Marie Lissel watched through her colored-glass picture window as Cian walked by on the wet street,
his head held low and his posture tight. She could hear her husband's snoring from his place on the sofa- quite a feat through
a thick, wood-panelled wall- and the rhythm of it melted into the patter of the rain on the window. She wished it would quit.
It was dreary and terrible, and it made everyone in town grumpy and short-fused.
Howard had fallen asleep earlier while she was telling him about how awful the Bittersweet Crossing
had looked that morning when she dropped in to visit her dear friend Frally Winter. At first she had hardly noticed; Howard
wasn't much of a talker as it was. When the snoring began, and the drink had fallen from his hand to the rich, violet carpet,
she stopped speaking abruptly and gathered the glass, rubbing at the damp rug in irritation. It would be a day of celebration
when she could get through a single story without some kind of physical exhaustion baring its fangs at her through Howard.
She wasn't sure if it was boredom or just simply a part of his aging. Either way, it was making her days more and more unpleasant
as time went on.
She had taken to gossip with Frally, but after a few successful tries, Frally began to ward off
talk of the townspeople. The kind old woman who owned the dress shop with her daughter... Ida something, she recalled... that
woman could really talk up a storm. Marie had learned to go to her when information was really necessary. She was sure to
repay Ida with whatever news she found out herself, which was just what she had done this morning after learning of the events
at the Bittersweet Crossing. Ida had looked quite concerned, and had told her daughter, who was probably about Marie's age,
to take one of their new boxed blankets over to Frally's shop. It was the least they could do, she claimed, for a fellow merchant
"Madame Lissel," a low, timid voice spoke from the doorway to the sitting room. Marie turned and
smiled at her husband's personal servant, Andrew- a boy who was barely a man but seemed to feel he was firmly established
as such. Marie had often thought about testing his claim, but kept a steady hand. If anyone found out, the talk would never
"Yes, Andrew. What do you need?"
"I was wondering if you wanted me to help Master Lissel to his chambers to free the sitting room
for you or your possible guests." His eyes never wavered from hers. Such a polite and well-behaved boy this one was.
"That would be wonderful. Thank you for being so helpful."
As he turned to re-enter the sitting room, Marie marvelled silently at his slightly curly brown
hair. When Howard had first hired him, Andrew's hair had been very short and he had had no facial hair to speak of. Now he
was growing in a neat little goat's beard that made him appear much older and capable of anything the real world could throw
at him. Still, though, he was a boy. The talk would never stop. A boy like Andrew couldn't simply be blackmailed with his
own job. Families all over town were seeking personal servants just like him, and he was well aware of such things.
Her thoughts were interrupted by movement outside the picture window. This passerby was much closer
than Cian had been, as Marie had noticed he had a habit of walking on the unnatural left side of the street. She supposed
it was because he wanted to face people, and to eye them down as they passed. Cian Norse was not a man who would allow being
approached from behind.
The man who was passing now was Lile and Sera Irvine's farmhand- a fine specimen of a man if she'd
ever seen one. He was very well built, with the natural muscular form of a hard-working laborer. His skin was tanned- his
eyes a murdering bright blue. He had a face that hinted at boyish charm, but masked its appeal with the dangerous features
of a grown man. Still, she could not recall his name.
Off to her right, she heard the front door being thrust open. Andrew was there, leaning out into
the rain and shouting a greeting at the farm-hand. Adam. Of course, his name was Adam. She wasn't aware the two knew each
other. Outside, Adam was facing her now, sharing a bit of small conversation with her servant.
"Andrew," she spoke quietly, but with a controlled authority she was used to using with him. He
pulled himself back into the room and leaned around the door, his eyes questioning. She gave him her best hostess's smile.
"You may invite your friend in, if you'd like."
He seemed to consider this for a moment, then turned back to the open doorway.
"My mistress has invited you in, if you'd like to be out of the rain for a while," she heard him
shouting out into the rain. Adam's face didn't change to indicate any kind of reaction, but his lips were moving in some kind
of reply. He was beginning to continue on his way. After watching him turn and disappear out of her view, she returned her
attention to Andrew, who was shutting the door and wiping his hands on a nearby towel.
"He thanks you, ma'am, but has much work to do today. He also says he is covered in filth and
wishes not to soil your fine home."
Marie turned back to the open archway leading to the sitting room. She sighed, thanking Andrew
for passing on the invitation. He thanked her in return for offering to let his friend come in.
"Adam's a real hard worker. It's hard to get him to sit down anywhere," he explained. Marie had
suspected as much. It was a real shame she couldnt have coaxed him inside to get to know him a little better. She was always
telling Frally and Ida that she wanted to make more friends around town. She had told the banker just this morning that she
was thinking of getting involved over at the Sun House to try to meet some new citizens. Generally the worthwhile people of
the town would visit the House on a weekly basis, sometimes more.
"Andrew?" she asked, knowing she already had his attention. "Would you mind fetching my comb and
pins from the vanity? I think when this rain stops I might go for a walk, and my hair is a pond of seaweed at the moment."
"No, ma'am," he responded obediently, in a servant's quiet tone. "Your hair is lovely. But I will
certainly fetch anything you'd like. Would you like the red pins or the black ones?"
She had sent him on this errand before, and he had grown familliar with her selection.
"Red," she replied, giving him a challenging stare with an eyebrow raised. It took him a long
moment to read it for what it was.
"Oh! When Eclisolus finishes his reminder, it is pious to wear red as a symbol of your changed
heart being opened to him." Andrew relaxed when Marie smiled and nodded in reply.
"That's right, dear...absolutely correct. I'll be putting on my red coat and paying a visit to
the Sun House. Would you care to come along while the Master sleeps?"
He shook his head and became very timid once more.
"I also have a lot of work to do, Madame. Master left me a long list. Perhaps I could wake Virginia
from her nap and request that she accompany you."
Virginia was Marie's personal servant, who she sent off to a spare room for a well-deserved rest.
She had been sleeping soundly both times Marie had peeked into the room. The poor girl was up nearly every hour of most nights
sewing and stitching in a terribly delusional impression that she was making clothing for her daughter. Virginia no longer
had a daughter. The young child had grown sick with a chill-fever and had died under the eyes of the town doctor and two of
his assistants three years ago. Even with her crazed moments, Virginia was a very dedicated servant, and a sweet girl. Marie
was glad to have her around.
"No no," she replied, waving him away to collect her hairpins. "I will be fine. Go on and don't
worry about your crotchety old Mistress."
He smiled at her wit and she winked before he left the room. He really was a fine-looking boy,
but the time she had spent this afternoon looking over Adam the farmhand had opened her eyes to how inferior Andrew's looks
were. It was really a shame he hadn't come in for a sit. Perhaps on a sunnier day. Everyone was so much more social and courteous
when it wasn't raining.
She pulled closed the dark blue curtains on the stained-glass window, hearing once again the snores
of her husband from the other room. He wouldn't even notice she was gone, and that was the real beauty of being married to
an older man. It was hardly like being married at all.