A Head Full of Ghosts

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, 
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain 
Under my head till morning; but the rain 
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh 
Upon the glass and listen for reply, 
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain 
For unremembered lads that not again 
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. 
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree, 
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, 
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: 
I cannot say what loves have come and gone, 
I only know that summer sang in me 
A little while, that in me sings no more.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Sonnet XLIII"

Dear Valthier

Valthier,

As I write to you on my eve of departure, I cannot help but feel grim and yes, a little sad. I did not want to leave, and yet, there is nothing for me here. I leave my winery in the care of a friend–no matter whom. But it will be vacant for some time, and you will not find me there or at my home. As I’ve told you, I am leaving for Dol Amroth. On the morrow I will be gone.

I sent you a letter through my friend Aewrien, and though a part of me wishes that I did not write it, I do not regret it. After you summarily dismissed me that evening, I could not help but put my pen to use and exclaim my disdain for you.

Over the past few days, I have been contemplating what occurred between you and me. I had been a little very harsh on you, but I was always afraid I was going to lose you, and so that must explain my actions, even the ones you disliked so much. I despaired of ever attaining you at all, and my heart is broken I suppose I sabotaged it myself.

I could not help but think that you cared for me not at all. I do not mean in the sense of love–I know I didn’t have that ever. I merely mean in the rough, almost abusive ways in which you used me. It pains me to speak of them now. But it was not solely on your side, this abuse. I remembered how you also went with me to Gondor to visit my ailing mother, when you didn’t have to–or have any inclination to. And how you’ve saved me from many a concussion. I thank you.

Perhaps I will return to Bree-town again, but I heartily doubt it. Not until I am at peace with myself, and I assure you that I am not. I am not at peace with this, and I still suffer the physical and emotional scars. I wish you all the best.

Yours,

Rossetti

Mornuniel’s Desire

To me it seems
that man has the fortune of the gods,
whoever sits beside you, and close,
who listens to you sweetly speaking
and laughing temptingly;
my heart flutters in my breast,
whenever I look quickly, for a moment–
I say nothing, my tongue broken,
a delicate fire runs under my skin,
my eyes see nothing, my ears roar,
cold sweat rushes down me,
trembling seizes me,
I am greener than grass,
to myself I seem
needing but little to die. But all must be endured, since…

–Sappho, Trans. Diane Rayor

 

Rossetti dreamed. She lay upon her bed, eyes unblinking, and waited to hear the thud of heavy boots announce his arrival. And so it happened, in due time, that the boots rang true upon the tile of the floor. She knew that step, knew what it would mean for her. She rose from her bed, her feet carrying her to the door of her bedroom. The steps drew nearer. Her breath caught in her throat, freezing her. She could hear her heartbeat as though some grand war-drum; it resounded. The door began to open and she…

Rossetti awoke at the loud sound of knocking, utterly annoyed at the prospect of a visitor and an interruption to her strange and delicious dream. She called out that she would arrive soon, and changed into her dressing gown, hurrying to the door with a groan.

“Ah, Rose,” came the husky voice of Mornuniel when Rossetti opened the door. Rossetti, the younger woman, blinked at the vision of the red headed beauty before her. While Rossetti was tall for a woman, Mornuniel stood taller, and while the latter was more strongly built than Rossetti,  no one could call her stout.

“Mornuniel,” replied Rossetti with a bow of her head. It was difficult, she found, for her to say or do anything disagreeable to the woman, and so she refrained. After all, Mornuniel had made many a purchase of her wine, and she had done her some service in Gondor.

“Might I be permitted to enter? I will be but a moment, meant only to leave you with a gift, if I may,” said Mornuniel in almost gentle tones.

“I am sure that a gift will be too extravagant a thing, Mornuniel,” replied Rossetti, blinking several times in the dim light. What time was it anyway, morning or night?

“On the contrary. I believe you have but to see it.” Mornuniel raised a brow expectantly at Rossetti, and the younger woman submitted to the desire of the elder to be let in. Mornuniel smirked to herself at this small triumph, and let her gaze sweep Rossetti’s form, which was ill-hidden beneath the thin silk of the dressing gown.

“Well, Mornuniel?” Rossetti asked almost impatiently. In a quick move of strength and speed, assisted by Rossetti’s half-awake state, Mornuniel stalked behind her, untied the belt of her dressing gown, and pushed it from her shoulders, leaving her essentially bare.

