Tarnished Pearl

a Short Story by Kellis

Copyright © November, 2001, Kellis

 

 

She was a whore, one among the dozen or so seated on the long stone bench that edged the central esplanade.  Like the others, she had tucked a colorful flower into her chignon.  Her peasant blouse was low, displaying ample cleavage, and she had pulled her long skirt up between her legs to exhibit shapely calves and feet.  It amounted to a whore’s uniform even to color: red rose, dark hair, darkened eyelids, rouged cheeks, pale shoulders, white blouse and dark blue skirt to accentuate the white fleshly legs.  She was exactly like the others except for a single quality.

I had come to this city for Kahdirin, whose offices I had visited every day.  When today he verified that his gold was yet unconfirmed, I reminded him that only two days remained before his option expired.  Thereafter he refused to meet my eye.  Whether for shame or mendacity I did not inquire, nor did I linger where I was suddenly unwelcome.

Returning from his offices I had stopped at that table on the esplanade for just one reason: its owner served the best blend of coffee in the valley.  He guarded the secret of his ingredients so jealously that the only way to obtain the incomparable flavor was to patronize his sidewalk restaurant.  I had savored half my first cup of the afternoon when my eye paused on this particular woman.

As the saying goes, one man’s eye for beauty is another’s eyesore — but neither man is indifferent.  The distance across the expanse of paving stones was perhaps forty yards.  I have always possessed excellent vision at a distance, though my arms have recently grown too short for comfortable reading.  Even at that distance her face was clear to me, and this was a beautiful woman.

Her eye caught mine.  Her face, an oval of perfect symmetry, was squarely toward me.  She had thin, arched eyebrows, doubtlessly well plucked, a narrow, short nose and full, pouting lips.  I caught my breath; the combination was stunning.  I didn’t want to believe that the people of this city would permit such a beauty to prostitute herself for any man with the fee — which is to say, nearly any man at all.  Prices were low at that time because of foreign competition for the cotton mills.

She caught my eye, but instead of the facial cajolery one would expect from her profession, she frowned, if only briefly, and looked away.  I sipped my coffee, staring at her in the most unmannerly way.  Though I willed her eye to return to mine, it never would.

I beckoned for the boy, a pimp in training, who customarily carried messages between client and whore.  He came to me eagerly.  He was barefoot but well clothed in clean ruffled shirt and knee pants.  Someone, probably his whore mother, was tending to his hygiene if not his prospects.  I tossed him a copper that he caught deftly.

“The woman second from left, how is she called?”

He did not bother to look.  “The lady on the left is known as Maran, the one next to her is Feya.  Then the lady with the beauty mark on her shoulder is Collette.  Next is —”

“Enough!” I commanded, raising a hand.  Beauty mark indeed, more likely a plague sore!  Many people exhibited them that summer.  A visiting priest of great repute had so blessed one upon a woman’s belly, it was said, that it faded away.  Now everyone was exposing them, sometimes on the most unlikely appendage.  I was told that the sores, scabbed and itching while present, did indeed soon disappear if opened to the air — though not so fast as the one blessed by the great priest, to be sure!

“I think the second one, Feya, did you say? — is my concern.  She is easily the prettiest of the lot.”

“As you say, sir.”

“Very well.  Run ask her if it is convenient for us to meet just now.”

He was off like a shot.  Feya.  I liked it, a name as unusual as her beauty, though I was well aware of a whore’s need to adopt a striking pseudonym.

The lad leaned against my woman’s shoulder, cupped his hands and whispered in her ear.  Her eyes searched and found mine at last.  I smiled invitingly but again she frowned.  Her lips moved.  I could not read their message.  The boy seemed to argue.  Now she shook her head and lowered her eyes.

Back he came, shuffling his feet.  “Sir, she says she cannot.”

“Does she suggest another time?”

“No, sir.”  His face brightened.  “But Collette, with the beauty mark, offers minette for the same fee.”

Suction applied to the penis may have its charms, particularly to imbue starch, but not from a whore with the plague.  Feya’s indifference whetted my interest, of course, which was doubtlessly her design.  I sighed and said, “I must have her.  I’ll double the fee.”

His eyes widened.  “Two Crowns?”

The standard brass coin was poorly appreciated at that time.  I added, “In gold,” which amounted to doubling her fee twice.  I could afford it.

He gasped and spun about as a dervish to cross the esplanade at a lope.  No longer bothering to whisper, he stood before her to convey his message.  I could not see her face for his head intervening.  A wave of interest swept visibly across the sisterhood as all turned to regard me.  The lad bowed to her and returned slowly, her answer evident in his whole demeanor.  No doubt he received a commission on every successful negotiation.

Reaching me, he opened his mouth to speak but I was first.  “Does she say why not?”

His eyes narrowed and he stepped back a pace, doubtlessly well acquainted with the hazard to bearers of ill tidings, but he spoke frankly enough.  “You are a foreigner and cruel, she says.  She is afraid of you.”

“You told her of my accent?”

“No, sir.  I told her you said she was the most beautiful of them.”

“Thank you.  Why does she think me more cruel than other men?”

“She did not say.”

I sighed.  “One last try.  Tell her that I am not cruel at all, that I love her and wish only to cherish her.  I want her to dine with me this evening and spend the night in my arms.  For that I will give her three Crowns.”

“In gold?”

This was exorbitant, of course.  That amount would buy the services of the lot of them and others besides.  But I agreed, “In gold.”

Now the lad ran briskly across the street.  All the whores watched him, grinning speculatively at me, and listened attentively to his speech.  Others, on my side of the esplanade, had also taken notice.  I stood up.  This needed a quick conclusion.

She stood also but never looked at me, not an encouraging sign.  She turned away toward a break in the back wall on her side of the public area.  Her walk was as femininely graceful as her appearance.  Obviously she had refused me again.  She turned into the side passage and vanished in the shade of the overhanging building.

Several other women jumped to their feet and started across the esplanade toward me, led by the blemished Collette.  No doubt they meant only to offer their services as consolation, but I turned and marched through the rear of the coffee shop, tossing the owner a copper as I passed into the maze of streets behind.  My hotel was only four doors down.  Such women would not dare pursue me there.

 

* * *

 

Kahdirin is a nervous little man with a fluttery manner, said to be ruled by a wife who outweighs him, plus at least two mistresses.  In a transaction the size of ours, involving a clothing enterprise that employs two thousand hands, such a man instills no confidence in the seller — me — and raises doubt about the sincerity of the buyer, whoever he or his consortium might be exactly.  Who would employ such a twitchy man for so important an affair?

Three times he had agreed to buy and three times reneged at consummation.  Perhaps he or his master anticipated that the corrupt government of this country would confiscate my mills and make them available to natives only, as happened to me in the Ukraine a few years ago.  But I had learned from that incident.  I spoke briefly with our ambassador, who then had a word with the prime minister, reminding him of Decatur’s raid on Tripoli 90 years ago and the subsequent military developments in the American Civil War.  Once those facts have been firmly put in mind, these tin-pot governments seem less ready to seize American property.

