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Rising on the Ramparts Early Friday Morning


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Maybe it was the worry about the Christening, or the yacht race that would start later in the day, that had the King awaken in the middle of the night.  Unable to get to sleep again, he rose from his bed and sipped some wine in the hopes it would make him tired again, to no avail.

At last he sought to waken Kingston, who was on duty, to help him dress and go for an early morning walk along the ramparts, where they could watch the sunrise together.  The Life Guard was surprised by the early morning expedition and watched from afar as the two men strode along the wall.

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Francis did not know what had changed the usual rotation of His Majesty's gentlemen, but he had to switch over on Thursday night instead and attend through his usual Sunday morning. It could have been Arlington wishing him the extra challenge with the yacht race and had switched it out of spite. He would not be able to spend his morning preparing his crew. It could also have been that the King wanted to hear about Merriweather's memorial.

 

Nevertheless he had taken over from Lord Ranelagh at midnight with enough time to see the King through his usual evening routines.

 

Though he very well knew that he could sleep and was perfectly allowed to sleep, Francis had a difficult time sleeping at all when he was attending. At least, it was never a deep and restful sort of repose. The King's valet and whichever of the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber were on duty were the last line of royal defense. Not that it was likely for anyone to get by the Life Guard, the yeomen, the ushers, the grooms, the pages, and the like, it still felt a hefty responsibility to sleep through. 

 

Or worse, snore through. 

 

Instead, Francis usually sat on the chaise by the fire in the bedchamber with his sword right next to him, and though his eyes were closed, he was rarely fully asleep. It was not wholly usual for the king to wake early, and Francis usually did not worry over that, letting his royal master have the feeling of being alone in the quiet until the king went back to sleep or he were called to.

 

This morning the King did not fall back asleep, though, so they soon found themselves walking down the ramparts in the wee hours before the sunrise, far earlier than His Majesty's usual walks. It was brisk in the autumn air at that hour, the battlements were above a thick fog, still in a darkness broken only by intermittent firepots that kept things lighted enough for the palace security to see in the courtyards below and the esplanade and trees on the other side. The Life Guard held torches some way behind them out of hearing distance and with some illusion of being totally alone.

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"This morning feels like winter in the air," the King exclaimed as he pulled his coat tighter.  He was prepared for the cold, but it felt all the more cutting in the pre-dawn.  There was a hint of sunlight on the eastern horizon, and the dawn was not far behind.  The King paused at a spot looking out at the fog over the Thames.

"How quiet it is Kingston.  This weekend will be a whirlwind of activity.  We will have the race soon enough to cause commotion all day.  Tomorrow is the masque.  I have enjoyed playing Rawley at such events, but I wonder about attending.  With the Christening on Sunday, it might be poor form to awaken early Sunday in a stupor surrounded by God knows whom.  I do believe I shall need all day Monday to recoup from the all day well-wishing and thinly-veiled sycophants grubbing for favor.  Not that I complain about a vibrant merry court.  It beats boredom any day.  Still, the game will be on for the next three days."

He stopped leaning on the wall and turned to Kingston.  "Who is your money on today?" he asked in a merry tone, happy to compensate for what might be seen an overly serious observations. He far preferred something more light-hearted.

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Francis was thankful for his exceedingly soft leather gloves that morning. Another of those vestments of finery that he had grown to appreciate.

 

He nodded as the King spoke of the quiet, not yet breaking it, and listened to his royal master talk about a whirlwind of a weekend. Such activity usually please him, but the addition of a little prince had made some subtle changes that those in the household could surely observe. 

 

"Perhaps, Your Majesty, instead of playing Rowley, you could play the King playing the King?" he replied with a small chuckle. "Come as Zeus, though I rather enjoyed your Poseidon*." With practicality, he said, "And if you wish, Sir, I can ensure you do not wake up with a room full of masked, unknown ladies. You could have the fun but not the faithful quandary of waking for the prince's big day in such a state."  

 

Francis had now experienced the sychophantism and grubbiness numerous times while attending. He had never actually asked for anything for himself in such a way, so he did not quite have the view of it being necessity or due, where most courtiers relied on that process; it seemed far too much as if blackmail to give one's support. 

