Clopin called for a top up of his tankard, not once taking his eyes off the swinging hips of the slender, fair haired woman who weaved her way in and out of the crowded tables, stacking up glasses and mugs in her lithe young arms. Cosette had become quite a woman indeed. He could hardly recognise the pale, shy young girl in the shapely, smiling woman who moved confidently amongst the crowds and laughed at the men's goodnatured jests. But she was sweet, still. Of all that had changed, that had not. Despite Herli's best efforts. Clopin grinned to himself and then his eyes lit up as Pacquette filled his mug with red wine, and she graced him with a smile when he slapped a coin down. He turned back to his companions, one elbow up on the bar, lanky form leaning gracefully against it.
"What fool doctors say a life lived in drink is bad for one? Our young barmaid seems to be suffering none for it!" he informed them cheerfully with a jerk of his head in Cosette's direction. His friends peered over his shoulder and laughed rum-hazed amusement mingled with appreciation. Milosh winked at him conspiratorally.
"An old friend of yours, isn't she, Clopin?"
"A very old friend." Clopin returned off-handedly, turning back to his drink. "Herli and I have known her for years." He could never abide it when they insinuated that just because he looked he was going to touch. Sometimes he almost regretted his wild youth, the pursuits of which had led Herli to refer to him teasingly as 'Gypsy Lover Extraordinaire!'
Clopin grinned again. Well, no, he didn't really.
A small hand clapped over the rim of his glass before his lips could meet it, beringed and softer than it probably should be. Without raising his eyes, Clopin kissed the limb warmly, reaching up with his other hand to grasp the wrist attached to it with gentle firmness, sliding his fingers up to meet her elbow, then back down again. Then he raised his head to smile at his wife who was flushed from the chivalrous greeting, and hiding it behind a mask of nonchalant eyes.
"Hungry, my one and only?"
His smile became wolfish. "For you, madame, I am never satiated."
She hid a grin behind a grimace and slapped him lightly. "I meant for your supper."
He nodded and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear,then turned back to his companions. "I'll be down presently."
"It's hot now." she said with a touch of impatience. He shot a glance back at her.
"It's not all that is. I said I'll be down presently." He turned back to his friends and began telling an animated story, spreading his arms wide without spilling a drop from his tankard, the nearby fire catching flecks of gold in his hair.
Herli pursed her lips and twitched her skirts. He was always disobedient when he was with his friends! Or when he didn't want to do what she wanted him to! She ought to let his supper dry out and get cold! But when she tugged on his tunic and he turned back to her with an affectionate smile instead of the glimmer of irritation most men greeted their wives with when distracted from their fellows, she knew she wouldn't.
"Alright, I'll keep it warm for you." she muttered. "But don't be too long and too drunk."
"Thankyou, kitten." He smiled and wrapped long arms around her, bending his head down for a warm kiss while his friends hooted behind him. They both ignored them.
"Keep yourself warm too." he whispered to her as she wound fingers in his cowl and giggled.
"Such a kiss reveals nothing! Who wields the whip in your household, Clopin?" Christophe shouted merrily with a bottle held aloft in one of his rough hands.
"I do, of course!" the two answered at once. Herli narrowed her eyes at Clopin while he gave her an amused look of incredulity. The men continued to laugh and Clopin smacked her lightly, easing away. "Go on now, my little wife." he said with emphasis on the little. "Keep your husband's dinner warm for him. I'll be home at my leisure." his eyes twinkled as she glowered at him for this dig then turned with a final twitch of the skirts. The rom had not been the only ones with eyes on the little exchange. A group of students had seated themselves at the table by the window, and now one of them leered drunkenly over his bottle and remarked loudly to the other. "I wouldn't mind a whore like that to call my own."
Herl froze in her passage to the door and flushed a bright red from the roots of her to the base of her neck, fingers twisting in her skirts, uncertain what to do in front of so many who'd heard the offensive remark. She didn't need to make a decision. Within a second Clopin had slammed down his tankard and leapt to the youth's chair, wrenching him out of it by the scruff of his neck.