Thus I was not surprised when Kahdirin’s last letter arrived.  It fetched me here to make him a fourth and final quote, of course higher than the last three.  After loud screams and even a few threats he had contracted to deliver half the gold immediately as surety and accepted a time limit upon the other half.  Failure to meet it would result in default of sale and surety.  I waited to see if I were richer by several pounds of gold in a London bank less a clothing manufactory that had proven nearly impossible of remote management, or only of half as much gold.

All in all, a satisfactory arrangement whichever way it concluded, I thought, but I was interrupted.

“Excuse me, sir.”  It was the concierge, standing beside the table where I sat alone at dinner.

“What is it?”

“This lady wishes to join you.”

I turned further and took a sudden breath.  It was she!  But no longer in a whore’s costume, now she was begowned and caped.

I stood immediately.  “Feya!” I declared.

She glanced once at the concierge, a look of triumph, and leaned up to brush her lips on my cheek.  “Brother!” she exclaimed.  “I am so glad to see you at last.”

The man’s eyes widened.  “Your sister!” he exclaimed, greatly surprised because he was acquainted with some part of my solitary history.

“My wife’s sister,” I explained harshly.  In fact a mere concierge had no business putting such a question — if the answer were true!  “Please add the adjacent room to my account.”

“Yes, sir.  Ah, but —”

“And unblock the connecting door.”

I have always enjoyed challenging the sure-footed, sometimes to my own dismay.  I could not help adding, “Feya, do you have much baggage?”

But she was equal to it.  “I’m afraid it is all on the following coach, brother.  I have only this one valise.”

I saw it hanging from her arm.  The lack of baggage obviously had prompted the concierge’s misgivings.  Now he smiled effusively and extended his hand, “Let me bear that to your room, madam.”

“No, thank you.  May I join you for dinner, brother?  It has been some hours.”

“But of course, Feya!  Here, you may have my chair.”  I lifted it quickly to the other side of the table.  “Concierge, another chair and setting immediately.”

That would take his mind off her valise, through which I was morally certain he intended to plunder.  I directed, “And have a hot bath ready in her room within the hour.  I’m sure you’ll need such refreshment after your journey, my dear.”

“Yes, sir,” the man acknowledged.  His finger snap had produced another chair.  I ushered the woman into my old one and took my seat.  Her place setting arrived just after the chair.

I said, “They offer a fine roast, Feya, if you are very hungry.”

“Oh, my dear, that sounds wonderful!”

I nodded to the hovering waiter.  “And fetch her a glass of red.”

He bowed and departed.  We were momentarily alone, surrounded by the hum of conversation from other diners and the clatter of silverware.

She returned my stare with level eyes.  Her chin rose fractionally.  My god, she was beautiful!

“What is your family name?” I asked.

“Rondel.  Did you mean what you told the boy this afternoon?”

I studied her, thinking of my answer.  “I did.  And more.  Did you mean it?”

“Eh?  Mean what?”

“That I am cruel.”

Her eyes flashed.  “Do you intend to prove it?”

“But why did you say it?  You know nothing about me.”

Was that the slightest smile on her lips?  “That is not entirely true, sir.  I have heard of the Loringer” — she even pronounced it correctly with the soft English G that her language does not use — “from across the sea who puts such high value on his property.”

That surprised me greatly and I fear my social mask slipped.  She chuckled softly.  Her voice, especially the light laughter, was perfect.  It raised the hair on my nape.  I ruefully acknowledged my complete infatuation with her.  But her information could derive from only one source.  My eyes narrowed in anger.  “Apparently my business is becoming public knowledge.”

Her face went blank.  “I remind you of my profession, sir.  It is always the second to know everything.”

Of course that was true enough; men say everything into pillows.  But Kahdirin had claimed to be happily married.  I almost laughed in irony, knowing well that “happy marriages” are the estate from which whores derive their greatest profit.

Her food arrived at that moment.  I watched her eat it while consuming the last tidbits of my own.  She ate hungrily but correctly, fork always grasped daintily in the left hand in the continental manner.

Her eyes twinkled as she noted my scrutiny.  “Would you prefer that I eat with my fingers, sir?”  She talked intelligibly with her mouth full, as the nobility is said to do, apparently being trained in that arcane art with handfuls of marbles.

When she sighed and leaned back in her chair, the wine to her lips, I said, “Now that you have blunted your hunger, perhaps you will tell me what changed your mind.”

“About meeting you?”

“What else?  It’s too early yet to convince you of my kindly nature.”

“Perhaps not.  This roast is a powerful argument.”

“This is only the beginning.  I am most curious about you, as perhaps you can imagine.  I also told the boy you are very beautiful, but that was appreciation at a distance.  Now I have confirmed it twice over.”

“Thank you.”

“And in our rooms I expect to redouble it.”

“You are very kind.”  Her slight smile faded to earnestness.  “I should warn you, sir, that I may not be so youthful as you hope.”

“And I not so cruel as you fear.”

She laughed, acknowledging the hit.

I added, “In your working costume you walked with youthful suppleness, though I agree that hips and bosom are mature.  But I prefer the mature female, cured of childish vapors.”

She sniffed ironically.  “Life does indeed cure such ills as that.”

“What I have seen at this table redoubles my curiosity.  Your dress and deportment are not those customary to your sisterhood.”

She smiled coyly.  “If I answer your implied question, can you dare to believe what I say?”

“I know how yarns are spun to beguile the client, but I enjoy hearing your voice.  Its timber resonates in my belly.  So tell me.  How does a harlot learn proper behavior at a gentleman’s table?”

Her eyes twinkled.  “Perhaps by dining with gentlemen.”

“No doubt,” I agreed.  “And such harlots exist, though known by other names:  courtesan, mistress, wife.  But they don’t sit in a gaggle of their sisters on the esplanade for common inspection.”

Her eyes lost their sparkle.  “One’s rank can change greatly.”

I thought about her implication.  “And that can be the basis of a most dramatic history.  Weddings and beheadings come to mind.”

She smiled.  “I was no queen.  That misfortune has yet to befall me.”

“But other misfortunes have?”

“One principally.”  She took a breath.  “I am the daughter of a lord and his scullery maid, trained as a lady until his new wife objected.”  She smiled scornfully.  “It seems that a lady learns but two skills.  The harder, which needs the etiquette of the salon, will not feed her.”

I searched for the vernacular.  “Whereas fucking will?”

“Exactly.”  She took the last draught of her wine and swished it in her mouth, adding wryly after swallowing, “Sometimes quite well.  I am at your disposal.”

I raised a delaying finger.  “A few additional questions first.  Why did you not come with me straightaway this afternoon?”

She raised her chin.  “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Because you would not be known as a foreigner’s woman?”

Her eyes showed surprise.  “These days foreigners are our bread and butter!”  She smiled, “No, sir.  The boy blurted your second and third offer.  Two gold crowns is too much for those beggars to know I possess.  Then when it became three, I decided I preferred being reported as she who declined than she who accepted such a princely sum.”  She put her hand over mine.  “You pleased me greatly when you refused other consolation.”

“I suppose so,” was my dry response.  “But you changed your mind.”

