apple of his eye Francis. Well except for me." That last she threw in as a jest to make him smile (Though Nicci thought there some truth the cheeky claim also)

Francis explained his concern, that seemed primarily focussed around the ladies in Her Majesties Household.  His words were couched as concern for them, but Nicci (who had been trying to find out if he was sweet on someone for ages) thought it a clue. Interesting. 

"Mon Chou, you imagine the minds of Fathers and Brothers clearly - but surely those men would not insult The King to dare imply he has been poor judge of character of the persons he admits into Her Majesties Household.  And you were specifically there, to protect the Queen when there was a threat last season. How could people believe those rumours any more than if they were alleged against Lord Mountjoy.*"

"Why in fact Francis, might the two be connected? Could the villains that caused all the concern last season now be focussing their efforts upon you, think you might be a weaker link in the chain of protection."  Nicolette was not going to forget that day any time soon. 

"Could it be that your presence there that night thwarted their evil scheme, and so they would remove you, so they can try again.

"Meanwhile, it hardly a bother if you went the Italian way on occasion, there being others whom a blind eye is turned, whom are otherwise utterly gorgeous. One does not rule out the other.  Hmm... it would be castration that I would never forgive you for Francis." she ended with a wink trying to make him smile.

"You've not been to Versailles?" Her attention with the gift went entirely from mind at this remarkable revelation.  "But how can your Education of French court been overlooked. You must attend, and as soon as possible. Perhaps Compte St A and Chevareuse would provide you with a tour. La, does Buckingham know of this omission from your life? I am certain he would want it remedied swiftly." 

"Oh and Francis, you might there learn some latest steps at some new dance, and wont His Grace then be impressed - I am nearly tempted to show you those sights myself. Though I shan't."  However much she thought Versailles to be required learning, she had no wish to return. Those had been hard years lived.  

But back to the pumping machine, Francis did see a variety of potential applications for this new technology.  And he was smiling as he spoke of academic contacts that might assist towards that aim. "I have not met your Sir Isaac, though I have certainly heard his name."  

 

 

*Who had also kept vigil to protect the Queen.

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In truth, Francis had not thought of the possibility that what these slanderers were attacking was that he was trusted in protecting the Queen...and that Buckingham was trusted in such ways as well. That a conspiracy with Danby at the head could not involve Buckingham. If the broadsheets and slanderers could succeed at getting both Francis and his uncle out of the way, well, that would make attacking their Majesties that much the easier. 

 

Perhaps one who might move into such a role with them out of the way was involved in the conspiracy.

 

"That is...a dastardly and devilish possibility, Nicci. I had not thought of it. I do not know if anyone has thought of it. That is far, far more dangerous than simply a dislike of His Grace's influence and power, or of me being an instrument of it with access to the King and Queen. If that were true...that would make the slanderers possible treasonous. His Majesty wishes to ferret out those Englishmen quite desperately."

 

He took a breath and thought more. "In truth, what if it is more than just the same dislike and negative pamphleteering that occurs every time the Duke gains power and influence. Even he, I believe, looks at it such a way. That it's another instance of the same, but what if it is not? The timing is questionable! And there are few who knew what my role was then..."

 

Arlington. Arlington knew.

 

And Arlington had a Dutch wife, he thought he recalled. 

 

And Buckingham had just said Oxford was a large part of it and he had an entire bloody regiment at his command!

 

Francis suddenly felt ill. 

 

It was one thing to feel hurt yourself or to feel innocent others threatened who were uninvolved, but this could go far beyond that. It could be further attacks on the royal family. 

 

For the moment, Versailles was forgotten.

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Her speculation achieved something at least, Francis mood moved to what came most naturally to him; a Villiers trait even, that of mentally calculating the chessboard of court.   

“Dastardly and devilish are too finer words for them even.” Returned Nicci, whom now that Francis thought there might be something in it, moved her focus in more intently.

“The timing of it is the strongest clue, for those thwarted initially shall continue to try find a way. It is like that saying, their battle was lost, but their war will carry on. Can you remember if anything more unusual happened that eve, that might give a clue further? That is if it was Her Majesty directly who was the target.”

“If it is that, then it might be proof that your vigil that night was successful.”

“Yes the question becomes who would have the most to gain from Yours and Our Dukes malign? I far I know not enough of English politics, the only man that comes to mind is Danby.  Would he be desperate enough to twice risk ruin to himself and family?

“Ah but yes, who even knew you were there that night – for once I am pleased that my cousin remained ignorant so Margarthe is not implicated in this.”

“Though I wonder Francis, that the pamphlets have the tone of a female in the doing. Men seem to tend toward more direct method. But pamplents, is that not poisoning of minds against you.”

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"There are plenty who have much to gain by the Duke's misfortune. He holds a special place in His Majesty's esteem which others cannot match. As to those who knew my purpose that night, the only of any sufficient rank was Lord Arlington. Then there was Lord Feversham, but he is...was...French before he was naturalized, so I do not think he would ever suffer the Dutch." Francis took a long pause. "I do not think Danby is alive, Nicci."

