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An After-Dinner Call | Sunday September 18th, after dinner

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The door to the apartment of The Duke of Buckingham and Lord Kingston 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 looked out over the Long Walk and Castle Hill. To the right of the windows, on the west, was a well-lit fireplace with a carved stone coat of arms placed into the wall directly above. There was 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 was a long table surrounded by several ornate chairs. An iron chandelier hung from the ceiling to light the chamber at night, the light glinting off the polished wooden floors. Further down the west wall were two doors leading to the apartment’s bedchambers.


Having had dinner with his friend Baron Dundarg, Duncan decided to pay Lord Kingston a visit. He could have waited for a later date and an earlier hour, but laying in bed awake looking at the canopy above, alone with his thoughts, was not something Lord Melville looked forward to. So, armed with the best bottle of French brandy he could find, in case His Grace Buckingham made an appearance, he descended one flight of stairs and knocked on the door of the Buckingham suite.

“Could you please tell Lord Kingston that the Viscount de Melville is calling as per his request?” He said to the servant that opened the door. As he was led in, he noticed the presence of a puppy, happily gnawing at the leg of a chair, impervious to the people around him.

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Francis had been able to sneak in a snooze in the afternoon, answered his correspondence, well, most of it, and had eaten a gratuitously large meal. His Saturday shift had been particularly lacking in foodstuffs, at least for him, and it had been torturous. As most around him knew, the lithe blond was not lithe for lack of eating. No, he was a ravenous eater whose sporting habits and frenetic activity kept him fit. 


When Melville arrived, he was investing his time into Tom's lessons by holding conversation in French, which Francis spoke like a Frenchman from having spent most of his exile there. They likely should have been practicing German since they were seeing the German prince in the morning, but Tom had little proficiency with it since Francis was hardly fluent himself and still made many mistakes in choice of words.

The valet let Duncan into the suite.


Duncan's presence made Francis say to Tom quickly, "Grab Giorgio before he pees all over again!" As if on cue, the pup went running from Tom's reaching arms in a large circle, dribbling piss all over as he went, yipping. "The Duke is going to lose his mind. Damn! He chewed the chair!"


Francis stood and greeted his friend, "Apologies...and welcome. It is good to see you." Sheepishly, he added, "His Majesty gave me a pup...with the express purpose of needling His Grace...He's very excitable."

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The Scot was dressed in the same outfit he had attended church in, black velvet justeaucorps and breeches with silver thread detailing, embroidered gunmetal grey silk waistcoat with white mother-of-pearl buttons, white shirt, black cravat, and black leather shoes. He had removed his diamond cravat pin and ring, though, and did not carry a hat or walking stick. His only adornment was the silver ring with a central garnet and carved scrollwork that he wore on his left hand. He looked sad and tired, with noticeable dark circles under his eyes.

As he was shown in, Duncan gave the bottle of brandy to the valet. It was from a small and relatively unknown producer in Aigre, a certain Monsieur Gautier.* Lord Melville had learned about it when Dumbarton’s had fought under the French, and had found it much to his liking. After becoming Sir Cedric’s partner, he had used Horizon Ventures’ connections to keep himself well-stocked.

Giorgio? A joke played by His Grace Charles on the Duke, I am certain! And a feisty little one he is too!

Moving quicker than his height would hint at, the viscount feinted to move right and, anticipating a turn of the animal, suddenly switched to the left, catching the puppy before it could change direction again. He made sure to keep the little creature’s… fountain away from himself. “There, there… Giorgio… off you go away from visitors and furniture”, Duncan said as he transferred the squirming puppy to Tom.

“And the little devil is doing everything in his power to do as the King wanted him to, it seems”, the Lowlander replied to Francis. The distraction helped him smile. “It is good to see you too, Lord Kingston. How have you been?”

Small talk was part of the ritual, of course. Proprieties had to be observed.

