Percival left Henry’s office with his luggage trailing after him and a feeling that he had done the right thing. Somehow, he’d survived the entire meeting and answered the man’s questions while remaining conscious for the entire affair. The thread of Ariadne seemed to be working as the healer suggested it would.
Thank the gods.
His next stop was the Banque de Le Fleur, held by the French Treasury, to deal with the account the Monsieur de Sauveterre set up for him. As expected, the process to claim the account and get the documentation for it was more convoluted than necessary and horribly explained. He could only thank his parents for the knowledge necessary to decode the banker’s jargon and the patience to listen.
His next stop was another bank, the Banque de Marchand, held by a union of merchants, to notify them that he was in Paris and would need access to the account he’d had since he was a kid. As far as he knew, it would be between the executor of the will and Henry to figure out how to get it, and whatever other accounts necessary, released from his parents once Percival was deemed his own guardian. From there, he went to the lower market to pick up groceries and other items for dinner.
Paris felt different than anywhere else he’d ever been in old Germany or even north-east France. There was a distinct lack of magic in the air, so it lacked the slight tingling that old Germany and the Black Forest had. It was closer to the sea so he could smell the salt in the wind along with the scents of expensive perfumes and noblemen. He’d planned once to go to Paris and spread the Leonhard and Lang craft through all of France before returning to Germany and take up the family mantle alongside his sister, but with that future now made impossible, Paris was simply a new start.
As his parents told him, Paris was a city of money rather than commerce. Rather than the scent of trade, the scent of luxury filled the air. As he walked through the lower market, the scents began to change into more coastal, more southern, more other scents and it made him slightly more comfortable. Sure, it was a small portion of Paris and far away from where he would be living, but even a small piece of diversity in an otherwise painfully French city would be nice in the days ahead.
He was Zephyrinian, old German, and other to all of Paris. He could speak Parisian French with all the flair of a high-born nobleman, but there was no one in Paris, or all of France, who would believe that he was French from his stature and mountain-carved features.
The sound of German caught his ear, and he turned to find the speakers.
The speakers seemed to recognize him and called out to him. They were the members of the caravan who had not planned well enough. He turned down a busy street lined with merchant booths as his luggage floated after him. He didn’t slow down as they called out to him and tried to catch up. It seemed that the bit of kindness that small voice had urged him to show them had run out. They were on their own now as was he.
He stopped at a few merchant stalls to take a look at their wares and get an understanding of the market when his survival instincts began to rise.
Someone was watching him.
The eyes he felt watching him weren’t just the people he’d traveled with to Paris. Muggers, he was sure, but also women in clothes far too nice to be haggling with merchants for cheap silks. Men who didn’t know anything about the fabrics that they were trying to buy. He didn’t know if it was in awe or interest, but it didn’t matter.
Something like instinct drew his attention to one such encounter between a young woman and a merchant. The scene looked vaguely familiar as if from a dream, but he couldn’t place ever having a dream of this market in Paris.
Déjà vu, he thought, Or déjà vécu.
Regardless of which it was, it was the absolute last thing he needed. The lines between reality, memories, and dreams were already blurred for him. He turned, but the feeling didn’t release him. There was something there that he was supposed to see or do. He turned back to take a good look and figure out what it was that was keeping his instincts from letting him go on with the rest of his day.
From the cut, style, and quality of her clothing, Percival knew that she was probably middle- or lower-upper class. She was as pale beneath her parasol as only Parisian people could be, thin and, apparently, determined to haggle for the best price for the satin even though she didn’t seem to know how to or even what the best price would be. She smelled like lilac perfume and warm honey baths beneath the scent of stress and distress.
The trader carried the scent of southern France on him and his wares, and Percival could see from the smug look in the man’s eyes that this was not the first time he had swindled a young woman out of her money. It was probably not the most lucrative time either. Percival let his eyes trail over the man’s stall and pick out the signs of a horrible trader. Sadly, they were all there from the cheap paint used to hide the poorly maintained edges of the booth to the mismatched bolts the fabric was wrapped around.
From the fact that she does not ask the man for his import records or anything else that would have solved her haggling problem, Percival knows that she is a novice. Maybe, she worked for a seamstress. Maybe, she was simply in training and had been let loose to barter too soon. Maybe, she was just hoping to shave a little off her seamstress bill by buying the fabric herself. Which was the truth, he couldn’t know or glean from the conversation he could hear across the way, and he didn’t care to know.
What he did know is that there is a large, loud voice telling him that it’s her fault for coming to haggle without knowing how, and he should go on his way because it had absolutely nothing to do with him. Alongside that voice is the instinct holding him there to watch. What it wanted him to see or do, he didn’t know, but he decidedly didn’t like the louder, apathetic part of himself no matter how easy it would be to walk away while the woman got swindled. The instinct was holding him there to urge him to do something.
Kindness, he thought as he crossed the market to where they argued, Justice.
We are descended from good, they had told him all his life, And kindness is free.
He heard his own voice ring through the air with a confidence even he had to respect, “Could I see your import records?”
