Note: I would like to apologize in advance for the quality of some of the pics, they were taken in a basement and the game camera was not cooperating. On the plus side, this post is actually appropriate for Halloween! … If a couple hours late.
“I am telling ye,” Tambu murmured to her pancakes as the whores sat down to breakfast, “I did not sign up for this.”
In case anyone doubted what Tambu was talking about, she let her eyes slide over to the ornate coffin placed against the wall of the cellar.
“What do you mean?” Wei Li, who was washing one of the plates, asked.
“We-ell … let me put it like this.” Tambu started to tick off items on her fingers. “Multiple men a night: yup, that’s in the contract. Sleep schedule shot to hell? Definitely in there. Whatever reputation I had torn to shreds? They don’t even bother putting that into the fine print; it’s at the top of the page in big red letters.
“But,” she squirmed in her chair, pointing to the coffin, “a co-worker who sleeps all day, in a coffin, drinks blood for breakfast, and can turn herself into a bat? No, my friends, that is not in the contract.”
“So you’re upset about Mirelle’s … condition?” Wei Li asked as she brought her plate to the table.
Tambu stared at her fellow prostitute’s back, her jaw agape, then turned to the other two occupants of the table. “I am not the only person freaked out, am I?”
“Maybe?” Marigold replied. “I don’t have a problem with Mirelle.” Well, of course she wouldn’t. “And I don’t understand this hostility, Tambu, ye’ve never minded me.”
Tambu glanced toward Erin, only to find, to her relief, that Erin was giving her the same look. Tambu decided to speak first. “Well, Marigold, I don’t know how to put this, but …”
“Yer not scary,” Erin said, relieving Tambu of the necessity.
“Unless of course ye’re a drunk john who isn’t too keen on paying,” Tambu said hurriedly. Truth to tell she was never sure how Marigold did it — she looked almost as fragile as the flower that was her namesake — but, perhaps like real marigolds, she was tougher than she looked, and Tambu knew one thing: nobody who managed to stiff Marigold once did it twice.
“But let’s face it, Marigold,” Tambu continued, “when my ma was thinkin’ up terrors to make me mind her … somehow folk with green skin, who talk to plants and have to spend lots of time in the sun, never entered the conversation.”
“And ye don’t drink blood,” Erin pointed out. “That’s a big part of it … hey …” She frowned. “D’ye even have blood?”
“Erin!” Tambu hissed.
“What? It’s an innocent enough question. An’ if she don’t have blood, then that explains why she ain’t afraid o’ Mirelle. So do ye?”
Marigold’s eyebrows had nearly migrated to her hairline — er — leaf-line? “Yes. I have blood.”
“Oh.” Erin looked almost disappointed.
“What were ye expecting?”
“Um …” Erin screwed up her face. “Well, I dunno. Maybe water? Or that green stuff that get all over yer hands whenever ye’re workin’ with plants.”
Marigold made a face. “What? It’s not like I’ve ever seen ye bleed!”
“Enough, Erin,” Tambu said, trying hard not to roll her eyes. “You get it now, Marigold? Wei Li?”
“I think I understand your discomfort,” Wei Li replied, “but what I do not understand is your surprise.”
Three heads swiveled to face Wei Li.
“Well,” Wei Li continued, “we all always knew that Mirelle was a bit … odd.”
Tambu grunted. Odd was one way of putting it. Delusional would be more Tambu’s choice of words.
Of course before this turn of events, Tambu hadn’t given a single thought to Mirelle’s mad stories. So what if the woman claimed to be a scion of a long-lost race — something that sounded like she but wasn’t spelled like that — if that’s what helped Mirelle come to terms with her new life, well, Tambu wasn’t going to say her nay. Wright knew all of the girls had scars, bumps and bruises, it wasn’t like any of them had chosen this life. Erin had run away from an abusive husband in Glasonland; Wei Li had been captured as a child, sold to the Reman empire and trained as a courtesan. Then barbarians had sacked Marsim, her “hometown,” and Wei Li had fled, eventually making her way into Albion. As for Tambu, she’d been born a year and a half after the death of her “father,” and her ma, already stretched to the limit trying to provide for more children than she could afford, couldn’t provide any sort of dowry or career skills for her youngest. Even Marigold, who owned the whorehouse, couldn’t be said to have chosen this life — she’d merely capitalized on what was a fact of her life, namely that while many men would pay to have a night with her, none of them would marry her.
So if Mirelle wanted to play pretend and hide the truth, that was fine by Tambu. Besides, Tambu had put all the pieces together — or so she thought, before this happened. Mirelle wasn’t really a “she” (well, she was, but not the “she” to which Mirelle was referring), but she did have a lot of airs and graces (or just airs). So Tambu guessed that she was from a good family. Hell, maybe even nobility. As for the “crime” that had gotten her “banished” — that one was easy. She’d lost her maidenhead. Nobles and wealthy merchants were ruthless when it came to their women’s chastity. Peasant girls, they could get away with a few trysts in the haystacks before they got themselves a ring; hell, even if they got pregnant, it just proved they were fertile, and provided they got the ring before the babe made its way into the world, most folks would look the other way. Not so with nobles, for them an unmarried non-virgin was less than useless. No wonder they’d cast Mirelle off.
