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Managing Distance | Morning, Monday 19th September.

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Fencing Practice Hall



The enclosed area was filled with mirrors. In the middle a large circle was drawn with all kinds of lines, known as the Spanish style, it was used in the instruction of young men just learning the arts.


Several artful displays of armor and rapiers to the walls called attention. Two dummies were set up for those courtiers that wanted to practice their stabbing technique but more often than not the men gathered here to train with each other, or to observe others.




As a general rule, Charles tried not to take defeat to heart. Carrying that around with you was not unlike carrying a corpse. It weighed you down, and odds were you would sicken from it. No, Charles dissected his defeats (or at least tried to), took what could be learned from them, and burned the rest to metaphorical ashes so he could move on unburdened and enlightened.

Take his bout with Kingston. Charles had refought it several times in his mind, shadow fenced an imaginary Kingston more than once, and believed he had located the critical point of the match. After his first earnest attack had failed, and Kingston sought to counter, Charles had derobed the other's attempt to clear his blade and then, rather than attack in the tempo so created, he had opened the distance, too concerned with his opponent's reach and speed to consider lingering. That had been his crucial mistake. Not only might such an attack have landed but, having opened the distance, he found himself forced to spend the rest of the match trying to get back in measure, with the result that he had left himself exposed and overcommitted. That mismanagement of distance, slight and seemingly reasonable though it had been, had been decisive. (That was not to say that he would surely have won without it. Kingston was more than skilled enough to have won anyway, but he might have been made to work harder for it.)

And of course, once one identified a flaw, one had to rectify it, which had naturally brought him back to the Fencing Hall, in his shirtsleeves with his hair queued at the nape of his neck, sweating but smiling. He had fought five bouts over the morning, and let them run longer than he might have done, focusing his attention on entering and leaving and maintaining distance, the ways of moving that made it seem that your opponent was bound to you by a length of string whose measure you dictated. He had not won all those bouts, of course, but that had not been the point. The fact that his last opponent had danced like a marionette was.

Grimly satisfied, he moved to where he had left a canteen of water with his justacorps and other garments. The pleasant fire of productive exertion burned in him, a wonderful sensation. It was not alone. All his physical activity had awakened a physical appetite that was eager to remind him that he had not been satisfying it with anything like the accustomed regularity. He shook his head ruefully. He had not properly sated that particular hunger since... God's wounds, had it really been the last time he and Sophia had managed to rendezvous at the Queen's chapel? That was frankly unnatural, and almost certainly unhealthy. He would have to do something about it.

Not that I am likely to find anything to help here. Even if I had a willing partner, it's a mite public, even for me.

He grinned and lowered the canteen, shaking his head at the direction of his thoughts. He really should be better at controlling them, at his age. Refocusing, he caught the eye of a fresh victim and gestured a friendly challenge, to which the other seemed amenable.

Stepping to the mark, Charles took a breath and came on guard, stilling his mind and directing all his attention to the subtle rhythm and music of swordplay.


(Placeholder for Sophia)


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  • Charles Audley changed the title to Managing Distance | Morning, Monday 19th September.

“Aurora! Come back here!”


Sophia hurried after the golden lion tamarin as quickly as she was able to go.  Considering the mountain of baby she carried in front of her, that wasn’t very fast. She had momentarily lost her hold on the monkey’s leash and Aurora had scampered away. The gold tether trailed behind her, slinking along the ground like a sparkling snake. Her ever-present spy followed behind her. Esteban would probably hear of this and demand that a servant walk her pets from now on.


If only I can get close enough to step on the end of the lead ...


Aurora paused for a moment, looking back at her and chittering as if in amusement. With a sudden burst of speed, she rushed forward and stamped down hard on the leash. “Got you, you little demon!” she exclaimed, picking up the looped end and wrapping it around her hand. The monkey still sat there.  Her wizened little face appeared to be grinning.


Breathless, with her back and knees throbbing in pain, Sophia felt the need to rest. There was a building up ahead and she waddled toward it. As she reached for the door, Aurora clambered up her gown and settled around her neck. Now you’re finally going to behave.


Walking in, she told Karl to stand by the door and took a seat on the nearest bench. Two gentlemen were fencing in the middle of the room. It seemed as if she had wandered into a fencing hall. There were a few other observers, including a couple of ladies whispering behind their fans.   What woman wouldn’t find gentlemen physically exerting themselves fascinating?  Maybe they were merry widows scoping out fresh meat.


Sophia recognized the magnificent form and grace of one of the contenders immediately. Lord Chatham! Her breath caught in her throat and bright little thrills hummed through her body. Her irresistible Eros always had that effect on her. Though she certainly didn’t want to interfere with his concentration, she hoped that he would see her when he decided to take a break.