 

He was fairly certain the man was not at large based on things he had heard from His Majesty. The man, directly, was no longer a threat. He would be if His Majesty did not know where he was or what had happened to him. Clearly, he was either imprisoned or dead.

 

"Margarethe is the Dutch girl Lady Basildon brought back? What does your cousin remaining ignorant have anything to do with that girl? Smarter tacticians than I have not been able to ascertain she isn't involved. Nobody but myself, Ranelagh, and His Grace knew where you were other than His Majesty. And we do not know who might have found out where I was that evening. I can only say who knew for certain."

 

Francis then said, "A female? I suppose there could also be a woman involved. Plenty of men publish against their enemies, though. His Grace has said Lord Oxford is one spreading the rumors of me about London. His minions are visiting pubs and coffee houses and all such places." Then he recalled, "Apropos of that, His Grace wondered if you might wish to try to fish some information about Oxford and his activities in attacking me by talking to Burgoyne in the hope that he betrays something." He hastily added, "Only if you wish to, if it would be fun. Nothing...untoward, of course." He was not suggesting she do anything other than perhaps a bit of flirting whilst she was with the King.

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She listened to his thoughts on Arlington, and then nodding when he discounted Feversham on accounts of his French backgrounds. That made perfect sense, she did not know any Frenchman who enjoyed Dutch company let alone plotted with.   But her nodded halted then, as eyes flared with a surprise. 

"Danby is dead?   I knew no one could find him, but had not thought it though to that the most final end.  Did news of that come by a messenger, it is confirmed? " it was a surprise to her. The killing of any nobleman, even if out of favour, was especially shocking.  "Has he then escaped the final accounting, and justice brought upon his head.  How I wonder what his final thoughts were.  Was there any evidence left behind? I do hope in his dying breaths he repented of his crimes against CR.  That we might, now after his passing, grant forgiveness.  It leaves me uncomfortable to house anger towards the dead." 

Though perhaps Francis looked at things differently, or knew further details that she didn’t.

"So few?" and Nicci knew a veil of secrecy had fallen over doings after the death in the gardens last season.  But she, as one concealed, was not aware of the extent of it.  Even her cousin had been kept in the dark.  She inhaled slowly, eyes lowering as she thought upon that.  "So really, naught is resolved yet, but that we are in a different place with fresh risks to be navigated." 

While her stomach roiled at the mention of the Dutch girl, it just made no sense to her way Louis didn’t heed the advice to send her away.  But surely, Louis was not part of the conspiracy. He was just, in this at least, a fool. 

"Lord Oxford?" Her eyebrows raised.  The last time she'd heard that name it was in glowing tones from the lips of Burgoyne. John had mentioned something about Oxfords intended rise, but Nicolette had no idea that it might be at the expense of those dear to her. 

"Oh yes I shall certainly ferret out what I may. Though, as I once rejected his advances, Burgoyne may not be so accommodating.  Bu he is a good man, so perhaps it is just as well that I speak with him.  If it is fitting, I might direct him to your door if he has anything of note to report.  I would hate for him to had his future ruined, he was so eager when he first gained the military position.  La, but perhaps Oxford put his eagerness to misuse.  I pray not." 

Nicci held honest concern for John, who was a good man (Nicci had rejected his advances previously to warn him away from 'poaching' from the King!).  She hoped he'd not gone from one fire into a frypan.

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"I do not know. Nobody has said explicitly. However, if he was alive or at large, His Majesty would still be concerning about him, and he is not. Nor is Buckingham. The man is not returning, whatever has happened, and cannot harm the King or the Duke."

 

That rather meant Francis thought he was dead.

 

"Most is unresolved, but the initial plot was thwarted, so subsequent ones are less likely to be as sophisticated. It may be now that they will lay low and hope nobody ever discovered what others were involved. His Majesty does not wish to let it go. He takes the safety of his family most seriously and does not wish traitors in his midst where they might gain positions of trust...or already have them."

 

As to Burgoyne, Francis said, "My! Nicci! No, you cannot just come out and ask him. You cannot let anyone know that we know Oxford is behind it. We cannot set a trap if that is done. Loyalty runs deep between a gentleman like Burgoyne and his patron and benefactor; he will instantly tell Oxford. If Oxford falls, there is no doubt he shall as well if he is involved, but it is me and His Grace or them. Court life has its battles and casualties, and sometimes both are unfair. What I face is not fair. I have done nothing to be slandered for and yet my reputation suffers and perhaps my future."

 

He sighed, "One should not consent to serve a man if one is not certain he is honourable and that you would own his actions as yours. Burgoyne has made his choice. This is no game. I do not wish you to get hurt. Perhaps it is best if you do what it is that you do best and just be you, for you are such a light for us all, and we care for you very much."

