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An indoor picnic with Lady Toledo | Tuesday 20th, midday

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On the Second floor of the Octagonal tower was Lady Oakhams room. 

The bedroom is small but comfortable, a large chestnut bed resting against the west wall. The bed is hung with blue silk damask, silver acanthus leaves embroidered into the fabric. Across from the bed is a stone hearth. Small porcelain doves have been affixed to the edges of the mantel with silver satin bows and to the tie backs of the drapes and bed curtains. Two windows are set into the south wall, overlooking the Long Walk and Castle Hill. A small chestnut table and chair set rests between the windows while a small door, hidden behind a blue velvet curtain with long thick tassels, beside the fireplace opens into a little closet. Candelabras rest on the table and mantel, casting long shadows over the polished wood of the floor.


Today Darlene had instructed her surprisingly strong maid Maisie to push back all the furniture to against the walls, to then lay out a blanket on the floor where a picnic basket from windsor  kitchens was then unpacked.  The thoughtful staff had also provided a bottle of wine and glasses.  Darlene suspected they thought this a different sort of picnic, for they also included a long stemmed rose. 

Once everything was laid out it looked quite the inviting scene. Darlene hat to try the look of putting the mantelpieces candelabra into centre place, but decided that was a little too much.  This was an informal lunch after all, not a luncheon that might desire more pomp.

Now... what to wear?! 

For a moment Darlene had forgotten she had given away her wardrobe (except a few sentimental pieces such as the dress she'd been wearing when she met Thomas), and mourning dress she'd sent for from Chesterford was not here yet.   After some while thinking she decided the most serious thing she owned was her Mortimer Brightwick costume.  So she placed that justaucorps over her chemise, and posing her look in the mirror she decided she looked quite thespian and eclectic. It would have to do. 




* Darlene's mourning dress from when the Late Queen Catherine died. 


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For her picnic with Darlene, Sophia chose one of the loose maternity gowns that Ellen Doolittle had designed for her. Made of cream silk and printed with a cornflower blue pattern of flowers and decorative swirls lined outlined in glittering gold thread, it featured a matching blue stomacher lavishly adorned with flowers made out of pearls. Five rows of pearls had been sewn around the bottom of the gown and each of the puffed sleeves was separated by a band of three rows of pearls, end hemmed by cream lace ruffles. Pearls adorned the modestly cut neckline as well and also comprised her jewelry.


By the time she reached the second floor of the Octagonal Tower, she was quite out of breath. Climbing stairs was definitely not easy in the late stages of pregnancy. At least Darlene had not been given a room on a higher floor. If she was this tired after the picnic, she would rest in her own apartments on the first floor. Though she and Esteban had rented a house in town, they kept the apartments ready in case she was unable to make it home after a court event and needed to spend the night there.


Karl followed carrying a small picnic basket that her cook had prepared for the occasion, including some of the delicious fruit juice she made. Sophia no longer drank wine for she feared it would harm the baby and perhaps Darlene would enjoy it too.


Reaching the door, she knocked lightly, looking forward to spending time with her friend.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Having looked forward to Sophia's visit from the first suggestion of the picnic, Darlene was quick to answer the door with a broad smile inviting the Ambassadors wife in. 

"Ooh you look so pretty," admiring eyes ran over the cornflower blue flowers, with just a little heart pang.  Cornflowers made her think of Cornwall, which of course Charles Whitehurst’s homeland. "Why I feel terribly underdressed in compare."  and was that? oh yes it was, there was rows and rows of pearls all around the hem of her skirts. Plainly Toledo did not lack for coin, and plainly Lady Toledo made the most of that fact!

"I'd have worn something else," Darlene apologised for her suddenly (by contrast) begger-ish appearance, "But I have nothing to wear till my mourning gown arrives, and till the dress maker in town finishes her work. Oh I know, it's extremely unprepared of me, but, well there is nothing to be done about it."

"Come come, please sit."

"Maisie, fetch Lady Toledo a drink, she is quite out of breath." 

“Or perhaps do you need to lay down?”

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sophia stepped inside when Darlene opened the door. A blonde brow quirked upward at the way she was dressed, but as she was in the privacy of her own room, she could wear whatever she wished. It was quite an interesting combination. “Thank you,” she said. “I think your attire is quite intriguing.” In Sophia’s eyes, Darlene could do no wrong.


Her other eyebrow joined its twin at the mention of a mourning gown, though her eyes filled with compassion.  She smiled when she saw the blanket and picnic basket on the floor. Now how was she going to get down there with a mountain of baby in the way?   Pregnancy made easy things much more difficult.  “I’m fine. The climb up all those stairs was a bit exhausting, but I am recovering already.”


Sophia managed to clumsily maneuver herself into a sitting position on the blanket. “I’m sorry for your loss.” She assumed that somebody in Darlene’s family had passed away and that was why she needed mourning attire. “Are you going to be away from court for the funeral?”


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Darlene, in her enthuse to mock up a picnic, had forgot how pregnant her friend was - and the impracticality of her trying to sit on the floor.  "Let me help!" she rushed to grab the pillows off her bed to prop about the ambassoresses rotund form.

"Oh no, it is not a new death, it is an existing death, one that I come to realise that I am not yet ready to leave my mourning of." Darlene explained as she settled easily into a cross legged position.  "My dear Thomas you see, my late husband. He was quite nearly perfect do you know. He was almost a saint. In fact, if I exhumed him now he'd probably not be rotted." Darlene blinked, sometimes her meandering conversation surprised even herself. "You did know that saints bodies do not perish. So yes, that is what I was meaning." 

Lifting the pot she asked, "Tea?" 

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Sophia appreciated the pillows.  Now she could lean back a bit, which was more comfortable than sitting upright. “Thank you,” she grinned. “I will probably need your assistance standing up as well.” She had absolutely no idea how she was going to get off the floor. Sitting had been difficult but rising seemed next to impossible. Oh, how she wished that the baby was born already!


