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Part 1: The New Help
In the first week of March five separate and unrelated disasters befell your family. They all occurred at your grand ducal estate in the foothills of the Alps above the capital and only city in your tiny enclave of the Grand Duchy of Lichtenbourg, and each time they involved ‘the help’.
The first event and the one which seemed to precipitate a further avalanche of bad-luck was when the steward, a dangerous and imposing man who up until now had bullied both the rest of the staff and the ducal family itself, broke a priceless Qing vase which had been in your family for generations. Despite protesting his innocence, his guilt was clear – and your mother, a similarly dangerous and imposing individual herself, was forced to terminate his employment, although he was provided with a very cold reference.
The disasters continued. The next day your gardener, usually so studiously careful with his maintenance of the grounds, was found to have cut off the heads of your father the Duke’s favourite Juliet roses. His sympathy with the pro-independence rebels in your South American colony of Mirandia had always been common knowledge and he had once been heard to muttered certain treasonous remarks under his breath after he was scolded by your father for some less-than-stellar topiary work on the grand driveway’s flamingos. And so the gardener was given his marching orders.
The next event affected you personally, but it was less a disaster and more a stroke of good fortune. French has never been your best subject, and in an attempt to remove your thick Lichtenbourger accent and replace it with the proper Académie française pronunciation, your parents had hired a tutor. But one day he missed your scheduled lesson and was discovered wandering the grounds, dead-drunk. You’d never much enjoyed his boring lessons, the miasma of old tobacco and musk floating around him and his readiness to slap your hands with the riding crop he inexplicably carried with him everywhere, and so you don’t shed any tears when he, too, was sent on his way.
The subsequent disaster was the most dramatic and public by far – but thankfully the final one. The New Spring Ball. The cook, usually so fastidious in his selection of local ingredients, served foie gras well-past its use-by date. The resultant widespread gastro-intestinal distress and your parents’ calamitous social embarrassment led to his swift termination.
Your mother the Duchess was livid by this stage and with her usual imperiousness she declared that since all the disasters have centred around male members of staff they would be replaced with women. Your father, with his readiness to acquiesce to your mother’s opinions and an equally keen appreciation for feminine excellence, was not at all averse to the idea.
But it seemed that the usual supply of staff has dried up – an unheard-of situation – with only a single applicant for each vacant position. But as Fortune would have it the applicants were all women and all proved to have not only superb references but also impressive skills, although they did perhaps lack the sophistication your mother would have preferred.
Take the tall fiery-haired woman named Pyrrha who applied for the position of steward, for example. She was graceful and impeccably dressed and exuded, with her shock of red hair and her tall physique and her imposing but beautiful features, the aura of one with whom no nonsense would be tolerated. But during her interview, while she was enthusiastically explaining her philosophy of leadership to your mother, the bright technicolour inking of a tattoo slipped from beneath one elegantly laced cuff.
The gardener, too – Maki was her name – a slim, tanned girl of Japanese ancestry with dark eyes and the hint of dark roots in her short platinum-white hair – she was a diamond, but certainly a rough one. Her language gave – how did your mother put it? – certain suspicions of a habitual saltiness just barely kept under check. But she greatly impressed your father with her excellent topiary skills – her test flamingo was, he said, the very model of the national bird’s nobility and grace – and, since plants are famously inured to rough sailor-talk, she would, your father decided, do very well indeed.
Now, the new head chef, Chloe! Her test souffle, that notorious dish which has been the nemesis of cooks for hundreds of years, proved utterly delicious and her risotto was creamy and exquisite. You and your father were given the job of sample her food – your mother having always been more concerned with how impressive the dishes the kitchen produced looked than how they tasted – and it put everything the previous chef cooked to shame. But the chef herself! Blonde and pretty and overgenerously voluptuous in the hips, derrière and bust, she proved to be also rather – well, ‘hands-on’ in her managerial style, especially with the young, attractive, male wait-staff. Her green eyes, large and liquid, were especially coquettish and as she left the interview çankaya escort she winked at you!
