Ol’ Josh barely heard the woman’s call. He was behind a thick velvet curtain that separated the parlor from a private alcove. He was alternately counting a pile of silver and appraising the charms of one of his new girls. A fresh faced little flower from Trestlebridge named Daisy, and wasn’t she just.
‘Turn about, my little miss!’ Josh twirled his forefinger in the air as the girl turned about in her faded, homespun farmer’s dress. It was too small for her, and went half way up her calves, but Daisy was a becoming young woman and the tight dress might be just the ticket. Her hair was soft and brown, her eyes were big and blue, and she was terribly frightened of what life had lead her to. But her pa died in an orc raid, her ma was sickly, and there was simply no money to be hand any other way. She was just another refugee. But, Ol’ Josh’s palm itched as he thought of the silver this one would bring before she was too used up and good for nothing else but selling down the line to a foreign house.
Doviel heard the man’s voice and heedless of rules or that anything untoward might be happening in a private alcove in a House of Cats, she pulled the curtain aside and peeked in, ‘Are you Master Josh, the keeper of this house?’ She inquired.
‘Master Josh,’ he chuckled to himself and automatically appraised the maiden’s face based on calculations of how much he could charge for a night and how much for a tumble. A low whistle escaped his lips. He’d very rarely ever seen an Elf before, as he rarely ventured into northern Bree-town, and he was unused to their beauty. But, he did not see Doviel as anything else but a potential fortune to be had. He tugged at his waistcoat, ‘how can I help you, Miss, uhh, Elf?’
Doviel pulled the curtain aside fully and curtsied briefly, ‘Doviel, if you please,’ and she paused to look around the benched alcove and at the table with the pile of coins, that Ol’ Josh was dropping back into a lockbox. She nodded to the young girl and smiled at her in a friendly way. The girl bobbed a curtsey, and Doviel continued, ‘I wish to hire some girls to work for me. I keep three houses of my own, and help my husband with his, and the demand upon me is just too much, now that I am wed, my time is more limited.’
Damn, he thought, she’s married! What a waste! Then he said, ‘And how much would you be willing to pay for my girls? I’d lose a lifetime of wages from each, and then there’d be traveling expenses to consider, and I’d have to find new girls so that’s an investment, too.’
Doviel tilted her head to the side and looked the man over who was counting off on his fingers the myriad of expenses that would be incurred by letting someone else hire his women. She did not want to bother with the math, so with a glance around at the fancy furniture, in a dilapidated old house, which just didn’t fit, she thought, well he’s greedy and he likes fancy things, so I should give him enough to buy a few trifles.
‘Five gold,’ Doviel offered flatly. It really shouldn’t cost anything to offer a girl a new job. She considered. It’s not like I am buying slaves. I’m just hiring servants.
Five Gold pieces! Ol’ Josh found his tongue just got stuck to the roof of his mouth and he had run out of saliva. It was a moment before he could speak.
He knew his girls were giving it up for a small purse of silver, for a whole evening’s service, less for a quick throw and he could only claim a part of it as he had to regularly pay off the Watch to keep his establishment and give the girls their share, too. Five gold at once was more than Ol’ Josh had seen in a long while. The elf woman is generous he thought, and he tucked his thumbs into the sides of his shabby vest and said ‘Ay, now lady, m’fancy one, ye just take yer pick. Aye, a girl per gold, eh? How’s that soundin’? Eh?’
Doviel thought it sounded fine and looked about the room. And she smiled at him and said, ‘Le hannon. I thank you.’
Ol’ Josh bowed head and had a crooked grin on his face.
Doviel looked over at the young girl, and there was something pleading in her gaze, Doviel pointed at her, ‘Her to begin with.’ Then Doviel stepped back out of the alcove and gazed about the dimly lit room.
Josh’s grin vanished as he cursed himself for a fool. Daisy could have brought him a tidy sum if there was a bidding war at her maiden sale. And he just let her slip through his fingers . . . he consoled himself thinking about the five gold pieces.
She walked to the windows and pulled back the drapes. A flurry of dust motes flew through the room. Doviel was disappointed. No one had cleaned the drapes in years, she was certain of it. She would probably have to teach the girls how to do proper housekeeping. No elf would tolerate such filth in their homes; it was practically orcish.