“Not at all, sir!  I always meant you to have me.”

I blinked at that.  “Then why did you tell the boy you feared me?”

She chuckled.  “I believe the term for that is ‘negotiation.’”  Her eyes locked brazenly with mine.  That and the words rankled.  I said stiffly, “Perhaps the three Crowns were also but negotiation.”

She said coolly, “Then I must offer you more.”

Instead of asking what she meant, I said, “Did you present yourself to the desk and ask for me by name, claiming to be my sister?”

“Not exactly.”  She grinned.  “I claimed you as my dear brother, which as you have seen is not quite the same thing.”

“Without knowing my full name?”

“I knew your full name.”

I didn’t ask her how.  “You have brass,” I admitted instead.  I found myself quite pleased with her.

Her eyes twinkled.  “Brass worth three gold Crowns.”

“Proving my point.”

As we exited the dining parlor, the concierge put a second key in my hand.  “Madam’s bath awaits,” he intoned.  To her he bowed and said diffidently, “My house regrets its seeming coldness on your arrival, madam, but perhaps you understand that for its good name it must take care.”

She smiled graciously at the man, who bowed again and withdrew.  Ascending the long carpeted staircase, she said to me askance, her good humor sustained, “You see how it goes with rank.”

A hotel maid waited in the room adjacent to mine.  As I held the entry door for Feya, I verified that the crossbar for securing the connecting door was removed to stand in the near corner.  The bedroom was the same as mine with draped windows.  An enameled tin tub sat in the middle of the carpet, wisps of steam rising from it.

“Why are you here?” Feya demanded of the maid.

“To assist madam with her bath.”

Feya looked inquiringly at me.  I barely shook my head.

“No, thank you,” she responded.  “But leave the towel cart.  I’ll ring when I wish everything removed.”

“Yes, madam.”  The woman curtsied and slipped past me out the door.

For her benefit I followed the woman out while advising Feya, “We’ll meet after you’ve rested.”  I closed the door, locked it and brought out my own key.

The maid was a saucy one.  “Does the gentleman require anything just now?”  She leered at me.  “The concierge thinks I assist madam.”

I’ve noticed this before:  women have a sixth sense for assignation.  When one would submit, others crowd around.  It’s uncanny.

“A marvelous implication,” I said regretfully, “but poorly timed.”

“I see.”  Her face fell.

I handed her a copper.  “If the concierge should wish to see me this evening, tell him I am retiring early.”

The money vanished into her uniform.  “Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.  You shall not be disturbed.”

“Ask me again tomorrow,” I called after her as she turned away.  She threw me a promising smile.

I locked my door behind me and proceeded directly to the connecting door at the rear of the room.  It opened to disclose Feya standing expectantly beyond it.  She nodded with a grin.  “Perhaps I shall have assistance with my bath after all.”

“Perhaps we shall assist each other.”

“Ah!”  Her eyes glowed.  “That could be most interesting.”

First I lit the remaining gas jets, left dark by the frugal concierge.  Now better able to study whatever she revealed, I went to Feya and began releasing the intricate pattern of buttons and hooks that held her clothing about her.

“These are a gentlewoman’s garments,” I remarked.

She sniffed.  “The new wife was the larger woman.  She did not mind this removal so long as I removed myself as well.”

“Larger, perhaps.  None could be more attractive.”

“Such flattery!”

But I knew she was pleased.

She added, “He could hardly marry me, could he?”

She wore full regalia, I thought, as the gown, several petticoats and a camisole went over her head.  At last she was nude, her womanly odor filling the room.  She stood still before me, enduring my scrutiny with a slight smile.

She was perfection itself, except for one blemish.  Her breasts were full with large dark nipples, beginning to sag as I like them, appropriate to an age of thirty or so.  Her waist was surprisingly narrow, considering that she had worn no corset, and her hips womanly broad.  Her legs were well fleshed, shapely and widely separated, suggesting easy childbirth.  A network of blue veins appeared faintly around breasts, hips and thighs.  Her pubes were coarse and thick.  In the bright gaslight the fine hair on legs and arms had a golden brown sheen, matching the chignon behind her head.

“Will you let your hair down?” I asked.

“Yes, of course.”  Her hands went to her head, permitting me to admire the dark tufts in her armpits.  That hair on women has always been my special favorite, retaining as it does best their spicy odor.  I have caused many fragrant ones to lie with one arm raised so that I may lick the area.  Most women are too ticklish, of course, but I have been privileged to know a few whose passion it but stoked.

Feya laid pins and a comb on the dresser, shook her head and turned to face me, hair falling in a shivering wave around her shoulders.

I admitted with a sigh, “Feya, I am overcome.”

“Despite my mother’s marks?”  They were her only blemishes, a few white streaks beneath the rounded belly.

“How many children?”

“Two.”

“Such marks are badges of success that can hardly detract from a woman’s charm.”

She came to me and rested her forearms on my shoulder.  “They told me wrongly of you.  You are anything but cruel.”

And she put up her mouth to be kissed.  I cannot recall another whore offering that favor.  By this time I had forgotten her profession.  I kissed her deeply, using my tongue, to which she responded in kind.  When our faces separated, her hands attacked my buttons, reminding me.

“Feya, do you sometimes enjoy what you do?”

She laughed grimly as she worked.  “I know men prefer hearing of wanton excess, but I’ll give a kind man truth.  No, I do not enjoy this work.  Men seldom show us their better sides.”

“Then you never take pleasure in sex?”

She paused to study me.  “I wouldn’t say never.”  Her eyes twinkled.  “Already I adore every moment that you are within me.”

“So far,” I said dryly, “only my tongue has succeeded.  I believe you didn’t mind it.”

She smiled.  “No, I didn’t mind it.”

“We’ll see if you mind other things.”

“Such as?”

“Fingers.  A cock.”  I thought to add mention of a toy or two but forebore.

She sniffed.  “If I minded them I could hardly earn my bread, could I?  Ah, you are beginning to stiffen.”

She held my organ in her hand, withdrawing the foreskin.  She looked speculatively from it up to my face and said to my astonishment, “I can taste disease.  Would you like to know if you are afflicted?”

“Yes, of course.”

She took her seat in a nearby chair and hands on my hips, positioned me before her.  Holding the foreskin back, she kissed the glans delicately, admitting it partly into her mouth.  Her tongue lashed the eye.  Many women, a few boys and one man have tendered me their lingual favors, but the sight of my knob half buried in this lovely mouth affected me strongest.

“And your verdict?” I asked as the instrument throbbed to full erection.  I spoke deliberately, not wanting to spend so soon.

She looked up with a twinkle, releasing me enough to say, “None so far.”  Suddenly she admitted me once again, well over half the shaft.  The knob felt an obstruction.  She worked her head side to side in a most peculiar manner.  To my amazement the barrier opened.  My entire manhood, all seven and a half inches of it, vanished into her face!

Her nose buried itself in my pubic hair and I felt her chin parting my testicles.  Her lips closed tightly on the hairy root.  I could not see any part of her expression, but the sounds emanating from her flaring nostrils were suggestive of retching.