 

"I shall have to take extra care to school my face. It is hard to listen to the ones who make it seem their due, as if they serve their king for what rewards they can get." He was wholly aware he was not supposed to have reactions to such things, as if he did not even hear it during such audiences, but he was not very skilled at that part of service. He had the Villiers passionate nature and fierce protectiveness. "I wish that I could throw them out for you, Sir."

 

Soon enough the King changed the subject, and he went with it seamlessly. The King rarely dwelled in the morose for very long.

 

"Egads, but that is an unfair question, Sir! I will answer it honestly, though. I will likely place multiple bets; it is for charitable purposes for the Navy after all. My King to win, of course. But I will also bet that it shall be you and Cumberland in the last race and that he'll be within a quarter of the deck from your bow. I will also seek to bet that His Grace, my uncle, will yell obscenities at his crew at some juncture." He laughed here and gave the king a knowing nod. Buckingham was very competitive. " I think that the Margrave will have a good showing, I have given him my experienced crew for yacht racing, so depending on who he is paired with, he stands a good chance of winning his first race."

 

 

(OOC - they joked the King was Poseidon on their swiving tour and Francis gave him a phallic trident.)

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"Yes, Poseidon was a triumph," he recalled.  "I shall think on it during the race."

"Killigrew tells us that the masque shall have a hunt theme. I think I shall have the golden lion mask, being the grand predator.  We shall leave at one hour after midnight and return to Windsor at a gallop.  If a lady should capture my fancy with her costume and spirit, we shall need to have our dance by midnight."  The dance might include something intimate, but there was no need to say that openly.  He wondered what Nicolette might wear.

"And you Kingston. Will a lady be likely to catch your eye tomorrow evening?"  The King enjoyed teasing the gentlemen that he liked.  "All this pent up emotion with Dorothea, lad, you need an outlet, and there will be many a lady inclined to provide it."  If Francis tried to object about his feelings for Dorothea, the King was ready to raise his hand to suggest abandoning the effort.  "A blind man can see.  I think the Margrave knows too.  I am thinking we let the Margrave win the race and put him in such spirits that he cannot deny Dorothea staying with our Queen for another season ... or two.  Or perhaps we can arrange he and I are the last two and I wager, that if I win, Dorothea stays.  Just see to it that we win Kingston."  It was a jovial smile of challenge he displayed on his face.  "My Queen would be sore at losing the company of her dearest friend, and we must not have that."

As Francis cried foul at the disclosure of wagers, the King roared "it is the royal prerogative to ask unfair questions."  He was quick to chuckle as he heard of the odds explained by Francis.  "Your uncle should not win a single race."  It was more a request than an observation.  "I cannot bear his boasting at even the smallest victory.  Shall I command you to join my crew, or do you prefer to stay ashore and guard the Queen and her ladies?"

As for sycophants, the man merely scoffed.  "They serve our purpose.  The lesser the servant, the more entertainment to keep them guessing for seasons.  The worthy shall receive, but even they shall pay their fare one way or another.  So, either way I am amused or aided," he explained.  "If one is too annoying, we may let you cast them out."

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Francis tittered at the thought of the King being the grand lion; the number of times he overheard Buckingham refer to him as the cub, as in lion cub, when speaking to the king about him was monumental. It was a moniker he did not mind, the duke said it was in homage to his lion's mane of hair and the fact that he had not yet mastered the prowl and roar of his Villiers blood. 

 

"The finest King of the Jungle, to be sure." He chuckled. "Presiding over his Lionesses. Only until midnight, though."

 

"I am going as a Janissary, in order to thwart the efforts of the broadsheets to malign me, make a joke of it and own it. Nevertheless, Your Majesty will have a Janissary in your service attending you tomorrow night, no matter your disguise."

 

The next part caught Francis entirely by surprise. He opened his mouth and closed it, blinking in a most undignified way as he gaped at the king. 

 

"The Margrave," he finally managed to slip out. "I..." He took in a breath to try to collect himself. "I do not know what to say, Sir. You have disarmed me." It bought him another precious few seconds to say something more eloquent. He had to be honest.

 

"In truth, I did not think I had...emotion...of such a style, certainly not for the lady, until I felt the pangs of them after I swore to His Highness the Duke of Cumberland that I would not forget my station with his countrywoman and the damage that I could do her by the perception of any inkling of a fondness between us. I still do not know what it is other than I enjoy her company, but even that is too much, and I gave my word of honor, Sir, that I would safeguard her honor, so there cannot be anything between us but a respectful distance."