Darlene was still mourning her late husband? She was glad that nobody else close to her had died, but it seemed rather odd to wear mourning clothes after the period of mourning was over. It felt as if the baby turned completely around in Sophia’s belly at the thought of rotting bodies. And bodies that weren’t rotting. Dead bodies in general made her nauseous.


She looked rather dubiously at the pot of tea her friend held up, and then shook her head to clear it. A cup of tea would help settle her stomach. “Yes, please,” she replied. “I wish I would have met your lord husband. You must have loved him very much.”


Her head tilted to the side. “I think if Lord Toledo passed away, I would prefer to celebrate his life rather than mourn his death.” Sophia would celebrate, all right, not Esteban’s life but her new freedom as a widow. She didn’t really want him to die, but if he did so anyway, she would make the best of it. “Maybe something like that would be a fitting tribute to your husband as well?”


She hated to think of such a vibrant person like Darlene wearing black for the rest of her life.

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Darlene poured the tea into the dainty and prettily painted porcelain cups with matched saucers, being very careful to not spill a drop.  “Never you fear, there will be some strong guards out in the halls no doubt, I shall call them in to help lift you when it is needed.” Said cheerfully, but then with a sigh, “Did you know I used to love seeing a man in uniform. But nowadays it just makes me sad.”

“Oh I am sure you would have liked him, everybody did. Thomas had the most friends of anyone I’ve ever known. Oh, except for Catherine.” But Darlene did not think to labour Sophia with the tale of how Thomas had nearly courted Caterine instead.

“And I love him dearly too. Though do you know I heard a saying once, that 'women most love the man who loves them the most', and do you know, I think it is true.  I’ve not met a man since who loves me as much as my Thomas did. Even though, in the end, he hardly even liked me – and I was completely horrible to him too. Love is a very strange thing don’t you know.”

“Celebrate his life?” Darlene repeated with a blink of eyes, nobody had told her that before.

She was about to ask what that might mean, when Sophia herself mentioned tributes.  “Oh. I have already done a tribute, the statue raised for the Lost English men at sea. I think it might be dull if I now made another one.  People might look at me and think ‘what statue is she going to erect next?’  If you now me at all, you must know, that I don’t like to do anything boring or cliché.”

“If Toledo dies, do you think you will marry again. You know that it is practically expected these days.” She sighed of that fact, which was in a manner of thinking a reason that Darlene should not do that.  If people expected it, Darlene was hardly interested, even if she was horribly lonley without a sweetheart.


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“Hopefully the two of us can manage. My bodyguard is out in the hallway as well and he will report to my lord husband if another man lays a hand on me. I already told you how possessive he is.” Sophia lowered her voice, though nobody outside would be able to hear her. “He has no right to be since he ignores me most of the time.”


She didn’t want to ruin their lunch by complaining about Esteban. The petite blonde wondered if Darlene had been attracted to Lord Langdon because he reminded her of her husband, as they were both in the military. He had probably just been using her all along. From what she knew of him … which, admittedly, was not much … she doubted that he even had a heart.


Sophia had no idea who Catherine was. There were a lot of ladies with that name and it wasn’t her business anyway. “I have never heard that saying before.” In her case, Juan must love her the most. She loved three other gentleman, but he was the one she couldn’t imagine living without.


Though curious about how two people who seemed so much in love could end up barely able to stand the sight of one another, she didn’t want to dredge up painful memories by asking for details. If Darlene wanted to volunteer the information, she would listen sympathetically. “I’m sorry to hear that the two of you were on such bad terms with one another. My own marital problems seem trivial by comparison.


If she and Esteban quarreled, they could always apologize to each other. Her heart went out to her friend, who might not have had that option before her husband passed away. Or maybe they had reconciled. Darlene seemed to be devoted to him even now.


“Celebrating the life of a deceased loved one is a different kind of tribute,” Sophia explained. “It is not as tangible as a statue, but means even more. You should live the way he would wish you to live to honor his memory. He would not want you to mourn him forever, but to live life to the fullest.”


Would she marry again if Esteban died? “If the right gentleman asked me, I would not hesitate. Our marriage is one of convenience, not affection."

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On the topic of how she’d get back to her feet, Sophia was quick to get in a dig at her husband.  Which was Darlene’s cue to steer the conversation another way…

“Well ever since I heard that saying, I’ve thought it is true at least with myself.  Which sort of annoys me actually.” A little frown briefly marred her face as the beauty briefly wondered to this annoyance at herself.  But with a shrug she swept the contemplation aside. 

So then Sophia explained what was meant by ‘celebrating the life of a deceased loved one’.  And it was weighty stuff.

“Oh dear, but that would be awfully difficult to do. Thomas was an idealist, with very high expectations of both himself and me.  For instance, I probably ought not tell you think, but not a minute after he proposed he went on to say that he would not stand for my flirting or entertaining any others.  Then not to mention how he was always looking after others, such as widows orphans and… and a third thing I cant remember at the moment.  He was entirely selfless, except for his lust for adventure.”

Which brought her to a pause.

“Do you think I could ‘Celebrate his life’ by taking on adventures? For that is the one thing I think I might enjoy.”

Sophia answered her question with barely any thought, and then explained to the why. 

“Oh, I see, yes convenience marriages are rarely lamented, well apart from the rank you’d loose.  It must be quite lovely being an Ambassadors wife, I bet you get…” she briefly paused to imagine the things she wanted but did not easily come by, such as the fancy dinner invitations, gifts from admirers, imported fabrics, and... and then she spoke the thing she was most certain would be Sophia’s, “…a box all to yourselves at every theatre you go to. And probably for free. Well maybe not for free, I hardly know.”

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Darlene still didn’t understand what she meant by celebrating her husband’s life. It was unfortunate that she didn’t understand German or Italian. Sophia could have explained it much better in the languages she spoke fluently. English was always tripping her up.


