The fireplace had hardly consumed the letter before Charmaine was on her feet. How? How he had come up with so much, so fast? She refused to be outplayed. There was no reason that she should be in this position. Her heels clicked rapidly as she headed straight for Merrigolds door, opening and closing it rapidly behind her. The girl moved to her feet, rising from where she had been busily repairing one of her dresses. “Madame?” Charmaine smiled sweetly. “Merrigold, my most lovely of the girls.” A faint blush moved over Merry’s face at the praise as Charmaine continued. “Remember that we discussed what you might do should your debts be repaid?” Merry nodded, unsure of where this conversation was going. Charmaine reached out to embrace her, then stepped back. “I have both good and terrible news. The young nobleman who is so smitten with you….” Charmaine feigned being unable to remember the name for a moment until Merry said it. “Lord Tanessen?” Charmaine’s smile grew. “That’s the one. He came into my office a short while back and wanted to speak about you. I refused him, of course – your business is your own. No other soul should ever know the details of your contract, don’t you think? It’s discretion, and such a shameful reason to be here….I would hate to see it brought out into the light, where it can distract from all that you are. And what a charming lady you’ve become.” Charmaine drew an elaborate sigh and sat on the bed.
“But he came back, insisting that he had to speak to me. And after he came a third time, threatening the security and asking for me – all bloodied and angered, his voice raised
” She looked at Merrigold, who looked appropriately mortified at the thought. “ I had no choice but to talk to him. And he threw coins at me, an impressive sum, just to do so. He brought with him one of his friends, a rough looking lad who hardly spoke. I called Lisbeth in to keep the calm, and together, we listened to what he had to say. And through his ranting and raving, he insisted on being told about your contract once again. And again I refused to do so. You know how important you girls are to me.” The color had drained from Merry’s face, and she pulled a chair in front of Charmaine. “I know, Madame. But are you sure -” Charmaine looked at Merrigold intently. “I am certain it was your noble friend. But this morning, he sent two of his goons to visit me – the rough-looking man from before, and another. And they sent a much larger bag of coin. Merrigold….I am sorry. I had no other options. I had to, to protect all of us.” Charmaine’s voice hitched as though on the verge of tears, and Merrigold wrapped her arms around her. “Please, Madame, whatever you did, I’m sure it was for the best…”
Charmaine nodded. “I signed away your contract to him. He paid more than enough, and it was all I could think to do to keep him from coming in and scaring the girls again. But we have time. Did you know of his intent to buy your contract?” Merry shook her head, still in disbelief. “How did he pay for it all? It was no easy sum….” Charmaine raised her hand again. “I don’t know. There was blood on the bag, and I dare not think of what dangerous and rough acts he did for it. But I refuse to let you be bought and sold by a man such as that.” Merry paused, speaking hesitantly. “Corthos is not a bad man. I’m certain that he has an idea…” Charmaine gripped her by the shoulder. “Yes, he does. Lisbeth overheard him and his friend speaking. In fact…” She stood and crossed to the door, calling down the hall. Lisbeth came running to join them, pausing once she was in the room. “Yes, Madame?” “Lisbeth…please tell Merrigold what you heard those awful men saying.” Lisbeth nodded, looking a bit downtrodden by the whole affair. “Merry…Lord Tanessen wants to buy you for a house girl, and little more. He was telling his friend about how he was saving you, and that he was making you something more than just a, well….a whore. He said that it was the role of people like him to save the people beneath them in life, and they laughed about it something furious. He didn’t ask you because he didn’t care – he just said that someone like you should be happy someone like him was generous.” Lisbeth stared into the ground as Merry sat down hard.
