Deceit and Disbelief
“Vivian….we need to talk.” Vivian glanced up at Maisie, her mouth full of needles as she was crouched behind the dress they were creating for Guinevere Thrune. She shrugged, taking the needles out to pin the hem before replying. “Anytime, Miss Maisie. What’s going on in your head?” Merry smiled to herself. “Not here, though. Come by my home after work. I’ve got a pretty decent bottle of wine, and we….we have a lot to talk about.” Vivian raised an eyebrow, nodding pensively. “I suppose, Maisie. Should I be concerned? You aren’t leaving us, are you?” Her tone was only half-joking. Merry shook her head. “I wouldn’t leave here. You’ve all been so wonderful to me, I would never imagine that I could find another group so welcoming. These are….well, they are secrets, and I don’t need them out in my workplace. Understood?” Vivian nodded, taking another pin off the table as she returned to her crouch. “I understand. But….I am certainly intrigued.” Merry moved another piece of silk as she spoke. “For good reason, I assure you.”
The evening, after the workday was done and passed into memory, Vivian came to Merry’s door. The pair embraced, and Merry poured two large glasses of wine, then made certain her door was shut and bolted. “Vivi….I need to ask you one favor. Whatever is said tonight, whatever is talked about, it cannot be talked about to anyone else. Please promise me that.” Vivian laughed slightly. “Maisie, what have you done? It’s not like you’ve killed a man. Any problem you have, Isadora and I can help you.” Merry shook her head violently, grabbing Vivian by the arm. “Please. Especially not to Isadora.” Her eyes were wide, a faint fear grasping in them in a way that Vivian had never seen. She took a deep draw from her glass before agreeing. “Fine, Maisie. I promise you. Now tell me what is going on, please? You’re worrying me.” Merry stepped back, glancing down at her hand before speaking. She was now wearing a plain ring of silver, elven text inscribed on it. She fiddled with it for a moment, then looked back to Vivian. “First things first, I’m engaged to be married. To a….a sort of nobleman.” Vivian paused, seemingly at a loss for how to process the whole affair before laughing and smiling. “That was what you were so afraid to tell me? Maisie, sweetheart, that is nothing to be afraid of! But I do need to forewarn you of a few things.”
Vivan stood, embracing Merry and speaking to her. “Nobility are a little different than you and I. They have all kinds of odd whims and pleasures. Be careful – the nobility are a philandering group, and they won’t always be honest with you – it’s in their blood, I think. Something about the games that the houses play, it makes them all act strange sometimes. And please tell me you’ve known the man for a while – I hate to suggest this, but…” She sighed. “I had a cousin who was engaged to a noble once. It wound up that he had just had a passing fancy and wanted to keep her around, kind of like a plaything that he left at home. He wanted her, but more importantly, he didn’t want anyone else to have her. So when he got bored, she was left in the house with two little ones and a dog. Nobility play these types of silly games, Maisie…I don’t want to see you just become some noble’s plaything. Which one is it?”
Merry smiled in spite of herself. It was cute how Vivian thought her so naive. “Corthos Mondragon.” Vivian paused, eyes widening. “Are you serious? You cannot be serious.” Merry nodded back, still twisting at the ring as Vivian spoke. “Maisie, honey…” Her tone was soft, not intentionally condescending but still sad. “Maisie, Corthos Mondragon – Corthos Tanessen, he is….he’s….” She strained for a better word than what she had, silent and paused. “He isn’t a good man. He’s a Tanessen, and they keep secrets like others breathe air. And the man led a double life that was so severe that they kicked him out of his own home – his FAMILY removed him. And even beyond that, he’s….there has to be a delicate way to say this. And please, Maisie, don’t think that I’m not happy for you, I just can’t let you go out there and the world hurt you like this. He…” Vivian glanced around, words escaping her, until she found her wine. She downed it quickly. “Maisie, Corthos is a drunken lout. I know other people who have seen him drinking by the docks in old Kintargo, sitting in rough and tumble bars that don’t normally serve nobility. Beyond that, he…he uses women. Prostitutes. Whores. He used to go to the Crooked Lion constantly, Gods know how much many he spent there.”
Merry bit her lip, having second thoughts about continuing, her eyes watering slightly as Vivian kept on. “He went there so often, in fact, that the madame apparently knew him by name. That’s not the behavior of a noble – he would just spend hours there, slumming in bed after bed of the whores and dregs of society. That isn’t the man for proper women like us, Maisie – any man that would associate with that isn’t worth your time. The women there are ignorant little playthings, and that’s all that he wants. I know a girl from the Hoskin family, and she pursued him for a month, only to find out that he had ignored her to chase some two-pence back alley whore at the lion. He broke her heart, Maisie….a man who wants girls like that will never want to take care of you. They just want a plaything, something dumb and pliable to satisfy their carnal desire and then nothing more. I heard he had even tried to buy the contract of a girl there, someone to keep at his home for his entertainment. You deserve better than this, Maisie…” Merry paused for a long moment, tears barely held back. Her voice trembled and shook, but she spoke with a soft determination. “Stop calling me that name, Vivian. That isn’t my name. This isn’t….this isn’t my life, not really. And this is what we need to talk about.” Merry sat down heavily, drinking from her wine as a tear began to roll out. Vivian started to speak, and Merry waved her hand.