“What would he have wanted you to do if he knew that he was going to die? Wouldn't he wish for you to live a fulfilling life, embrace new experiences, and find happiness with somebody else? A selfless gentleman would not want his widow to be faithful to him if he died. Being more adventurous would a tribute to him too, as that was something he loved.”


Sophia grinned. “And you would not have to go on adventures alone. I would love to join you after the baby is born.”


There were definitely a lot of advantages to her current position and she realized for the first time that she didn’t want to lose it. She definitely didn’t want Esteban to pass away. “We do get our own box at the theatre and I am accepted into social circles that most foreigners are excluded from. It is not wise to shun the wife of an Ambassador. It probably wouldn't lead to war, but there might be strained relations between the two countries.”


She took a sip of tea. “I am trying to improve my own marriage. Lord Toledo and I need to spend more time together. We are practically strangers. I invited him to go with me to the Carnival and he agreed without any convincing. Perhaps he wants the same thing I do."

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Sophia had not met Thomas, so could not know. 

“No, he’d not have wanted me to remarry, I am quite certain of that much.” Darlene said, with belief that he’d basically said that much to her on the day of his proposal.

But still Sophias words were thought provoking, and Darlene tried to imagine what Thomas had really wanted from her.  Even when he’d been alive shed disappointed him, and had not really understood what he’d wanted from their marriage.

“I really do not know.”

A wave of sadness flooded over Darlene, she’d never planned to fail at marriage, or at any relationship really. Perhaps it was the same thing that had been the problem with Lord Langdon, for there was some deficiency in her that made him change his mind and not want to marry her after all.

“They don’t like my adventuring.” She knew that was true of Thomas, and while Charles had encouraged this she’d later learnt that was because it would be convenient for him if she’d disappeared.

It became preferable to talk of Sophias marriage, and for the first times since they had met Darlene managed to cheer her hopes for happiness on that front.  “I am so pleased to hear that.  It is true, your position is a very fine one, an honour really, a wonderous prize.”

“I would expect he wants a happy home life also, and in the least your gentle companionship shall surely lighten the load of his work demands.  I hardly know what ambassadors have to do, but I would guess there are lots of letters to write. He probably gets writers cramp.  Mmm, I wonder if your warm hand upon his at the end of the day would be very soothing, and would make him love you more.”

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Sophia blinked. “So he would have wanted you to honor his memory by mourning him forever? That’s so selfish. If that was what my husband wanted, I would find a lover on the day he died and forget he existed.”


Darlene seemed so sad. Sophia wished she could cheer her up. She suspected the reason for her friend’s melancholy mood went deeper than missing a husband who didn’t seem nearly as perfect as she described him. Something else was bothering her, but what? Was she still upset that Lord Langdon had dumped her? In the petite blonde’s opinion, she should be celebrating instead.


“Some gentlemen like adventurous ladies. Lord Toledo doesn’t, but that’s his problem, not mine.”  A thoughtful pause. “Maybe that’s another reason he insists I don’t go anywhere without my bodyguard. He knows that if adventure finds me, I won’t be able to resist it.”


Sophia’s smile brightened. “My position even allows me to speak to the Queen. Yesterday, she invited me to sit with her and her ladies at the yacht races on Friday.”


The young Countess didn’t think that Esteban would appreciate her touching his hand or any other part of his anatomy. “I don’t know what he does either. He never tells me about his duties. I was hoping that our marriage would be more of a partnership, but …” She shrugged. “Maybe all Spaniards keep their business lives separate from their personal lives.”


Sophia shifted to a more comfortable position. “You’re too good for Lord Langdon, you know. You shouldn’t waste another thought on him. Have fun. Flirt with other gentlemen and charm them. I envy you for the freedom to do anything you wish. You should take advantage of it.”

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How Sophia painted it, didn’t sound like Thomas at all.  He had not been nasty nor malicious nor unkind.   Darlene shrugged, “I don’t know, I cannot explain it.”  Word were simply failing her at this time.

Meanwhile her friend was working out some of the nuances to her own husbands intentions.  “Also, he need protect you from enemies to Spain.” Darlene considered.  “Like, Portugal.  Apparently, though neighbours, they hardly get along.”

Darlene had other things she might say about Portugal, such as how she had been courted by the Portuguese ambassadors son, but that was hardly interesting conversation.

“That is a blessing.” She replied to learn of Sophia’s invitation, “this might be a new door opening to you.” She stopped and blinked, then asked “ What shall you wear?”

 Darlene had not anything to do with Spanish men, though she Portuguese seemed similar.  “Perhaps he thinks it would bore you. Have you asked him questions about his work. Like, does he have a clerk to do his writing? Does his clerk have a wife? And if he does, and all that, then perhaps Esteban would like it is you visit him while he is working so he can show you off.”  She shrugged again, “I don’t know, I am only guessing.  But I cannot imagine that anyone would want to live without close ones in their lives.  And you might, so easily, be his dearest confidante.”

Darlene knew she was down, but she’d not expected Sophia to just come out and say something like that.  Shocked to (temporary) silence Darlene just looked at Sophia, an awful shuddery feeling fell upon her, and tears welled up and then the first slid down her cheek. 

“But you don’t understand.” She burst into tears, her throat clenched so tight that her words were squeaked.  “If Charles, who always loved me, doesn’t love me anymore. Then how can anyone who doesn’t even know me love me one day.  I… I have not a very good reputation you see.  Even Charles, when I returned, talked about how difficult it was going to be for me. And, he was going to help me. But, actually he didn’t, he kept me as a dark secret.”

Sniffing she scooped up a handful of chemise and dabbed at her face.

“I’m so sorry Sophia. I don’t want to be miserable company.”

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“Protection from Spain’s enemies and Catholic haters was the explanation he gave me for insisting I take a bodyguard with me. One of the disadvantages of my position is that I always have a target on my back. It’s especially worrying now that I’m pregnant. I haven’t even met the Portuguese Ambassador. He keeps his distance for some reason. I hope it’s not because he is planning an attack on us.” Sophia sighed. “Maybe Esteban told him to stay away from me. Have you met him? I sometimes wonder what he’s like.”


