I was furious and had to get away from the House. There is a woods a small distance from the Night Court, so I stormed through them and ripped branches from a weeping willow. I braided the base of the branches into a crude whipping tool and began thrashing a tree trunk with it.
My rage precluded my intuition and it wasn’t until I heard a deep laugh that I stopped. Furious, I whirled around to see an older man casually leaning on a nearby tree.
“Who are you?” I demanded, pushing the hair off of my sweaty face. “You’re spying on me!”
He laughed again, but made no move. “My lady, you can be heard from far off. I had to see what the fuss was about.”
Embarrassed at being caught, I didn’t know whether to laugh myself or take the willow flogger to the man. I was already red in the face from exertion, but now, I blushed deeply.
The man grinned a wicked smile. “You handle a flogger well, but I’ve never seen you in the House.”
More blushing. “My lord, you’re from Mandrake?” I dropped the willow flogger like it was afire and began to try to smooth my hair and my dress. The man uncrossed his arms and walked toward me. I felt a great deal of mirth and a hint of attraction from this man. I stopped my nervous fidgeting and held myself high, trying to cover my embarrassment.
“Aye, my lady,” he bowed deeply. He caught my hand and held it hard as he kissed it. “I am Frederick nò Mandrake.”
“Celeste nò Gentian, my lord. Pleased to make acquaintance with you.” Frederick still had my hand gripped tightly, and I made no move to release it. One treads carefully with a nature one doesn’t fully understand. It was already bad enough that someone had seen me taking out my rage on a tree, but a Mandrake adept!
To my surprise, Frederick gently placed my arm back at my side and to my dismay, picked up the crude willow flogger. He stepped back and took a practice swing. Under his force, the willow tips whistled through the air. “My lady Celeste, why are you taking out frustrations on a tree with a child’s toy?”
My face again colored to my hairline and I sharply inhaled. I didn’t want to tell him anything. I didn’t trust a Mandrake, yet a glint of genuine curiosity and kindness glinted in his eyes. Again, I perceived the mix of merriment and attraction, so I spoke the truth.
“My lord Frederick, I am sick and tired of seeing the anguissette in the dreams of others. Her existence plagues my patrons, and therefore, she plagues me as well. Perhaps you understand?” I gave him a glint of my own turquoise eyes and he laughed again.
“Too well, my lady, all too well.” Frederick came closer to me. I tried to step backwards, but then was embarrassed when I realized he was extending his arm to me. “A walk, mayhap? It seems we both have much to discuss.”
Returning his genuine smile, I took his arm. Elua, the muscles! Frederick’s arm was a strong as the tree trunk I was beating a few minutes earlier. To my chagrin, he carried the willow flogger in the other hand, branches trailing across the ground as we walked.
We traversed the woods and a meadow for the length of the afternoon, discussing the whims of our respective patrons that fancied themselves Kushiel’s chosen. Relief and admiration developed in Frederick during that walk, and amusement when he flicked the willow flogger from time to time. For both of us, it was a relief to at last have someone to talk to regarding our own hidden feelings toward the Comtesse.
“Frederick, I feel guilty for not being grateful to the Comtesse. She saved Terre D’Ange! Yet, for what she does to the dreams of the nobles especially. I don’t know if I can stand to see her face-”
“Or her back,” Frederick cut in.
“Or her back,” I had to laugh. “Anymore. Patrons want me to tell them that she will accept their assignation offers or to tell them that Kushiel himself will throw another dart into their eyes, and I’m bloody tired of it!”
Frederick grew quieter. “Yes, I understand. It would be easy for me if a patron asked only for me to see if an offer is accepted. It gets frustrating to take a patron into just the surface of Mandrake service and to hear the signale. Elua’s Balls, I’ve had a signale given at the sight of the flagellary!”
“Much less the shackles and floggers!” I couldn’t help but tease him a bit. After all, he was still taunting me with the presence of that willow flogger.
“Well, my lady Celeste, with your permission, I’ll have to try this fine willow flogger on my next anguissette claimant.” His blue eyes held a glint of mischief and he swished the flogger.
“Will you throw that away, please!” In the relief of unburdening myself, I had forgotten my rage on the tree. “I’m sorry you came upon me in such a state.”
Frederick stopped and again kissed my hand. Quietly, steadily looking into my eyes, he said, “My lady, I’m not sorry. It’s refreshing to meet an adept that doesn’t cower at the sight of me, and one that can wield a flogger, too! Mayhap you’re wasting your talents in House Gentian- Hey!”
I had wrangled the flogger out of his hands and made a light swat in his direction. Frederick caught an end of a branch and jerked it, pulling me up against his body. Elua, he was strong! In a heartbeat, I was against him and he held me fast with a thick arm around my waist. I knew better than to struggle.
“Celeste,” he said quietly. “It’s been my pleasure to spend the afternoon with you. You’re the first woman I’ve not wanted to hurt in a long, long time.”
“Thank you, I think.” I breathed hard against his hard chest. He made no motion to release me.
“I’ll see you again sometime. I may need use of your clear conscience for a night to rid myself of the persistent presence of the Comtesse,” Frederick teased, eyes glinting again.
“Release me and you may be sure of it.” Frederick released me, but caught my wrist up in a thin willow branch. My breath caught in my throat as he tied it tightly. “For that, you may leave the Comtesse at House Mandrake, if you please.”
We both laughed and Frederick tore the branch, leaving me with a willow bracelet of sorts. He escorted me back to the courtyards of the Night Court, kissed my hand again, and left toward House Mandrake. My head reeled a bit as I headed into my own House to prepare for the night’s selection.