The marketplace was busier than normal.
There were so many people coming in and out of the town that Eleanor gave up on the idea of having Grace near her. She ended up tying her to a nearby tree that was several yards away from the town.
Eleanor smoothed out the mare’s mane and glanced at her bandaged hand. The wrap was soaked in blood, causing her to frown in frustration.
“I’ll just have to be careful about where I put my hand.” She thought.
Eleanor looked down at herself to make sure she looked appropriate, wrapped her shawl around her shoulders tighter, and started walking back to town.
As much as she did not like town, she knew that Miss Mary would be in her usual shop instead of being in the market area today. On days like today where the crowds are large, Miss Mary remained in her shop where the business is much better. On the less crowded days, she took to the market to try and gain more business while her husband managed the shop.
Eleanor joined the crowd and tried to blend in as much as possible. The dirt road turned to cobble stones, and the tightly knitted building blocked out most of the sun. She hugged the shawl tighter, trying to fight off her shivers as the shadows dropped the temperature significantly.
Many of the buildings were little shops with glass windows in the front, showing off what they had. Some of the shop keepers were out front, yelling what they had to drum in the many patrons. Children ran down the sides and center of the street, weaving in and out around the people walking. They squealed and laughed while some people yelled at them, but most just shook their heads and continued their way.
As she neared the flower shop, Eleanor noticed a group of women hanging outside a brothel. They were talking amongst themselves, occasionally, one of them would proposition a gentleman. A few of them even went as far as lifting their skirt to showcase what they had to offer.
To any visitor in town, you would have not known they were prostitutes. Even some people who lived in town did not really know the difference unless you caught them lifting their skirts. They looked like every day respectable women. But, look close enough at their outfits, and the clues are there. The mantua’s and petticoats were dirty and wet from walking the streets, the ribbons were old and decaying, and they wore no stays. Easier to take off the dress without one.
Eleanor walked past the flower shop and straight towards them, hoping to see a familiar face in the small gathering.
As she got closer, she heard a voice of one of the women.
“…he had a lot of nerve speaking to me like that. Who the hell does he think he is?! Just because I make money by selling sex does not mean he can talk down to me, that ignorant swine.” She spat on the street, cursing whoever the man was.
Not seeing who she was looking for, Eleanor decided to ask the woman who just spoke.
“Excuse me?” Eleanor tapped the shoulder of the woman. She turned around and glared at her.
Eleanor raised a brow at the clipped tone of the woman. “I am looking for my friend, she works here.”
“Lots of people work here.” The woman was about to turn around.
“It’s Phoebe.” Eleanor quickly said.
The woman stopped turning and stared at Eleanor. She seemed to be having an internal debate. “Fine. Follow me.”
Eleanor followed her into the brothel. Inside looked like a typical mansion. The Foyer was to the right of the door, to the left were stairs that led up to a balcony which then led to many bedrooms. Straight ahead was a set of closed doors, most likely the dining area, kitchen, and serving quarters. There was a chandelier hanging from the ceiling that made the room sparkle brightly.
Eleanor continued to follow the woman into the foyer. The foyer was decorated with a few red velvet couches. Between each couch was a small end table that help a vase with roses. The rug that covered the floor was red with trimmed gold and it covered the entire room. There was a fireplace opposite the entrance, roaring with life. Above it, the mantel held a beautiful picture of a naked woman laying on a swan chaise, staring up at a handsome gentleman who was leaning over her from the behind the chaise while holding her cheek.
“Wait here while I go get her.” The woman barked out. She did not give Eleanor any time to retort before she left the room.
Eleanor sat by the fire and tied her shawl around her waist. The warmth of the fire spread throughout Eleanor’s shivering body, making her realize how tired she suddenly was. Her head dipped a few times before she heard a man roar with pleasure.
She stood up, stretched, and then walked to the entrance. Peeking out, she saw she had a perfect view of some of the bedrooms at the top of the stairs were the sounds of pleasure came from. As she continued to watch, the door to one of the bedrooms opened.
A man walked out with a sheepish grin on his face, buttoning up his trousers. He continued his way down the stairs and out the front door. Eleanor saw the bedroom door open again and a voluptuous woman walked out, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
The woman fixed her light blue mantua and descended the stairs.
“Phoebe?” Eleanor cautiously ask as the woman came closer.
She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned her head towards Eleanor with look of annoyance. Once her eyes took her in, the expression on her face softened. “Hey Eleanor, what are you doing here?”
Eleanor blushed and looked away. Phoebe still had remnants of the male on her face. She reached up and took off her black scarf.
“Here, you still have some…” Eleanor pushed the scarf into Phoebe’s hand and pointed to her face.
“OH! Haha part of the job I’m afraid.” Phoebe laughed and wiped her face. After she cleaned up, she attempted to give Eleanor the scarf back.
“No, no. You keep it.” Eleanor made a face before replacing it with a smile.
Phoebe shrugged and tucked it into one of her pockets.