OOC: In 1644 Charles Gautier, the son of an oak merchant from the Tronçais forest, married Jacquette Brochet, a vineyard owner’s daughter, in the small village of Aigre, Charente. They started what is now known as Maison Gautier, well-known producers of Cognac.

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There was a squeal. The puppy's tongue tried to reach Duncan's face for kisses after being grabbed.


Tommy tried to keep away from the direction of the pee stream as he took Giorgio under the armpits as if he had done this a million times before. 


"I'll take him for a walk, my lord, though I am sure he's emptied out now," the ginger said to Francis. "Bad Giorgio..." 


That left one of Buckingham's servants to clean up the pee. Both his valet and the Duke's avoided it as much as possible.


"Indeed, His Majesty quite knew what he was doing. I have no idea what His Grace will do to return the favor, though I would guess if he ever catches the monkey in the London house, it will be set loose in the King's apartment at the palace at Whitehall..." He was sure he had heard the duke muttering about such an idea.


"Well enough. I think we have both had our trials, though it is hardly cheering to speak of them at length. I am sorry for your loss." Then he gestured and said, "Shall we have a drink?"

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The puppy was adorable. That Giorgio wanted to lick Duncan’s face brought a smile to the viscount’s face. Then, as Tom took charge of the animal, the boy’s words conjured up a mental image that Duncan better got rid of quickly, that of a leather-clad dominatrix whipping the Duke of Buckingham’s exposed derriere with a horse whip. There were stories he had heard around military campfires about such things being available in certain Italian bordellos. He cleared his throat, twice, as he brought the left hand to his mouth to conceal his amusement.

“How is His Grace Charles nowadays, if I may ask?” Duncan had been away from court for quite some time. “His spirits must be high now that he has sired an heir. May Providence grant him a few spares too, and a few princesses to strengthen his diplomatic efforts while at it”. Royal heirs were even more important than noble ones, as they were more important pieces in the Grand Game. “May God grant the King a long and happy life,” the Scotsman added. Not that he had any illusions. A King’s life was often unhappy, as sovereigns carried a heavy burden. But when one loved one’s king, why not wish for him the happiness the man so needed but often lacked?

“Aye, we have, Lord Kingston. And it is true, to dwell on them brings only gloom…” Duncan looked like he had experienced his share of it and still did. “But I will say this: if you ever need a sword by your side, even though it is a basket-hilted backsword, not a fancy rapier, all you have to do is give the word”. The viscount was not the most elegant of duelists, but that did not mean he was not deadly. What he lacked in courtly finesse he compensated for with efficiency.

At the mention of a drink, the Lowlander’s somber face brightened somewhat. “Please! I brought a good French bottle, if you want to open it. But if you want to save it for later, anything will do”. Even though the Kirke name was most probably of Scots origin, Duncan had decided not to remind Francis of it with a bottle of uisgee. It would not have been polite, given the circumstances.

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"Happy," Francis replied. "As one might imagine," he added, with a smile. "His Majesty has many children, but this is something which has eluded him for some time."


Francis chuckled some as Duncan offered his sword if Francis ever had need of it. "Alas, at court, it is not generally so easy as cleaving your opponent in two or sticking them full of holes. I'd far rather pursue such honorable methods, but that is not the way these men attack their enemies." A shame, truly. "But I thank you."


The newly minted earl gestured to a servant to open Duncan's bottle. Saving it for later seemed less hospitable, and Francis did prefer the French and the Italians for their beverages. 


"Do you have plans for the season?" he asked whilst the bottle was opened and two glasses poured.



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With His Grace Charles now having a male Protestant heir, circumstances ought to improve. The mob would have to be manipulated by other means, not religion, which meant Duncan being a Presbyterian would not be as touchy a subject as before. He had heeded Prince Rupert’s advice, given a year or two before, and had willingly embraced the Oath of Supremacy. The King being the supreme governor of the Church of England was no problem for a Scotsman. The Oath of allegiance, taking communion with Anglicans, and signing a declaration against transubstantiation had been no problem either. Although a devout Christian, Duncan felt the form a man’s faith took was far less important than that man’s core beliefs and the actions that came from those beliefs.