Darlene was happy that the Queen had invited Sophia to watch the yacht races with her. “I hope so.” As to what she would wear, Sophia’s eyes widened. “I have no idea. What does one wear to yacht races? I’ve never been to one because of my fear of water. Will you come over on Thursday to help me choose a gown?  Or should I have a new one made?  There's not much time."


Her friend also had some suggestions to improve her strained relationship with her husband. “I’ve never asked about his work because I figured he would tell me to mind my own business. If he wanted my help, would he not have asked for it? I suppose you could be right, that he thinks I would be bored. He seems to see me as a child in many ways, probably because he’s a decade older than I am.” She smiled brightly. “I shall try it.”


Darlene just stared at her for a long moment after Sophia remarked that she was too good for Lord Langdon. The petite Countess wished she had not been so blunt. Was this the end of a friendship she cherished? She noticed a tear slide down Darlene’s cheek. She’s going to tell me to leave and never come back.


But she didn’t. She burst into tears and confessed her fears that she wasn’t worth loving, partly because of her reputation. Sophia remembered that Darlene had stabbed Master Killigrew at a ball last year, but she was unaware of any other scandal associated with her. And why should that matter, since it was in the past and she was perfectly respectable now?


“It’s okay,” she said reassuringly, scooping up a cloth napkin and handing it over. “What are friends for if not to listen and help each other? I will always be here for you whenever you need someone to talk to.”


Sophia scooted closer to Darlene and squeezed her free hand. “Why do you believe that you are to blame for Lord Langdon’s rejection? Have you ever considered that he is at fault? Damaged reputations can be repaired and you don’t need him to help you. You are perfectly capable of doing it on your own or with assistance from your friends.


“Maybe he was just using you all along and never cared for you at all. He’s probably doing the same thing to other ladies. You are beautiful, intelligent, creative, and witty. Any true gentleman would be thrilled if you did nothing more than smile at him.  There is nothing wrong with you, Darlene. There is something wrong with Lord Langdon.  I know it hurts now. I have experienced heartbreak myself.  But one day you will be glad to be rid of him."


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It was politics that kept Sophia heavily guarded, the more that Sophia spoke about it the more certain that became. 

“Oh yes I have met him, well unless there is a new ambassador for Portugal. Lord de Silva is an especially lovely gentleman, in fact, I shall admit to you, that I liked him far more than his son who was at the time trying to court me.” Darlene revealed, upon account that Sophia had actually asked.  “From what I knew of him, I would say he’d never hurt a lady, especially one in your condition. But, well the French is another story, those people are a nasty piece of work. Did you know that they murdered my first fiancée.”

To hear her talk anyone might think that Darlene had once been popular, the truth was more that she flitted around never settling down even after she’d been married.

“No there is no time to get a gown made, I ordered one on Monday, and it’s not till Thursday that I get it fitted.” Darlene advised. “You should wear blue I think, like the water. Unless you want to wear the colours of Spain… yes you really ought to have a dress made to embody your Husband’s countries flag.  But only if they are beautiful colours of course.” She mused

She smiled at Sopia seemed to like her advice, “Thank you Sophia.” She replied, for it felt nice to be valued in such a way.

“And I’d love to help you decide what to wear, so long as it doesn’t clash with my trip to the dressmakers.”

 The conversation then got very personal, and Darlene voiced her heart with tears that flowed.

Grateful of a napkin she dabbed her face. “Thank you my sweet, I’ve really nobody else to confide in. I wanted to tell my brother about it all last recess, but he his abominably happy what with the new baby and all of that. And None of my late husbands family would understand.”

There was a time when she’d have bared it all to Heather, but Heather had taken herself ay from court now for nearly a year (Or perhaps it was even over a year now. )

“Well I feel deficient for if I was more of a woman I’d be enough for him. But he told me that he kept lovers, multiple of them, and if we married he planned to carry on with all of them.” She explained why she felt to blame for the break up.

Sophia had some lovely things to say, and while Darlene could not imagine a new future for herself, she was comforted by the kindness expressed. “Thank you. Thank you so much for saying such things.” She wiped at her cheeks once more, “and I hope you are right.”

“So… you have been heart broken too? I can hardly imagine that anyone would let you slip away from them.” She invited Sophia to share her tale if she wished.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Darlene’s description of the Portuguese Ambassador made him seem like the kind of gentleman who wouldn’t stoop so low as to strike at Spain by harming a lady and her unborn child. If the Portuguese were anything like the Spanish, the reason that Sophia had not yet met him was most likely because a mere lady didn’t interest him. Maybe he preferred not to associate with her husband either. Or perhaps they respected each other. She was quite curious about him now, though not enough to contrive a meeting with him.


“So the son was not as nice as his father?” Many gentlemen who had attempted to court her when she was single had been more interested in taking her to bed than taking her to church. Maybe that was what Darlene’s Portuguese suitor had been like too. Men were so predictable.


Her eyes widened at her friend’s next revelation. “That’s dreadful!” she exclaimed. “Why did they do it? I hope that they're rotting in the Tower.  Or in the ground.” Maybe there was a good reason that the Spanish detested the French. Perhaps Darlene’s fiance had been a Spaniard.  Some of them, like her Prince, were handsome, charming, and irresistible.


The conversation turned to a more pleasant topic: what to wear when invited to a yacht race with the Queen. Sophia supposed it was a good thing that there was no time to get a new gown made. She didn’t really need any more maternity clothes when she would only be wearing them for less than two months. “This one’s blue.” She lifted an edge of her gown. “And it’s fancy enough, I think.” If she did wear it and the Queen asked who had made it, then maybe she would ask Ellen Doolittle to design something for her.


“But yes, please come over when it’s convenient and look over my other dresses. Another one might be better.”