 

Francis chuckled at the King's suggestions and conspiracies. "You are the best of royal masters and husbands," he complimented, truly, for the King did take some challenge in fixing things for those he could. 

 

"If you command me to join your crew, Sir, who shall captain my vessel in the race?" he asked, with a snort. "Or are you trying to save me from the embarrassment of attempting to race with a piecemeal crew I've tossed together with little time to prepare and losing spectacularly, and I'm too daft to see it? You commanded me to see after the Margrave, so my own chances are honestly vastly weakened, and I would rather serve you than serve myself." Which was to say that he would do whatever the King wished of him: join his crew or captain his own likely-to-fail vessel.

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It was said that a lion serviced many lionesses, which seemed appropriate to the monarch as well.  "A sultan," he murmured with interest at the suggestion before adding "methinks our Archbishop of Canterbury would scold us, as head of the Church of England, to paying any sort of respect to a Turk and their beliefs.  At least the Janissary is a Christian," he chuckled.  "I best stay a lion I think, and survey my pride. Yet an excellent choice of costume, though I am left to wonder who at court might know what a Janissary looks like."

The topic of the Margrave's sister made Kingston squirm.  It was only out of fondness that he enjoyed seeing the young Villiers man coming into his own faced with a question that would cause discomfort.  "Do we know whether  our royal counsel knows that you are Buck's nephew, rather than a mere cousin. A lord that could be the heir to the mighty Buckingham could be viewed differently than the son of a Scottish rogue.   Dorothea is not seeking a match at this time, or so I am told by our Queen.  There is time yet to see how the dice might fall, but until then, you had best follow your pledge to our cousin.  There is time enough for machinations."  He would not say more at this time.

"You will just embarrass yourself captaining a skeletal crew.  We cannot have the Margrave think that you are not the captain your reputation says you are.  Why not let Tommy captain the vessel?  Even if he loses, he would be applauded for exceeding expectations and become the toast of some."  There were the Legge boys that were better candidates, but Tommy would be the comedic choice.  "I could say I wanted you on my vessel, which would bring you honor and cause angst to your uncle, which I might enjoy.  It would wound your detractors.  Or, I could order you to guard our Queen and her ladies.  I understand that there may be wagers involving kissing winners and losers.  You might wish to be seen as a stalwart sentinel of our ladies' honor, and convince them to make wagers during the heats they later regret."  He found himself laughing at the mischief. "What is your choice?"  The King would always prefer the amusing choice, and Francis knew it. 

 

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Francis was completely uncomfortable, the growing flush on his blush-prone cheeks that he inherited from his father illustrating it very clearly, even mostly in the darkness.

 

"Not when he issued the lesson, Sir, no," Francis replied. "However, I did tell him afterward, and about the reason why I do not wish to marry as I am." He neither wanted to give the Kirke name to a wife, or a child, nor bring a wife into the troublesome situation of using the proofs of his parents having a marriage under God to prove his legitimacy. It was bound to be sticky and difficult. "I did not feel right for Your Majesty to know, the Duke of York to know, and for him to be the one to not know with how close he was to my grandfather. I do not feel secrets and loyalty swim well together." He made a little fish swimming motion with his hand.

 

He almost choked when the King said that a duke's heir had a good chance but that Dorothea was not yet looking for a match.

 

"I-." He swallowed, clearly squirming on the inside. "I could not, Sir. I could not think..." He did not know what to say. He took a breath, "Even were I Duke of Buckingham, and first non-royal peer of the realm, a princess could marry far better. Her best friend married the King of England, and I would rob her of a future of that ilk. Not to mention my uncle will be around for a good, long time with how much he enjoys tormenting me with his tutelage and pontificating." 

 

The thought of Tommy captaining himself made him burst out with a chuckle. 

 

"First you command  me to help the Margrave prepare for the race, then you suggest that perhaps I should ensure he loses; Your Majesty is difficult to please!" he teased. " Tommy will quite enjoy the thought that his king even knows his name! But iIn truth, I gave the Margrave Tommy to manage the crew to increase his odds of successfully captaining a race, because you asked me to see to his success, and I do not deliver by halves. Besides, I also bribed the crew that the better they performed, the more I would pay them, so that the Margrave would say Your Majesty had been the most gracious royal host."