"What did you call my wife?" he demanded savagely. The eyes of the student widened,vision blurred by the alcohol and nerves sent scattering by the angry gypsy's dark skin and fierce eyes, not to mention the dagger that dangled from his belt.
"A jest! A mere jest!" He croaked out, as his fellows alternatively snickered into their drinks over the misfortune of their companion or glanced warily at the other gypsies who watched silently from the fireplace, wondering if they should aid their friend.
"Is that so?" Clopin sneered. "Why then, I have a jest of my own to share - "
"Here now!" Pacquette's voice was harsh and loud, spurred on as it was by the images of broken chairs and bottles. "Take your fights outside if you must have them!"
Clopin needed no further encouragement. He jerked his head to the side as though inviting the youth, then hauled him out swiftly, ignoring the stares of the other patrons. Herli paused only a second, before gathering up her skirts and hurrying out after them. Christophe and Jean had reached for the lyre and flute respectively and began a lively tune upon them, drawing the attention away from the slammed door and Milosh, Erik and Paolo drew chairs up to the student's table, entering immediately into conversation with the youths who looked about them in a bewildered fashion. No matter the insult to his wife, Clopin was still a gypsy. Better there were no witnesses to what went on.

Outside Herli clapped her hands in malicious glee as Clopin brought another punch down on the student's face, loosening his grip on his tunic enough so that the youth sagged limply to his knees, weakly lifting his hands in a plead for Clopin to stop the assault. A hard fist in the gut later and Clopin complied, letting go of the student who fell with a groan to the cobblestones. He turned to Herli with a bow, both arms outstretched, then laughed as she flung herself into his arms.
"My hero!" she beamed, laying kisses on his cheeks. He mopped sweat from his brow and nodded down to the youth's bruised and bloodied face, just barely visible in the dim orange light filtering through the shutters of the tavern window.
"Watch your mouth in future." he advised him, then wrapped an arm around his wife to lead her home. She smiled up at him in admiration, flattered by his protection, and he grinned back and urged her a little closer. The night was warm for autumn, but very clear and quiet, the streets near to empty, the surrounding buildings painted blue by the dark sky. He was amused by the little looks she kept giving him, illuminated by the moonlight, and chucked her under the chin.
"You who are so concerned about keeping my ego in check would do better to keep the adoration from your eyes. I've done as much for you on numerous occasions, and probably numerous occasions yet to come!"
She shrugged and smiled. "But I love it when you do! Defending my honour!"
He drew up short and pulled her around so she was facing him, putting his other arm about her waist. "I told you such heroics were better left to me. Our unconscious friend back there will l be feeling that for a month. The "fat coachman", as you refer to him, has probably already forgotten this afternoon's altercation."
The mention of the man who'd done injury to her husband brought a scowl to Herli's face. "It was the thought that counted, ungrateful brute!" He laughed.
"Such fortune is mine to have a wife who thinks of honour before safety!"
She flushed angrily and he placed a gloved hand quickly on her mouth before she could continue with a tirade.
"I'm teasing you, little one. You were very brave. Foolish, but brave."
She bit her lip. "Well Clopin my big strong husband, you who are so much wiser and sensible than I, the next time the nobility sees fit their servants should shove me to one side and throw my purchases in the gutter I will know it is for safety's sake you don't leap to my aid." So saying she twisted from his grip and continued huffily down their path.
"Oh, come now, I didn't mean it that way!" Clopin called after her in exasperation, then labelling himself Herli's favourite taunt of 'Big Nosed Fool', he bounded after her, dropping his hat playfully on her head though she wrenched it off and flung it to the sharp stones beneath them. He caught up one of her hands and knelt before her.
"Herli, you're entirely too sensitive. Noone - nobleman, peasant or truant could so much as brush your skirts without an explanation demanded for it by me. You know that. You're being silly."
She paused, uncertain whether to take offence at being called silly or to acknowledge that she was. Finally she stepped forward and ran a finger over her husband's aching shoulders. He grimaced. "I wanted to hurt him." she told Clopin, her voice bounding softly off the close walls of the alley they'd stopped in. "Like you wanted to hurt that boy back there. It is not something for you to ridicule or scold, if you would do the same as you claim."