The woman in Venetian lace carrying her parasol in the late spring sun turned and, as usual for someone of her height, tilted her head up slowly until she could see his face. She was pretty in a very French fashion, and there was something in her nose and lips that tugged on his memory.
Had they met before? Maybe, he’d met a relative of hers, or maybe, it was just his imagination.
“What’s it to you?” the merchant asked suspiciously, “Germans have no need for silks.”
“I work for a dressmaker,” he lied, “She’s looking for a new silk merchant.”
The trader’s brown furrowed, “I don’t show import records to anyone.”
It was as he thought. He didn’t need to see the records to know that the man was lying. Just a glance at his wares told Percival that the fabric wasn’t the Grecian silk he purported it to be. It wasn’t bundled the right way nor the right color.
He looked at the woman, “I would suggest you find a merchant who can prove that the silk is from where he purports it to be if it is silk at all.”
She blinked at him apparently stunned, and the man growled, “No one asked you, German.”
“You’re right,” Percival said. “You have no obligation to listen to me, ma’am, but no merchant should shy away from showing their import papers.”
The scent of confusion and gratitude wafted from her and mingled with her perfume. She seemed to be truly at a loss of what to do yet desperate to get it done. He hoped she listened to him as he turned and walked on.
“And that is French satin,” he said to her over his shoulder, “Not Grecian silk.”
He heard no reply other than the low, angry growl of the man, but it didn’t matter. The instinct had released him, and he was more than happy to go on about his day. He stopped at a few more booths before moving on, only buying a few, cheap things at a time to add to his luggage. He had reached the path heading towards Versailles when the woman that smelled of lilac and honey caught up to him.
“I can’t thank you enough, stranger,” she said, “It is not often that someone would step in.”
He looked at her and tried to ignore the war in his mind. He can hear her questions about why he helped her and who he worked for, but he can’t do anything about the responses though they felt too honest.
“I lied,” he said, “Fabric merchants are usually far more accepting of other tradespersons asking for paperwork for fear of source poaching if they have reservations.”
“Are you a merchant?” she asked looking at his things.
“Not at the moment.”
She sighed and her spine bowed under the weight of whatever made her sigh so heavily, “Could I perhaps hire you to accompany me? I honestly have no head for the dealings of merchants, and well, I could honestly use some help.”
She shook her head, “How brash of me. My how desperation affects one’s sense of shame. Of course, I understand if you are busy or have other engagements.”
You don’t know this woman. You owe her nothing, that clinical voice hissed from the dark, Be on your way. You’ve done enough.
“I have no engagements at the moment,” he said. She smiled at that, and her eyes brightened with hope, “Do you intend to do all of your shopping today?”
She frowned, checked her watch and gasped, “Goodness, no. I am due home to my father soon.”
She dug for a slip of paper in her clutch and scribbled her name on it, “I intend to start again tomorrow morning around ten if you are available.”
He nodded, “I will be. Where shall I meet you?”
She hesitated but smiled up at him, “We could meet at my shop. Le Belle on the corner of Avenue des Ternes and Rue Poncelet. Do you know it?”
“I can find it,” he said, “I’ll be there.”
He bade her good evening before leaving her and continuing down the road that led towards Versailles. He heard her board a carriage at the end of the lane as he looked at the name she’d scribbled on the piece of paper in looping letters: Anya Hevereaux. The name was familiar. Perhaps with a bit of sleep, rest, and a closing door he would figure out why it and her features seemed so familiar.
Percival arrived on Avenue de Villars sometime after the sun had set and the nightlife of Paris had begun. The Parc Aubert had cast on the night lights, and the streetlight glowed with a brightness that illuminated the streets and stretched his and his luggage’s shadow to drag behind him even as his legs felt as they would give out. He reached the back of the curve to see the house standing alone. It was beautiful, the kind of home that many wished for and could never afford, yet he’d been given it as a gift. The lot was spacious. The fence around it was made of finely wrought iron. He pulled the keys from his pocket to unlock it and let his luggage follow. The gate locked behind him as it shut, and he climbed the small set of stairs to the wrap-around porch and unlocked the front door.
As far as he could smell and hear, the house was empty. It was an odd feeling after spending so much time between other people’s homes, the road, and the bitter cold of the Black Forest to enter a completely empty house. Even when he lived with his family, he had never felt cramped or without space in their family house. This house felt too large around him. There were too many places for his ghosts to hide.
His luggage set itself down in the foyer as he reached for the light switch and watched the magic lamps glow. Their light hit the next few and lit them as he walked down the hall. The lights followed him down the hallway and into the spacious kitchen. The appliances gleamed, the furniture stood brand new, lightly scented by whoever had furnished and cleaned the house. On the dining room table lay a letter for him from Monsieur de Sauveterre and his son detailing the house’s amenities. Apparently, it had been a decision between the two of them to not only gift the house but furnish it completely. The maid’s name was on the letter if he wanted the service, but they understood if he didn’t want to think about someone else in the house besides him.
