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Thread: The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God [M - Hannelorian x DuchessLivilla]

  1. #511
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    As the tea was poured Arabella reached out, extending her arm most gracefully, gloved fingers gently straining to clasp the tea cup, now delightfully warm within them. The Queen would make effortless this simple act, with which she raised the cup to her lips and drank, feeling the warmth travel from her mouth downwards toward her core. This moment was bliss, to simply drink her tea, unblemished with milk or sugar, to bask in the company of her own sister and dare she even say, a friend in Alice. It seemed almost impossible to think this was something that she would ever have the freedom of doing.

    Arabella thought herself in this moment not to be a terribly good wife. Indeed, she watched not her lips, and allowed secrets to flow. The kind that in the right circumstances could haunt her, or more precisely, haunt her husband. For a moment Arabella wondered if she truly had any morals at all, or now was simply playing the long game, the game which had only one true objective: survival.

    "It's terribly clever isn't it? What could a man so indebt deny you? God's favor aside. Is it not simple human nature?" No matter how hard Arabella fought against the notion that a man so wicked and cruel as her husband could be God's chosen on this earth, it was forever ingrained this way of thinking. She was defying God, when she defied her husband. He was the King, and she was an object of his affection, an affection that could be ever so fleeting. "That is all to say, not only does he allow it, he encourages it."

    Alice seemed understanding, if not somewhat perplexed. The games of court were relatively easy to understand, easy to see through, but it seemed beyond her. Why did people need to toy with each other in such a manner? "It is all as you said, let my words only serve as affirmation of your clever, clever mind." The Queen couldn't help but smile. "I imagine father would be quite proud of you, how far you've come." It was true, Arabella knew that their father taught his youngest daughter only enough to survive, but he feared she would amount to little, knowing he had two daughters, it seemed only possible that one thrive. How the tables had turned.

    "Do you still think of him, your father?" Alice asked, eyes deeply focused on the Queen, but from the corners, oh from the corners did she watched her mistress and how her face would change.

    "Not as much as I probably should. I don't think I appreciated what he was trying to do. What he was trying to teach me, to teach us. He was larger than life, full of light, and stories and love... but also a horrible cruelty." That was something Arabella had largely blocked out, but perhaps that was where the answers truly lay. "Good heavens, no, he never laid a finger on either of us..." That was true, but the memories of being locked away when she disobeyed, locked away when her humanity shined through ever too much to be welcomed. The same man who covered up a death at the hands of his daughter was warm and loving, but as always, as ever, had secrets.

    "Enough of that. Let us prepare, we are to visit the Foundling Hospital next. It will be nigh on impossible not walk out with all of this children." A small laugh. In reality the thought of the place made Arabella deeply uncomfortable and incredibly depressed. There were so many wonderful children, left alone by cruel fate or circumstance, who only were in want of a good home. Even as she struggled for years, unable to provide a child, one of those eager and deserving darlings would never be an option. So many children, but no, Arabella had to birth her own. The only good heir was a blood heir.
    Last edited by Hannelorian; 03-10-2023 at 03:30 PM.
    Second star to the right and straight on till morning.

  2. #512
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    At the mention of their father, Alex could not help but give a little smile. She, like Bella, had been subject to rather harsh treatment but it was no more than they expected and that had been meatered out to every child in their society, regardless of rank. Children were expected to behave, be silent and not speak unless spoken to...Their manners had to be exact, from a very early age and anything less was 'corrected' swiftly. Though her sister spoke true; their father had never hit them, but he'd stood and watched as nanny did or the governess. She imagined, had he had sons, he would have disciplined them himself.

    Still, like most children, the slaps and caned hands did not linger in her memory, any more than the pain of scrapes and bruises did; when Alexandra thought back to her childhood, she recalled the good times more than the bad. And the bad had little to do with her parents and more with Bella...when she started to change and pull away, that hurt far more than any caning from nanny.

    As for her father, she held a soft spot for the man. He had been harder on Arabella than her, perhaps aiming higher for his eldest -though she was entirely sure, even in his wildest dreams, he had never though either, but especially his eldest, would be Queen!- and as a result, had enjoyed a softer, more carefree relationship with Alexandra. She knew she was not his, nor mother's favourite, but it didn't matter at the time nor now. Even as a child, she had known she should enjoy what she could and not hope for more...because she was unlikely to get it.

    Unbidden, she chuckled then. That was how she had viewed that dance with Arthur; her one moment of happiness, to be cherished and hoarded like a miser with gold, and now she could, if she wished, dance with him daily; in fact, they nearly always did. Life was endlessly amusing really.

    "If only he was here now to see us," she smiled. "He'd be so proud of you, Bella." She wasn't sure what he'd think of her. Proud, maybe, a little concerned...yes. Alex was just glad he and mother were both dead; it meant the King had two less people to use against her in terms of threatening them.