“If you ever need something done north of the Wall, my lord, let me know. I have a few helpful contacts”. His brother-in-law Balcarres being the main one, but he could still call on some of his father’s contacts, or the Dowager could, if need be. “My father was His Grace Charles the First’s Secretary of State for Scotland, and some still remember him. Those few could also prove useful”.

At Francis’ mention of swords being more honourable than courtly intrigue, Duncan nodded. He was not a court creature, at least not yet. Should he become one? Probably, if he wanted to become a relevant force in politics, even a small one. Will my soul be able to survive the maelstrom of the court of the Three Kingdoms? God, I hope so! If my soul goes through this current hell, that is.

“Plans? An interesting question…” Duncan’s mood grew sombre. “I find myself laying on my bed awake for hours on end at night, wishing my departed wife back, my lord, even though I know that is impossible. I try to will melancholy away, but my will is not strong enough to do so. That makes for dreich days that pass in a kind of haze…” Although the Lowlander was not as broken as when he had arrived to Cat’s house in Windsor Town, there was no joie de vivre in him whatsoever. “So, a thought occurred to me: I need something to do, anything, that steers my mind away from my loss. I am a soldier, a good one. Perhaps a guard’s post where my abilities can be useful. Besides what is expected from a nobleman, I speak Spanish and Latin, so anything related to languages I might be useful at. I also hold a seat at the Exchange...” a deep sigh. “Truth is, if anyone were to offer me the most menial of jobs, I would probably take it. Hell! I would even pay good money to take it!” Duncan’s conscience pinged at his use of the word hell, but his state of mind was not the most composed.

“That is actually the reason for my call. I thought that perhaps you could ask if His Grace Buckingham or His Majesty the King could find me of use. I do not seek gain, Lord Kingston. I just need to keep myself from being sent to Bedlam. A man in my sorry state may be seen as a risk, I understand that. But you have my word-bond. I will give my life for whatever I am assigned to do”.

Edited by Duncan Melville
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  • 2 weeks later...

"I may take you up on that offer. I spent much of the recess seeing to the Duke's Lord Lieutenancy in York," Francis said. "There may be cause for some further travels up north." 


For a moment, Francis wondered if Lord Melville had perhaps heard of his travels around the south of Scotland*. He had obviously used his own name and had drawn enough attention to be followed by that gentleman back to York. 


Francis snorted as Melville suggested a guard's post and then waved a hand gently to excuse himself of the gesture. "You do not aim high enough, my friend. Guard posts are for those who do not have more plentiful options and experience." The Life Guard might be somewhat prestigious, but not as much so as dozens of other possibilities. If they ever did go to war an experienced peer need not have any Life Guard credentials to get a command, and Melville had a Letter of Marque for that instance now. "Not to mention it's boring work which would hardly occupy the mind."


The youthful-looking earl hmmed for a moment and then said, "If you wish something to occupy your mind, I wonder if you might join my efforts at uncovering my slanderers? Or gaining some evidence against them?"



(OOC - you'd have to ask B if Duncan might have heard of Francis being in Scotland)

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Duncan had no knowledge of Francis's travels over recess.

“Melville House would be honoured if you were to call on us. Just let me know when, and I will make sure a warm suite of rooms, ample food, and warming drink are available”. In the past Duncan had been a gracious host to his London acquaintances, and would continue to be so, providence willing. But Francis was far above being a mere acquaintance. He was considered a friend, and friends you went out of your way to help. “But even if you are unable or unwilling to travel and I or mine can do anything at all for you, we will gladly do it too. Just let us know”.

That is how friendships solidified. You behaved as a friend should.

“A guard post may not require much mental ability, Lord Kingston, but at least it gives a soldier purpose, which is something I sorely lack and direly need at this point…” the Lowlander was about to continue that line of thought by saying that a guard's post was far better than to lay awake in bade staring at the draperies above when the Earl of Kingston made a request.