A few girls gasped and blinked at the sunlight as it flooded the parlor room and Doviel saw the women as overdressed, painted dolls on display. A strange impression, but it was there.
A lady emerged from the kitchen with a young boy trailing behind her skirts. She seemed kindly though her eyes were tired and Doviel pointed at her, ‘her!’ Then she looked across the room as a young miss came down the steps, tugging her knitted shawl tightly around her shoulders, a strapping farm lad stomped down the stairs behind her and he slapped her on the buttocks as he passed. The girl bit her bottom lip and endured the manhandling in silence. She had learned to just endure.
Doviel pointed to her, ‘her, and . . .’
Then the rude woman and older lady who had ‘greeted’ her at the door stepped inside as the farmer lad walked out. ‘What about us, Lady Elf? We’d be workin’ hard for ya, we would.’ But Doviel looked at them, and in her Elven gaze she detected falsehoods and larceny. She somehow knew, if those women entered her homes, her silverware and anything else they could carry would be leaving soon after.
Doviel turned away from them and said to Ol’ Josh, ‘that’s enough. These three will do. I will assist them when I may. I am sure they will be plenty.’ She turned to the confused women, Daisy, the woman in the doorway, and the girl who just came down stairs, and said, ‘I am hiring women for my houses in Falathlorn. It is a fair community and I offer you good wages, food, and shelter. Will you come with me?’
The three puzzled ladies looked at the elf, looked at each other, and looked at the fair elf maiden again, who suddenly seemed to them an angelic being from the old stories of the Eldar Days, standing in the sunlight of their ramshackle whorehouse. Surely, she would be a kind Madame. They had heard of Elves being snooty and having magic, but never of them being mean, and they always treated their animals well and dealt fairly in trade. At least, that was from the stories they had heard, but there were other stories that Elves were enchanted creatures and could not be trusted. It was a hard choice!
But, the little maiden, Daisy stepped forward, ‘I will go with you, Mistress.’ She understood the life she had chosen and thought if she had to do this work, she rather work for a woman, than the leering Ol’ Josh who would begin bedding her, as he did with all the others, after her maiden sale.
The lady from the kitchen said, ‘I will come as well,’ she held the little boy by the hand as she stepped forward, ‘and Sherry will come, too.’ She nodded to the quiet maiden standing at the base of the stairs. Doviel looked to the girl at the stairs and the woman nodded her head.
Just then, Ol’ Josh called out, ‘that one has a brat!’ He waved towards Leah, the woman who was previously in the kitchen.
Before Josh could charge extra for a child, Doviel held up her hand towards him, ‘Master Josh, I paid you five gold, and you offered me five women. I chose only three. One gold for the boy, and let the last gold be for their traveling expenses.’ Her voice had grown stern, Doviel in anger was no one to be trifled with, ‘I have been more than fair with you. I will expect the women, and the boy, within a week’s time. Be sure they are ready!’ And Doviel turned and began to stride from the strange house, which had no cats in it at all, unless you count the ferals that populated Beggar’s Alley.
Ol’ Josh jumped up in a hurry, chased the elf down, and grabbed her by the wrist, ‘Hey now! Miss High and Mighty! Where’s the gold?! I’ll not be givin’ away good quim for nothin’!’ He pulled her arm roughly.
Doviel did not even know what quim meant. She assumed it meant women in some strange turn of the word. She turned her head to meet his gaze, and spoke in lowered tones, while quicksilver flashed in her eyes. War-speech was invoked as she said to Ol’ Josh, ‘and I, Sir, am not an idiot, and I will pay you nothing until those women have left your house and entered mine, safe and whole!’ She flicked her wrist and it broke his grasp quicker than the blink of an eye, and as he stood there staring at his suddenly empty hand, Doviel pressed a few silvers into it, ‘for your trouble!’ Then she turned and stalked from the room, suddenly seeming too tall to step from the doorway, and yet she passed beneath the lintel easily.
Josh’s hand convulsed and grasped the silver hard. He was trembling and he did not know what from. As soon as the Elf’s eyes left his own, he felt so weak and afraid. ‘Elves are witches!’ He muttered to himself, but he surely did not let go of the witch’s silver. ‘Pack your things!’ He barked orders to the chosen girls, ‘I want you out by nightfall!’
