The bouquet of pale pink roses gave off a particularly strong perfume, even in fall chill of the October morning. Frost hung on the blades of grass and clumps of dirt that had been knocked loose by careless grave diggers two weeks before. I knelt, lay my bouquet to sit atop the mounds of others that had been laid over the grave. I crossed myself and then kissed my still gloved fingertips.
Gloves are something that the occupant of the grave would have insisted upon a woman’s hands, and especially mine in such harsh conditions. But more than this, she would have chided me for giving her a Catholic’s show of piety. She hated hypocrisy and knew well enough that I was no believer just as she was not. But we both knew that sometimes outward show was what was all important. When she was very young, and immediately following her mother’s death, she had lasted all of a week or so in a convent. It was there that she decided that such deprivation in life was completely opposite of there epicurean beliefs her father had instilled in her. France was all the richer for that decision in defiance of her mothers wishes, I think.
There are few women in this world whom I have ever come to trust. But I shall tell you about this friend of mine. To be fair, I must say that she was first the friend of the man who would later become my husband. I was even at the beginning, well aware that she and Sebastien had been lovers in the past. But their affectionate friendship even after they no longer saw each other intimately, never waned. That was not a problem for any of us, truly.And I too, became friends with this woman and she was so very thrilled when she learned of Sebastien’s and my engagement. She also had known Hsu. What was there not to like? She raised the notion of the courtly pursuit of love and pleasure to an art and she was a consummate hetaerae. Social rank and class were granted to her not by birth but rather by skill, intelligence and accomplishment.
Mademoiselle Ninon De l’Enclos held court far more than Queen Anne of Austria ever did. Ninon was far more beautiful and wise than the Queen of France was by far. She was wonderful and timeless and did not believe in limitations. And most of all, she lived life with as much privilege as a man, but no one could ever forget how much of a woman she truly was. The phrase that she most often repeated was given to her by her father on his deathbed, that one should not count the number of life’s pleasures as much as to insist upon the quality of them. Ninon De l’Enclos lived up to that motto every day that I knew her. She was my closest friend in France after Sebastien was killed. “Please, Faelyn,” she had pleaded with me, “think of la belle enfant! Sebastien’s enfant! Surely you could go back to your homeland for a little while. I will take care of things here, see that Château de Rochefort is cared for! You know that I will.”
Ninon insisted, and I went for three months. I came back and found all was as she had promised. She had a reputation for being more trustworthy than even the ministers of the Church. She saw to it that Sebastien’s sarcophagus that lie deep in the family crypt beneath the Château was laid with fresh flowers at all times. How she was able to do this from Paris I had no idea. But her orders were as inviolate as mine or Sebastien’s were and I was assured that during my leave of absence, she had made trips to the Château de Rochefort herself from time to time to make sure all was as it should be. Upon my return we were both overjoyed to see one another.
“So, my sister, mon ami,” I whispered after my silent prayers that were to the Goddess rather than to the Christian Trinity, “Paris is quite cold now that you have gone. I know you never thought that a lady as old as yourself would be so missed, but the men are bereft without you and the ladies who populated your salon search vainly in hopes of finding one to replace you. But of course, we both that will never happen, Ninon.” I smiled through my veil, “I know you rest now, but surely on this, all Hallows Eve, you could be prevailed upon to let us play hostess to you, fair friend.”
I reached into the black velvet handbag at my wrist and took out a small glass phial. I glanced around to make sure I was not being observed and and gathered some of the soil from the grave itself. I pressed some of the soil to my forehead as an outward sign of the mournful loss of my friend and slipped the remainder into the container hidden in my glove and stoppered it. I slipped it back in my purse and took up my handkerchief and held it to my nose. Slowly I rose and then turned to walk away, pulling the hood of my cloak so that none might see that my eyes were dry. By the time I reached my awaiting carriage I could see one figure had stepped out of the shadows. Indeed, I had been being observed. But it had been at a great enough distance that anything I did would have been construed as nothing more than grief. No doubt, I mused, this would be reported back to Versailles and to the ears that were quite interested what a woman long ago suspected of Witchery might be doing in a graveyard on the day of All Hallows Eve kneeling at the grave of a woman whom herself was thought to be one as well.
As soon as the door of my carriage slammed shut. The coachman stirred the horses forward. The footman had barely time to clamber back to his perch next to the driver as we lurched noisily back around to the cemetery gates. Looking back I saw among the dense growth of evergreen trees that bowed in the wind, a dark figure still looking after my coach.
We did not stop until we reached Rochefort. The daylight was fading from the sky leaving an early orange, gray and purple marbled pattern as it faded into dusk. We rounded the turn toward the edge of the village and the long approach road that led to the Château de Rochefort. We rattled along the evergreens and ancient oaks and rattled up to the porte cochere where the coachman brought the coach to an abrupt halt. I had barely enough time to pull my cloak around me before the footman had the door open and was offering me a hand to help me out. At the entry way, stood the the head mistress, Lisette of the house, answerable only to me and two of her daughters, Claire and Elise. Lisette’s face was prim and pinched. Claire, the eldest curtsied, her tawny curls bobbing with her. Elise, the youngest held a small oil lamp while the three of them waited for me to enter the house, leaving the footman, the coachman and two other footmen to bring my bags in from the carriage.
“All is prepared Madame,” Lisette said following in my footsteps, leaving Claire to manage where my bags were to go and Elise followed her mother and I as quickly as her young legs would carry her. We walked down the long galleries toward the kitchens, and deep into the cellars, and down even further into the dark caverns that ran beneath the main house and housed the Rochefort family crypts. I could hear Elise’s teeth chattering as we got closer to the entrance of the crypts. I did not want to frighten the child. Before going into the crypt itself I turned to face the woman and her youngest child. I pulled down a torch from the wall and nodded to Lisette who took the lamp from her daughter. She lifted the glass of the lantern so that I could light the torch from the flame. It flickered and sputtered and sprung to life, lighting the corridor with an orange flame that gave off a thick black exhaust that grew less in a moment. I fixed my gaze on the child for a moment then regarded her mother. “I shall be here for a while paying my respects to my husband,” I said, “make certain I am not disturbed.”
“Oui, Madame,” she bobbed, then grabbed her daughter’s hand. As I shut the door I noticed that the child did not take her eyes off of me. I gave a slight smile and made a mental note that next year, if she wished, she could stay and see what occurred on this night if she wished. As the door closed, I reached up to the coil of my hair and began undoing the pins that held it in place and let my cloak fall against the slate stone floor. I had much to do this night.
Muse: Fanny Fae / Faelyn
Fandom: Original Character / History /Folklore / Mythology
Word Count 1552