“My, but you are lovely. And I believe if you were to receive my gift, you would be lovelier, if one may even say such a thing.” Mornuniel’s fingers caressed gently along Rossetti’s neck and her right shoulder. Rossetti struggled after a moment, blinking away her early sleep. But Mornuniel’s hand held her fast, clasping her two hands together behind her.

“Shh,” hissed Mornuniel. “Be still or I will make you so.” Rossetti, calculating her risk, subsided as the woman brought out the necklace. It was elegant, of silver with an emerald as its pendant, and as she clasped it around Rossetti’s neck, it fell delicately in the cleft between her breasts.

Rossetti looked down at the pendant and her eyes widened in unabashed horror. This was the necklace Rennly had given her, the one she had thrown in his face when Valthier came to brutalize him for the perceived slight Rennly had given him. It was the same necklace which Valthier had sold Rennly. And now, once more, it was upon Rossetti’s neck. She cringed and shivered.

“Well, is not it pretty?” queried Mornuniel with a smirk, unabashed admiration lying beneath it, however.

“I do not want it,” Rossetti hissed, and tried to rip it from her throat as she had done those weeks ago. However, the metal was stronger this time, and she could not loosen it from her neck just now.

“You will take it or you will slight me, girl. And you do not want to slight me,” replied Mornuniel in dangerous tones. “I want you to pose for my painting. I want to see you on your knees for me. I do not care if your lover–whatever he is–disdains the idea. I will see you just. Like. This.” At the last three words, the stronger woman pushed the weaker one to her knees, landing her on the floor prostrate before Mornuniel.

“You must think me some kind of ridiculous person, mustn’t you? Surely your little boy does.” Rossetti shook her head at Mornuniel’s words, quickly. “I want you to know–and I want him to know–that I will not be trifled with.” At this, she slapped Rossetti in the face, her long and rather pointed nails raking into the flesh, causing the younger woman to bleed.

“Send these things to your Master. I will have you for my own, Rose, for what is a rose for after all, than to be plucked?” She smirked once more at her own words, then turned to leave, quickly exiting the house.

Rossetti curled up upon the floor, her cheek a bleeding mess, the necklace still settled calmly between her breasts. She would not allow Mornuniel to see it, but now tears welled up in her eyes and she began to cry.

Restless Worries

And when I left you, I was so on fire
with all your brilliant & ironic humor
that after dinner I was still excited,
and sleep refused to touch my eyes with quiet.
In bed & totally unstrung by passion,
tossing in agony, I prayed for sunrise,
when I could be with you in conversation.
–Catullus

Rossetti was restless. She paced back and forth, her legs trembling as she did so. Finally, she sat on the little stool in the sitting room, her customary place. She looked toward the bench. That was the place where he used to sit. The thought saddened her, and made her think of everything she could remember that had happened.

She had loved Valthier, no doubt. Perhaps in her heart she still did. She wasn’t sure–it was different now. How could she love someone who had abandoned her in her hour of need? How could she love someone who was cruel and unforgiving? She didn’t want to think about him anymore, didn’t want those feelings which she had buried deep within her heart every time she saw him to come out again.

He had been kind to her, a kindness perhaps she did not deserve, but it was nothing more than that–kindness–and a reluctant sort too, almost as though he resented his kindness toward her. She wondered often if he did.

Times were difficult. Her ailment was such that too much excitement or emotional stress or even very little provocation would cause her to faint. She hated the idea of losing her wits like that, of losing consciousness. Valthier had assisted her several times, but there would no doubt be a time when he would not be there, when she would be alone, or worse, in the company of strangers. The thought of it plagued her often.

But that was not what made her tremble. She thought of Mr. Gray, of that evening’s prior conversation, thought of his strange eyes as they had peered at her, of his commanding presence. After he had left, she had made her way back home, but he was right, she couldn’t sleep, couldn’t even lie down. Instead, she sat in her chair and the possibilities of the night’s conversation washed over her, the potential.

Can I do this again? she wondered to herself. The similarities between the two men could not be denied, she admitted. But Mr. Gray did not bite as Valthier was wont, though it could not be said that he wasn’t clever. She touched her shoulder, where Gray’s hand had rested all those hours ago, and she worried.

Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

–“Acquainted with the Night,” Robert Frost

 

It had been a few months. Rossetti knew she was pregnant. The signs were all in place. No monthly cycles, a swelling of the belly and feet, sickness in the morning. These were just some of the signs of which she had read or otherwise discerned from female sources. It was a strain on her, but she was determined to bear it. Not for him, but for the sake of the child to come.

