Teeth and Claws

Mark had done plenty of stupid things while trying to raise his children to be sensible, productive, dutiful adults, and this was probably one of the stupidest. The sad thing was, he knew it. The sadder thing was, even knowing it, he had no idea what else to do.

He’d brought his son to a whorehouse for an evening’s entertainment. They weren’t nobles, who married for money and lands and a good bloodline and for whom pleasure was to be found outside the marriage bed. And he didn’t even have the excuse that Joshua was young and to be married soon, and might need experience if he was going to please a nervous bride. No, he just brought Josh to the whorehouse …

Well, because he’d dragged him everywhere else he could think to go, and nothing else had worked.

Josh had been doing so well, too. Sometimes he even talked and laughed like his own self. Then one day he’d come home ashen-faced and silent from visiting Baby Belle at the Porters’ house. Mark had tried for three days to get out of Josh what it was that was bothering him. Helena hadn’t even tried; she simply went on a visit to the Porters’ by herself and chattered innocently until Goodwife Porter asked a telling question. “So, now,” Mark could imagine her asking, “has Master Wesleyan — yer son Master Wesleyan — said anythin’ more about when he wants Baby Belle home? She’s almost weaned, ye know. Lord, it’s been nearly a year!”

Nearly a year. The one-year anniversary of Isabel’s death — Baby Belle’s first birthday — was coming fast upon them, and poor Goodwife Porter had stumbled right into it by reminding Josh of that fact. Once reminded, Josh had started to slide right back to where he had been in those first hellish weeks after the fact. It was all Mark, Helena, Rob and Babette could do to drag him back.

So Mark had been taking him out every night. To pubs, to inns, to Richard’s home for supper, to Rob’s home for ale with the menfolk. He tried to pull him back, force him out the door in order to tire him out and keep Josh moving. Maybe, maybe if they just kept Josh moving, he would shake himself out of these doldrums and be able to soldier on, as he had been soldiering on these past months. He could settle back into his routine and start to raise his children again.

But no matter where Mark took Josh, the story was always the same. He would smile, and nod, and act cheery, and maybe crack a few jokes in his old way. And when he came home, the cheer and bonhomie would rush out of him like air from a spent pig’s bladder. He would retreat to his bedroom without a word — if they were lucky. If they were unlucky, he would throw himself onto the couch and hold his head in his hands, for minutes or hours, until they got him to get up and go to bed.

And every night, Helena, who invariably waited up for them, would shoot him a despairing look, as if to ask, What do we do now? It had been a long time since Mark had not had an answer for Helena and felt particularly sorry about it, but now was that time.

So now Mark had pulled out his trump card, his last resort. He had dragged Josh to the whorehouse in the hopes that Wei Li would work her magic. She’d brought Mark back from emotional deadness and despair, maybe she could do the same for Josh. Or if she couldn’t, Tambu could, or Marigold could, or even thatΒ  creepy Mirelle could. As long as his son wasn’t sucked dry of blood or didn’t come home with a too-terrible disease, Mark wasn’t picky.

However … so far, it wasn’t working. Oh, Josh put on a good show, as he did in the pubs, in the inns, in Richard’s or Rob’s parlor. But Mark could see the emptiness in his son’s eyes. He was just here because Mark wanted him to be. Part of Mark wanted to clap his son’s shoulder and say enough was enough, toss the ladies a couple of coins and give up now. The rest of him was too stubborn to allow that. Maybe if they stayed long enough, Josh would get some interest in … well, anything, really. There were plenty of beautiful women sitting around him. Surely, surely, he’d wake up.

To make matters worse, though Wei Li was as soft and charming and loveable as ever, Tambu sat across from Josh at the card table and watched him with what could only be called frightening intelligence. Mark wasn’t sure what would be worse: that Tambu was merely sizing Josh up all-too-accurately, or that she was calculating the odds of being able to latch and leech onto Josh.

In the midst of these troubling thoughts, he scarcely heard the door open and slam shut, nor the tramping boots pound from the vestibule into the whorehouse proper.