They wished him well, hoped to hear from him, and told him to reach out if he needed anything at all. Percival folded the letter and set it back on the table before turning to his luggage. Pulling the straps apart, he set the boxes in their appropriate rooms before having the largest trunk and the trunk full of his personal effects follow him up the stairs. He checked every room and found that the room at the end of the hall with a balcony facing East was best suited to his purposes. The closet was deep, deep enough that no matter what he wouldn’t have to see the trunk unless he went looking for it. He set the smaller trunk at the foot of the lavish, four poster bed and carried the larger trunk into the closet as he swallowed the rush of nausea that swelled in him. The weight is familiar, and as it weighed down his arms, he thought of lugging it out of the house and of nights he did not want to think of ever again.
Then why keep it? a part of him wondered. He shoved that question away, not wanting to deal with the answer, the question, or the implications.
There was a door at the back of the closet that opened to a small crawl space too small for anything but extra storage. When he slid the trunk into the space and closed the door, the screaming stopped, and he sunk to the ground. Resting his back against it, he felt as though he’d walked the miles between fifteen and sixteen only to slide the trunk into this crawl space. With the mission completed, his body, his mind, and everything that he was had no goal or priority to give him strength move forward any longer.
So he slipped into sleep there on the closet floor and woke up screaming, shaking and yanking breaths from the grips of terror. The sun had risen streaming its gentle fingers through the balcony windows. He groaned, forcing himself onto his knees then on to his feet, remembering that he had something to do today, so he stood and pulled off his armaments and clothes.
He pulled towels and soap from his trunk on the way to the bathroom. It was a room of luxury with a separate shower and tub, a toilet, a sink and the softest rugs he’d ever had the pleasure of stepping on. His hand reached for the tap to run a basin of water to clean up in with his instincts on high telling him that there was no time for niceties, to clean up as much as he could in less than a minute, but he pulled his hand back and regarded himself in the mirror.
He met his own light blue eyes in the mirror then let his gaze trail down over the rest of his body. The scars were there. The dirt from the trip was there as well. It seemed that the last three years were somewhere on his body and calling another wave of nausea and dizziness from beyond the darkness at the back of his mind.
He took a deep breath and turned to regard the large tub then the clock on the bed’s side table. It was nearly four in the morning, and he was not set to meet the young woman for hours. If he walked, it would take an hour to arrive at the meeting place, but if he took the public transport it wouldn’t take as long.
Either way, he could not go on the streets of Paris with his adrenaline so high and his instincts screaming no time, no time, no time– anytime– got to go. He was likely to hurt someone if he did.
He opened the cabinet and recognized the collection of bottles there. Some of them were soap; some of them were bubbles, and some were lather to shave with along with a fine set of razors. He wondered if perhaps they thought he’d thrown away the set of razors he’d bought in Troyes to shave with or just stocked the house with anything he could need with no regard to what he already had. Either way, it was all a far more expensive gift than he first thought.
Deep breath, you’re in Paris now.
So very far away from the rushing, so far away that he could almost ignore the screaming in the back of his mind. He sat on the edge of the tub and started the water, plugged the tub, and poured soap into the water as it rose. The water frothed with bubbles, and the scent of them filled the bathroom slowly. It’s a calming, masculine scent that he remembered from his time in the market in Troyes. A scent that the Monsieur de Sauveterre of the pair favored as it had always let him rest easy. He drew a silken washcloth out of the cabinet before climbing into the tub and sinking into the hot water.
The lights flickered along the panel in the wall alerting him to available settings as well as the recommended setting for the stress level the magic circles sensed when he got in. He chose the recommended setting. The water began to pulse and massage the tension out his body. He lathered the soap and washed as the water massaged him. He isn’t sure how long he was in the tub, but when he got out, it wasn’t nearly as hard to get on his feet, nor get dried off, oiled, and into a fresh set of clothes and breathe easy.
He looked at the swords and shield he’d fallen asleep in before picking up the shield and carrying it into the closet to slide beside the trunk and close the door. He set his belts on his waist, slid his feet into his boots, and walked downstairs to look around in the kitchen. It’s stocked enough that he can make breakfast easily and leave the house with nothing more than his wallet and keys. When he locked the door behind him, he felt eyes on him and turned to look at the two women exiting the house next door. They looked at him with wide eyes as he walked down the steps and out of the gate with a nod in their direction. Everyone on the block seemed to be heading out as he was and stopped to gawk at him as he walked past their houses and to the main street to catch the public transport into the city.
This would be his life now. Wealthy Parisian families would stare at him curiously every time he left the house. Perhaps one of them would come over and introduce themselves in an effort to welcome him to the neighborhood. The winters would never get colder than a cold fall day in the Black Forest. There would be just enough snow to turn the city into a winter wonderland rather than bury the houses in it. He’d apply to work at the Royal Forge. If that didn’t pan out, he’d find somewhere else to work and take to selling his wares whenever the fancy struck him.
There was nothing to run from in Paris but himself.