“Very nice,” Mirelle remarked as she looked around the fine inn to which Simon Chevaux had taken her. “Very, very nice.” Her eyes fell on a fat, wealthy merchant wining and dining a distinctly bored-looking female companion.
“I wish yer–your dress wasn’t so … revealing,” Simon remarked. And I wish ye’d look at me, and not at yer next costumer!
“Hmm?” Mirelle asked, turning back to him with a charming smile. Simon felt his heart thump twice, hard: whether from lust or from the elemental fear those incisors couldn’t help but inspire was a question he didn’t want to examine too closely. “What’s the matter, you don’t … like my outfit?” She leaned back and stretched, and Simon, being a red-blooded male, found himself unable to keep his eyes on her face for more than a second. “But I dressed like this especially for you, my dear boy.”
“I’m hardly a boy,” Simon objected. “Though you can call me ‘dear’ as often as ye–you like.”
“Hardly a boy? Nonsense. Why, I was seducing King Oberon when your father’s father was but a gleam in his father’s eye.”
Simon’s smile became somewhat tight. It was at times like these that he wished he’d picked another of the brothel girls — Erin, Marigold, Tambu, even his buddy Berach’s Wei Li — to favor. Mirelle might be the best he’d ever seen between the sheets, but he was more than a little convinced that she was barking mad.
Then again, she was the best he’d ever seen between the sheets. And you couldn’t trust a sane whore. Slit your purse-strings and your throat, they would, if you weren’t careful. Best to go with a mad one.
Not that Simon knew anything about slitting either throats or purse-strings …
“Well, madam,” Simon said, leaning forward and leering at her, “even if I am but a callow boy in comparison to your far greater experience … you must admit that I play the part of the man very well, mustn’t ye–you?”
“You play many parts very well, Simon Chevaux.” Mirelle glanced down at the closely written menu, which Simon was ashamed to admit that he could only read half of. “So many, that I have trouble determining which of them is your true face.”
“My true face, eh?” he asked, going to stroke his trailing beard, and finding only air. That was right, he’d shaved. He stroked his chin instead.
“Mm-hmm,” she said, flipping the pages. “I do think I know which is not your true face, however.”
“And what would that be, love?”
Mirelle looked up and smiled at him. “The face of the miller’s assistant, my dear boy.”
Before Simon could do anything more than get profoundly uncomfortable, the waiter appeared at their table. “And what can I get you, sir — madam?”
“I will have the prawns,” Mirelle answered, Simon didn’t even look to see how far back that would set him. “Can you sear them with lime?”
“Lime?” the waiter asked. He grinned at Simon. “Your lady has exotic tastes.”
“She is an exotic lady,” Simon said, trying not to gulp. “You can do it, though, can you not?”
“Of course, of course. Anything else, madam?”
“That will be all, thank you.”
“And you, sir?”
“I, er, noticed on the menu you had a soup — do-jor — can you tell me what type that is, exactly?”
“Indeed, sir, it is a pumpkin stew.”
“Pumpkin stew?” Simon frowned. “Well, why couldn’t you have just said that?”
The waiter and Mirelle glanced at each other with faint frowns. The waiter, however, only replied, “Is that what you wish to have, sir?”
“Er–well, yes, I suppose so. And — here.” He fished into his purse and pulled out a gleaming silver. “Get us the best bottle of wine you have.”
The waiter’s eyebrows went up as he took the coin. “Very good, sir. A pumpkin stew and some prawns, seared with lime. And a bottle of our — best — wine.” He bobbed his head and promptly disappeared into the recesses of — wherever waiters went when they weren’t waiting on someone.
Simon watched him go with an expression that could best be called a pout. “Where does he get off treating me like some sort of country bumpkin, I’d like to know?”
“It is just possible, but it may be that he is treating you in such a way because you are acting in such a way,” Mirelle remarked. “Only a country bumpkin would not know that soup du jour is Gaulish for ‘soup of the day.'” She smiled, revealing those gleaming incisors.
“… Oh …”
“Of course,” Mirelle added, still smiling, “no miller’s assistant could be expected to know that, so that mask is fitting perhaps better than I originally thought.”
Simon did his best not to pull at the collar of his Sunday clothes. “And why would you think that my being a miller’s assistant is a mask?”
“Because no mere miller’s assistant could afford a whole night with me — never mind taking me to this lovely inn and, I presume, renting a fine, expensive room upstairs?”
“Eh — well …” Simon tried to smile. “I’m sure you’ve seen your share of lone bachelor’s homes. Can ye–you blame me for wanting to take you someplace a bit … nicer?”
“Of course not, I do not blame you at all. However, for someone of the means of a miller’s assistant, a single bed at a disreputable inn would be more in keeping with what you could afford. And yet, here we are!”
“Here we are, indeed,” Simon muttered, wondering where the hell the waiter and the wine were.
“So, I am left to try to discover how you can afford all these nice things,” Mirelle added with a shrug.
“Maybe I can’t afford them,” Simon replied. “Maybe I’m driving myself into hopeless debt trying to please you.”
“Maybe — but I think you are too clever a young man for that. Much too clever.”
Simon went to drum his fingers on the tabletop, realized that would be too conspicuous, and drummed on his knee instead. “Clever? I’ll take that.”
“Yes … very clever. So I wonder …” Mirelle raised one eyebrow. “Are you, perhaps, getting table scraps from your sister’s feast of good fortune?”
Feast? Sister? “Oh — ye mean Rosette! I mean — you mean Rosette.” Simon almost sighed with relief. “I can only wish, my lovely Mirelle.”