    She nodded and sipped her tea; the conversation was more 'suitable' for a time, talk of their visits, plans for tomorrow, Alice's future and such, before the Archbishop reappeared and bowed.

    "Your Majesty, Your Highness, My Lady," he nodded in turn to them, "Your carriage has returned if you are ready to depart. I can instruct him to wait, if you are not, of course," he smiled, rubbing his pale hands together like the crawling, simpering man he was.

    -

    Alexandra found herself a little apprehensive as they climbed into the carriage sometime later and set off for The Foundling Hospital; she had visited it once before, as a child of about nine or ten, along with Bella, and her parents, as a sort of moral outing. Such things were common, as were visits to prisons and insane asylums -though the latter two were not for ladies and children- in order to see how well one had it in life, as well as to remind those who had that they could, if they put a foot wrong, suddenly have nothing. And perhaps to lord it over the poor, as well as plain old fashioned entertainment.

    She remembered she had found the austere building rather scary, with its highwall's and stone courtyards...There had been no grass or trees that she could see -she would learn later there was, out the back, a vegetable garden of sorts, and the separate house of the warden had a garden but that was it- and no colour.

    That had been her undying memory of it; the drabness of everything. Everything outside and in was grey, or black, or brown; aprons, shirts and the girl's caps being the only thing of white. She remembered feeling that she and Bella, in their white dresses and coloured silk sashes, tied in bows at their back -hers being baby blue, Bella's being soft pink, with matching ones in their hair stood out like peacocks here.Their mother even more so, in her gown of deep arsenic green with her matching bonnet, trimmed with black lace.

    The children, when they met a little selection of them, had been grey too, almost...Everything about them seemed...lank, and dull. They marched into the school room, row after row of little girls, in brown dresses with white caps and white aprons, some with their hair cut above their ears -for fear of lice she learned later- others walking stiffly as if in pain, further still, some nursing fingers and hands that had clearly been rapped with the cane.

    There had been no spark of...life in any of them. They moved as one body, standing behind their desks as their teacher, an equally severe looking woman with a pinched expression, had introduced them to her parents, and then themselves. Later, she and Bella would giggle about that particular thing; the two little girls 'Miss Arabella' and 'Miss Alexandra' were treated like royalty almost by the staff and pupils.

    Now, as she rode in the carriage, as actual Royalty, Alex shook her head a little. They had, she now realised, treated the girls as that because, unlike their charges, Bella and she were to be 'Ladies' and treating them as such would please their father, who may give a donation, or else the two future ladies, might, upon marriage, remember their treatment and give a donation.

    "Just as they hope we shall today," she thought, sighing softly. She wondered, thinking back to the state of some of the children, and then what they had been shown was their meals, if any of the donations helped the children and not the warden and his wife.

    She had little time to dwell on that as before she knew it, they were clattering through the gates of the hospital, the huge, imposing building stretching up before them. Although the grey, drab building had numerous windows, it did little to cheer the place. Most appeared to have bars on them. "A prison," she thought, briefly as they all climbed out before the doorway, where the warden, his wife and a few staff awaited them.

    Alexandra found that, to her surprise, it was the same warden she had known! Older now, and greyer, but she still found him as stern as she had as a child, even though he was smiling beneath his large moustache and impressive side-burns. Or simpering, rather, bowing and scraping now before her sister like a fool. She'd have laughed, if she dared.

    "Your Majesty!" The warden bowed low, beckoning at his wife, a rather large woman, laced so tightly into an ill-fitting, garish orange gown -that gave the appearance of having been blown together by a strong wind in lady's tailors- it was a wonder she could move at all, to do the same. As the lady did so, her stays creaked audibly. He kissed Arabella's hand and beamed again. "You are most welcome to The Foundling Hospital. We are most privileged to have you, and you, your Highness, here with us."

    He made no mention of their previous visit as children, though she was sure he remembered it; it would not be proper for one such as himself, to bring such up without her Majesty having first done so. It would be presuming on a prior meeting. A no no for society.

    The gentleman then turned and kissed Alexandra's gloved hand too. He paused, ever so briefly, before Alice then did the same, smiling. "My Lady, welcome," he added. Clearly he had decided to go with caution and assume the best, rather than dare cut a Lady.

    "I thought perhaps your Majesty might wish, first off, to see our fair chapel and to hear our choir sing?" He smiled again. "The foundling boys choir is most well thought of and when they raise their voices in song for our Lord, it brings a tear to one's eye, does it not, dear?"