Wei Li and Tambu noticed, however. They both sat up straight and edged their chairs away from the table, as they would if they were preparing to run at any moment. Mark noticed that. Josh, too, noticed the sudden entrance. He merely sat up. “Dad …”

Mark never had a chance to reply. He would, after all, had have to have been quite deaf not to hear the sudden unearthly, raging shriek that arose from the back of the room, followed by a robust, “An’ what the hell are ye doin’ here?”

Mark spun around to see, for the first and probably the last time in his life, a whore yelling at a lord.

The lord in question, to his credit, did not instantly strike her down or call for his personal guards to arrest the strumpet. That would have happened in Glasonland, and in times of great stress — Mark’s heart was pounding practically out of his chest, if only because of the suddenness of the shriek — Mark did tend to revert to the thoughts and customs of his youth. However, the lord then did something far more frightening.

He put his hand to his chin, tapped a finger against his beard, and said in a completely calm and even voice, “Since you insist on throwing all of my agents out on their — pardon my Gaulish, ladies — arses, I have come to collect my … rents myself.”

“Dad …” Josh hissed. Mark could hear his thoughts — let’s get out of here, now — but he only shushed his son with a flapping hand. Somehow, Sir Mordred and Marigold had both corners of the door covered. If they wanted to get out, that would require going between the combatants. Mark wasn’t that desperate … yet.

Rents? Yer ma almost killed me son! An’ ye’re axin’ fer rents?”

There was something that niggled at him — ah, that was it! Weren’t the du Lacs the owners of this land? If that was the case, why would Marigold owe rents to Sir Mordred? There was no way a lord would ever give or, Lord forbid, sell such a small parcel of his lands to any other lord.

Sir Mordred did not reply to that immediately. And with every long moment that he did not reply, the whorehouse grew more silent. Eventually, even the rats that lived between the walls and the bugs that rustled in the thatch went still.

“My mother,” Sir Mordred finally answered in a voice whose complete lack of emotion and anger made it all the more furious, “never almost killed anybody. Certainly not a child.”

Dad,” Josh hissed from the side of that terrifying smile he plastered to his face, “let’s go.”

“Josh,” Mark hissed back, “unless you plan to push your old man out one of these windows — and let me remind you, I’m not as thin as I used to be — how exactly do you think we’re going to get out between the two of them? Besides, we can’t –”

“Yer ma was found guilty in the King’s own court!” Marigold roared back, killing any more reply Mark had in mind. “Now get out!”

“A grave miscarriage of justice,” replied Sir Mordred smoothly, “that will be rectified any day now, I assure you.”

“Not before that witch gets her head chopped off, if the King’s got any justice in ‘im!”

Sir Mordred did not speak immediately. He only blinked. Then he took a slow step forward. Every creak of every floorboard sounded a death knell. His head he held very high, even as he tilted it down to better address Marigold.

The only slight sign of anger he gave were his hands, balled into fists at his side.

“I should be very, very careful,” he whispered — the better to make every man, woman and whore in the room lean closer to catch his words, “about mentioning my lady mother’s … unfortunate predicament in my hearing. Very careful.”

Marigold, if she had any wisdom, any sense of what was right and proper in her bones, would have backed off and given the man his rents. Whatever it took to get that man out of her establishment, to make him stop scaring her customers.

Marigold had no wisdom.

“She’s gonna get her head chopped off!” Marigold shouted. “As she should! Bitch! Baby-kill–”

Sir Mordred’s hand latched onto her wrist. “I should be very careful,” he repeated, “about mentioning my lady mother’s unfortunate predicament.”

Marigold stared at the captured hand. Then she brought it up in a fierce uppercut aimed for Sir Mordred’s jaw.

It stopped a few inches away. Marigold yelped and drew her hand back down, cursing. And Sir Mordred … laughed?

“My good woman!” he chortled, “do you really think I’d be undefended against a mere stalk? Considering your unwisdom, I was half-expecting a knife! Oh, I wouldn’t try that, if I were you,” he added when Marigold’s hand went to her belt. “Pulling a knife on a lord? You would be the only one in gaol awaiting your date with the executioner.”