 

"I took the time to speak to him about how much his sister enjoys it here and shines alongside her friend the Queen; he was quite impressed, stunned even, and I do not think any subterfuge needed to help him decide to allow her to stay."

 

At the very least the Margrave was no longer afraid that Francis was some predator of women as the broadsheets suggested. 

 

(OOC - I will come back around to the question at the end in my next post, we have too many lines going on at once, so I'm just trying to make it an easier chunk to deal with in posts ;) Also, Beverley is supposed to be with the Queen and the ladies to explain the eccentricities of the races to them, so I'm not really sure I want to put he and Francis in the same place and have Francis ruin Bevsey's  moment. I may have to turn goading Buckingham by joining the King into the more amusing choice, bc Francis would definitely want to amuse the King in what he picks)

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Seeing Francis blush and stammer was compensation enough for placing the gentleman under pressure.  "Yes, yes, you were right to tell Rupert.  He can hold his tongue."  The King understood the necessity.

The talk about Dorothea was enjoyable from many different angles.  "They call them princesses Kingston, but many are just daughters or sisters of dukes and nothing more.  This goes no further than the two of us," he cautioned.  "The Empire has over 1000 territories I wager.  Of those, there are dozens of duchies.  Bavaria has a prince.  Prussia has a prince.  The Palatinate and Saxony too.  But, all of those hyphenated duchies that have little more than a handful of towns and cities, are they princes?  Are their sisters princesses?  They do not marry kings.  They marry dukes and counts.  So, why not the heir to the premiere duke?  I do not disparage the Margrave.  He is an important ruler, but it is not out of the question that a match is possible.  There are more daughters and sisters, I wager, than rulers to match them with."  He paused to let his words resonate.  Having the King of England helping Buckingham and Kingston was left unsaid, but important.

"Stay humble Kingston," he laughed.  "We would be quite disappointed to find you become another court jade.  Follow your promise to our cousin.  Build your stature.  Wait for the right cards to fall, and who is to say what might happen."  Much would depend on Dorothea and the Margrave.  A good showing would keep the game alive.

Speaking of games, there was more talk about captaining ships.  Francis accused the King of changing course about helping or hindering the Margrave.  "Fickleness is also a royal prerogative," he chuckled.  "We merely weigh the advantages and disadvantages for the end game of these races.  So, who would captain your ship if we were to command you to be elsewhere?"

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"I could say I wanted you on my vessel, which would bring you honor and cause angst to your uncle, which I might enjoy.  It would wound your detractors.  Or, I could order you to guard our Queen and her ladies.  I understand that there may be wagers involving kissing winners and losers.  You might wish to be seen as a stalwart sentinel of our ladies' honor, and convince them to make wagers during the heats they later regret."  He found himself laughing at the mischief. "What is your choice?"  The King would always prefer the amusing choice, and Francis knew it. 

(OOC - Bringing this back around)

 

The the Duke of Cumberland could not be trusted to refrain from gossip, there was not a man alive that could be trusted by comparison. Cumberland was more stoical and traditional that the rest; Francis enjoyed that contrast, it reminded him of his grandfather, who held those same sorts of values. 

 

His Majesty then made a prelude of not repeating what he was about to say. Francis gave a nod of the head and said, "Of course not, Your Majesty." He tried to refrain from too many majesties when they were alone; the King did not like being "majestied too many majesties" in private by most of his gentlemen or his friends. That ask, though, required some solemnity.

 

Instead of blinking, Francis found himself with his blue eyes plastered open like dinner plates.

 

The king thought him worthy of Dorothea...

 

As more words came from his royal master's mouth, he realized this had been something not spur of the moment but something the king had thought on quite a bit.

 

"I am...gratified that you find me worthy of such," Francis finally managed. Then he licked his lips and said with a hint of concern and a bit of amusement in his voice, "This is not the first time my marriage has been contemplated. The position just presented to me is prepared." He would wager that the King and Buckingham had both thought about his marriage, likely even together.