    His wife nodded, her jowly face bobbing. "Oh, my yes! It does, husband, it does indeed!"
    Last edited by DuchessLivilla; 03-11-2023 at 06:06 PM.
    "Ye mustn't be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time." - Granny Weatherwax

  3. #513
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    "No, no, we're all set here." Arabella called to the Archbishop as the trio of ladies stood and made their way toward the exit. The Queen stopping only for a moment before the holy man himself. She looked upon him with a great deal of sympathy, and perhaps a hint of sadness. Arabella clasped the man's hands within her own and squeezed them rather tightly. Gloves, in this moment, were a gift from the God himself. A protective barrier between her own hands and that of the imperiled man who wished only for mercy from the Crown, but would receive none, save for the continued paying off his debts. "On behalf of his Majesty, I cannot thank you enough for the kindness you have shown to myself and my retinue. Though I do hope next time you will able to join us." A fake broad smile flashed before the Queen allowed her hands to drop, and to move past the man to exit to their carriage.

    What a vile man, Arabella thought to herself. It was only when she was seated in the carriage and headed toward the Foundling Hospital that the memory came back to her, much like her sister. Back then, Arabella and Alexandra were no one terribly special, they were simply daughters of a Marquess. In fact, Arabella's first husband, the Duke of Suffolk, her beloved Richard had still been married to his first wife. Such was the age difference. But for the young girl, who could only dream of amounting to something, and for the Father who prayed and would manipulate and fight to give her the world, the idea of becoming Queen was far off, and never considered.

    But of that day when the two girls in their pinks and blues visited the Foundling Hospital, Arabella had a different memory. As the two daughters marched toward the door of their family home, almost too carefree in nature, a firm hand would reach out from behind and clasp her delicate wrist, halting the girl in her tracks. A stern and arresting father waiting for a moment alone with his eldest, a proud if not pained look on his face.

    "Now Bella, we're going to behave aren't we?" Her father would ask.

    "Of course father." The young girl would reply without hesitation. Arabella never hesitated in front of her father, not even for a second. Her mother, well, little Arabella would play all sorts of games with her mother. After all, she had gotten away with murder of one kind or another.

    "You know what happens to girls who misbehave?" He would ask, his voice becoming deeper, not so much sinister, but rather grave in tone.

    "I shall end up in the Foundling Hospital, begging for anyone to adopt me." Arabella for the most part understood her father would never do this to her, but from time to time the occasional threat would prove rather useful and keep the mischievous youngster in check.

    The reality of the situation would prove to be quite the eye opening experience. Never in her life would Arabella want to find herself in such a horrid little place, far from the gilded halls of her own home. So far away from the care and love she received from her parents and her sister. It was all rather garish and unfathomable, even though it was right before her. Even as a child she wondered, how could people abandon such children?

    Now of course Arabella was Queen and she stood before the warden and his wife as they rushed to greet the Royal party, indeed it had been many years since such figures had been to visit. Christian's mother had been the last woman of the family to serve as a patron for the hospital. "Warden Stanwick." Arabella called, her face lighting up instantly upon seeing him, all for show she would add.

    "It is we who have the tremendous privilege and honour of visiting you and the Hospital. We can only extend our sincerest gratitude for welcoming us into your halls, and at such a late notice." If she was anything in this moment, it was certainly gracious. "And of course your darling wife. I must say that colour is simply marvelous upon you." It was not. Arabella hated every centimeter of the fabric and the sound of the stays creaking as the woman moved. But no, she would never show any of it. "Please, you must welcome us as friends. I'm sure you remember my sister and myself visiting as young girls." Arabella motioned quietly to Alexandra, turning back to her and rolling her eyes, ensuring no one else could see such an action.

    "Our memories were so fond, we positively jumped at the opportunity to visit once more now that we are better placed to be of service. You were ever so kind, and I must admit you scarcely look a day older." She was full of smiles and warmth, of compliments so desperately desired by those she was paying them to. "Before we begin, I would like to introduce you to Lady Alice Denington, she is a dear friend of both the Princess and myself. It is our greatest hope that she too will join us in the tremendous charity work of the family."

    Arabella may as well have dangled a blank check in front of the man. "I dare say the choir sounds absolutely delightful. Shall we ladies?" Arabella called to her sister, now doing what she had longed too for the press had been stopped quite a ways outside the main gates. The Queen fell back in line, and linked arms with her sister, holding her close.
    Second star to the right and straight on till morning.

  4. #514
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    Alexandra viewed the man and his wife in rather the same with Bella had; they evidently enjoyed their lifestyle, if either one's waistline was to be taken into account, and clearly they were well paid for it. She wondered if any of the children had such 'fine plump' figures! She doubted it, not if the food had remained unchanged since their last visit...She recalled it had been very gruel and porridge based, with bread and dripping, and a single ill-made sausage -containing God only knew how much real meat- once a week.

    Perhaps it would be possible to, in say groups of ten, take girls out of here for the day, see that they had some good food and some fun. The Princess resolved to speak to her sister on it. She guessed that any parcels sent here, to be distributed to the children, would somehow, accidently, of course, find themselves lost or else in the home of the warden and his wife.

    Maybe Arthur could do something for the boys. Even as a grown woman, she knew it would be frowned upon to take a mixed group of children, and questions would be asked if she was seen to be removing a group of boys for the day. Naturally, the King, and his minions, with their fears and paranoia, would wonder just what she was telling their possible future soldiers and servants!