And as Marigold seethed and Mark watched open-jawed, Sir Mordred plucked the knife from Marigold’s belt, tossed it to the side, and shoved her backwards, following her every step.

So Mark saw his chance. Josh had seen it beforehand and was already standing up. “Come on, Wei Li, we’re leaving.”

Wei Li?” Josh choked.

“And — and, Tambu, you too,” Mark faltered. After all, that soft and unmistakeable swell of her belly could only mean one thing — and surely Josh couldn’t argue with trying to make sure a pregnant woman got out of a potential fight safely?

“… We?” Wei Li, instead, questioned.

“You can’t be thinking of staying here?” Mark gasped.

Dad –”

“It’s dangerous!” Mark yelped, insofar as one could yelp without letting his voice creep above a whisper.

“But where could we go?” Wei Li asked.

With me, Mark almost said — almost — but for Josh standing over his shoulder and staring at him. “We’ll figure that out –”

“Ye can’t call the law on me! I own this place!” Marigold shouted, and sickly fascinated, every eye in the place turned to her, Mark’s included.

“Truly?” Sir Mordred chuckled. “Not according to those papers you signed, a couple months –”

“Ye never paid me a red cent fer this place! Ye said it were all jest fake, so’s ye could –”

Prove it,” Sir Mordred sneered.

“Prove? How can I prove I don’t got money I never had?”

“Precisely,” replied Sir Mordred. “Even if you were not lying — which you are — you could never prove that you are telling the truth. Ergo, it is your word against mine. And who ever heard of the word of a whore outweighing that of a lord?”

“King Arthur!” Marigold snapped. “Me own son’s word outdid yer ma’s! Why shouldn’t mine outdo yers?”

It was an unanswerable argument. Mark had no intention of seeing how Sir Mordred managed to answer it. Nor did many of the other patrons of the whorehouse, who were now rushing to the exit, now that the doorway was open. As for Mark, he hooked his arm through Wei Li’s sleeve. “Let’s go.”

“We can’t,” replied Tambu. “Leastaways, I can’t. Wei Li, if ye want ter be skippin’ out,Β  best get skippin’.”

“Mistress Tambu –” Mark started. “You — you can’t be thinking of staying — your — your condition –”

“Ain’t me baby,” Tambu shrugged. “It’s the Church’s baby. If the Church don’t get one more baby ter auction off ter the highest bidder once it gets old enough ter get put ter work … well, that ain’t no skin off me nose.”

“But –”

“Look, sir, I’m a whore an’ I know it. But there’s worse things ter be. One o’ them is a bad friend. I ain’t goin’ nowhere while Marigold is trouble.”

Oh, for the love of Wright! There was no reasoning with the mad. He turned back to Wei Li. “Well? Tell me at least that you’re coming!”

“No-o,” Wei Li replied, slowly. “I cannot leave my friend.”

“Wei Li! Why? If she was your friend, she wouldn’t blame you!”

Dad,” Josh growled.

“Josh, wait just a –”

“Dad!” Josh shouted, barreling his shoulder into Mark’s. Mark went flying arse-over-head and under the card table. His head cracked into a chair and he lay still for a moment, stunned.

In that moment, Josh had grabbed both Wei Li and even Tambu and hustled them under the table too. Suddenly Wei Li’s soft shoulder, scented with her perfume of jasmine and cherry blossoms, appeared underneath his head. For a moment, the slipperiness of the silk, the scent of her perfume, and her shaking breath stirring in his ear rendered Mark more still and stunned than the crack against the chair.

“Dad! Get your legs under!” Josh snapped, and Mark scrambled to obey without understanding why. Then he looked, and understood.

The wand, Sir Mordred’s, must have come out, and his quick-thinking son was not taking … too many risks. But it had gotten worse.

The wand was sparking.

Marigold had started shrieking — and just as suddenly, she stopped, staring at the wand as a man might stare at a crossbow aimed for his heart.

The brothel held its breath. So, therefore, the creaking of floorboards as one brave Sim moved forward was that much more audible.

