July 1640, Stonescott Massachusetts.
The wack resounded in the empty street, quickly followed by the stridulating remonstrance of Elise’s governess. I quickly popped my head out of the window. The princess never stopped in front of our house, and right now she was rubbing the back of her head and turning a vibrant shade of purple. It went beautifully with her hair, black as night, piled in a complicated bun under a cascade of ribbons. The spoilt brat was the richest maiden in town, and probably the most beautiful in the whole colony. She was the party every able bodied man aspired to get their greedy hands on. And she had finally reached the perfectly marriageable age of 15. She just had two major flaws.
“I look at what I want. ‘Tis my prerogative!” Elise yelled into her governess’ face.
The first was her tantrums. With no mother and a father always on the sea she had grown wild. Her governesses changed faster than the mistress got our underclothes washed. It was already the second chaperon she was getting in half a year.
“Oh no you don’t, you devil spawn. I will get you onto the rightful path and get the Lord into your spiteful heart if it’s the last thing I do! You will not set eyes on the house of perdition!”
The second flaw was she had been born a judaist, which meant that while many man lusted after her, they would never stoop down to asking for her hand in marriage. This also meant that we had cartloads of frustrated men to contend with, and our mistress thanked the lord many times a day for Elise’s very existence.
“Will not! Will NOT! When all the maids laugh that the mayer’s son runs to this house every time he visits my own. I demand to know what this place is!” Elise stomped her foot and slapped the wrist of the governess with her fan.
The governess threw her hands onto the mouth of Elise, suddenly pale. Elise had money, the mayer had connections. The governess glanced in every which way and I snickered. Of course his son ran to us. He was here right now.
“Don’t ever say that again.” The governess furiously whispered. “Proper gentlemen do not go into houses of ill repute.”
But she shouldn’t have done that. Elise bit her and yelled louder than ever. The game was to get everyone to know, without any shadow of a doubt, that she’d seen the mayor's son walk into this house herself, and she would not stand anyone calling her a liar. I had to choke the laughter into my elbow. All the shutters from the street closed as if by magic, pulled by trembling hands. No one wanted to be involved in that rumor. The mayor's son was in the red bedroom as Elise yelled, with his pants down and-
“Saabeth! Come on, shut the window before we get in trouble!” My twin brother Baas cut into my thoughts.
“If he hears this, he could cost the brothel it’s reputation and we’ll end up working from the docks.”
I spat out of the window and quickly pulled on our shutters too.
This was disgusting work.
This was work that got me wishing all the men on earth shriveled and died like dry chilli, the sap drying out of their body, their skin growing dry and brittle, their muscles thinning into paper sheets and turning them into immobile empty scarecrows. All except Baas. But he wasn’t really a man, he was my brother.
I blinked in the obscurity of our suddenly locked room. It was disgusting work, but at least we didn’t get beaten up for it daily, or starved, or left to die of diseases. They cared about how good and healthy we looked here, for the fine man of town. We were groomed like ladies and taught manners and seductive skills to charme men out of absolutely all of their coin. The mistress knew you caught more bees with honey… But on the docks no one cared about her profit theories, slaves came in everyday and one gone could be swapped with two new ones. Whore slaves were treated like meat and I’d heard tales that had me shuddering under my blankets in the early mornings, when I was finally allowed to sleep.
They repeated it enough, we were lucky to have been born lighter skinned with my brother: attractive mulatos, sought after and expensive like a treat. I gritted my teeth as I plunked back down on my stool. I hated Elise so much. She had no idea how lucky she was to be free to choose a single husband to pay for a house over her head, to have a governess to torment, and to have a voice to let out her rage. The fire gagged me.
“Ow!” Baas yelped as he sucked on his viciously pricked thumb. “You didn’t have to close it all the way, how’d you expect us to repair all this lace with no light?”
I dropped my own needle and petticoat.
“Sorry. Who’s the idiot who ripped it? I hope he got a right big fine!” I quickly grabbed the white lace camisole Baas held, before he stained it with blood.
Baas started laughing as he nodded: “You should have seen it-”
The Mistress called before he could tell the tale.
Baas shrugged on his best coat and made sure his tights were straight. He looked like a rich man’s lackey with his freshly ironed curls. I had done his and he had done mine. We had matching hats, honey coloured eyes and light brown skin. Because if our mother was 100% boat slave, we had been born here, sired by the boss himself. He gave himself a lot of trouble to have many mulatto babies to sell, the monster that he was.
But the mistress wasn’t so happy with Baas lately. His voice had grown deeper now we were 14, and despite all her efforts at keeping him indolent, he was starting to grow big in the shoulders which wasn’t at all what his original clients went for. Yet, recently, she was sending him to collect the liquor for the establishment once a week. As if carrying caseloads of bottles wouldn’t make him even bigger. I was lucky I looked younger than my age, with a reed body and huge eyes eating my face. But that wasn’t going to last and I’d heard the mistress talking about changing my floor soon, out of the special requests. I shook my head to dissipate the horrid thought.
“Be careful today, I don’t know how you trip yourself over each time, but your bruises were frightful last week.” I said as goodbye to Baas.
He winked cheekily and hopped out of the door, leaping down the stairs two at a time. That’s when I noticed the lace covering his wrists.
“And why are you wearing your best shirt for handy chores? Baas! We’ll get in trouble if you rip them!” I called out, but got no response.
His lean silhouette ran to the cart where the mistress's right hand waited, wip at the ready. Our two strong horses sprang forth as soon as Baas’ shoe touched the footboard. Elise was long gone, and instead they crossed by the most amazing carriage I had ever seen, flamboyant with a golden crest of a howling wolf from old Europe on the door. Baas turned his head, following the carriage’s halt into our courtyard. This had to be the newest land owner in Stonescott, Lord Gomond. His mansion had taken three full years to build. The insane man had shipped one of his castle’s tower to be reassembled in the New world. It cut a sinister shape right through the sky, looking even bleaker since he had moved in a full month ago. But despite his arrival, no one had seen his face yet. The wildest rumours ran through town and I was dying of curiosity. I leaped up.