She would, she decided, keep the child and raise him or her as her own. There would be no reason to tell Valthier of his offspring, assuming he returned from his trip at all.

She had felt ambivalent if not altogether antagonistic to the idea of having a child. But this was before she had herself been with child. Indeed, her pregnancy had changed everything. She moved into retirement from society and kept to her house most days, resigning the running of her winery to an agent she had hired for the purpose. It would be eventful, would even be joyful, the birth of this child.

It was one day in the spring that she went out walking in the Chetwood, alone. The fresh air, she thought, would do much to mend her depressing spirits. The air was cool, the scenery green. The Chetwood seemed unlike what it had been when she had been there before, as a hostage. There was nothing foreboding about this bit of forest, and she delighted in walking through it.

Soon, however, she felt her body begin to cramp. She doubled over in pain, dropping her basket for herbs. Her body slipped to the ground and she curled into a ball. Unable to move or cry for help–who else would be out here?–she remained there for a long period of time until she felt a rush of fluid leak from her. More pain until it suddenly abated. She lifted her skirts and found the perfect little body of an infant, already dead.

She held the corpse of the tiny infant in her hands, tears streaming down her face. Unable to think of what to do, she began clawing at the earth with her hands, digging a hole in the ground much like a hound might do. In a matter of half an hour, the poor infant was buried. When the burial was done, the world gave way to blackness and nothingness.

 

Such, Such Is Death

Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat:
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,
A merciful putting away of what has been.
And this we know: Death is not Life, effete,
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen
So marvellous things know well the end not yet.
Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say,
“Come, what was your record when you drew breath?”
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.
–“Such, Such is Death,” Charles Hamilton Sorley

The cabin in the deep recesses of the Chetwood had been a surprise to her, but she had entered it all the same, following after Valthier. Within sat her former lover, Badhronir, bound and gagged in a chair. It was no surprise to her that he had been gagged, as she remembered that Valthier had liked his words least of all. His face was swollen on the side where it had been kicked, and he blinked rapidly, as though trying to clear some irritant from his eyes.

Valthier had removed the gag, then, and made him speak. He spoke of his desire to marry her and take her back to Dol Amroth. He seemed on edge, but otherwise unafraid of the situation.

“I brought you here to choose his fate for yourself. Live and take you with him to Dol Amroth, or die. There is no other choice.” Valthier had spoken these words quietly as he surveyed both of them. Her own eyes had widened at the thought, but there was something odd, something strange seemed to have taken her over.

“Kill him, I care not,” she had said, turning away from them both. Her words had been almost flippant, but she was nervous nonetheless.

Valthier turned toward her, handing her a small, sharp knife from a nearby table. She flexed her fingers around the blade and looked down at it. It was a wicked little dagger, and she knew its purpose even before Valthier nearly brushed his lips against her ear, whispering, “Those who pass judgment should carry out its execution.”

She had hesitated then, toying with a pendant around her neck, a turquoise stone set in silver, the stone a gift from Callumn Mossfoot a  long time ago. She still kept the habit of wearing it.

When she turned back to the bound man, he had pleaded for his life, had said he would be no more of a bother to her. He would go back to Dol Amroth in peace. But this was not an option. She couldn’t deal with him anymore, couldn’t be a part of his master plan again.

So she sank the knife into his chest. Ten times. As the blade entered the flesh over and over again, she found her mind blanking. She could feel the blood wash over her hands and face, feel it stain her clothes, but she found she didn’t particularly care one way or the other about it.

“You have done well. I am very pleased.” His words were a strange balm to her as he wrested the dagger from her grip. She leaned against him slightly, looking down at her bloodstained hands. She couldn’t think, couldn’t act. All was as nothing to her.

He then took her home, drawing a bath for her, and putting her to bed. She slept uneasily, but she slept for twelve hours when she finally did get to sleep.

The next day found her staring blankly at the walls. She kept to her home the whole day, and sat around doing nothing. No tears welled in her eyes, no great pain in her heart. She had killed him, she had committed murder. It had given her a rush at the time, but now she felt empty and stained. She wondered what he would say when he returned, if anything. She waited.