“Better not mention that to your mother,” your father said with a sly wink of his own. But you both agreed that Chloe was a most excellent choice for the job.
Lastly, your new tutor. Lydia. The tallest and most mature of the new staff, of indefinite age – surely the less-gentle side of forty? – but with a timeless elegant beauty (pale skin, blue eyes, copper-auburn hair and exquisitely long legs), highlighted rather than hidden by her bookish half-rim glasses and her dark pants-suit. Your mother very much approved of her, as well – no doubt she saw reflected in Lydia a strength and intellectualism not unlike her own. Also, Mdm. Lydia’s French – like her German and English and Latin and Greek and Romansk – proved to be parfait.
And so, with the addition of these four unusual women to the staff, the memory of the disasters quickly faded and the future looked as bright as the endless blue mountain skies of the Duchy itself.
You’re late for your first lesson with Lydia – lateness had never really been an issue with your old tutor, since he’d always been far later than you had been – and when you finally arrive Mdm. Lydia fixes you with her sharp blue eyes, sighs a sigh of disappointment which leaves you squirming in guilt – and then makes you write a thousand-word composition in French on the importance of punctuality for a future duke.
After you hand it to her, she sweeps a red pen from her blouse pocket and flicks it up and down over your work.
“Now really, your excellency – did your prior tutor teach you nothing? It appears as though you can barely conjugate any of the irregular verbs correctly. And your misuse of the passé composé!” Again that sigh. “However…” She lifts her blue eyes over her glasses and smiles, a sudden, brilliant smile that melts the frostiness of her eyes and makes your heart skip a beat, so pretty and unexpected is the sight. “Your style is not at all inelegant. We can work with this, no?” And then she is all business again and has you reciting, conjugating and declining up and down until you’re perfect.
Under the new staff your home prospers as much as your French does. The grounds are impeccable, even if Maki the gardener is sometimes spotted smoking a cigar behind the tool-shed and on occasion heard under her breath to call dandelions which refuse to be pulled out ‘m—f–ers’ and branches just out of reach of pruning ‘total ass–s’.
“Well, at least she’s trying to be discrete,” you father says.
But you’re soon given reason to doubt this ‘discretion’ of Maki’s. A few days later you’re taking your afternoon constitutional in the mansion’s expansive wisteria gardens. The sweet fragrance hangs thick in the air amid the shady trellises and your mind wanders to Lydia, to that elegant perfume which wafts from her whenever she leans over you to check your work. But your reverie is suddenly broken by a sharp and pungent scent that slits through the flowers’ perfume like a knife, replacing your beautiful vision of Lydia with a horrible flashback to your tobacco-smoke-steeped previous tutor. You shudder and vaguely through your tearing eyes you discern the shape of Maki leaning against the little gardener’s shed. Her face is shaded but a single red flicker deepens and then a cloud of smoke spills away from her. You receive it full in the face and start coughing.
“Oh,” says Maki, her cigar in her fingers as she steps out of the shade. “It’s you, ‘your excellency’. Sorry.”
The pause between her greeting and your title is a tenth of a heartbeat and punctuated by the replacement of her cigar in her mouth, and you feel deep disrespect lurking beneath it. But you have no time to get annoyed – Maki is suddenly sprinting at you, swift as a flickering shadow, a hunting knife appearing in her hand. She stabs it towards your face and you yelp in terror, but the blade passes half an inch from your ear.
Shocked, you watch as Maki fastidiously wipes the knife on her shorts then lifts her gaze to yours. Her dark eyes flicker to your feet and when you look down you stumble back in alarm. For lying on the grass, cut in half yet still buzzing malevolently, is a hawk-wasp – two inches long with a stinger half that again, the most infamous venomous insect in all of Lichtenbourg.
Maki chuckles behind her cigar. “My knife-work give you a bit of a scare, huh? Sorry. But it’s better than getting stung by one of those bad-boys.”
It definitely is. You remember the size your cousin’s head swelled after he’d been stung by one at a garden party and you shudder.
Maki walks to you and plants a booted foot straight down on the hawk-wasp, silencing its buzzing forever. Then she stands there, looking you up and down.
