December at Court meant one thing, Christmas. In all of England there was no greater holiday, a time of peace, worship, and of course family. This also heralded the return of the King and Queen to Windsor, where eventually the Prince and Princess of Wales would be summoned as the family must appear to be absolutely united on such occasions. Even if not a single person seemed to look forward to it. But in spite of that, the decorating had commenced. The banisters of the grand staircases were enveloped in green garland, wreathes were absolutely abundant, it was a veritable feast of red and green. Then there were the matter of the Christmas trees, some years ago they had been gifted by Christian's German relatives, and ever since, every single year, trees were delivered and decorated throughout the whole of Windsor. Even the staff had one in their mess. Though it was understandably far less grand than that of the Royal couple.
Weeks had passed since the events of the last family meal and a lot had changed in such time. Of course there was the marriage between the Duke of Kent and his wife, the newly minted Duchess of Kent. It was crack in the ever widening gulf between Arthur's loyals, and the majority of Court and Government, who largely preferred the insular world of the aristocracy where such blood was not mixed. The reports had come and gone of Alexandra's increasingly obvious pregnancy, noting specifically that she was larger than most pregnant women at her stage. Privately, Arabella had her concerns, but she mentioned nothing of them to anyone.
In fact, Arabella had just about forbidden any of her ladies and any of the servants from mentioning the topic in her presence, or anywhere that would lead back to the King. Further any correspondence or anything in the papers that contained mention of it were brought to Arabella first, and at times of her own choosing she would present that information to the King. Better her to handle the abuse than the servants themselves. By this time Arabella herself was more visibly pregnant, and was regularly discussed in the press and gossip sheets, many regarding how well pregnancy suited her (and her sister of course). She looked perfect, she was still the same Queen everyone had come to expect such perfection from.
Naturally she had learned yet another lesson and stayed out of Christian's affairs when it came to her sister and the Prince. The King eventually having cooled, would even on occasion call for her in the evening hours for his own purposes, markedly kind in their marital bed. The two took all their meals together still, unless of course Christian was off at the club or away hunting, though that was just about finished for the year. She dazzled guests at Court, from foreign ambassadors to other dignitaries and members of the government. Arabella had proved to be worth her wait in gold, she was ever the host, and had learned very well exactly what to say and what not to. The fear of God she felt was ever more real, and her studies with the good Father only increased. She feared ending up like Elizabeth ever more, and refused to accept such a fate.
Life for Arabella, for the first time in a long time seemed to calm down, she fell into her routines and stayed in her place. Always putting her husband before herself, always the well being of her unborn child. She was practically a living Saint. When he struck her in private, he would apologize, she would forgive him, and all would be well again. The amount of abuse was thankfully much lighter, owing no doubt to the child she carried, a future heir to the throne. To that end a few other things had changed. Nikolai, the Russian General had been granted permission to take up residence at Windsor, and was to travel with the court. No one ever did solve that little mystery of what happened to the young woman he had caged upon his first arrival.
Arabella and Graves had gotten away with it. More and more she spent time with her ladies, and kept them in line. It was made abundantly clear that they were still first and foremost in service to her, and if any of them tried their hands at the King, they would promptly find them removed. Or worse, sent to salvage. One Viscountess Selfridge discovered this the hard way, and found herself short a left hand for her impropriety. Arabella had the hand sent to her husband in an ornate delicate wooden box, resting atop a purple velvet pillow. It carried a note that simply assured the husband that his wife was well, and would be better served trying for child.
Though on the whole, the public still adored Arabella, she was a source of light and kindness, practically every day she was seen carrying on with charitable endeavors, with breaks for her rest and to have her doctors assure her and her husband of her continued health and that of the child. Her black book, which contained every secret her little spies had collected on every single member of court was something of an open secret. And so to challenge the Queen would be to bring upon the Queen's wrath, or the King's depending on what exactly was contained within those pages. Arabella was playing the game for real now, and she was playing to win. Her kindness was reserved for her Priest, her Husband, her trusted doctors, the public, and of course the servants whom she treated with exceeding kindness and often made sure they were spared the wrath of the King.
Such was going to be a long winter. Arabella, having finished her breakfast, would take prayers with her priest in her own chambers.