    She smiled and nodded though, as she thought all this, and said, her voice as happy as her sister's, "Oh yes, like my sister, I could not wait to return. I am so pleased to see nothing has changed!"

    "Why would it? Nothing ever changes, here or anywhere else...The King took us back to the dark ages and is content we remain there. Progress and change must be stopped, hunted and rooted out. Kill and destroyed, for fear of what might come!"

    She linked arms with the Queen and squeezed her hand as they set off behind the warden; Alice falling into step just behind.

    The three ladies, along with the staff who brought up the rear -in his excitement, the warden had quite forgotten them it seemed!- entered into a large entrance way, with a grey, and scrubbed within an inch of its life, flagstone floor. The walls were wood-panelled, painted white, rather like the hospital they had just left. A large, and exceedingly well done, portrait of the King's mother hung before them upon the far wall, above the grand chapel door; she being the previous benefactress.

    "Ah, your predecessor, Your Majesty," the warden beamed. "It would be a great honour to have your portrait now hang there, if His Majesty consents, of course," he added hastily. Talk of removing the King's mother's portrait, without him agreeing, might be a bit risky!

    Below the portrait was a bust of Thomas Coram, the man who had, in 1739, founded the hospital, and on a lectern was the man's bible.

    To their left and right were two doors, both open and leading off down long, very drab corriors; one for boys, one for girls.

    What struck Alexandra was...the silence. Even straining her ears, she heard no sounds of children at play, no talking, nothing. They might have been in a crypt. She made another decision, right then and there; Marlborough house would never be like this. Any children she had, or any who visited, could play, run in the corridors and explore and make as much choice as they wished.

    This stayed environment was draining. She glanced at the warden and the teachers. Not one seemed concerned or ill-at-ease by the silence.

    The warden strolled over to the chapel door and opened it. The expansive space opened before them, but even here...it was grey and drab, despite the bright lamps. The only colour was at the far back of the room, where icons and candles glittered. The only 'decor' was for God's adornment, nothing else. Not even a carpet for the room, until you reached the altar steps. The pews were solid and hard, and close to each other, the better to pack in more worshippers.

    As they walked into the room, Alex wondered if they were so packed in to ensure that movement was limited.

    "You must forgive our plain decor, your Majesty, we wished to use the funds to give our charges a better quality food," the warden was saying. Alex bit the inside of her cheek to stop from replying. "But as you can see, we have a fine display for God's eyes upon the altar. Now, Mr. Noble shall just see that the boys are ready, while we take our seats, if that pleases you?"

    One of the teacher's slipped from the group and hurried to a door at the far wall. He disappeared through it, into what Alex assumed was where the choir were gathered.
    "Ye mustn't be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time." - Granny Weatherwax

  5. #515
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    When the doors opened and the Queen was greeted with the portrait of her mother-in-law, a woman she never had the pleasure or displeasure of meeting. As the warden had so delicately put it, her predecessor. Eleanor was a remarkable woman, though perhaps for the wrong reasons. As the first and only wife of Christian II, she was the first domestic born Queen in centuries. Christian I, before he bore that name had, of course, been married to a French princess, though those particular details were later omitted from official biographies. As part and parcel of English supremacy and Catholic domination it would naturally be expected the King marry a good and proper English girl.

    Eleanor, affectionately known as Nora to her husband was a fierce woman, fierce meaning entirely cruel. She was known to beat her children, including her precious eldest son, the only one who would survive into adulthood, Arabella's eventual husband. Christian II lacked the backbone of his father, and was regarded as generally weak minded, his reign was blessedly short, but included no shortages of an enraged Queen Eleanor berating and admonishing her husband and his council. She was domineering, and rather constantly walking about in a state of disappointment. Indeed it was likely why the council, and most others reacted so strongly to the idea of Arabella as Regent. Though Eleanor never served in such a capacity, it was agreed upon that the Queen had too much influence.

    Indeed Queen Eleanor, renowned for her savvy, and her blustery personality had the great good fortune of suddenly and unexpectedly dying. Unfortunately for others - it had been perhaps too late to ensure that the reign of Christian II would be a success. Then again, even if she had never existed, one still very much doubted that his reign could ever have been successful. After all, a puppet is only as good as his master.

    Alice was rather taken aback by how sterile, and eerily quite the entire place was. This was not a home fitting for children. Even though she grew up with precious little, scarcely above the poverty line, there was laughter and love, there were smiles and chuckles, whispers, anything beyond the silence that she heard or rather did not hear. The look on her face was evident, she was uncomfortable. In a Palace it was easy to hide your expression, or rather it felt so because she had been trained for that reality, she had experienced that reality. That made it more tolerable, perhaps, experience. This however, was new.