It wasn’t as if she was difficult to miss.

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Charles lunged and fell short, the miscalculation of a tiring man. His opponent countered immediately, blade lancing out as he scented victory... and Charles made a simple parry and scored with the riposte, as had always been his intention. That deliberately shortened lunge was one of his favourite ploys.

Straightening, he offered the other man the courtesy of his hand and a not entirely empty compliment. His opponent had been a nimble, active fencer, if not an educated one, and that deserved acknowledgement and even encouragement. That had probably been enough fencing for the day, though, Charles decided, smiling a satisfied smile as he stretched lazily. He had sensed that they had picked up an audience at some point, and he guessed it was at least partially a female one from the way the other man's fencing had tightened up. Some pleasant flirtation (and more, if he could manage it and the lady was amenable) would be an excellent way to cap his morning.

It was better than that. It was Sophia, gloriously pregnant – almost spherical, in fact – and still more than enough to dry a man's mouth with desire. The presence of that golden ape detracted a little, of course, as did the monkey she insisted on keeping as a pet, but one could not have everything. 

He was abruptly aware of how dishevelled he was, and had to swallow a bark of laughter at that boyish reaction. He would have thought, at his age and experience, to be well past such anxieties. Still, it could not be denied that it would not do to greet the wife of the Spanish ambassador in such a state. An effort would have to be made, even if he could not perfectly order his appearance. He wiped away the worst of the sweat from his face, donned his waistcoat, and spent some moments retying his cravat and fussing over the way it sat, adjusting it until it met some seemingly arbitrary standard of perfection. Justacorps folded over his left arm, he at last approached Sophia and bowed in greeting.

"Your excellency. A most pleasant surprise. You and your lord husband are well, I hope?"

Edited by Charles Audley
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Her body trilled with tantalizing sensations as she watched her Eros fence. Sophia wondered if those other ladies felt the same way.   Would one of them approach him after the match? For some reason, she imagined them as merry widows looking for fresh meat. If they did catch Charles’ attention, she would just quietly slip away and consider herself fortunate to have the privilege to observe him, even from afar.


She knew there was a possibility that he no longer cared for her, especially now that she was so obviously pregnant with another man’s child. If she was lucky, he would have kept their lovemaking sessions in the organ loft of the Queen's Chapel as close to his heart as she did. Pleasure was a fleeting thing, but Sophia was certain that there was a bond between them that would keep drawing them together for the rest of their lives. If she believed in reincarnation … and sometimes she did … they might have been lovers in the past who instinctively sought each other out in subsequent lives.


Charles won the bout, as she had known he would. Idly she wondered if having only one eye was an advantage or a disadvantage in any kind of sports competition. Perhaps she would ask him someday. There were other things on her mind at the moment, such as admiring the way he wiped away his sweat and remembering his slick body pressed close against hers as they rode the waves of ecstasy together. With her back to Karl, the spy would not be able to tell what she was looking at, as she was staring straight ahead and another match had begun.


Her Eros must have seen her by the way he fiddled with his cravat. Another hot little thrill meandered down her spine. As he walked over to her, she reached up and touched one finger to her cheek. Her heart skipped a beat at the sound of his voice.


“It is always delightful to see you again, my lord. We are well, and after watching you fence, I can see that you are too. It was a good match and I quite enjoyed it.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “But you know that I love the way you move. I have missed you."

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Well, he had not been forgotten or supplanted at least, Charles observed, watching Sophia tap a fingertip to her cheek. Not that he had expected that he would be, but one learned, if one was not a fool, that nothing could be taken for granted, particularly in such matters. Removes of time and distance could easily change things, to say nothing of pregnancy.

(It was a great pity, though, that her pregnancy meant that, even if they could engineer an opportunity to meet privately, Sophia was unlikely to be able to take advantage of it.)

Ah well. Her company offers pleasures beyond the carnal.

Discarding such thoughts, he laughed warmly as she returned his greeting.

"Such flattery is delightful to hear," he said, still chuckling. "I am glad that you both are well, and that you enjoyed the match. Have you an interest in fencing?"

He turned as he spoke, moving so that the blond brute could not read his lips or see him whisper.

"Parting has been torture," he murmured from the side of his mouth, and then reached up to fiddle with his cravat again, seeking to reassure Sophia as he embarked on the deception that had just occurred to him.

He shifted his stance once more, this time to allow Sophia's bodyguard to track his gaze as he 'discreetly' eyed one of the ladies still spectating. Just for a moment, before he 'remembered himself' and refocused on Sophia.

"I trust you passed a pleasant recess, your excellency?"

His words came just a little quickly, like a man eager to move past a faux-pas.