Not, of course, that he hadn’t tried to cash in on Rosette’s most profitable connections. Their mother might be continuing with some nonsense about cutting Rosette off, but Simon had let that fly in one ear and out the other and gone to visit her several times since she had returned from Camford. Rosette was touchingly happy to see him, and since her twins had been born was more than happy to let him play with them and give her an excuse for some adult conversation, but he’d never met Sir Mordred while he was there. Apparently he usually came to call in the evenings, and Simon had … other obligations once the sun went down.
Oh well. Their paths were certain to cross sooner or later. Simon would be sure of it.
As he was thinking these thoughts, the waiter finally made his appearance with the wine. After he had poured — both the wine and some nonsense about its “nose” and aftertaste — Simon lifted his glass. “To you, Mirelle the Miraculous.”
“I am fairly certain that is blasphemous according to your church, but I accept the compliment nonetheless.” Mirelle took a long, appreciative sip. “And to you,” she added, raising her glass, “Simon the … Secretive.”
Simon’s sip was neither so long, nor so appreciative as Mirelle’s.
Mirelle, perhaps sensing his discomfort, turned the conversation to innocuous topics after their toast. Or at least Simon thought they were supposed to be innocuous, for the most part — whether she tried to speak of art, or music, or games and sport — he was completely lost.
Maybe she did once have an affair with a King, Simon wondered as he slurped his soup into his mouth, watching Mirelle delicately pick at her prawns. What kind of name is Oberon, anyway? Reman? Certainly not from Glasonland … maybe I should ask Ma and Pa …
Nah, they’d want to know why I want to know.
Mirelle flicked a drop of soup from her shoulder, and Simon, flushing, put his bowl back on the table and tried to eat like a well-mannered gentleman. It was harder than he thought it would be, at first.
After they finished their dinner, and Simon’s purse felt uncomfortably light, he rose and extended his hand to Mirelle. “To our chambers, madam?”
“As you wish, sir.” She smiled, though, the kind of smile that made Simon want to grab her and have his way with her on the tavern floor. That, however, would not fit with the image he was trying to project; so it was with more than a little impatience that he led Mirelle up the stairs at a pace deemed acceptable to society at large.
He unlocked the room he had rented for the two of them, smirked as she looked around with obvious curiosity and — was that awe? No, not quite awe — but she was definitely impressed, particularly as she fingered the fine wool of the bedspread.
Simon shut the door and watched her revel (or near enough) in the sort of luxury he’d never imagined being able to achieve.
Too soon for him, she laid back on the bed. “Well?” she asked, patting the comforter beside her. “Don’t you want to join me?”
“I do, but …” He looked around at the detailed wooden furniture, the patterned parchment hanging over the walls, the paintings and tapestries. “Don’t you wish you see so much more of this kind of … luxury?”
Mirelle just chuckled.
“Well? Don’t you?”
Mirelle smiled and looked around herself. “It would certainly represent a vast improvement over my current living conditions.”
“If you were to stop — er — selling yourself to the masses,” he said, strutting over to the bed and easing himself back on the pillows, “and attach yourself to just one … an up-and-coming young man, with ambition and the drive to make it happen–”
“My dear boy,” Mirelle said, laying a hand against his cheek, “you couldn’t afford me.”
Simon blinked rapidly before forcing himself to smile. “Not yet, but soon enough …”
“A miller’s assistant,” Mirelle continued, “could not afford me.”
“But you’ve already said that you don’t believe I’m a miller’s assistant.”
“I did,” Mirelle agreed. “But doesn’t your mother think you are a miller’s assistant?”
“Mirelle, my darling, I would hardly tell her that I had taken you — or anyone — as a mistress.”
“True,” Mirelle agreed, “but your sister did not tell your mother she had become Sir Mordred’s mistress — and yet your mother found out, did she not?”
Simon jumped; he stared at Mirelle. How did she know that?
“My dear boy,” Mirelle smiled, her incisors gleaming in the candlelight, “don’t think you can keep a secret from a whore. Information is too good a coin for us to neglect gathering as much of it as we can.”
“T-true,” Simon stuttered, “but even if ye–you can find information, that doesn’t mean my mother would.”
Mirelle shrugged. “She might, she might not … but tell me, you are an indentured man, are you not? To — Sir Bors de Ganis?”
“Aye, I am.”
“An indentured man could never afford me.”
“You’d be surprised what us … bound men can come up with when are masters aren’t looking.”
“No, my dear boy, I would not be surprised. I would not be surprised at all. But I can tell you one thing — if you managed to come up with enough gold to keep me for yourself, your lord would be looking, and would he not want to know where that gold was coming from?”
Simon felt the blood leave his face.
“Now, Simon, let me tell you something — I am not at all opposed to being your kept woman. Not opposed at all. But if I go with you, I would very much hate to have to return to the whorehouse in disgrace. And if you still had a busybody nobleman insisting that he had a right to know all your business, I sense that I would be back into the whorehouse very soon. So … you find a way to buy your way out of your indenture, and then we shall talk again.”
“That — that would be expensive, Mirelle. Very expensive.”
Mirelle shrugged. “I never said it would be easy. But aren’t I worth it?” She blinked her long, impossibly dark lashes … and Simon gulped.
“And speaking of things which are worth things …” She trailed her finger down Simon’s arm, sending a pleasurable tremor down his spine. “Don’t you want to get your money’s worth from me?”
Simon did want that. Very much. And the rest … would have to wait for another day.