He stood up and glanced sharply into one of the low shadows of the alley from whence a slight scuffle emitted. A second later and a scrawny, grey cat separated itself from the darkness and slid over the cobblestones and out of the alley. Clopin relaxed again and turned back to Herli, shrugging. "As one who would do the same as he claims, it is my right to worry what your hot little head will lead you to do next. And as I am a man, its simply easier for me to get away with these things. More seemly too." A grin quirked one side of his mouth and she returned it, tapping a hand against his brown cheek.
"The 'I am a man, and you are a woman' arguement again, my one and only? In matters of the heart such arguements become moot."
"At least not for want of trying," he put his arms around her waist again. "And argued in the hope it might lead you to be more thoughtful in your actions, so you see it all comes down to protecting you in the end."
"Hummmm." she leaned back in his arms, resting her hands in front of her with a cat's smile on her lips. "Though I still think that coachman was winded, if nothing else."
He threw back his head and laughed outloud at that. "Alright, Herli, alright. I am sure he sits by his fire nursing his aching sides and rueing the day he attacked the husband of the most ferocious lunatic witch in Paris!"
"And well he should!" she wriggled out of his arms again, but this time to retrieve his hat from the cold, mossy stones, brushing it off briskly and reaching up to replace it on his head. Tossing it down had been a daring thing to do; the hat was an old favourite and was considered off-limits in most situations, such treatment of it usually led to a gentle cuff. So Clopin truly was flattered by her heroic efforts of the day. She tipped his head down to hers and kissed the tip of his nose, her fingertips running into his silky black hair.
They resumed their walking, hand in hand, a little quicker now as the night was growing later. For several minutes they walked in silence, each wrapped up in their private musings - Clopin pondering the benefits both financial and personal of a puppet in the noblewoman's likeness, cursed for her sins as Lilith was - by giving birth to an endless stream of deformed children. Herli's thoughts were of not unsimilar nature and Clopin was shaked out of his reverie by her musing outloud -
"Mmm, whats that?" He asked her in a distracted voice.
"She was very angry when you made reference to that poem."
"Who was?"
By his side Herli grimaced and squeezed his hand. "The bitch in the carriage."
"Oh her. Oh yes she certainly was." he chuckled and scratched his chin.
"And why was she so angered by what most would consider a compliment?"
Again Clopin chuckled quietely. "Herli, when you're not isolated within the Court, you're isolated within your own miniature world. Wheras I, Clopin the Gypsy King - "
"Of Fools" she broke in rudely. He untangled his hand from hers and whacked her rear before placing his hand on her shoulder and drawing her close to him.
"Shush, little girl. You want Papa Clopin to tell you the story or not?" Before she made answer to that he continued. "As I was saying, as the Soveriegn Leader of the Rom and all our kind, it is my business to know who poses the most threat to us. The vision of - erm - loveliness we beheld in that fine vehicle this afternoon was none other than the Vicomtesse Ginevra de Vincennes."
He paused and waited. Herli remained silent, reaching up with her hand to clasp his where it dangled over her bosom. After an exaggerated sigh he continued.
"The good Vicomtesse hails from Italy - "
"Ooh" Herli said with a wrinkled nose and Clopin nodded.
"Ooh indeed. So you see, not only is she a member of the nobility, she's an Italian. And you well know what the Italians think of all those who are not Italian. Everyone under the French sun is an insufferable idiot to her, and forced as she was into a marriage not of her choosing - "
"A pain I know only too well!" she interrupted again with a mischevious grin and a finger poked into his ribs.
"Ha. I'll resist giving in to hilarity, lest I choke. Forced as she was into this marriage, and living in a country whose collective intellect she believes is inferior to her own, the Vicomtesse has wasted no time in spreading her name about the countryside, in more ways than one. To put it bluntly, if I may upon your delicate ears, the Vicomtesse is a slut."
Herli's mouth twisted in amusement but she pointed her nose in the air and nodded.
"Hmmm. Her very face seemed to scream the fact. Do go on."