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The baby was surprisingly quiet. Maybe it was being entertained by the butterflies flitting around in her stomach or soothed by the rapid beating of her heart. Charles’ laugh delighted her, as did everything about him. And she believed it would always be so.


“I like to watch it, but have no desire to learn how to fence myself.” Aurora leapt down from her shoulder and perched on the bench beside Sophia, her large dark eyes peering up at Charles. “Some ladies do, I have heard. I much prefer riding.” A saucy little smirk turned up the corners of her lips. She hoped that he caught the very subtle innuendo in her words. It was not a horse she was thinking of riding.


“Just being close to you again lifts my spirits,” she whispered. “I wish we could see more of each other this season.”


Oh, how clever he was! Sophia realized what he was doing as soon as his gaze strayed to one of other ladies and then ‘reluctantly’ moved back to her. Karl would certainly report this to Esteban. She pretended that she didn’t notice that he had looked away from her, for she was supposed to have no interest in him and therefore, it was none of her business.


“As pleasant as it can be with this baby growing larger by the day. And how about you, my lord? Do you prefer the quiet of the country or are you glad to be back in the chaos of court?”

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"It is good to watch, when it is done well," Charles said, nodding, and then snorted at the ridiculous inanity of that as a reply. "Much as anything is, I suppose."

He would liked to have pleaded exhaustion, but there was no trace of fatigue in him, and had not been since he had laid his eye on Sophia. It might help their deception, at least, he thought, searching for some benefit.

"Riding is good sport, or so I am told," he continued, rallying despite the best efforts of Sophia's innuendo and smirk. It was an effort not to picture her as he had last seen her, astride his hips and gloriously flushed with the glow of lovemaking, 'going like a jockey,' as someone had once described such enthusiasm to him. He could not remember who, but Charles had always liked the phrase, if not nearly so much as he liked the memory currently attached to it.

"I must confess, though, that I have never cared much for horses," he finished, forcing those (wonderful) images to the back of his mind, just a hint of a mirror to Sophia's smirk showing in his smile.

There was a certain delight in hearing Sophia whisper such sweet sentiments. That romantic (for lack of a better term) element was as much a part of her appeal as her beauty or her enthusiastic wantonness. There was something very Lancelot and Guinevere to it, something that spoke to the more youthful part of his soul.

Though hopefully neither Sophia nor I shall end up retired to religious orders...

"We'll think of something," he promised, whispering from the corner of his mouth again. Only long practice in mastering himself kept him from reaching out to take her hand.

Charles did not expect his little wondering eye trick to be enough on its own, but every little helped, and it was his nature to play every card he had. 'Returning' his attention to the conversation, he shrugged.

"Oh, quiet wears on me after a while, and not a long while either, hmm? No, perhaps in ten years my answer will be different, but for now I frankly need court and its... distractions."

He made such a point of not flicking his gaze over the spectating ladies that he might as well have done it blatantly.

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“Then I could watch you forever,” she whispered, “for I don’t believe that there is anything you don’t do well.” Sophia did like to watch him. Her eyes had kept straying toward him at the reception. She doubted that Charles had seen her, for she had lifted a finger to her cheek and he had not seemed to notice. Just looking at him from afar kindled desire within her.


When she was as close to him as she was now, he inflamed all her senses. Even the scent of his sweat was a sweet aroma. In fact, Charles looked much like he did right after they made love. She longed to touch him, even innocently, but any physical contact between them would be noticed and reported by her husband’s spy.


Turning her head briefly so that Karl would be able to see her expression, Sophia wrinkled her nose as if she thought he stank. Maybe Esteban would believe that she had been eager to leave the Earl’s company but didn’t want to be rude.


“You don’t like horses?” Her eyes widened in genuine surprise and she raised her voice loud enough so that her treacherous bodyguard could barely make out her words. It would please her husband that they had one less thing in common. By the slight smirk in his smile, Sophia wondered if what Charles said was true or if he was just pretending for that very reason. “You don’t know what you’re missing. Though I suppose you might say the same thing to me about fencing.”


Sophia turned away from Karl again. “Yes, we’ll think of something. The season has only just begun. And Fortuna will assist us, as she has done this day.”


Ogling the ladies was an absolutely brilliant idea. When they had more privacy, she planned on telling him to keep doing it whenever they met in public places. And she would feign that something about him annoyed her.


“I feel the same way and I think I will always enjoy court life even when I’m old and gray. And it gives me opportunities to sing, though I am rather miffed at the Master of the King’s music. Can you believe that he refused to let me and the future Lady Chichester perform at the christening ceremony?”


In a much softer tone of voice, she added: “We were talking about you the other day. She liked your suggestion for getting rid of my bodyguard and is going to help me with it.”


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