The new Prince was the pride of the kingdom, and the King and Queen doted on him constantly.
“ Be careful with him now,” Queen Abigail laughed. “He's likely to spit up on you!”
“ Oh, your mother doesn't want us to have fun, does she Thomas? Very well then, I suppose it's time for your nap anyhow.”
The infant Prince slept in a bassinet at the foot of his mother's bed, rather than in his nursery. She had even turned away a wet nurse, for on her home island of Avalon, the women always nursed their own babes. They believed it promoted greater health and happiness in the newborns.
And though the new parents loved spending every moment with their son, the Queen's friend Lady Eloiza Somerset finally convinced her to take a much needed night away. She and her husband Lord Richard came over for dinner to give the royal couple some adult interaction.
“ It's so good to see the two of you. I haven't had a real conversation with a grown-up in weeks! Forgive me if I slip into baby talk!”
“ Oh you poor thing! You should let your nurses relieve you more often! Ah, but I remember how it was with my first—I wouldn't let young Richard Jr. out of my sight for a moment!”
“ Indeed you didn't! I felt like I didn't get my wife back for months! But your first child is a very exciting thing.”
“ It certainly is, Richard! We feel very blessed. But tell me, how have this season's hunts been running without me? I look forward to getting back out to the countryside!”
“ It doesn't take long before their talk turns to the hunt, does it?” Queen Abigail winked. “But tell me about the rest of your children, Eloiza. I should love to meet them...”
It wasn't long before winter arrived again, and the first snow had fallen on the palace.
The royal family prepared to celebrate Christmas, and the birth of another little prince or princess as well.
“ Here darling. I can't wait until tomorrow to give it to you. I want you to open your gift tonight!”
“ But it's only Christmas Eve! Well alright, you don't need to convince me to open a present, but—what's this? Pictures of horses?”
“ Yes my dear. I've bought you the most fabulous hunting stallion. He will keep you safe and fast out in the field!”
“ You knew I was looking for a new steed! I can't wait to meet him! And now I suppose you expect me to give you your present early as well!” He gave her a wink. “I've been thinking...now that our family is growing, we need a more suitable residence...”
“ But what could be more suitable than what we have? We have room to spare here!”
“ I suppose that's true my love, but this is only a country estate. My father stopped holding court after my mother died, and it's time we got back to it!”
King Eric continued, “I am having our main palace at Hampton Court renovated to it's former splendor. It won't be ready for awhile yet, but it signifies our legacy, and the legacy of our children!”
“ Oh Eric, that sounds very exciting! But I've never been to court before. And I do hope it won't be too ostentatious!”
“ Don't worry about that, my dear. This palace will spell the birth of a new age. Our family, born and unborn, will call it home for generations.”
“ Isn't that right, my son?” He tickled Prince Thomas. “Now you little one, will have to wait for your presents until tomorrow, for Father Christmas has not yet had the chance to stop by!”
Prince Thomas loved spending time with his parents. They read him stories, and taught him to play.
His mother made sure he could walk and learn his words...
...But his father was more interested in teaching him to ride.
Prince Henry was born in late winter, as the sun poked through the gray sky and the snow began to thaw.
“ There, there, my little prince. Now the men truly outnumber the women in this household!”
A few weeks after Prince Henry's birth, the King and Queen finally found time for some romance. “Ah my darling, alone at last!”
“ They don't tell you how difficult it is to find time together when you have children! But tonight...”
He kissed his wife passionately. All of the sudden there was a *Knock* *Knock* *Knock* at the door.
“ Good god, Christopher! Are you mad? You know we are not to be disturbed!”
“ Indeed your majesty. I apologize, but we have just received an urgent message from his grace, Don Lorenzo. He requests your presence at once. And that of the Queen as well.”
“ Oh dear, is everything all right? What did the messenger say?”
“ Lorenzo? Request my presence? That is a laugh. Besides, he's not even supposed to be here. He has been visiting his family in Italy. Does he mean for us to travel to Italy tonight?” King Eric asked, sarcastically. “Whatever the issue is, it can certainly wait until morning.”
“ Apparently he has returned to England quite suddenly, your majesty. The messenger would not supply more details than that, however he did say he was instructed not to return home without you. I am sure his grace would not call for you if it was not truly urgent.”