Eleanor knew Phoebe since they were little kids. The girl was childish in her personality, but good at her job. Eleanor knew the behavior was due to her terrible childhood and when working her job was able to disassociate, but unfortunately, Phoebe would never indulge in what happened. Perhaps it was for the best, she would not have been able to do anything.
Phoebe reached up and adjusted her small bergere, pieces of her dark brown hair fell in front of her face. “Anyways, what are you doing in town? I know you don’t like coming here yourself, where is Grayson?” She looked behind her like he would be there.
Eleanor swallowed like she was swallowing her pride. “He is sick. I am here to get some medicine and flowers.” She forced a smile.
Phoebe nodded head, accepting the lie.
“Come! Let us sit and have a brandy!” Phoebe grabbed Eleanor’s hand and steered her towards the couch near the fire.
Eleanor chuckled. “How about some tea? A little too early for brandy don’t you think?”
“In my line of work, there is no such thing as too early for brandy.” Phoebe gave her a devilish grin and rung the servant bell.
After the servant got their request, Phoebe turned to Eleanor. “I’m just going to come out and say it. You look like shit, what is going on?”
Eleanor choked on her spit. Phoebe knew nothing of her deteriorating health. Just as she was about to answer after recovering, she heard a male voice.
“Well, well. I would never think someone like you would visit such a place like this, yet here you are.”
Eleanor turned and saw the man that gave her the expensive jacket the day before. He stood in the doorway with a smirk on his face.
He wore a new coat, but instead of the intricate design of wolves like Eleanor’s, this one had wisps of Celtic patterns. The buttons were silver and lined the length of the coat, stopping at his calves. Under the coat, he wore a red wine-colored vest which made his grey eyes pop. The outfit was completed with black breeches and black riding boots.
The man’s smirk widened as Eleanor realized she was caught staring.
Her face heating up, Eleanor opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.
“Hello good sir! Have you been helped or are you on your way out?” Phoebe spoke, trying to appeal to the gentleman. She rose off the couch and seductively swayed her plump body towards him.
But he never took his eyes off Eleanor. “I’ve been helped. No need to try to get anything out of me.”
Phoebe stopped, pouted, and walked back to the couch. She flung herself down and crossed her arms, continuing the pity party.
“So, why are you here miss?” He inquired, leaning against the foyer’s entry way.
“Well, if you must know, I’m here to visit my friend.” Eleanor gestured to Phoebe. “Why are you here? Have to pay for sex instead of using your wits to bring a woman to your bed?”
The man laughed. “You are an interesting woman, has any gentleman told you that?”
“Yes, my husband.” Eleanor shot back with more venom than she intended.
The man just watched her. Not indicating in any way if he was offended or not.
The servant than came in and gave the ladies their drinks. Eleanor grabbed the servant’s arm. “You know what? I would also like a brandy.”
Phoebe hooted beside her.
The man slowly walked over to the couch near them and sat down. “I would like one as well.” He ordered just as the servant was just about to exit.
The servant bowed and hurried out. Silence filled the room until he came back with the brandy. Eleanor took a big gulp and set the glass on the end table, the burning of the liquid going down her throat and warming her stomach satisfied her.
Phoebe gasped and grabbed her hand. “What happened?”
Eleanor stared at her bandaged hands. The blood had dried and was turning brown. “I cut myself earlier.” She stated simply.
Feeling a stare, Eleanor turned her head towards to the man. His breathing was steady as he seemed to be staring at Eleanor’s hands. He lifted the glass of brandy to his lips, never taking his eyes off the blood-dried bandages.
As Phoebe started on her long story of how she was recovered from a horse-riding incident, Eleanor felt the air shift. It became heavy, and claustrophobic. She grabbed her chest with a wounded hand and tried to steady her breathing. Pieces of her hair loosened from the bun she had pinned and fell in front of her face.
“Oh god, what is this?” Eleanor question herself. As the feeling intensified, she tried to look at her friend.
Phoebe continued to drink her brandy and try to flirt with the gentleman sitting with them. Instantly giving up on the idea of her help, Eleanor focused on her drink. Grabbing it again, she tried lifting it to her lips, but the liquid inside the glass shook along with her trembling body, her vision faltered ever so slightly. Her whole body ached at the heaviness of the air.
She gulped, scared she was going to faint and humiliate herself.
Just as Eleanor was starting to see fuzzy black dots, the weight lifted. She gasped loudly.
“Geez Eleanor! You scared me! Wait, are you alright?” Phoebe placed a hand on Eleanor’s shoulder.
After taking a few breaths, she answered. “Yeah. Sorry, I think the brandy went straight to my head.” She looked at the gentleman, expecting to see him either concerned or bored.
Instead, she found his look to claim indifference and slight confusion.
Eleanor’s eyes darted to the side before looking at him again, thinking she may have seen it wrong. But he was in the same position, with the confusion written clearly on his face.
“Ok, I’m done.” Thought Eleanor.