 

It made his answer to the next question even easier, "The thought of the Duke's face when he realizes you have trumped him by commanding me to join you is priceless. He will be so bothered and angsty that it shall improve your odds of winning the race and mine on better than he was yell obscenities at his crew at some point!" Francis tittered into laughter. "I know how much you enjoy poking fun at the duke and thwarting him." He hmmmed. "The ladies are tempting, Sir, even untouchables ladies." In times past, the Queen's ladies had not been off limits, but since the King had promised not to poach among his wife's ladies, all his gentleman had been sworn to the same. If the King could not, nobody could, at least not under his royal, deprived, nose. "As does encouraging them in making amusing wagers." 

 

It was no easy decision. "Encouraging the ladies in silliness might add fuel to the fire, in more ways than one, so I shall choose toiling in your crew and watching my uncle stew in his own juices, for all the amusement it will provide us." After all, he needed no more fuel to the broadsheets or to Dorothea, especially not in front of all of court. It might add more disgruntled fathers to the King's docket as well; if they wished to complain of Francis' inappropriate proximity.

 

"Perhaps Lord Melville. He knows his way around a ship and could use some cheering up in support of a naval cause. I would say Lord Mountjoy, but it seems he's already amusingly hampering Cumberland." Mountjoy had been pushed into Cumberland's employ at the dinner at the start of the year.

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Kingston's looks were priceless when it came to the topic of Dorothea.  Buckingham had confided to the King that Francis had no interest in marrying any lady, and shown no great interest in one.  There were reasons for it, the Kirke name being one, but both great men had seen this suave adventurer, ever ready with a quip, turn to an adolescent on his best behavior when in the company of Dorothea, and she enjoyed his company too.  The circumstance had required Buckingham and the King to plot the future for Francis.  They could not force the hand of the Margrave, but they could tip the scales in a concerted effort.  The slanderers had set back the planning, but only temporarily.  It would be quite the feat if the two ended up matched and wed.  Dorothea could stay forever in England and Kingston would accelerate his transition.  There was the tricky matter of correcting Kingston's parentage.  It would require the support of Finch and Canterbury as well.  Several steps would be needed, and a friendly House of Lords.

"All in goodtime Kingston," the King replied good-naturedly.  He was ready to change the subject.

"The race begins in mere hours and here we are speaking of Melville and Mountjoy substituting."  The idea was absurd, but that is what made it appealing.  "Lady Mountjoy is feeling lowly, but seeing her husband lose a race for which he is ill-equipped would be no tonic.  I thought Melville sick."  He had thought he had heard Melville had died, but that was his wife.

"If we had more time we could arrange a flamboyant captain, perhaps dressed in disguise, would provide amusement.  A woman perhaps ... or God help us ... our Lord Rochester.  He would do it, but wreck your ship in the process.  Perhaps I command you to join our ship and you withdraw your ship?"

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"Lord Melville is not sick, per se, either than sick with grief. He lost his lady wife and was very fond of her," Francis explained. That level of grief was not wholly understood by him. That deep a notion of love was not something Francis had ever dwelled on. 

 

"Ah! But if that is your desire, then we should turn to Lord Camberwell," Francis said with a snort of amusement. "She would love to try to beat the lot of you...honestly, thinking on it now, I am surprised she did not enter herself."

 

There were not too many who knew the actual identity of Lord Camberwell, but His Majesty had lived through nearly two decades of Lord Camberwell's antics. Lord Camberwell, named for the butterfly of the same name, was of the same ilk as that fellow called Rowley, an identity under which someone could act as they wished and not of their royal station. Butterfly, Dowager Duchess of Richmond was a royal duchess through her marriage, and Camberwell allowed her to have a libertine identity. Francis' aunt was entirely a woman and a beautiful one, but she was one of few that could give gentlemen a run for their coin in the skills of a gentleman. Mall could even smoke a man to shame. 

 

"The thought of my crew not knowing they were obeying a woman dressed as a man is hilarious, and it will also annoy Buckingham to no end, Sir." Especially if she beat him. Think of the gloating and teasing you could do! 

 

Of course, the duke would probably be annoyed with him for allowing his aunt to captain the yacht in the race, but Francis could plead innocence as if it had not been a calculated thing. 

 

"Certainly not Rochester," Francis agreed. "If you wish me to withdraw it altogether, though, I shall."

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The King perked up at the suggestion.  "Of course!  She is perfect."  It was, indeed, an inspired idea.