    Arabella having glanced backward smiled softly. "Head up my darling." She spoke rather softly, just loud enough for Alice to hear. It was the chapel itself, however, that was most shocking. "Forgive?" Arabella asked, her tone sounding at first somewhat taken aback, and slowly softening. "Not at all. Nothing to forgive, we shall simply have to raise funds for just such a purpose." The Chapel, without ornamentation had a distinctly protestant feel. The Catholics loved their gilded cradles of faith. Though the wall devoted to God, at least was something. "I have been told the dietary programme is most excellent. We would rather enjoy a detailed tour of the kitchens and to take a meal with the children."

    Arabella could smell the pathetic excuses wafting from the Warden and his wife. They had offered a challenge, one that the Queen was most interested to take. If they claimed it was for the food, let them eat the foot and see for themselves. Arabella was not above such things. If it was good enough for the children, it would be good enough for her. "It shall please to be seated indeed. Thank you." Arabella escorted her sister to the front row, where the two would sit, side by side with Alice taking her place in the row behind them. Everyone couldn't help but watch as the Queen and the Princess made themselves comfortable, looking perfectly content even though the seats were uncomfortable and perhaps rather unfitting of women of their status.
    Second star to the right and straight on till morning.

  6. #516
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    The warden's smile, briefly, faltered at Arabella's words. "O-oh!" He stuttered, a little, "You...you would d-dine with the children? I...Ugh," he stammered. The food was hardly fit for one such as herself but he could not admit that. He was trapped, and he knew it. He would not even had time to arrange anything better. He plastered a smile back on. "Of course! What a fine idea! We shall lunch with the girls, yes, yes, what a splendid idea!"

    Alexandra followed her sister to the front row and sat, trying extremely hard not to dissolve into laughter at the way the Queen had sent the man into a spiral. She glanced at her sister and gave a smile. It was rather like they were girls again, smirking at one another over some childish prank they'd inflicted upon their first governess -a woman neither of them liked and who detested both girls in return- while father paced before them, sighing.

    "Inspired," Alex said, smiling.

    "I'm sorry, Your Highness, did you speak?" The Warden said, hurrying closer, clearly worried he had made another mistake.

    "Oh," she waved her hand kindly, "I was merely thinking aloud. This more simple chapel, it really inspires one with the love of God. Nothing to take the attention from one's prayers."

    The warden almost seemed to melt at this kindness and gave a genuine, smaller smile, "Thank you, Your Highness...Yes, yes, I think so too." He returned to his task of ushering in a line of silent boys, all with their eyes downcast and most looking as if a good meal might kill them.

    As Alexandra watched, she wondered, not for the first time either, if she had a streak of cruelty in her. Either by nature or acquired in response to need, but she knew she had not comforted the man for his own sake...She had done it so that if and when her sister -as Queen she had the power Alex did not- brought the man up on his failings, it would sting all the more now he had been lulled to calmness.

    The cruelty was not from her actions but the fact that she enjoyed it, and the thought of what might come later. She glanced again at her sister, who was now looking at the boys, before she turned her gaze back forward once more. "Then again, is it cruelty to meet out what has been done to others upon the guilty?"

    The warden's wife seated herself on the first row of pews to their right, across the aisle and watched the boys. There was no kindness in her eyes though, she wasn't looking on proudly or even expectantly for the coming show, but rather her gaze told of severe punishment if anyone put a toe wrong in this performance.

    She need not have worried. The boys were so cowed, and likely weakened from lack of good food, they'd not have considered it anyway. The only thing likely to occur was someone fainting from hunger. The boys lined up, 6 in front, 6 behind on the steps of the chapel and stood silently while the warden joined his wife, and the other teachers took their seats. After a pause, the organist hurried out and took his seat. He glanced at the warden, who nodded, before he began to play.

    The boys launched into a very beautiful, and very moving, short performance of three or four hymns thought appropriate for a charitable place; in other words, those hymns that spoke of being grateful for what you had, how lowly you were but God loved you anyway, and such nonsense designed to keep the children -and the poor- in their place.

    Alexandra listened, feeling more and more sick to her stomach. It was beautiful, and the boys sang extremely well, but the lines they were parroting...It was despicable. The difference between those who had and those who did not, was, in their world, entirely dependant on the luck of birth! Even a man, born to a poor family, had a monumentally tiny chance of succeeding in gaining any great wealth, and even then, he would be shunned by those born to it and never accepted, nor could he really find acceptance in the poor family he had risen above...

    Surely something could be done to make the world more fair, and it was not this! She glanced again at the warden.

    "What a vile creature," she thought, unaware her sister had had similar thoughts that very day, about another man, given to equally shady dealings.
    "Ye mustn't be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time." - Granny Weatherwax

  7. #517
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    The entire visit was something out of a nightmare. Arabella felt herself twisting and contorting inside with every last scene or moment she witnessed. This place, meant to be a haven, a refuge for the children unwanted by society for whatever reason. It was nothing but a sham, all an elaborate excuse for one sad man and his equally vile wife to receive handouts from the government and from those who sought to do charitable and good works (no matter what their reason for doing so.)