Cruelty and Love

I know not what fine wire is round my throat,
I only know I let him finger there
My pulse of life, letting him nose like a stoat
Who sniffs with joy before he drinks the blood:
And down his mouth comes to my mouth, and down
His dark bright eyes descend like a fiery hood
Upon my mind: his mouth meets mine, and a flood
Of sweet fire sweeps across me, so I drown
Within him, die, and find death good.
–D.H. Lawrence, from “Cruelty and Love/Love on the Farm”

Rossetti sat upon the stool in her sitting room. As she sat, she stared with fascination at the bench across the room. He had sat there, but a time ago. It were as though by looking at that piece of furniture, she could will the man to appear again. She shook her head and rose to her feet. No, that was not the case. She could not spend all evening waiting and thinking about it.

She moved to the bookcase and browsed the titles on the shelves. A Maiden in Chains, The Inn of Desire and several other similar books found the breadth of her gaze. Her taste in literature had always been tacky at best, though these books could afford her an hour’s respite from her boredom; she never seemed to mind. Yet now they did perhaps begin to bother her a little, and she stepped out of the room.

She glanced into the bedroom, then found herself staring at the bed. She discreetly turned her gaze away, though no one else could see where it had gone. Opening the front door, she nearly rushed out of the house and turned to sit on the bank of the river behind it.

It had not been two weeks since she had returned from Dol Amroth. Images of the City were fresh in her mind, of its ports, of its solemn yet grandiose architecture, of its magnificent library–all of these were as visions to her. Yet she could no longer live in that splendid place again. It was no longer home to her, was no longer welcoming, was no longer the dream about which she had fantasized so many times over. She had wondered why this was, but she had avoided the answer throughout the journey to Gondor, in spite of its prickling at the back of her mind.

What had changed in Bree, that place of tedium and everything banal? When she had entered the City on her own, when she had left the ship behind, only then was she able to admit to herself the true reason. She loved him.

The thought spread throughout her brain like some repulsive pestilence. She hated it, the idea, hated the very notion of being in love. She had been certain that she could not feel such things, and yet, here she was, her heart tied, for better or worse, to another. She could not stay in Dol Amroth.

Rossetti dipped her bare toes into water that was already too cold. She recoiled, apparently having forgotten where she was, and tucked her toes beneath her skirts.

He will never love you, she told herself. But this thought–this fact–did not seem to bother her. Indeed, there was something cathartic in having made the admission, though he had said he could not requite her as such. But she remembered his words in return, and they had been sweet to her ears, even if they had not been what most women would have desired.

“I want to keep you near, and see to it that you are taken care of,” he had said. It was no grand gesture on his part, no sweeping statement on how he adored her or how he would like to pay court to her. No, it was simple and truthful, but bereft of flourish. She found she preferred it that way.

She had blushed then, and lowered her eyes, she remembered. She found herself unable to keep his gaze for long. She was unsure if this was an old habit from her days as a pliantly submissive courtesan, or because of some power of his own, which made her suddenly shy and girlish. She found she disliked feeling that way, disliked it nearly as much as the fact that she loved him. And yet it had its charms, if she were honest.

To feel beholden to someone was something devoutly to be wished, was something she understood innately, as brazen as she could be. To be unable to find her own words, as a person so well-spoken, well, that was something else entirely.

I will not be his plaything, she told herself. And yet she found there were, in parts of her mind, few things she would like more.

His Willful Eye

What could he see but mightily he noted?
What did he note but strongly he desired?
What he beheld, on that he firmly doted,
And in his will his willful eye he tired.
With more than admiration he admired
    Her azure veins, her alabaster skin,
    Her coral lips, her snow-white dimpled chin.
–from The Rape of Lucrece, William Shakespeare

Rossetti slammed the door behind her. She locked it. She pulled her dress over her head and threw it to the floor. Standing naked in her empty house, she went through the arduous task of warming water on the hearth. It took kettle after kettle of water for her to draw a bath, but she waited, shivering.

Taking up a rag and some soap, she began scrubbing herself all over. It was not the usual languorous scrub she was used to, but more a frantic, scourging kind of scrubbing, as though she could not get clean enough no matter how hard she tried. She scrubbed herself until her skin was red and raw, scrubbed herself until it hurt.

She pulled herself out from the tub and looked disgustedly into its murky water. She threw on a dressing gown, tightly belting it. With all her strength, she dragged the tub to the door and heaved its contents out onto the pathway toward her house. She didn’t care if it ruined her walkway, didn’t care if the water drowned the flowers near the house.