“My god, Feya!” I muttered in shock and would have backed away except that her arms had encircled my buttocks.  Attempted withdrawal only drew her with me.

I tilted my torso to study the side of her head.  I well knew how far the erect organ projected.  Now it could only be deep in her throat.  Again she produced the sound of gagging and from that angle I saw her belly tighten.

“Feya, don’t sicken —”  Yourself, I meant to say.  But the last word arrived as an inarticulate groan.  I found myself spending with such intense pleasure that it seemed to flow from my entire abdomen.

The woman froze.  I gave her another full squirt.  Now she pulled away quickly, releasing a fascinating length of cock, which showed its gratitude by spurting a white stream across her nostrils.

She removed her face from me as far as the chair back would allow, staring with huge eyes.  Suddenly she sneezed powerfully, blasting my torso with a white spray.  A loud coughing spell followed the sneeze.  Phlegm shot from her open mouth.

I dipped a washcloth in the water and returned to her to swab her face and chest.  After a bit her seizure eased.  I helped her to her feet and pulled her into the circle of my arms.

“Feya, I’m very sorry to have —”

But she was laughing.  “What a surprise!  But please, it was nothing.  Don’t trouble yourself over it.”  She regarded me merrily.  “Sir, you must be a much younger man than you seem.”

I protested, “Such skill as that would make any man young!”

Her eyes danced.  “I told you I didn’t mind such things.”

“You don’t mind choking on spunk?”

“What is to mind?  Rich spunk has an agreeable bouquet, even in the nose.”

“In the nose?” I asked with chagrin.  Indeed I had squirted it up her nostrils as she withdrew.

“The sneeze cleared it.”  She sniffed and smiled.  “Most of it.  I did not dream that you would explode so soon!”  She regarded me with frank curiosity.  “Are your first fruits always so hasty?”

“They are not.  I am perhaps more amazed even than you.  But I think I understand it.  Feya, you have the countenance that a goddess would envy.  To thrust the whole of my cock into such loveliness …”

“Thank you.”  She cocked her head with interest.  “I recall similar discussions before my fall from grace.  Desecration is not an uncommon goal.”

“It’s more than that.  The effort of your throat was …  I am at a loss for words.  In comparison a quim accepts the cock indifferently.”

Her eyes twinkled.  “I’m gratified that you appreciate it.”  She giggled.  “Now you need our bath perhaps more than I.”

Carefully we let her long hair stream outside the tub.  I bathed her, enjoying the feel of slippery breasts, belly and legs.  When I had worked the fourth finger into her quim, she said, “Thumb too, if it pleases you.”

Of course it did.  She smiled at my expression.  “Two babes’ heads have passed there, yet you shall see that I can still squeeze your manhood as a fist.”

I said admiringly, “You must take an artist’s pride in your work.”

She chuckled wryly.  “I do when I find the rare patron who can appreciate it.”

“Rare, you say?”

“And precious.”  Her hand, which had been gripping the tub rail, caressed my bearded cheek.  Below water my entire fist was in her quim, a striking contrast with the tender gesture above.  She asked, “May I wash you now?”

I helped her dry torso and legs then knelt in her tepid water.  She bathed my chest, back and belly quickly but used bare hands on my manhood, long re-erected.

“I still await your verdict,” I told her, watching as she manipulated the foreskin.

“You have no disease … now.”

I grunted.  Indeed she was right in her implication.  The clap had not recurred on me since the French doctor’s painful expurgation of last year, but consideration of her analytical methods was driven suddenly from my mind.  Her soapy finger — two or three — had entered my anus.

“You won’t like what you find there,” I suggested.

“But you might,” she responded cryptically.  “Look.”

Her fingers thrust firmly forward, stroking.  A clear liquid swelled from the cock eye with the feel of pissing.

“Is it pleasant for you?” she asked.

“Peculiar, but I would not call it pleasant.”

She nodded sagely.  “You are not old enough despite the gray in your beard.”  Her fingers fluttered in a different direction, deeper within me.  “What of this?  Many people say it gives pleasure.”

And in fact it did.  “Faintly,” I agreed.  “Too bad I didn’t think to try as much with you.”

“I have a tube in my valise,” she announced obliquely.

“A tube?”

“For the enema, if you care for that.”

I laughed in a combination of surprise and admiration.  “Are you truly prepared for everything?”

“I try to be.”

She rose and turned her back, but not before I saw that her face had lost its warmth.  She soaked a dry cloth in the fresh water of the nightstand.  Returning to me, she swabbed my cock and balls thoroughly, almost painfully, explaining, “The taste of soap is hateful.”

“But not the taste of spunk.”

“Never that.  It is the taste of life.”

I had to chuckle.  “Feya, you have a lovely face, a pretty quim and a delightful whimsy.”

“Thank you, sir.  Others have mentioned the first two but I prefer the last.”  She raised a fresh towel.  “That tub is hardly comfortable.  If I may dry you off, we can find a softer place for your knees.”

“And one for my cock?”

“Several of those.”

When I was thoroughly dried, she turned back the bedcovers invitingly.  I reclined upon it, leaving room for her beside me, but she lay with her belly on the edge, hovering over my hips.

She clasped my partly erect manhood and regarded me inquiringly.  “I think I took you by surprise before.  Would you mind if I had another taste?”

I gestured with an open hand.  Her mouth came down and slurped me within it.  Her head bobbed slowly, well lit by the gaslight above the bed.  When the organ was fully hard, she twisted her throat down around it as she had before.  Again she produced retching sounds but lingered for long seconds despite them.  Finally she withdrew partially and took great draughts of breath through flaring nostrils.  Had she been holding her breath?  I could believe it, if the cock head blocked her windpipe, as it surely must!

Again she took the whole length.  Her face was beginning to redden.  I extended my arm to lift her under the breast.  “Feya, this is extraordinary, but please don’t harm yourself.”

She raised enough to look at me.  Her mouth was dripping saliva.  “Don’t be troubled, my dear.  My throat will soon accustom itself.”

So I let her proceed.  On each withdrawal and recovery I could feel delicate tissues flutter and part around my knob, along with the constriction, at full thrust, of the tighter channel.  Indeed her gagging soon ceased as the length of her strokes increased.  It was a remarkable and unique experience but I missed the powerful thrusting of the more conventional avenues.

I raised up, took her shoulders and helped her enter the bed fully.  “Your throat is most skilled,” I told her, “but for the second bout I need vigor.”

“Show me.”

“Draw up your legs.”

I hooked her ankles over my shoulders.  She was wet and ready despite the recent bath.  I am willing to believe that such deep sucking might arouse a woman.  I began with slow, half strokes, gradually increasing both speed and depth.  She grunted when I reached the mouth of her womb.  Would she care for that?  Shortly I had my answer.  Her hips rolled forward to permit deeper thrusts.

Now I reached full penetration.  I could feel the womb mouth bouncing along the top of my knob.

“Oh, my god!” she exclaimed, ardent eyes staring up at me.

I increased the pace.  Soon my groin was slapping hers madly.  She began to quiver, hips rolling in response.  Her eyes rolled back.  Each expelled breath conveyed an incoherent soprano groan, rising in intensity.