Sophia was glad that Darlene had confided in her. Her breakup with Lord Langdon must have troubled her for quite some time and perhaps she could help her friend see reason. “Gentlemen always blame women for everything. In fact, I shouldn’t even call Lord Langdon a gentleman. He wanted you to think you were not good enough for him. The problem is obviously his, since he refuses to give up his  lovers. Some men just can’t be faithful and the fault lies with them, not with the ladies. At least he was honest with you and didn’t marry you while carrying on with his mistresses behind your back.”


The petite Countess squeezed Darlene’s hand again. “If you have any doubts about your appeal, observe the way gentlemen look at you at the next court event. Smile at them and they’ll probably come over and talk to you. You might even make Lord Langdon jealous.”


Darlene asked about her own heartbreak and Sophia smiled in reminiscence. “I can even tell you who it was. Did you ever meet Master Cole, the brilliant composer? I fell in love with him not long after we both arrived at court. He said he was in love with me too, but I think that we were more in love with the idea of each other. Every singer dreams of a composer to write songs for her and every composer dreams of a singer to bring his music to life. We both ate, slept, and breathed music. Now that I look back on it, that was all we really had in common.


“Our relationship didn’t last long. There were rumors about me sleeping around at a ball and he believed them, even though they weren’t true. He accused me of lying to him and wanted nothing to do with me anymore. I was devastated and pined for him for a long time, until another gentleman finally turned my head. Master Cole and I eventually made up and became friends.  We even worked together.  I sang the lead role in the opera he and Master Greyson wrote for the King.  By that time, I was completely over him and wondered what I had seen in him in the first place.”


She chuckled. “Maybe you will feel like like about Lord Langdon someday.”

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  • 4 weeks later...

"He was nice enough, but it was his father that had the real charm." Darlene explained.  She didn’t want to badmouth the son, who had left England when she'd broken off with him.  Apparently he'd liked her far more than she had liked him.  

Of the French tale (which seemed such old history, it being all of 3 years ago now) her friend gasped with a pleasing theatrical-ness.  Naturally-dramatic Darlene fed off this, and went on to reveal more to her gentle audience, "It was my Thomas who chased after those villains, and served justice for my fiancées abduction, then murder, in France." she paused, wondering if at the time she had not thanked him enough? For in hindsight it sounded like he'd made a grand gesture, while at the time Darlene had been generally distracted by all of the other activity in her life.  She had hardly really grieved Edmund, or had his name been Edward?

"Oh and that one is very pretty." Darlene nodded of the gown that Sophia wore, "It is certainly fine enough for an audience with the queen, hmm, though it does not really say 'I am Spain'."  She nodded in agreement that she would visit Sophia to properly go through her wardrobe together. "That sounds like grand fun."

Sophia offered kind advice to her Lost Lord Langdon problem, and it was a perspective shed not thought of prior.  "I suppose you are right, I would have been more upset if he'd married me first then continued to shame me that way in front of court." she nodded, "Like the poor Lady Winchelsea and her caddish husband. Humiliated at every turn."     

It was a consolation of a sort, though did not yet mend her broken heart. 

Sophia's tale was a welcome distraction, and all of it was entirely new to Darlene. 

"I think I saw him, the name rings a bell, but I never met your Master Cole.  He sounds far too artistic to be reliable." she nodded at the end of the story.   "It was fortunate, in the end, that it was over.  Hmm... yes perhaps I shall feel like that about Lord Langdon too?  One day. Though for now I am happier to be angry at him, I am not yet done with my bile."

Hearing herself, she then laughed.  

"Oh Sophia, you are truly a tonic!"



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Darlene didn’t elaborate over her relationship with the Portuguese Ambassador’s son. Maybe that romance had been one-sided. He had cared for her, but he had not been the kind of gentleman she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Sophia had had plenty of such suitors when she had first debuted at court.


“You speak so highly of the Ambassador that I will no longer fear him. In fact, I wouldn’t mind meeting him.” Perhaps she would look for him at the next court event. She doubted that Esteban would introduce her to him, but somebody would be able to point him out to her. 


So the French had kidnapped Darlene’s fiance, taken him to France, and killed him. Had he been a spy perhaps? If so, her friend was better off without him, though it was sad that he died. Spying was a dangerous game. “Your husband avenged your fiance? He must have loved you very much.”


She decided not to tell Darlene about a similar situation in her own life. Esteban and Francis had killed an Italian who had planned to abduct her, but she had not loved him and Esteban and Francis didn’t love her. Not in a romantic way, anyway. She was like a sister to Francis and Esteban had probably wanted to remove any threat to her safety that would take her away from Juan.


Her friend admired her gown but thought that she should wear something more Spanish. “The colors of the Spanish flag are bright red and yellow. Neither are colors that look good on me. If I wanted to dress like a Spaniard, I would be covered in black from my neck down.”  Sophia wrinkled her nose. “I think my gown should not call attention to my position, but I can add some subtle Spanish touches. I  definitely need your advice. Together we can come up with an ensemble that flatters both England and Spain.”


The blonde Countess shook her head sadly when Darlene brought up poor Lady Winchilsea. “I think her husband has seduced almost every pretty young lady at court. At least Lord Langdon spared you that horrible fate. He must care for you, at least a little bit.”


Darlene had never met Lucas. “I’m better off without him romantically, but musically, he is a genius. If he ever returns to court, I hope to collaborate with him on another opera. He found somebody else too. Maybe she ran off with him when he disappeared from court."  She had absolutely no idea that the ‘lady’ both Lucas and Lord Chichester had fancied was her good friend Master Greyson.


Sophia grinned mischievously when Darlene declared that she was not done with being angry at Lord Langdon. “I think that’s a great way to get over somebody. I was furious at Master Cole for a long time too. It was actually rather fun. I liked to daydream about refusing him if he ever begged me to take him back. If Lord Langdon promised to give up all of his mistresses and be faithful to you, would you give him a second chance?”