So was that Sim’s quiet, tinkling, strangely-accented words. “I would not do that, if I were you.”

She stood, nonchalant and relaxed against the dartboard. She examined her nails as if whatever dirt had crept underneath them was of infinitely more importance than the dirt that stood before her. And when she looked up, her sharp canines gleamed in the candlelight.

Sir Mordred stared at her, one eyebrow cocked, head tilted to the side. Then he put the wand away. The brothel breathed a sigh of relief. “And why, pray, is that?”

“Because if you did that, both I and all my people would be very, very upset with you.”

“Oh, would you?” Sir Mordred chuckled. “I might relish that, actually. I’ve never tried my magics against your kind.”

“I guessed as much,” replied Mirelle.

“And how is that?”

She shrugged — which was no mean feat, considering her clothing, or rather the lack thereof. “You’re still alive.”

Sir Mordred narrowed his eyes. “You are very confident.”

Mirelle!” Marigold squealed. “Don’t — don’t ye get inter this too!”

“Do not be silly, Marigold. I am already in this. We are all this, because you are our friend.” She turned back to Sir Mordred. “If you would be a wise man, you would leave now, before my people get wind of this. They already have … double the usual reason to be watching Albion.”

Sir Mordred snorted. “Your people? I know your people. They are like you. Weak.”

“I assure you,” Mirelle replied, narrowing her eyes, “despite our … weakness, we would have no trouble dispatching you. Or any you might enlist to help you protect yourself.”

“And why would your people even care?” Sir Mordred snorted. “Your lot are a selfish bunch. I’m surprised you even have the audacity to refer to them as ‘a people.'”

“My people are not … always the most united,” Mirelle concluded. “But we have one thing in common, all of us. We cannot abide those who would harm children.”

“I would think the Magoris would hardly mind those who would harm children, given their history,” Sir Mordred scoffed. “You’re bluffing. And badly.”

Mirelle, however, looked taken aback. Then she chuckled. “Oh, you poor, dear boy. Is that what you thought?”

“Is what what I thought?”

“That the … creatures of the night were those who I saw as my people. They’re not, you know. You’re right, they’re not truly ‘a people,’ are they?”

“Then who are your people?” Sir Mordred snorted. “The Remans? The Glasonlanders?”

“Wrong and wrong,” replied Mirelle with a smile that showed off her canines. Then, without a further word, she lifted up her hair and pushed it behind her ear.

What that gesture was supposed to mean was beyond Mark’s ken. But Sir Mordred got it. He got it and gasped, stumbling backward. Then, without a further word, he turned to the door.

“Dad,” Josh hissed, “let’s go.”

Mark looked at Wei Li and Tambu, who were probably as out of danger as they would be this night, and at Sir Mordred’s retreating back.

Coming here tonight really had been one of the stupidest things he had ever done.

“Aye,” Mark gulped, forcing himself to his feet. “Aye. Let’s go.”

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10 thoughts on “Teeth and Claws

  1. OMFG! (And you know I don’t use that acronym lightly) What the–what the fluffing hell! Mordred!

    Although, heh, I never thought I would be applauding Mirelle! But yes! For once, like maybe the second time ever, the vampire fae comes through!

    Mark, *sigh* I mean on the one hand I understand and on the other hand, um, he’s right, it was pretty stupid. I hope that this doesn’t kill all business for Marigold’s. It would really kinda suck.

    I also hope that things get better for Josh. I hope his getting better doesn’t involve a British accent and fry pan to the head.

    I am glad, though, that Tambu and Wei Li stood with Marigold. It might not have been the smart thing to do, but it really was the right thing to do. Let’s hope Mordred removes his head from his sphincter before he does anything else stupid…

    Although I can’t claim to care too much about Mordred maybe the next person he tries won’t be so lucky, and it’d suck if he went around taking out random people for stupid reasons.

    • Mirelle isn’t that bad! She might be a bitchy vampire fae, but she’s never actually harmed anybody — like, say, Morgause has or Bors has. She tends to let loose a few cutting remarks and then walk away. Or, as in this case, let the other party go running away.

