The last dregs of the night’s sweet tobacco hung heavy over the district’s visitors like the cloudy gray veil artistes used to obscure their faces, luring their prey with kohl-lined eyes. Men from all walks of life could be seen scurrying about the streets of Sanguine Boulevard; old men with graying beards and stout bellies and boys in the last flush of their innocent youth would often visit with large bouquets for their beloved Sanguine birds.
Today was no different. It was just another day’s work for an “Intimacy Artiste” after all. To be in a large pavilion surrounded by potential patrons was nothing short of a slow Tuesday night for Freya. Her licorice black hair cascaded down her bare back, exposed to the chilly winds that had patrons pulling girls into their arms, claiming they only meant to warm the slight creatures they will bed tonight and helped keep the girls’ pockets heavy and full. Freya was no less. She liked having enough money to buy whatever she fancied in the upcoming shopping season.
“Little Owl,” one of Freya’s patrons hooted for her, his gold monocle set snugly under his brow as he examined her approaching form. “Mon Amour! Tu as l’air exquis ce soir. Is that the gown I sent you last week?” The Marquis of Vienna was a frail old man with a heart of gold, his love for Freya grew with every visit and so did his favor. Freya swayed her hips with every step she took, her lips and cheeks stained a deep red as she put on the most convincing airs that only a temptress could.
“Ah! Marquis de Vienne,” she whispered softly, her sultry voice hushing all thought behind those old beady eyes. Eyes that didn’t wander about to sample the many beautiful powdered hens on display. His eyes stayed transfixed on Freya’s elegant frame. “This is the satin gown you’d asked me to wear the next time I saw you, mon cher. Do you like it?”, Freya mouthed coyly, grabbing an appetizer for her beloved patron. She held out the pastry to him quietly, lips turned up in a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“You still remain as frigid as ever, mon chere. When will you open up to me, hm?”
Freya remained silent, looking elsewhere. Searching for the one she wished to spend her night with. Why wasn’t he here yet? She looked at the other artistes who danced and ran themselves tired like headless chickens in a race to find a partner for the night and secure their funds for the upcoming week. Freya was thankful she would never be in such a plight. The Marquis bathes me in his love, I shall never be like those insipid girls.
The Marquis de Vienne observed the cold calm beauty in front of him, watching her eyes flit through the crowd, scanning the faces of all of Sanguine Boulevard’s visitors in disdain. She engaged in an almost detached fashion every visit he made to her, trampling his heart like she did his roses. He called out to her several times, hoping all the money and effort to sway Freya weren’t for naught. She still looked away from him, barely acknowledging his presence and desperation. This insipid girl loves me not, not even an ounce. He straightened his stance, having had enough of her insolence.
“This shall be my last visit to you, mon cher,” the Marquis announces politely, loud enough for all the other Lords to hear. This caught Freya’s attention, snapping her out of her prideful reverie.
“W-whatever do you mean, Sir? Was the pastry not to your liking?”
“This has nothing to do with your services, but everything to do with you, Freya!” He spat, her world crumbling below her feet with every word. She fell to her knees, grabbing his ankles with her head bowed, her pale forehead touching the grass beneath.
“Please reconsider, my Lord. Tell me what I did wrong! I shall correct it this instant.”
“You are incapable of correction, Freya. Collect tonight’s favor from Madame. That will be all.” The Marquis de Vienne freed himself from the deathly vice of Freya’s touch, long mechanical strides carrying him away from the Pavilion. His exit was the spark that stoked the rumourous fires across the grounds. Even the girls in search of patrons looked at her in disgust.
She must not be that good.
How fitting for one so prideful!
Serves her right.
Freya couldn’t bear the humiliation. She stormed into the palace, running as fast as her feet could carry her across the marble floor. Her heart pounded painfully in her chest, and the weight of her current reality came crashing down on her like a mighty boulder. She had been cast aside. Now she is without patronage, just like all the other girls. But there’s Cedric. He won’t cast her away. He loves her, he said so!
She reached Madame DuPont’s study and banged on the cedar doors. She had to do something. Seraphina DuPont opened the doors ever so slowly, permitting entrance to a winded Freya. She offered her some tea and the Marquis’ final favor, holding the poor girl as she sobbed. “At least I have my Leonhart, Madame! Cedric would never abandon me.” Freya spoke fondly of the man she loved, the Duke of Valdorin, Cedric Leonhart. Many a night was spent under her thick quilt, with lips that worshiped and whispered promises of love. Madame handed Freya a letter that smelt like Cedric’s fresh sandalwood parfum, written in his flourishing letters.
Forgive me for not meeting you today. I regret to inform you that I can no longer visit Sanguine Boulevard or you, sweet girl. I am betrothed to another, Adelaide is her name. She speaks of the smallest of things with such deference that I found myself wanting more.
I stayed with you to keep you warm all those nights ago for I know how you struggle against the cold. But it pained me to be by your side when my heart belonged to another. I have finally asked Adelaide for her hand in marriage and she was ecstatic to have me. If it weren’t for you, my Freya, I would’ve never learned to appreciate love and all it was worth.
I write this letter to beg your forgiveness for ending our arrangement so harshly and pray you may wish me a happier life from here on out. Live long, dear girl.
All my love and regret
The Duke of Valdorin
Freya tore the letter to shreds and threw them into the fireplace. Madame wiped her angry tears and asked her to move to the shared dorms where the regular artistes resided. Freya abided, with not a peep nor snide remark, she’d resigned herself to her fate.
There’s no such thing as love.
She’d abandoned all hopes of ever escaping the great halls of this glorified birdcage. Freya moved to the dorms and endured the animalistic taunts of the peers she’d looked down on all these years, hanging her head in silent apology. Still shell-shocked by Cedric’s betrayal, she slept cold and fitful that night. What a horrible day.
The next night, even before Sanguine’s esteemed guests squeezed through its large gates, Freya was on the grounds. She danced like a wild thing, her licorice-black hair flowing in the wind, her bangles clinking to the beat of the drums as she twirled on dainty feet. When she parted her lips to sing her sweet song, one could not help but wince at the sharp agony of her words, like a peacock plucked of all its bright feathers. She was a prideful peacock no more, rather a wounded crow, and her song a mournful lament that went on and on into the long night.
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