“Please, just let me talk. There will be questions, and I probably shouldn’t say this because she was right – after all this time, she was right – but I can’t do this. Not when you’ve been so kind to me.” She poured two more drinks, gesturing at Vivian. “I’m not Maisie. I mean, I am, but that’s not my real name. My real name is Merrigold Brownlock, or Merry, or Golden Mary. And you might be right about Corthos, but you aren’t entirely right about him. Because, you see, all that time he spent at the Lion, all those nights, that was…” She choked back a hiccuping sob. “…those were with me. The whore that he ran off to find, the dreg that doesn’t belong in your society, the girl that he tried to buy….that was me. This whole time has been a lie.” Vivian sat down heavily opposite Merry, her mouth agape. “Why….what….you lied to me? You lied to us? You were….” Merry closed her eyes, wiping away a few tears before continuing. “I didn’t want to. Corthos would come to see me often, that much is true. But he was a gentleman about it – he refused to make use of my services. He just bought my time so that I could have freedom to do what I wanted. He was….he is a sad man, broken and hurting. And he paid for time where he could have nothing expected from him. To have time where he was free to write and think and talk, and I was free to be myself and not a plaything. And we talked, so often and for so long. I taught him elven, or at least a decent amount of it, and he told me stories and of Kintargo’s history. And he never pressured me, or made a move to harm me or force me. And he looked into my contract and found that the madame had placed me in a bind that I was unlikely to ever escape. So he went behind my back to deal with her about it.”
Merry drank again, Vivian watching her closely, a thousand questions in her eyes. Merry held up a finger. “He…he raised so much money, so quickly. He went to great lengths to do so, and he brought it all to Madame Charmaine, and he bought my contract. And Charmaine convinced me that he just wanted me for a plaything, and told me of these awful things that he had done, and she tried to rush me out of the doors, but he had come back. And when we…talked….I had told him I did not want to see him again, and he left. And Charmaine sent me here, to work for Isadora…but she told me to use another name, to hide my identity, because if any of you found out about what I had been, I would never be one of you. I would always just be a stupid, simple whore. And….” She bit back another wave of tears. “I guess that she was right after all. But you don’t know Corthos how I do, Vivian. You only know the rumors. You don’t….” She stood, walking to her desk. Reaching inside, she dug out a small locked box and opened it. She took the letters that were inside and set them in front of Vivian. “He’s not what people think he is. He’s not perfect either, but I understand that. He….he’s trying. And sometimes that is all that we can do in life, Vivian. We can at least try to fight for something.” Merry sat back down as Vivian began to read, watching her reaction. It seemed like an eternity before Vivian spoke. “Mais – Merrigold…” “Merry. Please.” “Merry…I don’t even. I shouldn’t have run my mouth off, I….” As she moved to another letter, she spoke in a timid voice. “I feel like such an ass. I just….you’ve been the nicest girl, and the best friend that I’ve had here, and I didn’t want to see you get hurt. And then I said all that I said…you must think me the worst company.” Her eyes widened as she read through another one. “Maisimerry!” The names ran over each other as she spoke.
“He’s in the Ravens? Cuthbert-be-damned, that is dangerous! Merry, he’s a criminal, and a scoundrel, and….and….and gods know what else they have him doing!” Merry managed a small smile. “What, um. What he has them doing. He’s….he’s one of the top officers. And, in full disclosure…” She downed more wine. “I’m part of it too. Just recently.” Vivian lowered the paper, her eyes wide and mouth open. “No. There is no way.” Merry nodded, and Vivian leaned back, running a hand through her hair. “I….I can’t let you do this alone, Merry. How do I get in? I can’t lose the closest friend I have.” Merry paused, looking genuinely confused. “Vivian, I thought that you….” Vivian stopped her this time, looking embarrassed and upset with herself. “I am a fool, Merry. An ignorant fool. If I think that whatever your life was has any impact on what kind of a friend and worker you have been while I know you, then I am not worth keeping around. But you have been the best and sweetest friend that I have had since moving to Kintargo, and if I would sacrifice that because of what happened in your past, then I don’t deserve to have your company. I…I’m sorry for what I’ve said. If Corthos makes you happy – and it seems that he is honest – then who in the hells am I to stand in the way? Merry, can you please forgive me for being a damned fool?” Merry smiled, tears still in her eyes. She embraced Vivian heartily, holding her close. This was a different friendship than she had felt with the girls at the Lion – harder, but more heartfelt. As the embrace ended, Vivian spoke again, wiping away a tear of her own.
“I won’t tell a soul. I’ll still call you Maisie. But I have one condition – I want in on the Ravens. I refuse to allow you to do something this foolhardy and dangerous alone. And….I want to have my embroidery and silks back. Agreed?” Merry poured the wine once more. “Agreed.”
Vivian raised her glass. “To Merrigold Mondragon, to honesty and lessons learned, and to the freedom of the future. May you always be satisfied, may you always stay gracious, and may your friendships be blessed! Congratulations!” The glasses clinked together, and The women began to talk in more earnest, Vivian finally getting a chance to know the real Merrigold.