“ Eric, this worries me.” Queen Abigail touched her husband's arm. “I think we should go to him.”
“ But darling! Tonight...is our night.” He sighed and lowered his head. “But you're right, I am worried to. By god he has terrible timing!”
“ It is the right thing to do. Prepare the carriage, Christopher, and send Hannah up to help me dress.”
They traveled to Don Lorenzo's estate as quickly as they could.
“ My Lady, his majesty the King and her highness the Queen have arrived to see your Lord. Where may we be received?”
“ Certainly, your grace. My Lord is expecting you. Allow me to show you to the salon.”
“ Please make yourselves comfortable. I shall alert my Lord of your arrival.”
“ And tell your Lord to hurry. I am not accustomed to making house calls.” The King answered, grumpily.
“ What could he possibly need to tell us?” The Queen wondered. “And in the middle of the night!”
“ I haven't the slightest, but you don't know Lorenzo as well as I—if history tells us anything, he has gotten himself into some kind of trouble, and now he needs my help getting out!
“ I'm afraid you are too familiar with my antics, dear King.” Lorenzo laughed.
“ Lorenzo my friend! It has been too long!”
“ Alright, now out with it! Let's cut to the chase, it is past the Queen's bedtime!”
“ No 'welcome home?' How long must I be gone for you to miss me?
“ Alright, I did miss you. A year is a long time, although I expected you to be longer still...”
Don Lorenzo sighed. “As did I, until I ran into some...other plans. But look at this, you are keeping me from my Queen!” Lorenzo brightened again. “Excuse me, sir...”
“ But I must tend to our Great Lady. My Queen, I have missed you most of all.”
“ Oh Lorenzo, you are too much! Don't tell my husband, but I have missed you dearly as well!”
“ I knew it! I shall take you to a faraway land where we may be together at last, my sweet!” Don Lorenzo joked.
King Eric cleared his throat. “That's quite enough, Lorenzo. Really, it is getting late.”
“ I apologize, your majesty. You are right. If you would excuse me for just a moment...”
Don Lorenzo walked to the doorway and called out softly in Italian. “Tesora, ti aspettiamo qui.”
A woman joined Lorenzo in the doorway and he brought her into the room. “Your majesties, please allow me to introduce...my wife.”
She was visibly nervous, but managed a skilled curtsey to the royal couple.
“ Your wife? Is this some kind of joke, Lorenzo? And is she...?”
“ With child!” Queen Abigail gasped.
Don Lorenzo spoke with difficulty. “The Contessa Francesca de Medici, formerly Dama Francesca Valenti of Florence. And myself, formerly a Don, am now a Conte. A little wedding present to us from my uncle, the Doge of Venice.
Contessa Francesca was obviously intimidated by the proceedings, and Queen Abigail's heart went out to her. “Oh my dear, you seem to be about halfway along. I have two little ones myself now.”
“ Grazie...Thank you, signora.” Contessa Francesca smiled at the Queen appreciatively.
“ She is still learning English, and working very hard at it.” Conte Lorenzo smiled at her, and she returned it, uncertainly.
“ I suppose this is where I need your help.” He took a deep breath. “I know how this looks. I just want to find a way to introduce her to our society here without too much fuss. She doesn't deserve a damaged reputation, and you know how the other ladies can be...”
They were quiet for a moment, when Queen Abigail suddenly had an idea. “I know! Lady Eloiza Somerset and I were going to plan a garden party for all the ladies of the realm...”
“ The Contessa could attend as my guest of honor! No one would dare treat her ill when she is by my side.”
“ My dear, that is a wonderful idea!”
“ Indeed! We are most thankful to you!”
“ Now that that's settled, do you ladies mind if I steal our new Conte away for a moment?”
“ Certainly not. The Contessa and I shall get to know each other.”
“ Very well. Come with me to the library, your Majesty.”
King Eric settled into a side chair, and Conte Lorenzo bent to start a fire.
“ So Lorenzo, you must tell me. How did this happen?”
“ Oh I think you know the story. Boy meets girl, boy beds girl, boy finds out girl is the daughter of the Duca di Firenze.”
He laughed. “I always knew things would catch up with me sooner or later, and from the sound of it so did you!”