Duncan’s eyes lit up. What he had just been offered was something very much like that what he needed. A task that both kept his body busy and his thoughts engaged. “I would be honoured to join you in this venture, my lord. Pray, tell me, what is it you know, and what is it that you suspect?” There was a new glint of life in the Scots eyes as his thoughts converged into his friend’s predicament.

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Francis nodded as Melville seemed eager to help. Then he paused in thought. How much would he choose to say about many things? What might aide the Scottish Viscount in understanding the dire secrecy of the affair in full? 


"There was once an interest you expressed, a quest of your own. Not the one with the painting but something far greater and involving a good deal many more personages than you could expect. One might need to know that the level of secrecy and trust needed was immense." He raised a blond brow to see if Melville was following him. The viscount had passed being proposed and would have - by now - been a mason if he had not been indisposed and then away, so he did not feel bad hinting about it. 


"While the personal business of my cousin His Grace, and myself, are not quite of the same level. This is more sensitive than just a slandering and involves some peers...well...they are not powerless either. Are you certain you wish to involve yourself and give your word to secrecy of it?" he asked.

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Lord Kingston paused and seemed to be considering Duncan’s question. When he finally spoke, the sea captain's words were unexpected. “Yes… a quest for a grail…” his own left brow rose in surprise, rekindled interest, and acknowledgement. “… one I left momentarily aside during my wife’s ill health”. A painful shadow passed over the viscount’s face. “One that now, perhaps more than ever, I should focus on”. The mention of a good deal many more personages did not go unnoticed. So those I seek are among the rich and powerful and many? Interesting… That confirmed a few of his suspicions. How could those he sought remain secret unless they were in a position of influence? “If I were to find that grail, my lord, I would guard the secret with my life…” a weak smile. “Hopefully my resolve will not be tested to that extreme, but I would be willing to”. At that point in time, the viscount did not cherish his own life much.

Then a more immediate topic. If the Lowlander understood Francis’ oblique reference, the earl was not the target, but his cousin the duke. Ah! It stands to reason to attack the weakest link of a chain if you wanted to break it. Peers… powerful peers… powerful enough that they believe they can take the Duke of Buckingham down… hmm… am I willing to face the risks involved? Buckingham had slighted quite a few powerful noblemen in his political career, so it would not be an easy task he would face if he agreed to help. The newly revealed information did not weaken his resolve, though.

“I thank you for the courtesy of warning me, my lord. But I would not have offered my help if I did not mean it. As for my discretion, you have my word-bond”. Now it was the Scot’s turn to pause, trying to find the best way to word his next thought. “And if you need someone to vouch for my ability to keep my thoughts to myself, His Grace Charles II might speak in my favour”.

Whether Francis knew of Duncan’s involvement in Danby’s downfall, the viscount would not expound on it. If the English Earl knew, there was no need to say more. If he did not, there was a need to not say anything else. Either way, the King would probably not only remember, but also have kept tabs on Duncan, just in case he was an agent of a third party or an opportunist. Since he was neither, the King might be willing to speak kindly of him, as his agents would not have found anything untoward.

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The King's gentlemen attended in all sort of private moments and secret meetings, so Duncan was not wrong to assume Francis might know things about his part in political matters which others were not privy to. 


However, it was not those meetings to which they were now speaking.


Nor were they related to his predicament, but there was an analogous necessity of loyalty and secrecy. 


"It is most likely Lord Arlington who is slandering me or involved at least, according to the Duke. He could not, however, do all of this alone. It would be too risky. Lord Arlington was once Northern Secretary, he is not idiotic about such things and may have covered his tracks well. I need to know, for certain, who he is meeting with where eyes do not so easily see."


He then added, "Another likely perpetrator is Lord Oxford. The Duke tells me that it is his men spreading word in coffee houses and public houses in London and the like." He smiled and said, "Have your days soldiering and stalking prey in Scotland given you good scouting skills to following without being seen?"

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