      And yeah, it was a pretty dumb idea — but Mark is getting desperate. He just wants Josh to feel better, and eventually when he thought of things that might make a vigorous young man feel better … well, are you surprised he thought of sex? And he did try everything else first.

      Besides, he could hardly be expected to know or plan for the Lord of Orkney deciding to ride Marigold’s ass on that night of all nights. Mordred could have done it on any night.

      “British accent and a fry pan to the head” *gigglesnort* I feel happy …

      I don’t think that it would be in Tambu or Wei Li’s character to act any differently. The whores of Albion stick together — if they didn’t, there would be no one to stick up for them at all. Sucks, but it’s true.

      Thanks Andavri!

  2. Am I really the only one who reads Mordred as evil enough to try this? Honestly? Because this entry doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I am curios, however, to know why Mordred is so scared of the faerie folk.

    • Oh, I believe he’s evil enough to do it. I didn’t think he was stupid enough to do it. Seriously, if I were going to do something like that, I wouldn’t have chosen what’s basically peak time for the brothel.

      I’d have done it, sure, if I were Mordred, and when there were witnesses. After all, he was certain trying to provoke Marigold (and succeeding.) and he would have wanted proof that she attacked him. But I could more see setting up early evening, when I could have padded the bar full of people who’d see it my way.

      But there were lots of things that could have happened, other than Mirelle stepping in with when he did it. And considering there was a room full of witnesses, even if she did punch at him first, he was using excessive force in retaliation.

      And basically swearing that he’s going to get Morgause out? In front of a room full of at least mostly impartial witnesses? When Arthur’s already approved the death sentence? It seriously is far more the stupid that’s got me going WTF? than the evil, Naomi.

    • Why is Mordred so afraid of the Gentry? Well, first, check out The Fair Folk page on TV Tropes. Pay particular attention to the Folklore, Poems/Ballads, and Real Life sections.

      Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen,
      We dare not go a-hunting, for fear of little men.

      Elves steal milk and cream. They love music, and steal musicians. They love children. Dress your little boys up as little girls until they’re five years old, so the fairies don’t steal them away for their armies. If a fairy lady wants to raise a baby, she’ll take a mortal one and leave a changeling in its place. Elves love to dance, and if you are a good mortal dancer, they may carry you away and make you dance for them until you can’t do anything else. They’d shatter the world if they thought it would make a pretty sound as it fell. And they’re always listening. Just saying the word ‘elf’ or ‘fae’ can be enough to attract their attention, which is why we call them the Fair Folk, the Shining Ones, the Gentry, the Lords and Ladies, the Star People. As Terry Pratchett said…

      “Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
      Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
      Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
      Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
      Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
      Elves are terrific. They beget terror.

      The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.

      Nobody ever said elves were nice.”

      Iron is the only thing in folklore that’s consistently effective against the fae. That old horseshoe nailed above the door isn’t a piece of country charm and it isn’t for good luck; it’s a cheap bit of iron that will keep the fairies out of your house.

      Mirelle may not be popular at court these days, but Mordred doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know that she’s a vampire because she was thrown out, or that she’s a whore because she doesn’t have a lot of marketable skills. As far as he knows, she’s working at Marigold’s on a lark, and became a vampire just to see how it felt. As far as he knows, she could turn him to stone (or a dog or a chair or a pillar of wax or, hey, a corpse) with a look– not a spell, just a look.

      Pointy ears are scarier than pointy teeth. Vampires used to be human. Vampires think like humans. Elves… think like elves.

    • Clearly, Naomi, you’re not the only one who thinks Mordred is evil enough to try this. πŸ˜‰

      As for how stupid it was … well, yes, he could have picked his time better. Or how bad was the time he picked? He could, as you yourself pointed out, Andavri, pretty much kill off Marigold’s business by making it clear that she’s got a powerful lord pissed at her. Maybe he wanted to embarrass her in front of her customers. Maybe he’d just gotten sick and tired of his agents being kicked off her property and stormed over there as soon as the last one reported. He’s under just a wee bit of stress right now.