Thoroughly enjoying himself Clopin was only too happy to. "The Vicomtesse, so I have heard, is a woman of no little talent - oh yes within the bedchamber though I speak not of that now - but apparantly she is a rather credible writer. There have been several who've felt the harsh side of her tongue - no Herli stop looking at me that way, I make no double entendres - and to combine that with her habit of cuckolding, there have been several only too glad to make a fool of her where they can. Not a month ago I came across a young sicilian poet, thrown from his home, out of work, disgraced and beyond reprieve, who'd drunk the last of his coin away and who was only too glad to enlighten myself, and anyone else within hearing, of the circumstances leading to his plight. It seems the young fool had decided to be more clever than he was, and wrote a rather venomous little poem about our dear friend the Vicomtesse, ironically titled "La Belladonna", and even more cleverly had neglected to sign his name upon it, although she later uncovered his identity and ruined him. The Vicomtesse was giggled at behind fans, thrown sidewards glances at parties and sneered about over the evening port, and on the whole she took the entire incident rather badly."
"And so this afternoon you could not resist the opportunity to hit her where it hurts as she did to you?" Herli jangled the pouch of coins which hung from his belt. He grinned down at her.
"Hands off. I know your ways, kitten. But yes - I couldn't resist. It must be deliciously nasty for her to know that even peasants and gypsy vermin are laughing at her from our places in the gutter."
Herli rested her head against her husband's chest and looked up at the moon, hazed by the thick black smoke billowing from the chimney of the small house marking the end of this street, and their journey. "And why is it important for you to know about this?" Her voice was lowered now, as his was when he continued.
"Because the Vicomtesse is a noblewoman's noblewoman. To her, such people as we are less than people - we are alternatively work-animals or vermin. Our people tend mainly to fall into the latter category. She has no sympathy for us, but she has a great deal of sympathy for Claude Frollo."
Herli's eyes widened in interest as the two drew to a halt, the street's end quiet and bathed in darkness, the moon, now almost entirely blocked by a shingled roof, lending only a small sliver of silver along moss-grown cobblestones, and a rusty manhole cover. Clopin drew away from Herli, one arm nonchalantly scratching his neck while his eyes peered sharply into all corners and shadows. Satisfied finally, he knelt and worked his fingers under the rim of the manhole, it lifting more smoothly and silently that its appearance would suggest.
"The rumors fly, though nothing is proven of course, that our honorable Minister Frollo and the equally honorable Vicomtesse de Vincennes have long been highly intimate acquaintances." Clopin lowered his slender form into the hole, strong acrobatic's legs clutching the uppermost rungs of a ladder leaning down, one hand outstretched to his wife who came forward tot ake it. "A woman such as she - unscrupulous, cruel and convinced of her own superiority - under the influence of a man such as Frollo - is potentially a very bad enemy."
Herlikin did not answer,merely allowed her husband to assist her down, mulling quietely and with narrowed eye over the information given to her. Clopin caught the look, a strange mingled one of thoughtfulness and cunning in the half light before he closed the manhole cover and they were emersed in darkness. A second later flint was struck, having magikally appeared on his person, as did the torch he lit and held aloft to smile at his wife. The strange expression was gone, she was smiling warmly at him and with eyes that held no thoughts of noblewomen, whips or upstart students, and held out a hand he took and pressed to his lips.
"Come on now, you're doubtlessly hungry and the children will be running wild with Tante Marie more than half lost her patience by now."
He chuckled with her and the two set off, arm in arm and guided by the warm light of the torch, through the catacombs to their underground home.

Another week passed and the Autumn rains set in, washing the green from the leaves leaving behind rich reds, browns and gold.  Parisians went about their tasks as quickly as possible, eager to get out of the sharpness of the sleeting rain, and Paris was washed over with a grey film, garnished in the leaves which drifted from the trees.