I suppose any man’s second ejaculation is the cooler and longer obtained.  I was able to register her reaction to my pounding more accurately than usual.  The ankles of her long legs had hooked behind my neck, elevating her hips perfectly for my kneeling attack.  Her whole body glowed with a sheen of perspiration and a slight flush.  Her mouth was open to gasp for breath and squeal with each exhalation.

This is a whore, I reminded myself.  She must be shaming all this.  But whether real or not, my chin sagged in admiration of the performance, and when her sphincters clamped fist-like on my cock head, demonstrating the proof of her earlier claim, my spunk rose in response.  I may have cried out to match her then.

Soon I fell off, releasing her nerveless limbs to splay down on the bed, and lay beside her, gasping similarly.  She raised the arm pinched between us, and her aroma, fresh since the bath, struck my nostrils.  The odor of most women is pleasant, but I could not recall ever finding spice sweet as this.  I turned more toward her, laying my cheek on her extended bicep, my nose almost in the tufted armpit.  My mouth watered.  Tentatively I extended a tongue into the hair.  She shivered as it stroked her.  Above the curve of her breast I saw one hand plunge into her thighs while the other clasped my continuing erection.

“Feya,” I murmured, “you cannot know how you please me!”

Such a statement is normally a guaranteed way to raise a whore’s fee, but I was giddy with pleasure, aware only of this woman’s supreme delectability.  Her answer was to kiss the top of my head at first.  Within a minute’s time, however, she clambered over me to squat facing me across my hips.  The hand on my cock guided it within her.  Immediately she leaned forward and began the front-to-rear hip roll that a woman instinctively executes in such case when her own pleasure is the object.

Full breasts and hard nipples lolled on my chest.  She extended the other arm, lowering that armpit over my face.  I raised my head to lick it, causing shivers and moans.  I desisted long enough for a glance at her face.  Her eyes were clenched shut and her lips drawn back in a grimace that exposed the even teeth.

Why would a woman do this, I wondered, except for her own pleasure?  I had previously enjoyed such action with several women but never during a commercial transaction — which led me to wonder why bringing whores to climax should be so difficult, why apparently so few of them delight in fucking.  That here on my chest perched one literally drooling with pleasure filled me with pride.  Of course no other man would believe me if I told it.

The nose eventually grows accustomed to any bouquet, sweet or foul.  I left her armpit and pulled her face down to mine, licking her chin, nose and lips and sucking the drool from her tongue.  She was emitting her soft soprano screams again by this time.  We continued thus for a goodly period, her passion gradually increasing its intensity, judging by her cries and plunging hips.  At last she rose suddenly to sit up straight upon me, her body shuddering as if with ague.  Her mouth gaped below eyes clenched shut, contorting her face in a terrible grimace.  A strange groan seemed torn from her.  The tense body visibly relaxed.  She collapsed to the bed and flopped onto her back beside me to lie still except for heaving chest.

That display had stirred my balls.  I rolled gently upon her, knees between her legs, and reinserted myself.  Though at first she lay limp and lifeless as a fallen log in the forest, soon her hips resumed their counterpoint to my thrusts.  My third climax was noteworthy only for its occurrence in the same evening as the other two.

I did not linger atop her, but backed away to a kneeling position.  The light of two gas jets was more than enough to permit feasting my eyes upon her.  She lay with arms thrown wide and legs splayed around my knees.  Her hips, lower belly and inner thighs were flushed, crimson labia parting the copious hair, all the fruits of her passionate exercise.  I noticed a peculiarity in my reaction to this display.  Normally my interest in the woman’s body departs along with my cock, but not in this case.  I could not recall the last time any woman, much less a newly-encountered whore, had fucked herself to climax upon me, requiring of me only that my erection endure.  The comment of the grandmother who raised me, that we all love to feel needed for ourselves, came to mind.  For his cock to be milked so avidly, by the effort of a woman’s entire body, is a species of need that I suspect any man must endorse.

The heaving breasts, glowing with perspiration, gradually eased.  She had worked hard atop me.  When my eyes rose at last to her face, they found her studying me in return.

“Are you well?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”  She sighed.  “Was it something in the wine?”

“What do you mean?”

She hesitated then slowly shook her head with a solemn expression.  “It wasn’t the wine.”

I asked wonderingly, “Do you feel the effect of a drug?”

“No.”  She sighed again.  “I feel the effect of you.”

“I?”

She pushed herself up, caught my arms and pulled her head to my shoulder.  When my arms encircled her in response, I felt her tremble.

“What is it, Feya?”

But she only held me with a sniffle.  After a bit I slipped a hand under her chin and raised her face for study.  Her eyes were wet.  She kissed my chin through the beard, then my lips.  Again she trembled.

“Will you not tell me?”

She took a deep breath and twisted away, drawing up a leg before me so that she could turn and sit on the side of the bed.  She sat with bowed head.  “No, sir.  Speaking of what I feel would not benefit either of us.”

“Wouldn’t it?”  I stroked her moist back, apparently causing her to shiver.

“Please,” she murmured.  “I’ll be well in just a minute.”  She straightened her shoulders.  “My throat is so dry!”

I got off the bed.  “Give me five minutes and you shall have champagne.”

“Do you …  Do you have to leave me?”

She stared up at me in brief entreaty.  Suddenly she blushed, lowering her head.

I chuckled, pleased at the display.  I took her hand.  “Then come into my room.”

“I am naked.”

“So am I.”

I led her through the connecting door.  I first pulled the bell cord then found my gaudier lounging robe and wrapped it around her before drawing the plain one around myself.  The servant who answered was the same woman who had promised me an undisturbed evening.

“Bring me a magnum of bubbly on ice,” I told her at the door, “and two glasses.”

“The same kind as the other night?”

“Yes.”

“Is your sister-in-law” — she sniggered impudently — “ready for her bath to be removed?”

“She’ll ring for that.”

“Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.”

I moved a chair next to Feya but pulled her into my lap when I sat.  She leaned back on me as my hands slipped into the robe to knead her breasts.  She turned her head and kissed my neck, stroking my skin with her tongue.

I chuckled indulgently.  “One would think you like my taste.”

For some reason the words made her shiver again.  I ducked my head and kissed her lips.  Her tongue came to meet mine.  We were toying in this manner when the servant knocked.

Feya moved to her original chair as I tipped the woman and rolled the cart into the room.  After saluting each other Feya and I both drank thirstily.  I refilled our glasses and she imbibed again.  She sat with glass dangling from a hand supported by the chair arm, regarding me thoughtfully.

I asked, “What are you thinking?”

“Of pointless fate.”  She sighed, grinning sadly.

“Whose fate?”

“Mine.”  Her grin improved.  “I am being stupid.”

“Tell me why.”

“I am thinking how it might have been had I met you before my father married.”

I’m sure my eyes lit.  “Indeed an inspiring thought!”

She shook her head.  “But it could never happen, if I understand correctly.  Your country is notorious in my father’s world for its prohibition of noble rank.”

“Meaning I would never have been invited to your father’s estate?”

“Meaning that you would never receive a social invitation.”