She closed the door and settled her back against it. After several moments leaning in that position with her eyes closed, she moved to her bedroom and lay in the bed. She lay there in the pitch, staring up at the darkened canopy of the bed.

Usually bed was a comforting place, a place of simple pleasures, and she would sleep quite easily in it, more so if someone were beside her. But she was alone tonight, and she felt the brunt of it keenly. She covered herself with her blankets and the sheet, pulling them up to her chin but not covering her head as was her routine wont.

What happened? she asked herself internally. He chastised me for not opening myself up, for not allowing myself to feel love. And then…then he took his pleasure from me without a regard or thought to me.

She remembered how it felt being forced to the grass, how he had taken from her what he desired, and left her bereft. She remembered his words before, his warning to open her heart lest she end up alone and bitter. And then…he had done what he had done.

She shivered and pulled the covers around her shoulders, creating something of a cocoon. She did not cry. Instead she lay there, as though frozen, except for her tremblings. She wondered about what had happened, what had been something she had hoped for, that had turned so quickly to a nightmare. And she wondered if she could continue living as she did. No, she would not open herself to another man.

Hypocrite Reader

But among the jackals, the panthers, the bitch-hounds,
The apes, the scorpions, the vultures, the serpents,
The monsters screeching, howling, grumbling, creeping,
In the infamous menagerie of our vices,

There is one uglier, wickeder, more shameless!
Although he makes no large gestures nor loud cries
He willingly would make rubbish of the earth
And with a yawn swallow the world;

He is Ennui! — His eye filled with an unwished-for tear,
He dreams of scaffolds while puffing at his hookah.
You know him, reader, this exquisite monster,
— Hypocrite reader, — my likeness, — my brother!

–from “Au Lecteur”, Fleurs du Mal, Charles Baudelaire; trans. Eli Siegel

She spent most days this way. She would wake up, sometimes with a headache from too much drink the previous night, then would do a few dull chores around the house. After this, she might read, or venture into Town. Often she found herself at the inn of the Prancing Pony, doing nothing more than sitting or standing, staring blankly at a hearth or opening up one of Butterbur’s various novels. She might stay here an hour or so, maybe two, then she would return home. Rossetti found herself living with a quiet desperation, a silent strain and struggle, which made her feel less than delighted with her life.

This night was no different than the others. Indeed, it was so much the same that it nearly brought the woman to tears. She railed against the tedium that this new life in Bree afforded her, and wrestled with it internally.

Sometimes things would happen to break this monotony. Sometimes she might become engaged in a conversation with someone truly interesting, but she found most of Bree-town’s occupants to be less than charming and more than slightly annoying, at the best of times.

She was known, she knew, for her flirtations and dalliances, and she had no desire to change this reputation. Dallying with a man was something to ease her ennui, to minimize her silent suffering. And it mattered little if something came of it or not, really. She knew nothing would come of it. It was not because she wasn’t witty or beautiful. She knew she was both. It was because she would not allow anything to come of it.

Badhronir had made her this way–no, that was not the case. She had made herself this way, and Badhronir was just a catalyst for it. She watched man after man come in and just as easily out of her life, and she shrugged it off. What was the use of making something more than it was? What was the use of getting close to anyone? There simply wasn’t any use in it.

So Rossetti waited for those moments when she might lose herself in another, briefly, then become herself once more.

She watched as the man closed the door behind him. She knew she would forget his name soon; she forgot most of them. She had invited him to stay the night, not out of any real meaningfulness, but rather because she liked the bed warm at night. He had declined, saying he must return to his work in the morning, and that he daren’t stay late with her. And so he left, leaving her chilled and alone.

She contemplated her situation, perhaps feeling more philosophical than usual.

What kind of life am I leading? Where is the excitement? Where is the joy? The adventure? I’m constantly restless and I desire more than anyone dares to give me. I shall have to wrest it from the world. But how?

Within a week, she was sent a letter from a former patron’s executor. The man, who had been in the Gondorian army, had died in battle. He had left her no small fortune, and had referred to her in his will as “much more than a whore.” After some consultations and a great deal of contemplation, Rossetti had accepted this offer.

She moved into a larger house, partook in expensive purchases of furnishings, and purchased more elaborate gowns for herself. But nothing had really changed. She was the same as ever she was, and so was her situation. The same monotony, the same persistent boredom. Nothing had really changed.

Lovelorn

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

I.

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.

II.

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.

III.

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.

IV.

“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 what?”

“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.”

V.

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.

VI.

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?