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“Yes, Thomas did love me.”  her eyes dropped, “Though he also loved adventure.  I think that was the main reason he chased after, and brought the French to justice.  More than anything else he loved to quest forth.”

“I think I’d like to see Lord de Silva again too. Next time there is a ball, I shall be happy take you to him to introduce.”  Perhaps he would be different from time, or perhaps he’d not be so nice to her since she’d broken her sons heart.

“Hmm…” after Sophia explained the Spanish colours, Darlene could appreciate the pickle she was in.  “If you were a dark haired lady it would be perfect, but with fair hair you’d disappear in such colours.” Nodding she agreed, “Oooh, what if you simply tie a Spanish flag at an angle around your waist, while wearing pops of red jewellery, oh and perhaps even red shoes. You might boost Spain’s presence at court that way… oh and also, do you know any of their dances?”  Which reminded her of a dance that she and Henry had done one day.  Full of fire and theatre.  “Have you met Lord Gray. You simply must, he is an exceptional dancer. He quite took my breath away! He would make an excellent dance teacher.”

Sophia was good medicine for Darlene. Now with talk of enjoying being angry at Charles, which Darlene could really get onboard with.   “I returned the present he sent me.” She revealed proudly.

The sudden question though, caught her off guard.    Darlene heard herself asking, “Do you think he might do that? He’s not wholly bad after all, or I would not have loved him in the first place.“

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  • 2 weeks later...

“Did that happen before or after you married?” Sophia was curious as to whether Thomas had exacted revenge on the Frenchmen who had murdered Darlene’s fiance, not just because he craved adventure, but also so that she would marry him. It was definitely a good way to prove his love for her. Since her friend was adventurous herself, they had probably been perfect for each other. No wonder she missed him so much.


“I shall look forward to it,” she said about meeting the Portuguese Ambassador, “as long as he doesn’t get mad at you for introducing him to his enemy’s wife.” The young blonde tilted her head to the side. “I assume that the two of them are enemies or I would have met him by now.”


Darlene understood her difficulty with wearing the bright colors of Spain. “Lord Toledo would be horrified if I wore a Spanish flag around my waist. He would consider it the epitome of disrespect. Spaniards are obsessed with their honor. I do have some Spanish jewelry and maybe I can wear some flowers in my hair like I’ve seen some women do.”


As for Lord Grey: “Yes, I have met him but I have never danced with him. I think I know most of the Spanish dances.  There were lots of balls in Madrid. If he doesn’t mind, and Esteban allows it, perhaps we can perform one together at the masquerade ball. Nobody will know who we are.”


The baby kicked, reminding Sophia that her belly wouldn’t be easy to hide. She looked down at it and chuckled. “Well, they won’t know who he is. I think everyone will recognize me no matter how well I’m disguised.”


If Lucas had sent her a present after they broke up, she would have returned it too. Unless it was a cat. Or a puppy. Or any cute little animal. But he had sent her nothing at all.


Darlene seemed surprised at her question. “Since he sent you a gift, maybe he still cares for you and was trying to apologize.” Sophia rolled her eyes. “You know how gentlemen are. They’re afraid of rejection so they try to make amends by sending presents.”


Her lyrical voice turned thoughtful. “Like I said before, I don’t know him well. It’s also possible that he believed an expensive gift would make you accept his infidelity. If he approaches you, you should at least speak to him. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If not, then you’re definitely better off without him.”


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“It was quite a long time before we were married, or engaged even.” Or at least it had seemed a long time at time, but now, well she hardly remembered how many months had passed before Thomas had finally proposed.

Sophia pointe out that her husband Toledo was probably de Silvas enemy.  “You are quite clever at politics.” Darlene sighed realising that the other was right.  “We ought probably rethink this, and after all, he might be angry at me too still.  I should hate to approach him and then be snubbed.”

She recently been snubbed by the Killigrews, it was a cut that had gone deep.

“Hmm.” Darlene’s mind was not put to rest regarding the wearing of a Spanish flag however, although she had come to agree that Sophia herself would not suit it.  Rather, she was now toying with the idea for herself.  Although. She had just decided to wear all and only black.

“Why is everything so difficult.” She sighed, and took another bite of cream sponge.

But then, her clever friend, struck upon the solution. The Masquerade. 

“That is a brilliant idea.” although Darlene was not thinking about Spanish dancing at that moment, but that she would wear something colourful to that event; namely a Spanish flag.

Sophia hardly needed to make much of a reply, for Darlene to realise that Charles was simply no longer an option.  “No, no, it is better this way.  He revealed himself not to be the man that I thought he was. I would rather be alone than suffer though a life of disappointment.”  She shrugged the topic away, and then shifted up to her knees, can I feel the baby move?”

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  • 2 weeks later...

“He must have loved you even then.” Sophia could think of no other reason for a gentleman to willingly rush headlong into danger that wasn’t personal, even if he was fond of adventure. Though the story was tragic, it was also romantic and she was glad that Darlene had experienced happiness in her short marriage. She hoped that her she would find even greater joy with another gentleman when she was ready to move on. The petite singer did not think that gentleman was Lord Langdon.


She beamed when Darlene complimented her on her political ingenuity. Sophia had diligently studied the subject, hoping to improve her understanding so that she could be an asset to Esteban in such matters. The Queen had complimented her too, but her own husband didn’t notice that she wasn’t as clueless about politics as she had been when they first married. She knew that she was far from an expert and was determined to increase her knowledge until she was.


“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “I suppose he could blame you for rejecting his son and introducing him to me might just make matters worse. Maybe you can point him out to me and I can ‘accidentally’ bump into him.” Sophia didn’t really care if the Portuguese Ambassador snubbed her or not. If he was as politically astute as she believed him to be, he would at least be polite.