I grinned.  “Then we would have met on the backstairs perhaps.”

For a moment her eyes sparkled.  When the glow faded, I added, “The European nobility is learning that we do in fact have the ranks, though the titles be illegal.”

“Indeed!  What rank would you hold if you were allowed to proclaim it?”

“Oh, at least a baron.”

We both laughed.  But in a moment she was again pensive.  “Then in that different world we might have come to sit intimately together as we do now.”

What a preposterous idea!

Except this was easily the most charming woman I ever knew.

“Feya …” I began and paused.  An idea was forming.  Perhaps she was not alone in being stupid.  But would she tell me what I needed to know?  “Who is your father?”

Her eyes narrowed.  She shrugged.  “He won’t acknowledge me.”

“Tell me.”

She took a breath.  “The count of Vilnis.”

Curious.  That was the man for whom Kahdirin acted as agent, or so my spies had informed me.  I had met him in passing in Kahdirin’s offices.  A once-handsome man he was, though now of many wrinkles and few words, and I suddenly saw the striking resemblance.

“Huh!  He can hardly deny you.”

Her eyes showed interest.  “Of course you have met him.”

“Yes, recently in business.”  I wondered at her certainty.

She shrugged again.  “I know I have his features but it’s not enough.  My mother is dead.”

“Feya, will you tell me of your life after he … after you left your father’s estate?”

“After his wife threw me out!” she corrected bitterly.  She sighed.  “I’m sure you can guess all the essentials.”

“Tell me anyway.  Did you find yourself hungry and destitute?”

She smiled wryly.  “My father was not so callous as that!  He gave me a hundred Crowns and my maidservant.  I came to this city and took lodging in an inn rather like this one.  The concierge was kind and attracted to me.  Very soon he was sharing my bed.  As I said, the essentials are obvious.  He fathered my older daughter.  When she was two, however, the inn burned and he died trying to rescue other tenants.  I lost everything except my daughter and our night clothes.”

“That ill fortune is not so obvious,” I commented sympathetically.

She grinned sourly.  “Perhaps not.  The obvious thing would have been for him to throw me out over another woman.  That was my fate with the second man, who as assistant to the city warden had assumed responsibility for my daughter and me.  He kept me long enough to father my second child, but he was supporting others, one of whom convinced him to marry and knowing of his charitable concerns, put a stop to them.”

“Did he acknowledge his debt to the child?”

“His wife would never permit that.  Women can be so penurious!”

“Some of them,” I agreed.  “How old are your children, Feya?”

“Six and eleven.”

“Did you turn to the esplanade after your second?”

She nodded slowly.  “Yes.  I had no choice.  But that presented its own difficulties.  The daughters of joy” — she used the French idiom — “resist the encroachments of newcomers, especially on the esplanade.  Fortunately I met a wealthy businessman who found me attractive in time to save my little family from starvation.  He installed me in an apartment.  We’ve had our ups and downs, in bed and out, but he has kept me for nearly four years.”

She took a breath.  “There!”  Her face had taken a stony cast.  “Hardly an interesting life.”

I raised an eyebrow.  “Haven’t you omitted something?”

She blinked.  “Nothing important.  What?”

“How you came to be sitting with the others on the esplanade today.”

“Oh.  In time, with gifts here and favors there, I persuaded them to seat me.  I think you would find such details tedious.”

I had to chuckle.  “Feya, if a man is keeping you, why is it necessary for you to sit on the esplanade?”

She laughed.  “I see your point.  In fact it is not necessary — except for my joie de vivre.  My patron is not a lover of art, fine food or even restful landscapes — or if so he loves them in the company of his wife.  I can sit at home with my daughters or go out to find more interesting entertainment.”  Her eyes glowed upon mine.  “Sometimes …”

“Sometimes what?”

She dropped her head but said in a low voice, “Sometimes it can be wonderful.”

“I wonder how many women go out thus,” I mused.

She raised her eyes to mine.  “More than you might surmise, I expect, but it’s never for the sex.”

“Isn’t it?”  I felt genuine curiosity.

“Women who go whoring for the sex do not last long.”  She chuckled grimly.  “Men are altogether too accommodating.”

“What happens to them?”

She shrugged.  “It’s as if the men consume them.”  She shuddered.  “Do you mind?  That underside of harlotry is not pleasant.”

I would have liked to pursue the issue, but if it made her uncomfortable I’d wait until she trusted me better.  I was already determined that we should have some kind of future.

I said, “Then I take it you go to the esplanade for adventure and excitement.”

“Yes.”  She smiled.  “The presents are sometimes very nice also.”

“Does your, ah, patron know of your outings?”

“He enjoys my recounting of them.”

That startled me.  I wanted to ask her what she would tell him of our adventure but forbore.  She perhaps sensed my concern.  She cocked her head and said, “I don’t tell him of every one.”

The more I thought of it, the more intrigued I became.  What marvelous entertainment might derive from a woman commissioned on sexual adventures who then described them on her return!  The next step would be hiding in her closet while she —

I took a breath.  “Has he suggested spying on your trysts?”

She snickered.  “Once.”

“Once?  What happened?”

“He made a noise.  The visitor threw him out a window and broke his leg.”  She giggled, hand to mouth.  Her eyes stared merrily.  “I have never told anyone of this.”

I nodded.  “His own behavior led to his downfall.”

“Literally!”  Her giggle became a laugh.  “He bellowed for the night watch, but when they arrived dared to claim only that he’d been asleep and dreaming.  He had taken off his britches, you see.”

“Yes, I see.”  I grinned briefly before deliberately smoothing my features.  “What would it take for you to leave him, Feya?”

She shrugged.  “He has yet to do it, whatever it might be.”

“Do you stay with him, then, for more than convenience?”

Her eyes narrowed.  “Life on the esplanade is very hard when one has no recourse.”

“Then you stay with him also for necessity.”

She nodded slowly.  “I suppose that’s fair to say.”

“What if you had other prospects?”

“Such as?”

“That’s what I meant in asking what might cause you to leave him.”

She stared at me and shook her head.  “I have no other prospect.  My girls and I live in a comfortable apartment.  He visits me two or three times a month and leaves money for food and fuel.  His idea of sexual congress is boring, but that is true of most men.  You ask what it would take.”  She paused thoughtfully, eyes searching mine.  “What do you seek, David?”

So she did know my full name!

The answer to her question was simple.  “You.”

She spread her arms, drawing the robe open over belly and pubes.  “You have me.”

“All of you.”

She straightened.  “I should use the enema before they take away the tub.”

“The world is full of tubs.”

“What do you mean?”

Gathering my thoughts, I refilled my glass.  She declined when I offered to do the same for her.  I stood directly before her, my robe unbound.  Her hand rose and enclosed the flaccid manhood.  She shivered and grinned up at me.  “I like this fellow.”

“Feya, for 25 years I have enjoyed women immensely in many times and places, but I’ve never found the satisfaction that women sometimes are to other men.  Yes, I know the joke, and no, I’m not really looking for a boy.  I have recently concluded that I need a woman who is a companion as well as a lover, one who can entertain mind and heart as well as cock.”