    The Queen once so mighty found herself incredibly humbled and ever disheartened by the display before her. The Warden was in disbelief that she had requested to dine with the children. She had intended to catch him in a lie, she intended to prove he was unfit for such governance. But what was within her power to actually do? Of course she could throw money at the problem as so many had, and in doing so she could hope for the best and simply turn a blind eye to what was happening. Of course, that would not do, how could she rest easily at night knowing the suffering of this place? Of those children?

    Alex had deemed her move inspired. The Warden then scrambling to address any such whispers or things that may spiral out of his control evoked a rather amusing response from her sister. Indeed, no one could say that Alex was not as clever or as witty as her sister. The two, in fact, were cut of the same cloth. Not only did they share blood and genetics, they shared similar attitudes and habits. Little lies, little words, an innate ability to think quickly and without any hesitation. Arabella was cruel, Alexandra was kind, but really if one were to think it and know the girls truly, nothing was so black and white. Arthur knew his wife to her core, as Richard had known Arabella. Alice was beginning to know and understand both ladies on a level that most could only dream of.

    As the choir of boys performed Arabella found herself gripping at Alex's hand, holding it and squeezing it rather tightly along the way. This was all she could do to indicate her distress, in only a show a noble or a Royal could put on the Queen's face remained ever muted, frozen into something of a smile, not even her eyes betraying her. The hymns portrayed nothing but a great irony, some sort of spiritual or perhaps cosmic joke. These boys were suffering, clearly in want of food, in want of kindness and love, some sort of acceptance. They were tortured souls, it was a wonder any of them could move on from this place and a be normal, well rounded human. Little did she know what her future would carry for her.

    As the boys finished, Arabella rose to her feet and clapped, in short order everyone else would follow suit. After all, such was the benefit of being Queen, she alone could dictate the actions of everyone else in the room. "Incredible. Truly." Little did the warden know the exact multitude of manners the Queen meant the word incredible. Arabella moved swiftly to stand before the boys, and in doing so would feel her own heart breaking over and over again. A feeling that, at this point, she was quite well acquainted with and sadly accustomed to. It reminded her of her own perceived failures as a mother. Arabella had given up her child, much as these boys had mothers that had abandoned them. Of course, her own child was close, and certainly incredibly well cared for...but still, she felt the pain of a grieving mother with an occasional tear or welling eye to prove it.

    It was perhaps a little known fact that Arabella adored children. Being a mother was one of her greatest aspirations. Perhaps a part of that was society telling her that this was her role, this was her path. But no, beyond that Arabella truly wished for parenthood, even if she had never considered what kind of mother she would be, or how well qualified for such a task she might be. Some may argue that Arabella would indeed be a terrible or cruel parent. "Gather round my darlings." The smile that crossed her face was one of regret, one of absolute pain, one of perhaps the smallest hint of pride that despite their suffering these boys performed so well, so admirably. "No need Warden and my dear Lady to rise." Arabella reassured the man and his wife.

    For a few moments the Queen chatted, knowing every response the boys gave was one that had been rehearsed, so she disregarded their compliments of the Warden and how well the had been cared for. The boys would produce little trinkets from their pockets, tokens of a forgotten or barely remembered home or parent, or just little things they had made during their time here. Arabella for a few moments truly lit up, basking in their company. For just a moment or so they were treated with kindness and humility, asked questions with genuine curiosity. There was even the occasional spat of laughter. Arabella would move to sit on the floor, upon her own legs with hands rested upon her knees as she interacted and indulged them.

    Minutes felt like hours. Their reprieve was to be short. "Warden, as you prepare the children for their meals, might you leave my sister, my good Lady and myself a moment alone here? We wish to pray." Prayer could be a public act, and so often for the Queen and indeed for the Princess it was very often a public act, shared with the masses as part of their charitable work. But it was also an intensely private act, something that should most often without audience. Of course, Arabella had little intention of praying, but rather simply needed the freedom to chat with her own sister and friend.

    Alice was seemingly in shock, her face not exactly twisted into a fake smile, nor a particular look of horror. Rather it was frozen at something in between, something that screamed something was wrong, perhaps everything was wrong, something inside of her was broken. This kind of world should not exist. Even growing up with so little she had more than these boys. Alice did not exactly wish to see more, she had not understood why the Queen insisted upon a meal with the children. She could not fathom why such a woman with so much would willingly subject herself to more of this insanity than she had to. Arabella and Alexandra could walk away, they could return to the safety and sanctity of their palaces and grand houses. They could never look upon such a sight again... yet they remained. Why?
    Second star to the right and straight on till morning.

  8. #518
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    Alexandra joined her sister with the boys and gave them as much love and affection as she could do in their short time; she, like Bella, talked to them, asked them questions, showed an interest in what little snippets they shared, and expressed hopes for their future. It seemed so hollow though.