"Go at sunrise and rouse her.  Tell her that it is our wish that she captain your vessel in the race, and to wear something flamboyant."  He was already chuckling at the image. "If she resists, tell her that we would bet against her, so it is just as well.  She will not refuse.  After all, she still has a few hours to ready herself. I feel better already." 

The dawn was breaking and the morning light showed a smile on the monarch's face.  "It will probably be sunrise by the time you get there," he chuckled.

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"Rouse...sunrise..." He let out a dramatic breath, almost a whistle, having his eyes go wide for a moment before he joked. "You do know how skilled she is with a rapier, Sir? Are you certain you don't wish to send someone more expendable?" He tittered in amusement at the jest. He would, of course, do what he was asked, but a good sense of humor was never remiss.

 

It did sound like a suicide mission to him although she likely rose earlier than the near noon hour of most ladies. 

 

He chuckled at the King using 'betting against her' as a weapon to coerce her to obey him through implying she could not compete with men.

 

"Based on my limited experience and the duke's comments, I doubt she'd need much time at all to ready for such a show. It will probably make her season," he replied. "If I am alive to find out." 

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The King roared in laughter.  This was atypical for so early in the morning.  Kingston had the right spirit to make something distasteful become humorous. "You need not inform her in person and suffer the dragon's ire," the monarch laughed.  "We would advise allowing her maid to carry the call to arms for Lord Camberwell."  He was still chuckling at the vision of Francis having to explain things to an upset Duchess within striking distance of her bed.  It was not that she was a danger to him physically, but his ears would burn for an hour after the encounter, if not days.

"The race was already to be enjoyable but this switch could be the stuff of legends for seasons to come, if she plays her part dramatically."  If she were tepid in her performance, it would be a lost opportunity. "Of course, either we or the Margrave need to win if this is to end well."

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Francis laughed along with the king, because it was impossible to hear that sort of roar at that hour and not join in. 

 

"I almost feel a bit cowardly to go about it like that, Your Majesty," Francis replied. "We all know that I'd hear about it later." The duchess was not a shy woman in the least. "She'd likely say a woman scared me off my duty to you and tease me mercilessly. Not bested by battle, or spies, but bested by a woman."

 

It was always best to be associated with something that was an entertaining success, and Francis had a good track record with his entertainments. 

 

"With myself on the crew, how could anyone lose?" he tried to say with a straight face, but he always had a hard time hiding his smile and amusement. 

 

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"But it would be Lord Camberwell that caused you to pause," the King attempted to interject.  "Yes, I suppose she might lord that over you for years."  He hummed to himself for a moment.  "Perhaps tell her that she can choose something from our wardrobe if she will wear it today.  She might delight in claiming one of our outfits for herself."  How could she pass it up?  "It would put her in better spirits surely, even though there are few hours for a tailor to make an adjustment.  That would explain your early notice, so as to procure a tailor.  We can summon our own if need be," he proclaimed.

As to winning the race for himself or the Margrave, the King gave a knowing nod, but added "see to it."   

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"Pause for a laugh, of course. There are too few of those this early in the morning, so I thought it an important service to execute," Francis replied.

 

"She would, indeed, lord it over me." He could not help but snicker at the play on words. 

 

The offer of clothes made Francis chuckle brightly, "Offer a lady a wardrobe, brilliant, but offer a lady who enjoys dressing as gentleman a royal wardrobe, i'faith, now that is beyond." He raised his hands and made a gesture near his head as if to say head blown.

 

"I shall send a page for the tailor on my way to inform the duchess of her royally appointed duties." He could perform plays on words all day long, double entendre was one of his premiere capabilities. 

 

 

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Nodding at the jest, the King was beginning to think this day might end well.  Clothing was always a currency for a lady; but, for the Duchess, a chance to wear one of the King's outfits was heaven. The two men were in complete agreement on that.

"Make sure she cannot have the outfit we plan to wear to the christening, and none worn for official occasions as monarch.  Those are beyond her reach," he clarified.

"We have not much time.  When should we arrive at the docks?  Are we to give a speech, or Cumberland?  Perhaps a herald can make the announcements instead and we are ferried to our yacht.  Are all arrangements made then?"  He tugged his coat tighter as a sign that he was ready to return to the warmth of his suite.  The rays of dawn were danced a nimbus on the far horizon.

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