Yes, that explanation made sense to Tambu … almost. Because it couldn’t explain some of Mirelle’s eccentricities. Her accent, for one — no one who ever came into the whorehouse could place it. And nobody recognized the language she swore in or, for a particularly lucky customer, sang in. And her refusal to come near anything that had iron in it — Tambu had at first thought it mere savvy, particularly when Mirelle insisted that her customers leave any knives they might be carrying outside the door, but the girl wouldn’t even go near a candlestick and always looked as if she was about to be sick when they passed by the smithy.
And there was Mirelle’s complete and total phobia when it came to aging … why just last week Tambu had come across Mirelle on the bathroom floor, crying her eyes out, just because she’d discovered a gray hair! Not even gray — shining silver, platinum even — and no matter what Tambu had tried to say to comfort her, Mirelle had stayed there, sobbing, begging as if she’d seen the Grim Reaper coming for her at that very moment.
“We should have noticed something was up a while ago,” Tambu grumbled.
“Aye. ‘Specially when she started bringing that bloke around,” Erin remarked.
The table fell silent as they all remembered “that bloke.” He’d been tall, red-haired, handsome, though awfully pale. Called himself a count. And he had a funny accent, too. Tambu wouldn’t have minded taking him into her bed, not that there was a chance of that with Mirelle around. Mirelle hung all over him, ears attentive to every word, pouring compliments on him like he was a raging fire and the compliments were water. She’d even let him into the whorehouse for free, something that had made Marigold ready to spit when she found out.
Things had come to a head about a week ago. He’d shown up, Mirelle had let him in, and — while they were still in the vestibule, before they even got into the whorehouse proper — he’d kissed her neck.
At least Tambu thought it was a kiss. At the time she’d been debating on whether to shout for Mirelle to take it up to the bedroom, or to congratulate her on finding a new way to make the customers hot and bothered.
Still, she’d never forget the look in Mirelle’s eyes as the Count’s lips were on her neck … a look of sheer bliss … more than bliss, a look like someone had just walked up to Mirelle and handed her all her dreams on a platter.
And no sooner had the Count taken his lips from Mirelle’s neck than she — changed.
It was when she changed that Tambu put the pieces together — the pieces she should have put together when the Count first showed up. Cold, clammy, gray skin. Blood-red eyes. And by Wright, those teeth — sharp as a wolf’s fangs, they were, and with only one purpose.
Before Tambu could do anything — panic, run screaming into the night, find a priest to do an exorcism — Mirelle had rushed into the bathroom. And Tambu had, stupidly, followed her. Why, she didn’t know — maybe she thought that Mirelle had panicked as she had. Maybe she thought Mirelle would need a shoulder to cry on after her ordeal. Maybe she thought that Mirelle would want a friend to help her find a way out of this mess.
Whatever she had thought, it had been wrong. For when Mirelle ran up to the sink and caught sight of her non-existant reflection, she’d laughed and crowed — and made it excruciatingly clear that, whatever Tambu or anyone else had thought, things had gone exactly according to Mirelle’s plan.
Returning to the present, Tambu sighed. “What the hell are we going to do about her?”
“Leave her in peace?” Marigold hazarded. “For Wright’s sake, she hasn’t been lunching on us or any of the customers.”
“Yet,” Erin grumbled.
Marigold glared, then continued as if the interruption had never occurred. “And let’s face it, plenty of men happen to find the exotic … enticing, shall we say? Mirelle will make us a mint if we just let her be.”
As soon as Mirelle’s name fell from her lips, there was a strange sound — like thunder booming, although the day was perfectly sunny — then a loud creak — and then the lid was open, and Mirelle in a cloud of fog stared at all of them. “Did someone mention my name?”
Whatever their expressed opinions of her might be, the demeanor of the four whores became, once confronted with the actual presence of Mirelle, startlingly identical:
“Oh, no, Mirelle.”
“We’d never dream of talking behind your back.”
“We were just discussing — um — mirabelles, it’s a type of flower Marigold wants to put in the garden.”
“So don’t you worry a thing about it, just go back to sleep, you need your rest. And you know the sun isn’t good for you.”
Mirelle stared at them, her eyebrow inching up … then she shrugged, crossed her arms over her chest, and leaned back into the coffin. Thunder boomed again as the lid closed.
The four women sat silent for a good five minutes. Then Wei Li, haltingly, started to ask for opinions on different names for her child, who was due at any minute, really.
As the other women easily — too easily — fell into the makeshift conversation, Tambu sighed to her pancakes.
“Yep,” she muttered, though below her breath. “Definitely not in the contract.”