Ginevra de Vincennes watched the rain from behind leaded glass, cushioned snugly between velvet and brocade on a window seat in her Chateau. Her face was a smooth piece of silk, devoid of emotion, perfect and rich, flowing smoothly into the burgandy of her dress and breaking with the tiny ruffle of petticoat peeking out over her pointed slippers.  Inside, the Vicomtesse's heart was a pounding drum, relentlessly beating blood into every corner of her being, making her very fingertips tingle with agitation. Another week. Another week and no word from that insufferable hypocrite of a judge, secure and assured behind those bleak stone walls built up around him like a fortress. A scowl erupted in her eyes and her mouth tigthened. If she could have him here, here on her property, she could have him defenceless. Away from walls robed in ministerial black, twisting staircases like the passages from blessing to damnation, and looming fireplaces throwing out light to engulf the large, bare rooms in an unholy warmth - away from that and she could persaude him as she wanted, have him fulfill her desires - first the physical, then the personal.
Without realising it one of her tapering hands had left the folds of her skirts and was tracing its way lightly down the window, marking the path of the raindrops which had preceded it. She detested Autumn rain! Beating the leaves to the pavements below, sifting the dirt into mud, the whole mess mixed into an unsightly soup congesting the spaces in between the slimy flagstones which quickly grew moss-slicked in this weather. It confined her within doors also, she dared not set a foot outside lest a dress become water-spotted or her hair, that coiling mass of glory, thrown in dissarray. The elements were bad for one's complexion, she contemplated silently, her eyes now focused on the faint reflection of herself, thrown upon the glass by the oil lamp burning brightly in her drawing room. Until the rain and wind stopped she could only drift from room to room, as a goldfish does within its bowl, comforted perhaps with the indulgent surroundings of weed and pebbles and bright colored stones, but never able to go further than its glass walls.
Choking back a sigh of impatience she rose to her feet and wandered away from the large, double windows, set back in the small marble-floored enclave that could be shut off from the rest of the room by two heavy, red-velvet draperies, today fastened back by plaited gold thread. The enclave was washed in the same dull grey light as the world outside, but the drawing room was vibrant with the rich hues of reds and purples, highlighted with gold and the warm orange of the brilliant oil lamps placed strategically around the room. The Vicomtesse's heels sank silently into the snow of the carpet as she moved to the center of the room, the rustling of her skirts signalling her approach to the youth who sat over paper and quill, an ink stand by his elbow. He did not raise his head from his work, but straightened his shoulders, a dimple appearing in one cheek, betraying a hidden smile. The Vicomtesse's reflection appeared beside his own, in perfect grey and white in the black or the marble-topped table, and a second later her slender hand, marked by the jasper ring on its third finger, was playing over his thick golden locks in a gentleness that seemed foreign to her limbs.
"My Rossignol, you have been hard at work?"
The boy nodded, lifting his head finally so that the Vicomtesse might see the carefully formed latin, painstakingly written in beautiful, curling letters. Ginevra's sharp black eyes swept over the words discerningly, then finally nodded, a smile breaking the purity of her face, the polished nails of her fingers leaving tracks in the boy's silky hair.
"Very good. Excellent, Rossignol." The youth turned to her, kissing the hand she offered him in silent adoration, the dimples in his cherubic cheeks playing in and out as he smiled and blinked glass-blue eyes proudly over his work. She settled back on her sette, her voluminous brocaded skirts puffing out behind the boy's head and nodded to him with a dull warm spark in the black stones of her eyes. A white hand, sparkling with rings, gestured to the quill and ink.
"You know your letters well. Copy them now, in Italian, my Rossignol, my golden cherub."
The two spoke only Italian between them, isolating them further within the world they seemed to share. Rossignol, a pageboy of twelve with a face to rival that of one of the cherubs dancing in the stained glass of the Cathedral windows, was the Vicomtesse's most cherished indulgence. Inspiring not so much maternal feelings as ones of ultimate control within her, Ginevra doted on the boy in an almost alarming fashion. Even for a pageboy he was richly dressed, overfed and trusted completely. His duties as a page remained the same; he ran errands and delivered messages, attended his mistress and sang to her, looked upon her with a worshipfulness that was not assumed and swore loyalty. But it went further. It was a rare occasion that did not find Rossignol at the Vicomtesse's elbow, rarer she should have a secret he did not share. Few of Rossignol's own material desires went unfulfilled, the Vicomtesse herself had taken on the task of educating him as fully as her own brilliant mind was able, to all intents and purposes, Rossignol filled the role of a spoilt child. Or perhaps a spoilt pet would be a more apt description. It was indeed no accident that the intricate embroidery covering the seat of the stool he perched on matched that of the Vicomtesse's sette, or that the burgandy of his tunic was the same shade as Ginevra's skirts.