A few days later, in the evening, a rickety wagon had made the journey from Bree-land to Falathlorn. The driver was a rough brute, who coughed open-mouthed and spat often, and almost kept them from being permitted to pass into the homesteads of Falathlorn. The guardians stopped the cart and would not let the riff-raff through. A messenger was dispatched to Doviel’s house to inquire if the lady had sent for the man, as he insisted she had. Doviel explained that she had hired some servants from Bree to help her keep house. She clarified that there should be three women and a boy. The guard said they were all there, but that they could not let the man and his wagon through. He’d tear up the lawns and damage the flower beds.
Doviel traveled out to the gate with the guard, spoke briefly to the rough man, who turned out to be Ol’ Josh’s nephew, and paid him the balance of the money owed. He threw the ladies’ bags and bundles out on the side of the road, then backed up the cart, turned it around, and traveled to the Rushock Gate.
Doviel was a little embarrassed by his rudeness and apologized to the gate guards. She smiled kindly to the women and the young boy, hiding mostly hiding behind his mom. ‘Come along ladies!’ She said cheerfully.
Doviel went to pick up one of the bundles on the floor and Daisy called out, ‘Oh no, Miss, I’ve got it!’
Sherry nodded and said in a quiet voice, ‘we’ll do it, Lady.’
Leah looked at Sherry with a surprised face as she picked up her bag and her little boy’s bundle. Sherry had not spoken for months. She stopped speaking altogether after her first Yule-fest night in Ol’ Josh’s Winter-home place when the house had had a line out the door of drunken revelers. Leah smiled and looked around as they walked through the gate. There were fair fields, beautiful homes, flowers everywhere, fair folk, and waterfalls!
The girls all gasped at the view of the double waterfall as they walked down Twinfall Path. The boy immediately ran towards the cliff’s edge to stare at the grand view and the water down below. Leah had to call her son back before they continued on. Doviel only giggled and blushed.
‘Come ladies, I’ll show you my homes. There is much to do.’ The girls nodded their assent and followed their new mistress.
Leah’s boy, Joseph, was almost ten now. Leah got pregnant her first year on the streets of Bree, and when Ol’ Josh took her in, she thought he was a kindly savior, keeping her and her boy from freezing and starving on the streets in a bitter-cold winter. But, now she knew better, ten years later, she knew a lot of things better. Leah was not yet thirty, but she looked older.
Daisy was a sweet little miss of nineteen and Sherry was in her mid-twenties. They were all children compared to Doviel, but grown women in the eyes of Men. So, Doviel treated them all as grown people ought to be treated and explained their duties.
The women listened and were attentive, expecting that housekeeping would simply be part of their work. They were happy to be permitted to live in such pretty, bright, and airy houses. It was definitely a step up, and they expected that there would be high-paying clientele for such a refined neighborhood. Joseph was put in charge of the horses and he was very proud to be of help to his momma.
All seemed to be going well and evening came and went. Everyone had slept well, washed, and ate. Doviel and the women did some light housekeeping, and then Leah sent her son out to tend the horses and play in the fields. As it was a gated community, he would be very safe, and she warned him to be mindful of the ledges and waterfalls, and to stay out of the fast moving streams. Joseph was an obedient boy and did not get in any trouble.
While the boy was out, the ladies changed into high-cut chemises with low bodices, laced tight, bringing their bosom up high with every breath, rouged their lips, powdered their faces, coifed their hair neatly and then presented themselves to their new Madame.
‘Lady Doviel, will this be pleasing for you?’ Daisy was nervous, but the other girls had told her she looked beautiful, and she turned around presenting herself. ‘I was hoping,’ Daisy asked shyly, ‘if I might be permitted to use the Guest House, for my . . .’ she tried valiantly not to blush, ‘for my maiden sale!’ It ended louder than she intended for she had to force out all the words in a sudden rush.
Doviel just looked at her, confused, and her mouth fell open, ‘your what?’
Just then, Aqualondo came home, ‘Ah! Here you are, my songbird!’ He spun her around in his arms, kissed her soundly and said, ‘good afternoon, my love!’
The three women Leah, Daisy, and Sherry stood there gawking at the strikingly handsome Elf-sire. Three pretty, painted dolls on display and frozen in place as they had their first view of Aqualondo.