She wasn’t certain what Darlene thought was so difficult. Wearing a few Spanish accessories should be enough, though she was beginning to think even that was unwise. What if the Queen was offended by her flaunting her position by means of fashion? Ever since she had arrived in England, she had wanted to become Her Majesty’s friend.  She would do nothing to jeopardize that possibility now that it was almost within her grasp.


Darlene liked her idea about demonstrating Spanish dances with Lord Grey. “The next time I see him, I will ask him what he thinks about it. We’ll have to skip the more vigorous dances until I have the baby.” Had she known her friend’s true thoughts, she would have advised against wearing a Spanish flag to the masquerade or any other function. At the very least, it would give her a reputation as a Spanish sympathizer.


It pleased her that Darlene decided to cut all ties with Lord Langdon. Sophia didn’t think that they were good for each other at all. Darlene was so vibrant and Lord Langdon was a stick in the mud. She didn’t have the heart to say it, though, and would have supported her if she had decided to give him a second chance.


“Of course you can.” Sophia grinned. She never asked if anyone would like to feel the baby kick, knowing that they would politely agree even if they thought such things repulsive. Yet when somebody asked her, she was always happy to oblige. Taking Darlene’s hand, she placed it on her belly where the baby was currently most active. It immediately pushed against that very spot.


“I can hardly wait to hold my child in my arms. I just wish that my beloved …” She stopped herself before she revealed too much. The truth was practically bursting out of her. “Darlene.” she asked, lowering her voice. “Can you keep a secret if I tell you one?”


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Darlene sighed, dramatically rolling her eyes, “It would be really short-sighted of him though, to hold a grudge will only deny himself of my fine company.”

And she’d thought the Ambassador so very charming and nice.

“Oh Sophia, imagine if his wife died and then he could marry me, and we would be like sister-ambassadors' wives,  because our countries would be side by side, you see?”

 Darlene had been terribly disappointed when she’d first learnt de Silvas wife was alive, prior to that she’d been fully prepared to swap out the son for father in her relationship sights.

And again, Sophia said something that pointed out Darlene's ditz. “Oh I forgot about how you can't dance at the moment.”  And the dancing style of Lord Gray had been extremely energetic!  Impossible for the very pregnant countess. “Perhaps he can invent some sort of sitting down dance for ladies in your position, we might call it a lap dance perhaps, and could still be entirely thrilling.” She tried to cheer Sophia with other possibilities.

“Or perhaps it is simply a plan to consider for next season.”  Lord Gray was a curious chap, after her dance with him (which had been entirely steamy) he’d recomposed himself very quickly. So quickly that she’d felt a little - put out.  Like a kiss, at least, would have been appropriate.  Would it be any different next time?  “You can go first of course.”

Darlene smiled and shuffled a bit closer to gently lay her hand where Sophia placed it.  She had hopes to feel the baby move, and her eyes widened while she tipped her head, as though listening also.  

“Yes I can keep a secret.” She whispered.

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“It would definitely be his loss,” Sophia concurred.


She was quite pleased that Darlene was already thinking of other men and not completely focused on Lord Langdon. The way she spoke, it sounded as if she had a crush on the Portuguese Ambassador. Maybe his son had been a poor substitute for his father and that was why she had refused to marry him. Unfortunately, he already had a wife.


“That would be amazing, but we would probably not be able to see each other much in the beginning since Spain and Portugal are odds with each other.” Her blue eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. “Perhaps our friendship would inspire the two countries to put aside their differences and work together. Wouldn’t that be splendid?”


Sophia laughed at Darlene’s notion to dance on Lord Grey’s lap. “There are no such dances in Spain and Esteban would kill him if I sat on his lap.” Lap dancing was actually an intriguing idea. Maybe she would try it on Juan after the baby was born. “It does sound thrilling, though … with the right gentleman. How do you think it would be done?”


She agreed that next season would be better for dancing. “My husband will insist on dancing on me. He, of course, knows the Spanish dances too. Maybe you can be Lord Grey’s partner and we can all demonstrate the dances together. I can teach you when you come to visit me when I am still in confinement after the birth.” The petite Countess believed that she would be up and about the very day her child came into the world.


The baby continued kicking under Darlene’s hand. Perhaps it liked attention as much as its mother.


Her friend claimed she could keep a secret and Sophia knew that she would never to anything to hurt her or ruin her marriage, such as it was. “Do you know Don Juan of Austria?” she whispered back.

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“Oh yes, that would be amazing.  Would they have a ‘peace accord’? I’ve heard those words before. And do you think they might name it after us, like maybe The Darlofia. Or The Soplene.  There would be a public holiday in our honour, surely, and a parade. I’ve always wanted to be in a parade.” Such happy thoughts.

Lap dancing with Lord  Grey was off the cards, there being no need to raise Toledo's Spanish temper.  “Oh I hardly know..” Darlene lost interest in the topic as soon as it was months away. 

She tended to life her life in the moment. Feeling a movement under Sophia’s belly, Darlene’s brows rose.

“Oh, I don’t know…” she suddenly felt like Sophia was matchmaking her, so naturally, Darlene disagreed.  “It’s not a good look for a woman in full morning to be dancing about. Thomas would turn in his grave.”

Then a more dramatic movement demanded their notice. “1111 That must have been a foot!” Darlene laughed with delight at the unborn’s strength.

“No, I don’t know him. Is he handsome?’ Darlene asked, sure that any man named Don Juan was as handsome, seductive and witty as the Don Juan of Moliere’s play.

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Sophia was caught up in Darlene’s enthusiasm. “And there would be statues of us in both countries. Songs and poems would be written about us and we would be have fame and fortune beyond our wildest dreams. Wouldn’t that be grand?”


There was no more talk of lap dancing, though the petite blonde promised herself she would think about it later and figure out how to do it. Before her pregnancy, she had lived in the moment as well,  but now she focused mostly on the future and how happy she would be when her child was born. It was only at night that the baby’s uncertain paternity haunted her.