Rossignol, for his part, was utterly devoted to the Vicomtesse - so long as his position as the apple of her eye was not threatened. The Vicomtesse did not choose her bedfellows for love, she detested the company of women and found both children and animals to be on the same level - a cursed nuisance. Rossignol was fairly secure in his place, but so complete was his adoration that she had merely to laugh too long at a lover's jest and an emerald light would flicker in those angelic blue eyes. Or perhaps if she should brood over one's abscence too much....
Rossignol dared a glance over his gold-embroidered shoulder at his mistress, she glaring stonily forward, paying not a jot of attention to the way he drew the quill up and down, across and back to the inkstand the way she usually did,with the merest curve of a smile on her white lips. No, now she was scowling furiously, long white fingers tapping impatiently on her skirts, ignoring Rossignol completely. He pouted, and turned back to his work, his pink lower lip protruding sulkily over the curve of his chin. He knew who she was thinking about, and dared further to wriggle his shoulders in an irritated fashion, the continued with his letters. Personally, he detested the Minister of Justice, he captured the Vicomtesse's attention for indefinite lengths of time, and she was subserviant to him in a way that was violently irksome. Rossignol would not of minded had the Vicomtesse de Vincennes and the Minister of Justice never met.
Behind him Ginevra suddenly swept to her feet, her skirts swirling again around the boy's head as she strode over to her writing desk, pulling out a fresh sheet of paper, ink and a quill pen. Very well, then. If Claude would insist upon being so stubborn, she would simply take matters into her own hands. She would not give in to his will,all that needed to be done was persuade him to visit and the other matters would fall neatly and silently into place. No mater what he believed, with his bony steepled hands, the flesh of them white and cold and lined finely over every knuckle, and quietely smug steel eyes, the iron grey of his eyebrows arching delicately above them, Ginevra ruled her own life. Not even her husband, her lawful lord and master, could dictate her actions to her. Men, french men particularly, were fools. Claude, though infintely more intelligent than those around him, was, nonetheless, a man. She had dealt with these slight offences before, she was confident she could direct the outcome of this one. She began to write:

My dear beloved,

How long now has it been since last we sat together in private confidences and shared joys! What, only two weeks? True may it be said that lovers notice not the passage of time, except when they are absent from each other. I have felt this time as keenly as a knife's point placed within a hair's breadth of one's throat; at any second it might be withdrawn, at any moment plunged forward. I wait, as one in Purgatory, knowing not which it will be.
My heart's song, you were right, as you are invariably right, about that accursed poet; let him rot on the streets, he has earned his just rewards, what care I! Indeed I have half a mind to bless the fool, for without his scrawlings, amateurish and cowardly though they might be, I might never have known the inestimable pleasure of your tongue curling and gracing, your lips forming, your very breath breaking the air with that pseudonym -
Merely the memory of how it sounds on your lips causes a tremor to pass through me.
