Maxwell Meets Merry
Maxwell stepped through the doors of the Crooked Lion a bit hesitantly, his eyes glancing in every direction. He stopped at the doorman, mumbling something in agreement as he began to unload the various knives and weapons that he carried. Once they were safely secured, he was let into the brothel proper. It was just as overwhelming as it had been every time before….the girls passed by, smiling and winking at each person, but doubly so for him now. He felt a bit silly, dressed in the nobleman’s attire once again -but he wanted to make sure that he was known as little as possible. He worked his way towards the madame herself, knowing that only she could grant access to the higher-end girls, and decided to try his luck. As he greeted her, Madame Charmaine seemed to take a quiet internal inventory of his clothes and mannerisms. If she recognized him, it never showed once on her face. Her eyes remained calm, her body language welcoming. He swallowed hard before asking for Golden Mary, and Charmaine simply nodded. She held her hand out, counting the gold as it landed in her palm. “Two hours. Follow me.” She led him up the rich oak stairs and through the red silks that kept the highest earners from the common johns, stopping in front of a large doorway. Her hand knocked twice, delicately yet insistently. After a long moment, the door opened slowly.
A half-elf girl stood there, dressed in soft robes, her eyes alert and smile welcoming. She bowed low, careful to show off just enough to excite without allowing more than a peek. Maxwell paused, and she took him by the hand, leading him in and closing the door behind him. Outside, Charmaine set the times, then returned below. A faint outline of a smile could be seen passing her face, and her eyes seemed lit with some thought unspoken. Inside the room, Merry led Maxwell to the bed, speaking softly. “Come on, m’lord….try to keep your eyes in your head. You’ve got plenty of time.” Her hand wrapped over his wrist, and she smiled back flirtatiously. After a long sigh, Maxwell spoke. “I’m not here for that. I mean, at least not with you. Not to be rude.” Merry cocked her head to the side. “Hmm?” Maxwell paused, taking his doublet off and setting it aside to reveal a much looser and much more simple one. “I’m a friend of a friend. I’m here to talk about Corthos Tanassen.” Merry sat on the bed, her legs crossed, a bemused expression on her face as she spoke. “I wasn’t aware he kept many friends. How do I know that you’re actually a friend of his? I can’t just talk about my clients randomly to every person that claims to know them.” Maxwell paused for a long moment, thinking carefully. “He has a stab wound on his right side, wasn’t there a week ago. He wears a silver chain around his neck. And when he pays for your time, he doesn’t do anything. He just sits in here with you.”
Merrigold paused, turning the information over. “Well. That….those are things that not many people know. It would seem you are, in fact, a friend of his. And, I would dare to say that any friend of his is a friend of mine.” She stood, putting her hand out. “Merrigold Brownlock. And, um….if you do decide that you want your money’s worth, I won’t tell him.” She looked up at him, a brief but distant look in her eyes. Maxwell shook his head. “No. Wouldn’t be right of me.” He sighed deeply. What in the hell was he doing here? Why was he doing this? He pushed the questions aside and shook her hand. “I’m Maxwell. But, uh….don’t tell Corthos I was here anyway, okay? It just makes things easier.” Merry shrugged nonchalantly. Maxwell took a seat at the desk. “Look….I just have to know a few things. Do you know who writes for Aldo Mondragon?” Merry let an impish grin spread, then laughed. “I can only take a wild guess at what you’re implying. Yes, I do. You’re sitting in the room where so many of Mondragon’s works were written. Your friend is a talented man, but I know. I’ve known for a long while now.” She shook her head. Maxwell laughed to himself, tapping the desk. “So that’s how he spends his time here. Makes sense…I think that’s all he does sometimes is write.”
He continued. “Has Corthos told you what he’s been doing lately or how he got that scar?” Merry looked down briefly, her tone somewhat concerned, but with a determination behind it. “No. I mean, not really. I know he’s involved in something dangerous, but he never mentions details. I’m certain he thinks that keeping me in the dark is the right thing to do, that he just wants to keep people safe….but I wish he wouldn’t. I don’t want him to get hurt. I want to know, just in case something happens to him. I care about him – I’m not some delicate little flower that can’t handle knowing what he’s gotten himself into. I worry more when I don’t know. My mind concocts all sorts of scenarios and problems.” Maxwell nodded, almost wanting to explain to her before stopping himself.
“Merry, what would you do if you didn’t have to be here? If you had your choice?” Merry stood off the bed, stepping towards the window. She laughed briefly, a humorless tone, before biting her lip and glancing away. “Why do you ask?” Maxwell shrugged his shoulders. “Curiosity, mostly.” She kept her gaze out the window. “I….I don’t know. I’m not sure what I’d do with myself. I’d like to return to Redroof…that’s where I have the best memories of my childhood. I’ve always enjoyed sewing. Maybe do something peaceful and quiet. Be a seamstress. Make something on my own. It’s a bit of a silly notion. This is likely the better life, anyhow…nothing to worry about, everything taken care of for me.” She sounded like she was trying to reassure herself before looking back.
Maxwell paused for a long moment before asking his next question. He knew the extents that Corthos was willing to go to for this woman, and it wasn’t his business….but Corthos was a friend, and he had to know. “Merry, do you love him? Actually?” There was a heavy and stilting silence between them for a long moment as Merry searched for words, finally speaking. “That’s not really a question I can answer. I care for all of my clients…” Maxwell shook his head. “No, answer it. Do you?” Merry looked taken aback for a moment before starting to answer again. “Are you certain that there aren’t other things to talk abo-” Maxwell was a bit more stern this time, determined to get an answer. “Merry, do you?” The question hung in the air between them, and when she replied, her voice was hardly above a whisper. “I don’t know. I….I know this. I care deeply for him, far more than I do for my other patrons. At the same time, I know the reality of the situation. Nothing could happen that is more than a business transaction between us. It’s just a matter of circumstance. He’s House Tanessen, and I’m…..well, Maxwell, I’m just me. And that’s just how life is sometimes. It doesn’t make it fair, or great, but it just is how the world works.” Merry laid down, staring up at the ceiling. Neither of them spoke for a long time.
Maxwell broke the silence a good while later, taking out a set of cards from his pocket. “Play a few hands of Fool’s Gold?” Merry sat up, smiling weakly. “Sure. It’d be nice. I’ll make some tea.” When he left an hour later, Merry found herself staring out the window and watching the sun go down. In the room beneath, only Madame Charmaine’s eyes gave any indication of what she had observed. And Maxwell found himself walking back to the Long Roads slowly, trying to process it all.