“Phoebe, darling, I must be getting going. Even if Grayson is sick, he will be expecting me back soon. I do not want to harm his health more by making him worry.” Eleanor set her glass down on the side table again and stood.
Phoebe nodded in understanding and stood as well. Setting her now empty glass on the opposite side table, she grabbed Eleanor’s arm and walked her to the door.
Once they reached it, Phoebe turned to her and pulled her into a hug.
“Please visit more often, I really miss you.” She whispered into Eleanor’s ear, a tinge of sadness and desperation in her voice.
Eleanor rubbed her back. “I will.” She promised.
Phoebe pulled back and peered at her. “And do something about those bags under your eyes! They are so big that I could claim them as actual luggage.” She snickered.
Eleanor attempted a glare at Phoebe but ended in a laugh. “I’ll try.”
With a kiss on each other’s cheek, and a quick glance at the foyer entrance, Eleanor walked out the door.
She weaved in and out of the crowd again, finally going to her destination.
Entering the little flower shop, her nose became overfilled with all the different smells of flowers and various plants. She breathed deeply, feeling her body relax and at peace.
Opening her eyes, she looked around. The little shop had different types of flowers everywhere, covering the many tables and counters. Opposite the door, a little counter stood. Behind it, Miss Mary sat on her little stool rearranging flowers in a pot. She glanced up with a slight annoyed look on her face, but then perked up once she saw Eleanor.
“Hello again! Ready for the flower seeds you requested?” she put the flower she was holding on the table and stood.
Eleanor opened her mouth to answer.
“Yes, she is ready.” A voice spoke for her.
Eleanor stiffened, then tilted her head up to see the same man she had the displeasure of having a brandy with.
“Ugh,” She thought, placing a hand on her forehead.
Miss Mary nodded and walked behind the curtain that separated the front and the back of the little shop.
Eleanor decided to ignore the man. She crossed her arms in front of her chest and started walking to the counter where Miss Mary previously sat. She heard his footsteps follow her until she stopped. Spinning around, once again the skirt lifting dangerously high, Eleanor poked her finger into his chest.
“What business do you have with me?”
The man simply shrugged, unaffected by her outburst. “I just want to know your name, then I will leave.” He lifted his hands in surrender, showing her that he meant no harm.
Eleanor took her hand back and crossed her arms again, chewing on her bottom lip as she thought.
“Should I trust him?” Eleanor took in his stance and blank face. “Wait… Phoebe mentioned my name many times while he was with us.”
“You already know my name.” Eleanor glared at him.
“Maybe, but I want to hear it from you.” He smiled innocently, his hands still up.
Eleanor sighed, her shoulders slouching in defeat. “Fine. It’s Eleanor.” She stuck out her hand so he could take it.
“Eleanor,” He whispered as he took her hand. He shifted it so he could kiss the back of her hand. Pecking it lightly, he glanced up at her. Eleanor felt heat rush to her face involuntarily.
Clearing her throat and taking back her hand, she asked “What about you? What is your name?”
He straightened, making Eleanor take notice of how tall he was. “Eilif.”
At the sound of his name, a shiver ran up her spin and a warmth covered her body. Eleanor turned away from him, trying to hide her reddening face.
“Well, it is nice to make your acquaintance. And I do believe I owe you a thank you for lending me your jacket yesterday. It kept me dry, for the most part, while I ventured home.” Eleanor placed her cold hands on her cheeks, willing the redness to go away. “I, uh, I did not think I would see you in town today otherwise I would have brought it back to you.”
Eilif chuckled behind her. “Keep it.” He said simply.
Eleanor turned around. “No! It is too expensive and valuable to be on my persons. The embroidery of the wolves and the silver buttons look to be handmade; I am sure they are symbolic to you.”
Eilif took her hands away from her face. “Keep it.” He said again. His silver eyes bore into Eleanor’s, challenging her to refuse again.
Eleanor furrowed her eyebrows in anger and slapped Eilif’s hands away. She opened her mouth to berate him for touching a married woman when Miss Mary appeared suddenly from behind the curtain.
“Here are your flower seeds Eleanor.”
Eleanor turned her attention to Miss Mary and took a step away from him. “What is the name of these flowers?” She asked, trying to divert the attention away from them.
“It is called ‘Winter Rose’ or ‘Camellia’. It can withstand the winter like you were hoping for.” Miss Mary smiled, proud of herself for her knowledge.
Eleanor grabbed the sack of seeds. She stared at the leather pouch, then looked at Miss Mary. She smiled with her eyes twinkling. “Thank you! How much do I owe you?”
Before Miss Mary could open her mouth, Eilif spoke. “Let me take care of the expenses. I hope to see them bloom during the winter if you’ll let me.” He spoke while stepping up to the counter.
Eleanor opened her mouth. “…” she was shocked at his forwardness.
Miss Mary took his payment without complaint, then went back to her flowers. She seemed to not care about the scene taking in place in front of her.
Eleanor stiffly looked at Eilif. “Thanks.” She curtsied and walked out of the shop without looking back.