Ginevra de Vincennes sent her handmaids scampering from the room in fright the next morning by emerging from her bedchambers with something unsettlingly akin to a pleasant smile on her face. She did not snap, scowl, mutter or curse as they washed, dressed and perfumed her - and although she was no more charming toward them than usual, her apparent good humor was so very unusual it positively unnerved them. The servant who brought her breakfast was similarly baffled as the Vicomtesse hummed almost happily under her breath, and rattled the china in a manner which would of earned him an immbolising glare on any other day. They were all at a loss to offer any explanation, and exchanged frantic whispers in the kitchen and servants quarters below, certain she must have some nastiness in play to be so uncharactertistically cheerful.

The morning letters were delivered on a silver tray as Rossignol picked up his lute to sing and play for his Mistress. Ginevra carefully leaned her head back against her setté in a manner which would not disarray her elaborate hairstyle and shut her dark eyes. She allowed the golden timbre of Rossignol's prepubescent voice to lead her into a world of bubbling golden fountains and gently nodding sunflowers, everything gilded and lavishly tooled in undying perfection. Opening her eyes a slit she admired Rossignol's pearly, curved cheek and blonde curls, layering over each other like gold shavings. The blue of his eyes winked with the same purity as the hot blue of the sky in her imaginings. No wrinkle creased his brow, no blemishes marred his face. His hair was as soft as a cub's fur and his voice was as clear and clean as a diamond. Such perfection could not be marred by the passages of time, and Ginevra smiled indulgingly at the youthful gem, where he sat amongst brocade and lace, gold and carved oak; all as ceaselessly perfect as himself.Rossignol's voice swelled under her glance into full bloom, encouraging a flock of little birds to gather at the window and add their voices to his. As the song came to a close, the final notes dying quietely on the breeze, the Vicomtesse sat up and gestured to the tray. "Bring me the post, Rossignol." She commanded quietely.

Lasalle's entrance cut silence through the kitchen conversation like a knife. The maids' eyes bulged, and the footmens' mouths gaped, each one hastily stepping aside to make way for the coachman who resigned himself to the loss of his pride and was too sore to attempt a salvaging. The scullery maid sat up on her heels, rubbed sooty hands over her eyes and then began to giggle, earning herself a sharp elbow in the ribs from the cook who watched in silence with the rest of them. Still slightly soggy, clothes hanging in thick wrinkles over his pudgy form, Lasalle sported a black eye, a broken nose and a lip split in more than one place. From his laboured breathing and stiff limbs, it was a fair guess to assume those visible were not the only injuries he'd acquired during the night. The servants watched in silence as he limped gingerly to one of the large tables in the center of the paved room, clutching one arm as though it would dislocate itself if he let it go, and downed a jug of water with greedy desperation, rivulets of the mother's blood coursing down his stubbled, bloody chin and pooling at the filthy grey of his undershirt's collar.
"Lord, Lasalle, what in blazes happened to you?!" the cheeky scullery maid declared, breaking the uncomfortable silence finally. Her eyes were round as saucers and as eager as a cat's beholding the same filled with milk.
As Lasalle lowered his head to pull the water jug away from his beefy lips, a tooth separated itself from his gums, plummeting down to splash into the jug with a tinkle. Blearily he blinked at the little mess of red and white foam left by the tooth in its sinking course to the bottom of the jug, and his jowls quivered.
The servants were startled into action by the demanding jangling of the bell from the Vicomte's quarters. Darting off about their various neglected duties, they left Lasalle in relief his humiliation would not be added to, to dash the jug against the wall, spilling water, spit and tooth into the crevices between the flagstones.

Ginevra flipped through her morning letters impatiently, tossing aside invitations from Lady This and salutations from Duchess That while Rossignol sat on his footstool at her knee, watching her with slavish devotion, his rich blue and gold embroidered tunic appearing as an extension of her own gown. Her darting fingers came to a halt when she reached an envelope addressed in familiar, spindly writing.
"Oh for the love of - " she proclaimed in disgust, and contemplated tossing it directly aside. Indeed, the envelope had almost left her fingers when she checked herself and drew it back: Lasalle had not yet reported to her, and she had emphasised that was to be an immediate occurence with the morning. Her lips twisted now more in a dark frown than a pale smile, and she wrenched the thin paper open, unfolding the sheet of parchment within to glare at it challengingly.
 

Belladonna,

You have chosen to put your reputation and status at risk by ignoring me, and for this you will be punished unless you agree to have released the three innocents you have put up to the gallows. If they are not released, unharmed and unpursued, a certain literary delight _shall_ be released, performed, recited, published, exchanged, whispered about, gossiped over, handed down and associated forever more - though perhaps not in the most direct of terms - with your own, esteemed name.

You may wish to enquire after the letters your husband received this morning.

I will not be ignored.

I will be on the bridge the midnight of the day the innocents are released.

As ever yous,

Chaton.

Ginevra's eyes were wild and terrible as she mashed the paper between her fingers and tore her gaze furiously about the room, it's layered textures and rich colours blurring craily in the corner of her vision. The letter, now screwed into an impossibly small ball, slipped from her finger to thud against the carpet and roll against Rossignol's silk slipper. He glanced down at the scrap nervously, then turned his baby blue eyes fearfully toward his mistress as she stormed out of her rooms in a swirl of rustling silks.