She asked dryly, “Isn’t that the calling of a wife?”

“No doubt.  I’ve traveled far, Feya, and will continue to do so while I remain healthy.  I want an educated woman with a love of adventure who will travel beside me and share in the discoveries and the excitement, but a woman with the sense to discuss world affairs and offer sage business advice.”

She was still holding my cock.  Her touch had encouraged it partly to rise.  She leaned forward and kissed the tip beyond the foreskin.

“Why did you do that?” I asked curiously.

“I like to kiss fine fellows with a high regard for me.”

I took a very deep breath.  “Feya, will you think about what I’ve said?”

“What should I think about it?”

“You could be that woman.”

Her tongue rasped briefly on the tip before she looked up.  “David, I said you have me.  You don’t have to promise anything more.”

How do I have you?  Will I have you next week in Paris or the following month in Budapest, and in Chicago for the fair?”

She smiled lazily up at me after another tongue rasp.  “It sounds wonderful, David.  But have you forgotten my two children?”

“Of course not.  First Class accommodations are more than adequate for children.”

“And my maid?  She is still with us, bless her heart.”

“You are entitled to your favorite servants.”

The woman mouthed the swollen knob, expanding lips briefly forcing back the foreskin.  She released me and looked up dreamily.  “First Class!  I have read that the cost of First Class transatlantic passage for one rich family would support 25 poor families of this city for a year.”

I said impatiently, “What does that have to do with you?”

Suddenly she surged to her feet.  “Sit, David, and let me into your lap.”

With a shrug I obeyed.  She knelt facing over me, her knees compressed between my legs and the chair arms, and guided me into her.  She was not very wet, but using a well-practiced hip wiggle and hook I was soon deeply buried.

But she didn’t begin the expected in-and-out.  She leaned forward, breasts pressing me, and kissed my lip before asserting, “David, I know you are a rich man.”

“Oh, yes,” I admitted, “in money and cotton mills.”

“Then tell me why you think you need me after a mere three hours of my company.  Most people reach such conclusions only after long association.”

“I have already told you all that.  You must understand that I mean what I say.”

“I’ve heard men promise the moon.”

Really?  That surprised me a little.  Who needs to promise a whore beyond her payment?  I almost chuckled, realizing how much I had already exceeded that standard.  But whore or not, this was still the most remarkable woman I had ever known.

“Perhaps I can come closer to delivering the moon than most of the others you have heard.”

“Perhaps you can.”  Her sphincters squeezed me.  “How would we work it?”

“When does your patron next visit?”

“He does not hew to a schedule, but I don’t expect him this week.”

“I had planned to leave here no later than three days after today.  You can simply pack your clothing and memorabilia and depart with me, along with daughters and maid.  If you have furniture you want to keep we can put it in storage.”

“So simple?  What would I tell Zebediah?”

Ha, not such a common name!  “Your patron?”

“Yes.”

“Need you tell him anything?”

“He has been faithful in his way.  So have I, David.”

“Faithful in your way?”

“Exactly.  Do you understand that?”

“I gather you refer to your dalliance with others while remaining available to your patron.  I would not object to that, by the way.”

“Wouldn’t you?”

“I hope that doesn’t disappoint you.”  I kissed her nose.

She chuckled humorously.  “What exactly do you mean, David?”

Here was a potential stumbling block.  Logically, perched atop a strange cock, she should have no difficulty with the concept of so perching upon other strangers, but female logic is seldom reliable.  Choosing my words carefully, I said, “Your adventures with other men could be particularly entertaining, as perhaps you would find mine with other women, given that neither of us wished to embarrass the other.”

Her sphincters closed on me again, a curious underscore of my concern for her response.  She said, “I suppose you would insist on choosing those others for me.”

“Insist?  Sometimes I might offer suggestions.  A desirable woman willing to share her favors can be a peerless security in financial affairs.”

I felt her cheeks tighten in a grin.  “I’ve heard of such things.  Among our nobility the lord often seals a bargain with his mistress’s virtue — or even his wife’s.”  She chuckled gleefully.  “I happen to know that the new countess of Vilnis has been so used.”

“Who won?”

“According to the story, my father’s wife and his gambling opponent.”

I laughed.  “You have enjoyed a most liberal education.”

“Oh, yes, it was liberal!  You can perhaps imagine my astonishment when I was introduced to Middle Class morality.  David …”

“Yes?”

She took a shuddery breath.  “What happens when those little habits of mine that you now find so endearing become the straws that break the camel’s back?”

A good question that I had not yet considered!  “What do you mean,” I stalled.

“What happens when I can no longer beguile you into my bed?”

I forced a laugh.  “Then you find a younger man while I hide in your closet.  I know better than to make a noise.”

She chuckled.  “And when you’ve become indifferent to the other men?”

“I don’t think it will happen, Feya.  I am no stripling.  I know my own mind.”

“It will happen, David.”

“Perhaps so.  What do you want to hear?  If you agree to this the only way you could be cut off without a penny is to poison me.  For that matter, what if a prettier or richer man comes along and sees you as I do?  What is the guarantee I wouldn’t lose my cherished companion?”

She said slowly.  “Life has no guarantee.”

“None at all.”

“Then, David Loringer, if you retain these feelings for me until the morrow, I shall accept your proposition.  But I warn you:  I may not be so pretty in the morning.”

“I don’t believe it.  Feya Rondel, in the morning I shall only renew my offer.”

“We’ll see.”

Her hips began to roll.

 

* * *

 

I have seen many women’s morning faces.  Never have I understood why they think themselves less attractive upon waking, when their cheeks are rounded, wrinkles smoothed and eyelids thickened.  Almost always they look younger, much younger.  It must be that they object to it in other women.  I can only say that few men would agree.

Of course Feya was lovely as a maiden in the soft first light.  When my tongue assaulted large areas of her body, she asked half humorously, “Do you mean to eat me alive?”

“I mean to taste you alive.  Has anyone told you how fragrant you are to tongue and nose?”

“You can tell me again tomorrow.  Let me up, David, before I corrupt that bouquet.”

Her valise contained a peasant costume that she wore to break our fast in the dining room.

“I suppose I must go home and pack,” she said regretfully around a mouthful of egg crisp.

“Will three days be enough?” I asked after sipping my coffee.

She sniffed.  “Three hours will be enough.  Besides our clothing, hardly anything there belongs to me.  I have no trunk, David.”

“That lack is easily remedied.  I shall go with you and make the arrangements.  If three hours is truly enough, or even half a day, I’d like you and your family to move here before dinnertime.”  I grinned.  “Put well-wrinkled clothing on daughters and maid to seem traveled.  I’ll hire a coach to pick up family and trunks then deliver you in style to this hotel.”

She smiled and nodded.  “As you wish, David.”

That pleased me.  “To hear that in your lovely voice is most satisfying, Feya.  I want you to practice that phrase.”

She blinked.  “What choice do I have?”

“Let me explain.  When you hear of an action proposed, I want you first to examine it thoroughly and offer your full and frank opinion, especially if you find it wanting.  Only when I have made a final decision do you need to practice that phrase.”