“Lisbeth…” Merry’s head was reeling. All this time, was that all she had been to Corthos? Nothing more than a damsel in distress, someone whose life had to be controlled by someone else? Had he really threatened Charmaine and terrified the others? He had been acting stranger lately….more distant, more moody, with strange new scars and bloodstains on his lapels. She bit her lip and fought for control, holding back the hot tears that wanted to fall. But Lisbeth met her eyes, and she knew – Lisbeth saw and heard everything at the Lion. She had been the fly on many different walls, and she had almost never missed a good piece of gossip. And in Lisbeth’s eyes, she saw the confirmation that she had hoped not to see. Merry lowered her head into her hands. Charmaine ushered Lisbeth towards the door. “A large bag, girl. Get Merrigold something to pack her belongings. We cannot let this happen to one of our own.”
Charmaine held Merrigold close, feeling the girls tears through the silks that she wore. “Hush, dear girl, hush. Madame will not let you be harmed. I’ve reached out to an old friend of mine….while Corthos may want you to be his, I refuse to give him that.” Merry’s voice came out between sobs as she cried on Charmaines shoulder. “How…how could I have been so stupid? So foolish. Such a stupid girl!” Charmaine held her close, her smile hidden behind Merry’s hair. “You are a young girl, and young girls are so often foolish. No man that comes here is the one that will be yours. You are only a purchase for them, just a commodity – this is not where you will find love. But you will grow wiser….that is what heartbreak does to you. You see it all now, don’t you?” Merry nodded, crying. “But Madame Charmaine is still here for you. I will still protect you.” Lisbeth opened the door, dropping a large bag in with a nod before closing it to leave.
“I have a job for you, Merrigold. With one of my old friends. You will be free, able to use your talents – somewhere where you will be respected.” Merry leaned back, looking shocked. “But….he bought the contract…” Charmaine nodded. “And that means he bought your debt. But I will not let him take you. I’ve already sent for Lisbeth to contact a dear friend at Anton Clothiers in Villegre.” Merry spoke slowly, unsure of what she was hearing. “The dressmakers? The ones that all the noblewomen wear?” She had tried her hand at imitating the style before, but she had never had the access to the silks and fine dyes that she would need. Charmaine smiled. “The very same. You’ve done so much, and I want you to succeed. But….there is one thing.” Charmaine stood, starting to load Merry’s belongings into the bag. “She’ll give you a room to rent and a job. But…..you have to keep your past a secret. People in the greens….they see us a necessary evil, a dalliance for bored men, but never as an equal. If they found out that a working girl made their clothes, they would refuse to buy. And who would blame them? After all of the things you’ve been part of, they wouldn’t look you in the eyes normally.”
Merry looked down at the floor, her face flush with embarrassment. “But I have taken care of you once again. I told them that you are Maisie Menard, a casual acquaintances daughter from minor nobility. But they can never know. You must only use that name, and avoid anyone that may know you from here – the nobility are vicious, and they would ruin you if they had found out you were a girl here. As Merrigold, you are beneath them, hardly worthy of being in the city. You may have been the cause of fights, or heartbreaks, or god knows what else among them. So that will have to stay our little secret, alright?” Merry nodded slowly. “Yes, Madame.” Charmaine hugged her tight. “I understand why you did what you did, Merrigold. The others may not, but I will always understand. I will always be here for you. I will protect you. The rest of the world, the people out there – they will not love you as I do, because they do not understand. But this is your life. That’s what I’m giving you. I am giving you back a life that was interrupted, a chance to live out your dreams. I will deal with whatever fallout comes from your friend, but I refuse to let him control your destiny. You are a free woman, Maisie.” Merry looked up, a sudden anger in her eyes. “All this time and he just wanted to treat me like I was a child….” She began to pack her clothes angrily, and Charmaine stepped back. A ghost of a smile flickered in her eyes as she watched.
“When you are ready, let Lisbeth know. We’ll help with your bags. And if your friend arrives…” Merry turned towards her, her voice terse, her eyes wet. “If Corthos arrives, tell him I want nothing to do with him! How dare he! I don’t want to see him, or to speak to him.” Charmaine stepped backwards, opening the door. “I understand, Merrigold. I’ll always keep your secrets.” She shut the door as the corners of her mouth moved up, a thin smile that did not match the malice in her eyes. Lisbeth fell in step behind her as she walked down the hall.