    Even the embraces she gave, she could feel the children clinging on, not wishing to let go, which almost made her weep. When was the last time they had had a hug from someone? Their mother, maybe?

    Once the staff and children had left, she covered her mouth and turned away from Arabella and Alice briefly, taking several breaths to try and steady herself. The Princess could not help but think of her own child, not yet born, but how lucky the baby was already to have loving parents waiting for him or her, a warm home, a bed, regular meals...How many children out there had no such guarantee. And even those that did have loving parents, who wished for their arrival with as much hope as she did for her own, they may be forced to throw themselves on the mercy of this place or ones like it, out of sheer necessity.

    What hurt the most though, was that she knew there was actually very little she could, in her current place, do about any of this. She couldn't, as much as she wished, adopt the children, and while, yes, she could employ some of them as maids or servants in her home, it was a tiny drop in the ocean, and even it seemed cold.

    She thought too of little Beatrice. Was this where the King had a mind to put her, before she 'died'? Anywhere but with her mother, as she should be. Alexandra wished to scream out at the injustice of it all. She wanted to throw something. Smash windows. Anything.

    Instead, she sat down on the pew once more and let out a soft, rather defeated sigh. She looked to her sister, and saw the same conflict that must be on her face, reflected back at her. "Bella, what...what can we do? Those poor boys. And we have only seen a dozen so far, you know what else is to come. I just want to empty the place, march out with every child. How much money does this place recieve, a year? And all the visits and yet...Nothing has changed since we were girls."
    "Ye mustn't be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time." - Granny Weatherwax

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    Arabella stood for a moment completely still. She listened intently upon the words her sister had spoken and lowered her head in thought, the next thing to escape her lips was a rather grand sigh. Taking a few steps forward in the central aisle toward the alter, the Queen looked up at the grand cross that was suspended there, like some kind of monolith. Upon the fixture was the figure of Jesus looking perfectly passive despite the fact the thorns dug into his skull as the nails, more like bolts impaled his joints fastening him in place. "It's like some kind of joke, isn't it?" Arabella wondered aloud, a sense of exasperation bleeding through her words.

    "I stand here more privileged than anyone, and these children are made to suffer. You could teach counting lessons on their ribs." The feeling of embracing the boys, their bones jutting out beneath their thin flesh. It was something out of a nightmare. "And that man... that awful, awful man." It was something of an amazement that Arabella had not yet raised her voice. The woman was, after all, prone to outbursts of rage. Instead she was quietly seething. "He lies to our faces, like we're the same foolish ignorant children we once were. Does he think us blind sister?" Arabella scoffed, the notion that he spared the design to enhance the quality of children's meals... when in reality he merely stuffed his own pockets.

    "Did you notice?" She began, still quite flustered. "The dress of his wife? Of course it's garish, hideous. But that's not the crime, it's expensive... that fabric. You can't just pick that up at the local market. The way her stays creaked... bone. Bone pushed too far." To imagine that Arabella had a heart might once have been impossible. "You must forgive me sister, and Alice... of course." The Queen took her eyes off of the crucified savior and turned back to her sister and their friend. "This place, it takes in thousands of pounds a year. Nearly every courtier pours their money into this hospital and places just like it all over the country. Nothing looks better than feigning a love for the countries most unloved." Children were, after all, their future.

    "I am the God damned Queen of the United Kingdom. The God damned Queen." Arabella had betrayed her own morals and taken the Lord's name in vain. That was how angry she truly was. "And I can't do a damn thing to help these children." She stepped closer toward the aisle, stopping beside her sister in the row of pews and resting her hand upon the cool and well worn wood, her gloves retracting only to note the fine layer of dust upon her gloves.

    Alice, who had remained rather silent up until this point began to speak, but found the words somewhat difficult to formulate. "Surely between the two of you there must be something to be done." Alice admittedly was not entirely familiar with the extent of the authority of these two women, certainly they in turn were the two most powerful women in the realm, but still, they like her were mere women in a world dominated by men and by God's preference for them, or so they would have everyone believe.

    Another sigh, there was an air of defeatism that seemed to permeate the room and everyone in it. "Let's just burn it all down." Alice said, jokingly of course. "Start again." Alice would normally have laughed even just a touch at her own comment but here she could not bring herself to do so. Arabella, however, found room for a small chuckle. "That's clever. He'd have more money than ever." The Queen then moved to sit beside her sister in the pew, turning to look at her head on. "What if I had him and his wife arrested? Cruelty to children? Surely then I could attempt to appoint one of the Royal governesses, or two to take their place... and then pray like hell that Christian agrees and lets me get away with it?" If there was one thing her sister was better than her at, it was knowing the ins and outs of the law, and other fine manners of court. All of those years of reading, including what Richard let Alex get away with had not gone unnoticed. "I don't care what harm comes to me, I will stop him. But for now... we must be quiet and civil, and perhaps excuse ourselves on matters of state, busy schedule and all... I don't want him to think something horrid is coming and attempt to hide. I need them to think we're pleased as punch." Arabella clasped at her sister's hands now and smiled softly. "As a mother I cannot abide this, nor can you as one so expectant. On this we can agree."