      And excessive force … well, we never saw what the spell Mordred wanted to let off was, now, was it? It could have been Morgause’s blood-boiling spell. Or it could have been the chicken spell. (For shooting purposes, it was Benemoodus Simae, because that doesn’t have nasty side effects.) We don’t know — Mordred never got the spell off. Whatever it was, as long as it didn’t kill Marigold and wasn’t too likely too, Arthur might not even prosecute. He’s made an example of Morgause — he neither needs nor wants to take down the Orkneys completely. That might throw the balance of power in the kingdom way off-kilter.

      As for what he said about the miscarriage of justice that will soon be rectified … well, he’s seeing Arthur about letting Morgause go/commuting the sentence morning, noon and night, Andavri. What could he possibly mean but that he thinks his pleadings will soon bear fruit? (There will be a gossip session at the Ferreiras’ house soon, so all this info can go in-story. I promise!)

      And the Fair Folk … what Hat said, plus this. My elves owe a little bit more to Mercedes Lackey’s Serrated Edge elves than to Terry Pratchett’s. They love children … and they hate anyone who tries to mess with a child. If Morgause wasn’t already taken care of by Arthur, she might well have been in deep shit with the elves if they had heard about what she did and decided to take issue with it. Really, the worst Arthur will do to her is chop her head off. She’s damn lucky there.

      Questions answered? πŸ˜‰

  3. Go Mirelle! The other ladies were all pretty awesome here too πŸ™‚

    I still think Mordred is lying to himself about his mother’s innocence. He’s a mama’s boy, yeah, but he’s not stupid. He knows what she did–only too well, and that’s why he’s so sensitive about it.

    Just out of curiosity (and if it’s not trespassing into spoiler territory), who is the father of Tambu’s baby? Anyone we know? πŸ˜›

    Also, on a slightly-related note… do the orphans who are siblings know each other as siblings? Like, would the Sisters keep records of who mothered who?

    • I think the question isn’t whether Mordred is lying to himself or not … but how much he’s lying to himself. Observe the way he fled when he saw Mirelle’s ear. Sure, he’s got reason, as any wizard with half a brain does, to not want to piss off an elf. But he didn’t even argue. He just fled. So, yes, in my mind, the wizard doth protest too much, methinks.

      Ironically enough, the father of Tambu’s baby is Talin Depiesse! … I’m sure I completely screwed that last name up. He’s the wizard who testified at Morgause’s trial. So now we know where he goes for extracurricular activities. πŸ˜‰

      The nuns absolutely keep track of who mothered who. They also keep track of the fathers (when they’re named) and use that, sometimes, for surnames. They don’t want any accidental incest going on once these kids get a little older. As for how much they know each other as siblings, sisters or brothers might get to know each other rather well, but since the sexes are divided once they hit the child stage, brothers and sisters might not know each other all that well. However! It should be interesting to watch what happens once I actually get siblings who aren’t toddlers all in the same house, or even on the same lot. πŸ˜€

      Thanks, Van!

  4. Bouncers: Sometimes they are not who you think they are.

    I do like Mordred, but I also like how fast he got kicked in the balls here. I will throw my weight around in this whorehouse! I will cast spells on this plantsim madam! I will fight this vampire! I will run far the hell away from this scantily-clad elf in the most dignified manner possible!

    (Psst. Fangs are the canines, not the incisors. Incisors are the four flat teeth up in the front. *has particularly pointy canines IRL, has been accused of having vampire fangs* *… also has prosthetic fangs, which can be paired with sunglasses and black clothing for a subtle yet effective Halloween costume*)

    • *forehead smack* I should have known that. I should have checked that. *sigh* I’ll go fix that.

      LOL! about the bouncers. You’d never expect it to be the scantily-clad, lithe vampire, would you? But a vampire would make a great bouncer. All she has to do is smile and most sensible people take to their heels.

      For the rest … showing her ears does seem to work well. πŸ˜€

      Your description of Mordred’s reactions will have me giggling for some time, I hope you know. πŸ˜‰ It’s all your fault!

      Thanks Hat, thanks everybody! πŸ˜€

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