“I see,” she acknowledged agreeably.

“For example, if one of your daughters must first be removed from a convent, I would expect you to argue against transferring today.”

“My daughters visit no convent,” she retorted, “and truly I have nothing to restrain me — except that I must inform Zebediah.”

My eyes narrowed.  “And give him the chance to overbid?”

She smiled lazily.  “Hardly that, David.  I am yours now, but I owe him the courtesy.”

“When will you see him?  I’d hate for you to wait on his haphazard schedule.”

“I’ll set Verona and the girls to packing when you arrive with the trunks, and go to Zebediah’s workplace while they toil.  My business with him will be brief.”

“Very well.  I’ll attend to my own business at the same time, which also should be brief.  Then we can meet at your apartment to await the coach.”

“The coach!”  She smiled tolerantly.  “We can stroll that distance in ten minutes.”

“And we will when you are ready.  Will you have more coffee?”

 

* * *

 

The daughters are very like their mother and beyond doubt will make very pretty women.  But they have not yet enjoyed her educational advantages, a state I shall remedy.  I waited with them until the trunks arrived and then went around to Kahdirin’s offices.

The clerk on the high stool dropped to the floor and bowed to me.  “Noble Loringer, the master is just now closeted with his principal.  Will you wait?  I am sure he’ll see you soon.”

“He has left no message for me, then?”

“No, sir.”

I thought it over.  His principal, eh?  Perhaps Feya’s father?  Though the source of the gold to buy my mill mattered not in the sale, it could be important to the delivery contracts negotiated afterwards.

“I’ll wait if he isn’t over long.  In the meantime will you satisfy my curiosity?  How do you heat these rooms in the winter?  I see no stove or fireplace.”

He glanced around but saw no reason to deny me.  “The underfloor is of clay.  A fire built beneath it warms these first floor rooms most comfortably.”  He grinned.  “You can pity the apprentices on the second floor.”

“No heat at all, eh?”

“Only what rises up the one staircase.”

Thus I held the young man in conversation in the main office instead of being shunted to the parlor with the hopeful salesmen.

With a crack the most ornate inner door opened and Kahdirin appeared gesturing, “After you, sire.”

The count of Vilnis came through the door.  When he saw me in conversation with the clerk, he stopped short, frankly staring.  He was a tall, spare man, clean-shaven, wearing a striped suit of creased satiny material.  Allowing for height, wrinkles and gray hair in the masculine style, this was Feya.

He whirled around to face Kahdirin, who nearly ran into him.  I distinctly heard him say, “He’s here!”

Kahdirin peered around the man, his face turning pale.  But he shook himself, cleared his throat and stepped out toward me.  “Mr. Loringer, how pleasant to see you in the morning!”  His forced smile said the opposite.

My response was brusque.  “Not yet arrived, I see.”  I produced a smile at least as sincere as his.  “Only two days remain, sir.”

His face worked indecisively.  At last he said, “Will you come into the office, Mr. Loringer?”

I shook my head.  “We can discuss the climate out here.  Your clerk has been telling me about the severe winters.  Beyond the main question, which you apparently are not yet ready to answer correctly, we have only climate to discuss.”

He took a deep shuddery breath and said softly, “The two days you mention …”

“You won’t need them?” I asked with feigned surprise.

“Are not enough,” he finished in a barely audible voice.

I nodded.  “Then you won’t need them.”  My voice was cheerful but I was disappointed nevertheless.  I had wanted to be free of my management headaches.

“But we’re so close!”

“Close?”

“We have commitments for all but the last …”  He looked around at the two very interested clerks.  “Bit.  We can sign over to you today everything but ” — he lowered his voice so that I had to strain — “500 Crowns.  Is there any possible way we might arrange to pay that in the next —”

He looked past me as the outside door opened.  His eyes widened and his expression grew savage.  “What are you doing here?” he snarled past me.

I was caught up in my contempt and disgust at this evident fourth revocation and had not yet turned when a too familiar woman’s voice declared, “Zebediah, I must talk to you immediately.”

I spun around.  It was Feya, still in her peasant costume.  Her eyes grew large.  “David!” she declared.

My god!  I felt hot and cold simultaneously.  Now I recalled the agent’s full name.  She was mistress to Zebediah Kahdirin?

I distinctly heard the little man gnash his teeth.  “You know each other?” he demanded as I turned back.

But Feya was staring at me.  “Should I return later, David?”

“Yes, you little fool!” Kahdirin ground out.  “What have you done?”

“It’s what I’m about to do.”  She drew herself up.  “I am leaving you, Zebediah, today and finally.”

“For him, this foreigner?”

Her eyes burned into mine.  Her lips clamped shut.  By god, I realized, she meant to protect me!

“No, you aren’t leaving!” the little man stormed.  “You slut, you owe me 600 Crowns.”

Her chin rose.  “I shall send you money every month until the debt is discharged.”

I interjected in the face of his sneer, “What an interesting amount!  600 Crowns, is it?”

Kahdirin laughed scornfully.  “Where will she get so much?  Do you have any idea what she is?”

For the first time the count spoke.  His inflection and timber were uncannily similar to Feya’s, though two octaves lower.  “Let him speak, Kahdirin.  How do you find that amount so interesting, Mr. Loringer?”

“But, my lord —”

The nobleman interrupted with a wave of the hand, a gesture that also invited me to speak.

I stood straight with hands on hips, staring into his face.  “Do you acknowledge Feya as your blood?”

He raised his chin exactly as Feya had done.  “I do not know this woman.”

I sneered.  “Your own face proclaims you a liar, sir.”

He grimaced.  “We are discussing a matter of 600 Crowns.”

“Very well.  I’m willing to accept the contract of Feya’s indebtedness, marked paid in full, as the last of the moneys you owe under the terms of our transaction — if all papers can be delivered here to this office in the next hour for signatures.”

The count looked at Kahdirin, who burbled, “But, my lord —”

“Fetch her contract.”

 

* * *

 

Feya walked on my arm towards her apartment, where I would send the coach.  She frequently squeezed my elbow against her breast. 

“Oh, David, you bought me,” she breathed, “like a slave on the block.”

“Are you my slave, then?”

“Your slightest wish is my command.  Of course it was anyway.  But you said I should speak frankly.  They cheated you.”

“Did they?  Feya, I am supremely satisfied with the conclusion of my business in that office.  It has a finality that but for you would have never been reached.”

“A finality?  I don’t understand.”

“Because you don’t know the history of my dealings with those two.  We are well finished of them and tomorrow we shall be finished of this city.”

She chuckled bitterly.  “Your dealings with them can hardly be worse than mine.”

“You are free of them now.”

Her chuckle gained gaiety.  “And I have started with you on the right foot.”

Foot?”

She giggled.  “That too.  What was it you said about the value of a willing woman’s favors?  You have already begun to trade on mine.”

“So I have.  Do you feel used, Feya?”

“Gloriously used!”  She leaned up and kissed my cheek through the beard.  “A woman’s only fear is misuse.  I know already that you will never do that, David.”

Her confidence in me is not misplaced.

 


END
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