Upon a Quiet Afternoon

For this particular day, Lady Merriwether Fawkes sits in her conservatory, the great room where most of the festivities of The Masque of All Souls will be centered. A writing desk has been brought in for her and a tea service sits on a tray at her elbow, a cup of golden green tea steaming fragrantly in its saucer. An intermittent stream of young persons passes into and out of the room, which is open to the softly lit patio and garden just without. They are carrying invoices, calling cards, room decor, cleaning utensils and supplies, personal letters, business communiqués, the inevitable bouquets of fresh flowers from any of a dozen or so devils at the Brass Embassy, as well as other errata that go toward the production of the Monday’s Masque and, less happily perhaps, to the eventual closing of this house.

The bustle is contained and orderly, with quite a bit of good humour and japing among Esther’s young nieces and nephews, and even a few laughing sallies from the lady herself. It’s a good day to be quietly preoccupied with such matters, as they are mostly to do with celebration and shared joy. The only thing which might make it better is shared company — and for that, Scarlet has said she would come.

“Esther dear, do remember to bring in fresh tea when Scarlet arrives, please. I’m afraid I’ve drunk most of this pot already.”

“Of course, milady,” the housekeeper replies, a faint note of reproval in her tone — as if she could forget such a detail, even with all the uproar the house is in….

Merri hides a grin and, with a swift glance at the pocket watch open upon her desk, returns to her invoices, humming a sprightly tune.

[Cue Scarlet!]

Where the Heart Is…

I have been told all my life that home is where the heart is. If so, then this lovely old townhouse is no longer my home. How very strange this is to contemplate! The walls and floors, drapes and furnishings, most of all the people who live here with me day by day, nothing has changed — except, for the first time since I purchased the lease, my heart is no longer here. In the main it lies in the keeping of the man who owns a tea shop in the bazaar, in the spacious rooms he and his dear life’s companion keep above it, likely nestled still in their bed, though it is scandalous to say as much, I suppose.

Like Gabriel, I find I grow weary of always doing what is seemly. That wayward heart of mine is a most unseemly creature, for it loves where it will, as many as it will. In these latest choices, it has chosen well at last.

My thoughts range backward into memory, as is only proper when one whom one has loved is lost completely. Dear Scarlet came to tell us the news, showing extraordinary strength in the doing of it for she was quite clearly distraught and had been for some time. First Lamont, then Henrik — it was no mystery to me, her wild sorrow, hatred for the zee, even the unstated regrets she felt about ever opening her heart or learning to love at all. I could not even tell her that yes, this is the price of loving, that sometimes we must lose what we love. I have lost so many, my parents and older brother before I even knew what death was, my grandparents… and then my beloved child. Love and loss are so intricately intertwined, but how does one express that to a dear love already lost in her grief? I could only hold her and let her feel it for herself — let her feel that in spite of her losses, Love remained, she was surrounded by it, held by it, even in such abject sorrow.

In truth, I lost Henrik some time ago. I have had that time to heal my heart of the loss, so that when the news came yesterday it was… an odd, somber re-echoing of what had already come to pass within. Though I have heard some strange stories and many rumors about what happened between us, none of it came close to expressing how truly strange and… poorly functioning… our love was. I still maintain that he was all the things I’ve said and thought of him: honourable, good, intelligent, loyal to his friends, and I doubt he had an enemy in the world except perhaps for the man who murdered his brother, who will now escape all deserved justice for that crime, I suppose.

He and I…. dear God. We simply were not good chemistry. We did things to each other in proximity that… warped us beyond easy recognition of our true selves. I only recognized this clearly after he and Theodor last went to Venderbight and I was left here to pick up the remnants of my life without him. It was terribly, profoundly illuminating to discover that in losing him, I’d regained myself at last. What remained was, somehow, not to succumb to the weakness of character which I still harboured, and which still insisted upon his love, and upon my love for him despite all reason and good sense.

And then… to have to insist upon it to him, when that weakness in me wanted nothing more than to weep (again) and capitulate (again) and say “yes love, I’m so sorry, we’ll try once more.” Refusing to surrender to that was, I think, the second hardest thing I have ever done, and possibly not done entirely well, but it was done. I could once again be the woman I knew myself to be and set aside the pangs of regret which returned to haunt me at the very oddest moments.

I will set it forth here though: I was never angry with the man for aught he had done to me, or said for that matter. There are things for which I perhaps should have been angry, and one thing which angered me later, on another’s behalf — but it does no good to rehash the past. Done is done, and he is gone now. If I can thank him and bless his memory now it is mostly for his soul’s selfless ability to show me, once again, what I do not wish to be in love, as a lover.

Life, and love, goes on. I hope to find Scarlet in the bazaar this afternoon for tea, because I love her and because the loss of Henrik has affected her horribly. I hope to spend time with beloved Gabriel again, and sweet-hearted Sevashke, if he is able. There are old friends to be kept, and new ones to be made, nightmares to be banished, wounds to be mended, scandals to be put down, suspicions to be eased. There are still lectures to be given at University, silent dances at court, fights on the docks, and spires to be marked in the Flit. Most of all, for me at least, there is a card game to be assembled, and a Heart’s Desire to be won. The dead must know that the living remain, and continue.

One hopes they are at peace with that.

A Place of Comfort and Rest

“You are so sweet,” she’d said. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Yes. I can go home with you. But… No love. I’ve never been like this.” Then her hands scrubbed her face vigourously. “No..lovemaking, I mean. I’m sorry. I can’t be this weak. I’ve too much to do.”

It is disquieting in the extreme to see her friend Scarlet so overset. She’d not been eating much and drinking rather too much laudanum. The strain was clearly beginning to rattle her apart from the inside.

“Oh Scarlet… Love doesn’t make you weak. It’s what makes you strong.” That Merri could say such a thing after Henrik should have been adequate on its own, really. “Just come home with me. We don’t have to do anything you don’t wish to do — but blast it, you need to rest! Let me take care of you as a sister would, then. Let’s go…. ”

And go they had, Merri so concerned for her friend’s state that she hailed a cab to take them both back to her townhouse. Esther hadn’t expected her mistress back so soon, but rolled with the changes as any professional in her position would, accepting the requests for food and drink, and to not be disturbed otherwise. Merri whisked Scarlet up the stairs, one arm about her waist tenderly, then seated her on the divan with care before moving about the room to start the victrola, gather pillows, and otherwise make her dearest friend as comfortable as she could.

If Scarlet ever had any doubts that Merri’s “mothering instincts” had been fully activated, they’ll likely be put to rest immediately! “We’ve just gotten some fresh surface food, Cook should be preparing us a good luncheon. I guess it’s fall in England, the apples are ripening. Here,” she says, pressing a cup of hot tea into her friend’s hands.