Moments later she was hastily announced into her husband's chambers, where he sat at the desk in his sitting room, sipping coffee much sweetened with milk, and chuckling over his letters. As Ginevra strode in, her eyes once more hard, impassive stones, he stifled his laughter and rose to greet her, his watery eyes and perspiring brow indicating he had been well amused indeed. As he lay the sheet down upon the table, her glance flickered across it, and it's recognisable script confirmed the worst of her suspicions.
"erh-hmmm, my dear," The Vicomte said, a rather effeminate titter poorly masked with one hand.  "It is unusual to see you so early in the day." It was unusual to see her at all, but he left that point out.
She swept over the pleasantries. "Something has amused you, Henri?"
"Ah - yes. Yes, indeed my dear. There appears to be some new talent, rough and humble though he be, amongst the literati of Paris, and someone has seen fit to send me a rather humorous work by him. Hmm. You might be amused by it yourself, my dear."
No guile was betrayed by his affable smile, yet Ginevra eyed him suspiciously as he fished the the fragile sheet from the many strewn on his desk to hold out to her. He was altogether too pleased to see her. Her polished fingertips trembled as though in hesitation, and then she snatched the paper from him and held it up to scrutinise.

The blood drained from her face as though by a pump, then whooshed back in a flood, lighting her pale skin with a crimson tinge as she read, the roaring in her ears dimming the sound of Henri pondering "I wonder who else has received an early copy..."
 

Etched in marble, pale and shimmering
Her beauty to none compares
A sculpted blossom, never withering
The ravages of time she bears
Unchanging as the immortal stone
From which blooms the graceful Madonna
This frozen beauty will never roam
From the face of La Belladonna

A blessing from the Heavens, surely
This undying, constant grace
The gift bestowed for virtue truly
Never yet stained by disgrace
That curled hair, matched by lip
Those eyes so wide and glittering
That invite all noble to sit and sip
To indulge in passions flittering

No miracle be it, this frozen rose
Which withers nor blossoms more
It is kept captured still by those
Who plunge welcomed through her door
Who stoke their vigour that she be
A study in eternal perfection
Their sweat the feast of energy
She repays with her affection

A blessing for virtue? Sadly, no
This beauty is merely a mask
Kept supple by the ebb and flow
Of young lovers in their task
The passing years cannot afford
For her to know a stranger
So Duke, Marquis, Knight and Lord
Are ushered within her chamber

Her realms entered by more good men
Then those through Heaven's Gates
Though the exclaimation of 'Amen'
Has been heard as lust abates
Through  frenzy of passion inflamed
Satan has not such a number
More hearts blood she has claimed
To keep her still La Belladonna

She couldn't breathe. The boiled knot of anger had risen to her throat and was choking her senseless. Through reddened vision she was aware of the sheet of paper tearing to pieces in her hands and that Henri was no longer smirking, but coughing nervously as he always did when her wrath was raised.
'Impossible....the little...slut...she couldn't...she wouldn't dare....how dare she...she.....that witch...that little BITCH!' The thoughts tumbled angrily ontop of one another, hastily followed by another, warning her to regain control. 'Henri..he'd wanted to see her angry...he'd known, of course he'd known. Be calm. Sneer at him. Leave. He'd known. They'd all know.'
By the time the dueling thoughts had been slain to leave all but this one, she found herself at her own window seat, clinging to the velvet curtains as though she meant to tear them down, having apparently stormed out of her husband's chambers in fury.





Herlikin Trouillefou awoke with a groan and a start and rolled over to bury herself in her husband's chest. To her dismay, she found herself immersed only in a filthy, ragged sheet, and with a revolted cry she leapt from the rickety cot in Pierre's room.
"Ugh...." Was the only reaction she could muster upon beholding the squalid room in the keen light of day. Her people were not any richer, but they, at least, were clean.
Wrinkling her flat nose she strode to the other corner and kicked at the bundle of shirt, stockinged feet and hair.
"Wake up, Pierre!" she hissed. "It's morning. I have been in your room, with you, alone, all night!!" Her tone was scandalised, despite the fact it was she who had stubbornly refused to return to the Court and face Clopin's anger. "Wake up!" She kicked again.
"umfup umfup...." Pierre managed to say, if not articulate, before unfolding, with many a creak and a groan, his limbs to stand.
Herlikin vigorously brushed herself down in an effort to get the grimy feel of the place from her clothes and skin, ignoring Pierre's dirty look, before declaring;
"Breakfast."
Pierre pouted and placed his hands on his hips. "Oh, *really*, Madame? And what would you like? Fresh bagels and goat's cheese? Ripe strawberries? Raspberry pie?"
"Do you have them?" Herli asked annoyingly, and he sighed, throwing his hands dramatically to the ceiling, scraping his knuckles.
"Oh, do calm down. You've all the temparament of an actress, or an aristocrat. A rose or two will be fine by me. Then we wait."
"You'd probably get better in your own home." Pierre muttered, scratching his dark mop fiercely. Herli flushed and narrowed her eyes on him.
"I can't go home yet. Not until this is over. Clopin is liable to tie me to the bed." Pierre cocked an eyebrow and his mouth slid open in a grin as he prepared to make a remark. "Swallow it, fool. We meet the bitch on the bridge tonight. And this time she had better done as we have asked."