    Alice watched on as the two sisters seemed more united than ever. For once there was no worrying about Christian, or about rules or draconian religious law. It was just two loved ones trying their best to be a family for the first time in years.

    "We could be less extreme, we can set up a charity or some venture to try and remove the children for stretches of time, some sort of educational endeavor that takes them to the palaces and other historic homes, to the universities, something to show them there is a future beyond these walls while offering some small reprieve. I'm terribly good at spending my husband's money." Arabella smirked, cracking a small joke. "You've seen my work at Buckingham, and I'm just getting started." Arabella was determined to ask for forgiveness later.
    Last edited by Hannelorian; 03-19-2023 at 01:34 PM.
    Second star to the right and straight on till morning.

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    Alexandra chewed her lip as her sister spoke, taking it all in and mulling it over. "No, not blind. He thinks us women to be petted and praised and passed over, because we cannot hope to understand anything of any importance. Hence why he mentions decor, because clearly, as three ladies, all we would notice is the lack of lace and diamonds." She shook her head again. "All I noticed were those poor boys. My God, I felt every rib of the one's I embraced."

    She rested her hands over her stomach and swallowed. Bella knew herself that when she had been pregnant, such things weighed heavier on the soul and emotions ran high. And, of course, her maternal instincts were very strong right now.

    The Princess took several breaths, trying to avoid bursting into tears. She had found herself doing that often now and it was rather annoying. She had suddenly gone to pieces just a few days ago, when one of the junior maids had given her a little bunch of sweet-peas from the garden, so kind was the gesture. It had taken a few minutes before she had managed to compose herself to assure the girl, they were happy tears.

    She composed herself, nodding. One could almost see her flipping through an index of information in her mind. "The hospital was started by a private, wealthy individual who funded it, and also received donations from worthy person for it. It also received help from parliament due to it being a charitable endeavor that helped ease the problem of the poverty and orphans...It is now funded through taxes, charitable donations and from income given to it via the estate the King's mother gifted to it. The funds from said estate go directly to the hospital for it's expenses. So while it does not receive, direct, coinage from the King, the estate income is legally his, as his mother had no right to dispense with the lands...They were, and are, still property of the crown, but the King, in his charity, has allowed the system to carry on. He could, if he wished, remove the estate income at a stroke."

    She paused, clearly remembering, word perfectly what she had read, "The hospital fell on hard times, after 1801, and the house of commons was alarmed by the costs, and so threw out any help. The governors therefore decided to only take children who came with a 'gift' of 100 or so...This removed it as a place for the desperate or needy as what working or poor mother has such an amount? It was, for a brief time, only frequented by wealthy family's who's son or daughter had fathered or born a bastard child they wished to be free of...Likely hoping the poor thing died here and could be forgotten. The Queen then stepped in and it has been run, as it is now, since."

    Alexandra looked at her sister, "As it's current benefactress, with some of your privy purse going to fund this, and that estate which, if the King wished, could be returned to the crown and gifted to you , as a source of income for yourself until your death when it would once again return to him or his heir, as no woman can hold it herself, you do have options. Aside from large amounts left in wills, the largest portion, I would guess, comes from taxes and parliament, but you, as the figure-head, have the...outward say it in, in a way. It is viewed more as something for the Queen, to keep her busy. I think, and I may be wrong, but I think, if you spoke to the King in such a way, wishing to take a closer interest...You could run it as you please, and dismiss staff as you wish.

    You are in an enviable position, for a courier and woman, let alone Queen, that the King loves and trusts you, and your judgement and skills. I cannot imagine this place much interests him, why would it? So if you asked that it be made your little empire, as it were...Which much being said to 'training the next generation of godly citizens' and such, I think you can convince him easily."

    "As for the warden," she shook her head, "And that tightly-laced fool of a wife of his, yes, they could easily be removed. You do, after all, have God on your side. The children are starving, any fool can see that, or maybe not, as it were, and God commands us to take care of the poor and needy. On that they have failed. And therefore, failed God, and by extension, the King, who is God's anointed."

    It was, in way, rather terrifying yet brilliant. Using the system that held them back, to advance them. She smiled slightly, "A Queen once, was the only one who could beg for mercy from her husband, on behalf of a condemned person...The King could not show weakness, which is what mercy was seen as, but, if his gentle, loving wife, in her womanly way, with her gentle heart, begged, on her knees, he could, as a show of his love for her...show mercy, thus saving face. They think us soft and weak, to be passed over and ignored unless we have a use. Let us be 'soft' and 'weak' and do great things."
    "Ye mustn't be afraid to ask for help. Pride is a good thing, my girl, but it will kill you in time." - Granny Weatherwax

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