She’s taller than you, bronze-skinned where her shorts and top don’t cover her skin, which is an awful lot of it, you think. And even through the lingering haze escort çankaya of cigar smoke you can smell the sharp saltiness of her perspiration.
Maki fixes you with her dark eyes. “Hey, since you owe me one for saving your ass, let’s not be talking about my little smoko-break to mum and dad, right?”
You nod. Her strong animal scent is all you can think of and you don’t even notice her disrespectful reference to your parents.
“Alright then!” She stretches her arms up and grunts and you notice as her top lifts up that not every part of her is tanned – in fact, her stomach, with its charming belly-button, is pale, the colour of snow on gold. “F-k!! It really is hot as balls today, ain’t it?”
You’re still looking when you feel her eyes on you and you look up to see her smirking.
“Heh. Caught you looking, little duke. Or is it dukeling?” She takes a drag of her cigar. “Maybe ‘duckling’ suits you better, since you’re so f-king small and cute. What do you think?”
Maki leaves you no chance to reply, stubbing out her cigar against the shed and folding her knife closed. “Well, those m—f–king dandelions aren’t going to dig themselves out, are they? Ciao.”
And with that you’re left staring at her as she walks away, whistling.
Small and cute? Duckling?
You don’t know whether to be insulted or flattered.
This disturbing encounter with Maki notwithstanding, life proves good, although you quickly find yourself snowed-under with French assessments. Lydia is strict but fair – and whenever you show some improvement, the smile of girlish delight which sparks across her usually serious face makes it more than worthwhile. And she reads you poetry, as well – her gorgeous voice and glances sending subtle frissons along your limbs as you sit on the couch beside her with your hands clasped in your lap – romantic poetry, the sort you’d never thought to read before. Your favourite is Les roses de Sâadi by Desbordes-Valmore:
J’ai voulu ce matin te rapporter des roses;
Mais j’en avais tant pris dans mes ceintures closes
Que les noeuds trop serrés n’ont pu les contenir.
Les noeuds ont éclaté. Les roses envolées
Dans le vent, à la mer s’en sont toutes allées.
Elles ont suivi l’eau pour ne plus revenir.
La vague en a paru rouge et comme enflammée.
Ce soir, ma robe encore en est toute embaumée . . .
Respires-en sur moi l’odorant souvenir.
Perhaps it is a little risqué and makes you sit all the more awkwardly as she reads to you, but you know it’s not something your parents need to know about or concern themselves with.
Chloe, also, continues to be rather hands on with the wait-staff, and there is an incident with the young sous-chef – but your father says it’s all just a misunderstanding and that some physical direction is no doubt necessary after all the bad-habits the kitchen staff learned from the old head-chef.
But an incident a day later makes you question your father’s conclusions. You’re walking through the dining room early in the morning on the way to the gardens to practice your rapier skills when Chloe bursts out of the kitchens, a whirlwind of buxom blonde excitement. She grabs your hand and gasps: “Your excellency! Your excellency! Can I have a moment of your time?”
You babble something in response which makes no sense to you but which Chloe takes as a yes and drags you into the kitchens. You’ve only been inside them a few times, mostly with your father when making an inspection – and on those occasions it was always full of staff bustling around, stock pots bubbling and the incessant clatter of food-preparation. But today there’s only a single pot on the heat and it’s to this that Chloe hurries you. A rich scent of beef wafts from it straight into your face.
She lets go of your hand and turns to smile at you, somewhat apologetically. “I’m sorry, your excellency, but I have a small favour to ask of you. I’d like your opinion of this bouillon I’m working on.” She sighs. “I think it might be missing something, but I’m not sure.”
You tell her that it smells amazing. Chloe’s bright round face beams even brighter at your words and she claps her hands with a childish delight.
“Oh, you’re always so kind, your excellency! But the smell is one thing – you really should taste it first before you give your official dukely opinion.”
Dukely opinion. Flattered, you step closer and peer into the stock pot. Not only does it smell great, but the bouillon is the deepest brown you’ve ever seen.
