Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor,
Most gracious singer of high poems! where
The dancers will break footing, from the care
Of watching up thy pregnant lips for more.
And dost thou lift this house’s latch too poor
For hand of thine? and canst thou think and bear
To let thy music drop here unaware
In folds of golden fulness at my door?
Look up and see the casement broken in,
The bats and owlets builders in the roof!
My cricket chirps against thy mandolin.
Hush, call no echo up in further proof
Of desolation! there’s a voice within
That weeps . . . as thou must sing . . . alone, aloof.
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese
He had spared no expense on her. She was given her own apartments in the City, and they were luxurious. The silver for her tea service alone cost more gold than many of the farmers outside of Dol Amroth could make in a year. Her dresses were made of bright turquoise silks and laces, of the highest quality he could find. It was worth it, after all, when she had been so very obliging.
And she seemed happy enough. Content, at least. She had a vast library, and her lapdog to keep her company. What more could a courtesan ask for? Even one as particularly clever as she.
Badhronir was a proud man. His father had been a prominent lord in the Prince’s court, offering that prestigious leader good advice on all topics. Since his father’s death, Badhronir had taken up the position of adviser to the Prince, until the day he should depart for war. But that day had not yet arrived, and Badhronir took his chance to enjoy the company of a mistress as well as his own wife.
And why shouldn’t he? He was gallantly formed, tall and well-built and pleasing to the eye, with ebon hair kept in a queue and dark blue eyes. He dressed well as well, in robes of rich blue. He was without flaw, even at the age of forty. Suffice it to say Lord Badhronir thought well of himself.
He was, over all, a man never to be thwarted, not even by the elite of Dol Amroth. His will was law, and sometimes that was the case in a more literal sense, when he had the Prince’s ear. He was a man used to getting his way in all things, and his life’s path had been a smooth one up until this point.
Things changed. The Prince left for war and insisted that Badhronir stay with his daughter, the Regent.
“She will do well under your advisement; better than I will,” he had told Badhronir before he left, giving him a clap on the back and a stern though affectionate gaze.
That night Badhronir went to the apartments of his mistress, the infamous courtesan Rossetti. He never stole away for these little adventures with his mistress. Indeed, he never covered anything he was doing. His wife would not agree, but she would obey, and no one would say a word to his face or even dare publish a tract about it.
“It has been some time,” she said lazily as he strode into the room. She was reclined on a lounging chair in an attitude of boredom, a book opened and unread on her lap. Her hair, usually in its perfect, ornate coiffure, was undone, and its thick, wavy length spilled over the chair. Keen green eyes regarded Badhronir, and red lips curved into a slow smile. She did not move to rise, as one ought at the approaching of a lord.
“I have had my business, but I don’t need to explain myself to you, though I usually end up doing so anyway,” he replied with a sardonic smile. He knelt at the chair and pulled her into a kiss, causing the book to slip from her lap and fall to the floor, snapping shut. Her arms wrapped about his shoulders as he delved deep into her mouth, taking away her very breath. He pulled away, leaving her gasping, though he seemed quite at ease.
“You are not leaving with the Prince, I take it? Or rather, if you are, you certainly have some time for merriment,” she remarked, glancing down at the book on the floor. He ran a hand along the silk of her gown, grazing her thigh.
“No, I am not leaving with the Prince, and it is to my detriment that I do not. I should be going off to war with him, as should every good man in this City. But instead he leaves me here to help advise his daughter. What am I to do there? Tell her what floral arrangements to make for her banquets?” His hand rested on her thigh and he looked above her, impotent fury in his eyes.
“Ah, ah! But you should know, my lord, that women are cleverer than that. Surely I, at least, must have taught you something. And if anything, she can be taught. Think of this as an opportunity, my lord, to wield your influence all the more. And just think how the Prince will thank you when he returns!” She rested a dainty hand atop of his, caressing it softly. He looked pensive, but soon his brow cleared.
“And you are a wonderful adviser too, my little harlot,” he murmured into her ear. He ran his hand back up her body, his fingers sliding over her well-defined curves and her generous bosom. Without another word, he scooped her up in his arms and took her to her bedroom.
“I love you,” she whispered in his ear when she thought he was asleep. They had been lovers for two years now, and she had grown more than a little attached to him. Rossetti liked his rough yet polished demeanor, his way of having his will done, liked his position in society, and the way he treated her. She was his overt secret, and she knew that he preferred her to his wife.
He turned in the bed, blinking. “What did you say?” She blushed.
“I love you.”
“You do not know what you say, do not know what you mean, Rose,” he said gently, using a pet name for her.
“I know full well what I mean,” she replied as quietly, but with emotion. “I have loved you for some time now, and I am sure that you feel the same for me. Otherwise, otherwise…” The glint in his eyes was dangerous.
“Otherwise you would not have chosen my company over that of your wife,” she replied finally, a challenge in her eyes.
“You don’t know where this will lead, Rose. Stop this while you are ahead. Stop.” Rossetti, so used to obeying him in his every whim, could not obey him in this.
“Please, my lord! You know it is true. Why cannot you just divorce your wife and marry me?” Her look was hopeful and it almost made his heart break.
“You know very well why I cannot. She is of good family, we have children, and you, my dear, are a whore. What do you think people would say? They say nothing now, but they would if I were stupid enough to discard her for you. Don’t be silly. Let us continue as we were and say no more on it. Come, I will play the harp for you.”
It was cold on that winter day, and the breeze from the sea did not help things at all. Badhronir calmly tied a struggling Rossetti to a horse post in the garden on his estate just outside the City. Six other men were gathered to watch.
“You’ve one last chance to recant of your wrongdoings, Rossetti,” the lord said quietly as the men stood away and to the side. “If you do this now, I shall not have to do what I am about to do, and all will be well.”
“I cannot,” she replied, lifting her chin contemptuously. “I love you and will not repent of it.” He nodded sternly.
“Very well.” He tied her roughly to the post, her hands in front of her. He used a small, sharp knife to tear her gown from her back. After this, he cracked the whip.
It had been a month’s journey and the wounds had healed, most of them, anyway. Rossetti was lucky enough to have kept most of her Gondorian finery, though she had had to sell her sword in exchange for passage. Being pulled along on a cart was hardly what she would have called comfortable, but one does what one must in times of difficulty.
The town was small and rural in comparison to the splendor of Dol Amroth. She didn’t like the look of it. As the cart wheeled through the gate, she let go a deep sigh. This was to be her life now. But for how long?