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So Francis spoke as though the 'Danby is Dead' conclusion was conjecture, which Nicolette took to mean that he was not at liberty to say any more of the topic.  Ranelagh had given her vague replies at times in the past in that same sort of way.  She was too much a gentlewoman to press either for more than they would freely volunteer. 

Nicolette was all about keeping men at their ease. 

Though talk on the periphery of the subject still flowed freely, and it was there that it seemed her past admirer Burgoyne’s name was spoken in connection with Oxford, from whom Slander against Francis was already confirmed as being spread. 

Part shaking, part nodding, Nicci gave a sad look. "Claiming ignorance is no excuse..." she did not want to take that position, but if John was the dirty worker for Oxfords hands there could be no charitable view.  Francis knew that outlook was not natural for her, so then offered her the option of recanting her prior agreement.

"I have no intention of being naive through life Francis, I would not turn my eyes away and pretend.  No, I shall do this thing, and discreetly, with no direct question made that might rouse his suspicion." she paused, knowing she now needed to cut free the little strands of attachments towards John that still remained. 

"For I know with conviction that the man that I consent to serve is this honourable type, as is also his first man."  Francis had some other title with Buckingham, for the moment it eluded her, "I could not live with myself if I declined to help." 

Edited by Nicolette Vauquelin
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Francis felt somewhat badly for involving her in the scheme even if she was capable. It was not her nature to think poorly of people. Or to do them harm. Except perhaps Margaretha and...he couldn't remember which other lady had once annoyed her, but he knew that there was one.

 

"Court, I think, does that to us all before very long," he replied with a lip, pursing smile. "C'est la vie. Being naive here is dangerous, to be sure, but there are also difficulties in knowing the stakes are high enough to mean life or death or ruination."

 

He gave her a soft and honest smile next, holding out a hand to her gently. "I do appreciate it, as does His Grace. You know you never need feel you have to do something for us unquestioningly. We are friends." He sighed and nodded, "One of my first conversations with the Duke was about honor. I can assure you, my honor is all I had for most of my life, and I will strive to keep it intact."

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The thoughts of earlier still niggled, thoughts that the threat to royal life might teeter, with foul plotters nearby.

"You are right of course." Nicci replied, she thought of all those she knew, "I cannot think of a one who attends court for any time without having the scales fallen from eyes."  Drawing a breath she took his offered hand, and held it in both, "I pity those that do not know the danger."

Of which, surely even the sweetly charming Burgoyne was aware. He'd been at court for too long a time not to. It was as Francis said, he’d chosen his Master with eyes open.

"The Duke does have the finest thoughts upon topics like that." she smiled, and looking towards a settee gestured with hopes he'd like to sit a time.  Of favourite topics to speak of, they both surely enjoyed this one.  "Can you remember his illustration upon honour.  His grace has told me the grandest stories from his life on many things.  Or tell me a tale of your honour Francis, were it upon a ship sailing when it was most necessary, or was it in the mundane of day to day?"

 

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There was something different about killing a man up close during a war than in providing for the ruin of someone at court. Francis had plenty of blood on his hands...at war...disobedience on his ships...duels...but there was something different about this that was unsavory. He ran his thumb over one of her hands as they enveloped his.

 

"I pity those who are or serve the Duke's enemies. He is a very dangerous enemy to have, and he is not foolish about revenge. He is calculated."

 

He sat with her prettily, and as to Buckingham's words on honour, he said, "His Grace told me that most gentlemen's honour had died along with the martyred King and that many pretended to have it, but that it was...something of a forlorn vestige of the past...not to expect it of any at court...but he advised that His Majesty favored gallantry and that I should keep to my own thoughts about honor and uphold it if I could."

 

He thought about a story of his own honor. What could he tell that was neither too sensitive nor involved others he could not speak of? He settled for saying, "Taking care of Tommy...and Sophia."

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She nodded, and pitied John Burgoyne at that moment.  "The Duke once told me of a man who'd acted as another’s tool in an attack, who was given no mercy of that fact." The man that Buck's had fended off with a candlestick had been punished (perhaps with death for all she knew) though it had begun as a stupid Rochester prank.

They sat reflecting in a quiet manner, and sibling-less Nicci could imagine Francis to be a brother.

"I can believe that." she replied to thoughts of the old way of honour from before.  "The man Cromwell must have turned many to think self preservation only." she stopped herself from mentioning that her Aunt had married a puritan during that time, and what speculation might come of that. Though it had been for love, her mother had said, and then for all of that her cousin born of that marriage had hated his mother.  It was all quite strange. 

"Ah yes Tommy," she smiled as the name brought warm emotion, a youth that was quite devoted to Francis.  "And through you I think he grows to know honour also, for he is surely as loyal a young man as they come.  Perhaps Gentlemanly Honour is something that is regrowing, though so quietly that none think to comment nor hardly notice it.  But soon one day, voila, it shall be abloom all about court."

"La, but that is a pipe dream isn’t it Francis." she added then, "There are bad apples that spoil the rest of the fruit bowl."

"It is all that good men can do, to try shift the course of events from ending in tradgedy."   

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