Isolation is a dangerous sport, it leaves one altogther too much time to think and contemplate upon what one could more profitably be doing. My thoughts turn always to you, my darling, my true joy, my love, and the many delightful hours we can always spend together, entertaining each other on our favourite shared topics. The image of your own conduct, at all times perfectly dignified, utterly controlled, make it possible for me to endure the idiocy of those around me; my husband, his brother and all of those fools they choose for companions. But when I compare them to you - their slouching, sweating brows to your high and fair forehead, their fat, slobbering lips to the smooth, perfectly cut ones that rest in your face - the weak, hunched over shoulders to your proud, erect form, cutting an imposing path wherever you tread and all they can do, idiotic weak fools that they are, is scurry apart to make way for you, growing small and limp by your superior light, burning bright from within - surely you must comprehend, my darling, this yearning inside of me, this growing ache for you, that begins as an emptiness in the caverns of my heart, and grows, expands to set fire to my bosom and heat the pit of my belly. To have your form before me, so straight and so strong, long and powerful, possessing me in my love for you. For your brow to crease so delicately like fine, white paper, as you enjoy fully the passions and varied delights of our shared interests. For your lips to form that name - Belladonna - releasing it in one murmured breath, warm and enraptured against my cheek, as once again I astound you with knowledge no woman you have yet met can equal. Tell me, my heart, my kindling joy - do you not wish we could share such moments again? Have you no stirring within you to be once more by my side, baring our souls to each other and delighting in what only we can know, and know in each other?
Henri travels once more to the countryside, I know not where, for his infernal business this coming Wednesday. Say then you will arrive on the following Thursday and stop a day or two. My home, my belongings, my person and myself are yours and at your disposal. Make use of them as you will, and when you are able. Come, my beloved, come and stay with me.
This note comes to you from Rossignol's own trusted hands. Send your response the same way. I await it eagerly, with pounding heart and shortened breath.
I will know no peace until I have heard from you, whatever be your response. If we are meant to suffer to be rewarded, then I have suffered enough to last me beyond life - show mercy and end this suffering, give me a release from this torture which so consumes my being - come and be by my side. I cannot live without you, but nor can I die.
Until then I remain, loyal and true, blessing your name and exalting it above all others,


She sat back and gazed upon the paper with a cold and critical eye. It was hastily composed true, though the spindly, delicate letters did not betray that - and she would choke over such false sentiments of love -  but it would serve its purpose. The power of God was not so strong within Claude that the sin of Adam could not swell within him - and as Claude himself justified it - he was mortal and weak, his earthly flesh easily tempted and just as easily gratified. There was enough within this letter to arouse within him memories of the Vicomtesse -  her pale, round Madonna face - her pale, round madonna breasts - her crown of shining, black hair, her girdle of same. The Vicomtesse's still white face glimmered once more as she lifted the page to behold it at arm's length, the sheen leaving the letters as the ink dried, and ran luminous eyes over it - a small smile curved the corner of her lip. Claude would come. He would come.
She snapped her head around,breaking into life once more and addressed her beloved page.
The boy had left his studies in an instant and was kneeling by the Vicomtesse's side, gazing adoringly up to her face.
"My Vicomtesse, you have need of me?"
She'd turned in the carved, high backed chair, the edge of her skirts brushing Rossignol's knees, her perfume filling his nostrils. She smiled down at him as she creased the letter sharply, folding it, then running a hand once more through his golden locks, it straying down to cup his silky cheek.
"I do indeed, my Rossignol. I have need of you, you whom I trust and you only who I can trust." The caress in her voice had the same quality as gravel wrapped in velvet. To Rossignol it was a sweet sound. The Vicomtesse poured the wax and pressed the Vincennes coat of arms into it quickly,sealing the letter. "Take this letter for me to my beloved Minister this afternoon. Be sure it is delivered to his own hands and his hands alone - if any should block your path, speak high, my little cherub, and tell them who you are and who you serve. You can do that, my Rossignol?"
Rossignol fought hard to keep the pout from his lips, the grimace from his eyes and nodded, twisting his mouth into a smile, taking the letter from her sparkling hand and tucking it carefully into the leather pouch, decorated with a clask in the Vincennes coat of arms, slung at his belt. He got to his feet and saluted his mistress respectfully, and with a dry laugh she clasped his face in between icy hands and smiled at him, all of her teeth shining wickedly like small, pointed knives. "Wait until the rain has stopped, my little cherub, wait below stairs in the warmth, then go and make haste! You are more than capable of this task, my faithful Rossignol. Go and wait for a pause in the weather."
He pressed his pink lips to her hand, then bowed swiftly out of the room. The Vicomtesse swept over to her settee and nestled comfortably upon it, her lips still, but her eyes smiling and smug.