“ This is no matter for jest, Lorenzo. This is a respectable woman we're talking about here! And soon a child! You alone are responsible for their happiness!”
Lorenzo was annoyed. “Don't talk down to me because you fancy yourself a domestic expert, Eric!”
“ You may not want to hear it my friend, but you know what I say is true. And be careful you don't forget yourself—this is your King you're talking to after all!”
“ I'm sorry, I'm sorry.” Lorenzo sighed and his shoulders dropped. “I've been so overwhelmed.” He said after a moment.
“ Lorenzo, my friend. Look at me. You know that Abigail and I are here for you. We will help you through this, but you need to show me you are committed too.”
“ I am! At least, I'm trying to be. I want to do well, it's just all so new and sudden. But I suppose all I can do is try. I thank you for your friendship and your support. This has helped me.”
The men came back to the salon to find their ladies chatting, and the King and Queen made ready to leave.
“ Now Contessa, I shall be in contact with you about our garden party. This has certainly been a pleasure! Let me know if you require anything!”
The Medici's big their guests farewell, and by then it was quite late. “My Lord, may we retire?” The Contessa asked shyly.
“ You may do as you like.” Conte Lorenzo replied quickly. “I feel the need for a walk. I have much on my mind.”
Don Lorenzo walked past her out into the night, and the Contessa tried to hide her tears.
Conte Lorenzo's emotions were a storm inside of him. He heard her sob as he stepped out the door, but he continued walking, and did not look back.
The morning of the garden party arrived, and the Queen's guests were all assembled, awaiting her entrance.
“ Thank you all for waiting patiently! I'm so happy you could make it. As you may know, I have a guest of honor I should like to introduce to you before we begin this afternoon's festivities.”
“ Please allow me to present the newest member of our circle, and my personal friend, the Contessa Francesca di Medici, wife of Don Lorenzo di Medici.”
The women were taken aback. They all knew Don Lorenzo as the last person to take a wife, but following the Queen's lead, they quickly recovered to welcome Francesca.
It wasn't long before Francesca was regaling them with stories from her home in Italy—her English had much improved, and Queen Abigail noticed that the women seemed excited to have a foreign visitor.
The Baroness Regina also made an effort to participate, which Queen Abigail appreciated.
This was also a chance for Queen Abigail to be introduced to some noblewomen she had not met yet, like the Countess Margaret of Pembroke. The two got on easily.
As the afternoon ended it was time to leave. Contessa Francesca hugged Queen Abigail and whispered “Grazie!” The party had been a success!
Baroness Regina returned home in high spirits. It was not often that she was able to enjoy the company of other women. She was greeted by her daughter, Matilda.
“ Mama! I'm so happy you're home. How was the party? Did you see the Queen?”
“ I did indeed, my dear. It was very much fun. I shall tell you all about it, but first let me find your father.”
She found the Baron Marcus in his study. He didn't look up at her when she came in.
“ So, did you have fun at your party?” He asked, with a hint of sarcasm.
“ I did my Lord. It was enjoyable to get out of the house. The royal gardens are beautiful this time of year.
“ I suppose they are. And did you see the Queen's new son? How lucky we are to have such a prolific royal couple. She continues to produce sons, yet I still have none. It's strange you haven't even been able to conceive since Matilda.”
The Baroness was taken aback by this onslaught. “My Lord, as you know I have tried everything...”
“ Yes, yes. That is what you like to say. As you can see, Regina, I am very busy this evening. If that is all, you may leave.”
She turned and walked out of the room, trying to wipe her tears away so Matilda would not see.
It was late summer at the royal palace, and Prince Thomas was growing fast.
King Eric tried to spend as much time with him as he could, and nurture his son's interests and talents.
“ What are you two doing out here? It's almost time for dinner! Thomas, run inside and wash up, or Maria will be after you!”
“ Darling, could you hold Henry for a minute? My back is hurting again!”
“ My, she loves to kick! She's more rambunctious than the other two ever were!”
“ She , huh? And how are you so certain it's a girl?”
“ A mother can always tell, darling. Besides, If I get another mischievous boy in this house, I'm leaving!”
“ Be careful what you wish for! Any daughter of yours will be as mischievous as these boys, and more!” King Eric laughed. “Come now, let me help you inside.”