Sophia wondered why Darlene was suddenly against dancing with Lord Grey when she had claimed he was an excellent dancer. Oh, she was still planning on mourning for Thomas, even though the mourning period had already passed. It seemed as if nothing she could do or say would sway her friend away from that course of action.


Darlene seemed delighted at the baby’s kicks. She had been too, at first. Now she found them annoying, especially when the child kept her up at night. Contrarily, she worried when it was still. At least when it moved, she knew that her precious little one was still alive. “I think that he is impatient to be born.”


Juan had not visited England since spring of the previous year, so Sophia wasn’t surprised that Darlene had never met him. She wished that his duties didn’t keep him away from her but she was proud that he had achieved at least one of his goals.


She sighed dreamily. “Oh yes, he’s more handsome than any gentleman I know. He’s also brilliant, charming, clever, honorable, gallant … and I am very much in love with him.”

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Darlene had not found anyone else as visionary as herself until meeting Sophia.  "I might be rather fearsome as a statue, you know that they are bigger than life size.  I would probably make knees quake with my amazingness being so large, as it is, even life-size; some avoid me." she winked, showing she was joking about that last part.

The baby was kicking, but that became of secondary interest as Sophia was speaking about a secret. 

"How amazing exactly?" Darlene raised an eyebrow as it sounded like the other was besotted, and then the L word slipped from her friend's mouth. 

"But, he is not even in England." she pointed out, "and what about your husband? Don't worry, I shall not tell Toledo." 

She realised what was different about herself and Sophia. Darlene had had affairs, yes, but her affairs had been attention-seeking, trying to get Thomas to give her the attention she wanted.  

But Sophia honestly loved this chap far away.

"Oh dear, how can you ever live happily ever after now?"  





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“I think our statues would be beautiful.” Sophia grinned. “Just like us. Maybe people will being flowers and gifts to lay at our feet because they are so grateful to us.” She laughed at Darlene’s jest. “Those who avoid either of us don’t know what they’re missing.”


Now that she had started talking about Juan, she couldn’t stop. “He is absolutely perfect. It feels as if the two of us were made for each other, even though he is over thirty years older than me. We met during the first season I was at court. He loves opera and I sang for him. We danced at balls together and strolled in the gardens. I thought about him all the time, and dreamed about him almost every night, but I didn’t realize I was in love with him until he told me that he loved me.


“I thought we would see each other every season, but then he became the Prime Minister of Spain and he doesn’t have time to travel anymore. After I married Lord Toledo, we went to Madrid during recesses and we saw each other there. But now …” The petite blonde sighed sadly. “I wasn’t able to travel this past recess and we have been apart since early this year. Not an hour goes by that I do not miss him. I long for his touch and to see him smile. And I adore the sound of his voice."


Sophia smiled sheepishly at Darlene. “That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know. When the baby is old enough, I will be able to go back to Madrid, but it won’t be this recess. That will probably be the closest thing to happily ever after I will ever have, but as long as my Prince loves me, I will be content.”


She took Darlene’s hand and squeezed it. “I want you to find happiness in love too. The right gentleman is out there. You just have to find him.”


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"Did he actually tell you that?"  

Sophia's gush sounded like any infatuated gush that Darlene had ever seen until the part where she said that the visiting Prince had said he loved her.  Those were words that men almost never said. Darlene didn't remember even Thomas telling her that, and most certainly, none of her lovers had ever spoken those words.  The closest might have been Charles perhaps, but then only because she'd told him to write her a love letter, and even then he'd not used the L word.

"Goodness." she fell quiet.  This was such an incredibly rare thing, she didn't even know what to say. 

In Moliere's Dom Juan play, which incidentally was her favourite of his plays, Juan declared his love freely and often and claimed he did so in generosity to satisfy the need of ladies to hear those words.  But he was really just a rogue, a conman praying upon naive innocents to get his wick away as often as he could;  leaving a stream of ruined lives and angry brothers behind him. Ultimately he got his just deserts. 

Could Sophia's Spanish Juan, be like Moliere's Spanish Juan? 

Darlene hoped not but had a very bad feeling about it.

Conveniently (for Juan) he had reasons he could not return to England to spend time with her anymore.  He'd had her married to a friend, and raised that friend's rank in order to compensate her, but she was, to all intents, settled.  These pieces of a puzzle fell into place, but did not paint a happy ever after for Sophia, not by far. 

Darlene offered her a small smile and squeezed her hand. "It is a beautiful story, yours is a true love affair, truly," she said softly.  As deluded as her friend was, she needed to remain that way or else break her heart.  "Although I doubt that I could ever be so lucky.  Although, perhaps I was.  My Thomas did not tell me he loved me, but he did, in his own way.  And don't they all say it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all." 







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“Yes, he did,” Sophia replied, “and he still does whenever we’re together.” She understood why Darlene was skeptical. Gentlemen rarely used the ‘L’ word, at least not while referring to their wives and lovers. They might say they love hunting or sparring or drinking, or even their dogs, but never a lady. If she had known how reserved Spaniards were before she had married Esteban, she would have been even more surprised that Juan had said it. Then again, her Prince was not aloof at all when it came to her. He was a very passionate man, both in word and in … deed.


She didn’t think she needed to explain the rest of it. Darlene was brilliant. She could figure out why she had married Esteban and why he had agreed to the arrangement. He had been appointed the Ambassador to England and raised to the rank of Conde after they were married. She hoped that when the baby was born, he would rise in status again, maybe even to a Duque.


Darlene didn’t seem quite as happy for her as Sophia had thought she would be. Maybe she was just sad that she had not yet found the gentleman who was meant for her. Or perhaps she thought that Thomas had been that gentleman. Maybe he really had been. “I believe in the truth of that saying, but I also believe that you can find love again. You just need to be open to it or you won’t hear it when it knocks upon your door.”


The baby kicked again. “As you have probably already guessed, this baby has royal blood running through its veins.  It will be raised as my husband's until Juan is able to claim it as his own."

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