Chloe manoeuvrs her hips next to yours to look over your shoulder and the soft gold of her bangs flick across your cheek. You’re suddenly aware of all of her curvy, fragrant self. There’s a scent, even more delicious that that of the bouillon, the gorgeous spicy and rich natural feminine scent of a woman. Is it her skin, her hair, her breath, or some wonderful mixture of them all? You can’t decide but your heart skips a beat.
She çankaya escort bayan sighs again. “Yes, it looks very much as it should, but please! Just a little taste and your honest opinion.” She grabs a ladle and swiftly dips it into the broth. It comes forth with a clear and gorgeous liquid pooled in the cup and Chloe, smiling, lifts it to her mouth and tests its temperature.
“I don’t want to burn those pretty lips of yours,” she murmurs and without delay she presses the ladle to your lips.
Your senses are overwhelmed with the savoury scent, now right beneath your nose, and you open your mouth. The liquid spills into your mouth, silky and thick and exquisitely delicious.
Chloe watches for your expression, her own uncharacteristically serious. But your excited murmurs at how delicious it is bring back that explosion of bright, white-teethed delight.
You swallow and tell her that it’s absolutely perfect and that it doesn’t need anything at all. Chloe’s eyes narrow and her bright smile darkens for a split second, like a cloud slipping across the sun, but then she yelps with delight, throws the ladle aside with a clatter and hugs you.
“Oh, you’re too kind, your excellency!” Chloe cries, squeezing you to her overgenerous body.
You gasp that you’re just giving your honest opinion, but it’s hard to speak with the air pushed out of your lungs and Chloe’s large warm breasts pressing against you. Even through the chef’s whites you can feel ever curve of her.
Chloe seems to suddenly realise what’s she doing and releases you, her face falling. “Oh, your excellency! I – I’m so sorry. I was just so happy when-“
With delicious air now spilling back into your lungs you find your voice and tell her that there’s nothing at all to apologise about.
Chloe, mollified, grabs your hand. “Oh, you really are such a kind boy.” And then she drops her green eyes. “That’s kind of why I wanted to do something special for you. I know you love boeuf Bourguignon – this stock is for it.” She lifts her molten green eyes and squeezes your hand more tightly. “I’m so glad you approve!”
You stand there together for several heartbeats but it feels like an eternity, a glorious happy eternity under the rays of this beautiful blonde woman’s smile and shining green eyes. But then you both hear, clear over the bubbling of the stock pot, the sound of footsteps, the familiar clomping gait of your father. Chloe quickly lets go of your hands and motions with her eyes to the side door used for deliveries. You scramble away and push open the door, but before you pass through you glance back. Chloe is there, watching you, and again that wink! Your mouth still tasting that delicious bouillon, all the more delicious from Chloe’s indirect-kiss, you flee into the sunshine of the garden, bright, but like shadow compared to the radiance of the beautiful blonde chef.
Last of all, your new steward Pyrrha – perhaps she is a bit too strict with the maids and has made them cry on more than one occasion, but after a week they’re all at her beck and call, looking up to her with liquid eyes like besotted schoolgirls. Your home is utterly spotless and the vases never go a single day without fresh flowers. But you often feel Pyrrha’s eyes on you and turn to see her pretty face marred with a disapproving frown -or perhaps you just happen to be in the way of some improperly hung painting or an undusted-bannister. Nevertheless, her look always fills you with guilt, as though she can see clear as day your shamefully disorderly thoughts, and you can’t help but be reminded somewhat of the stern orderliness of your mother.
But a strange encounter soon qualifies your initial impression of her.
Every morning, very early in the morning, it’s traditional for the Duchess of Lichtenbourg to conduct an inspection of the maid staff and your mother usually requires you also to be present. That day, stifling a yawn which, had it exploded forth, would have earned you a long speech about manners and dukely decorum, and envying your father who’s likely still asleep in bed, you keep step with your mother’s brisk walk. You sometimes wonder if your family of three really needs so many maid staff, but your mother, you know, would likely say something about the requirement for appearances to be maintained. The mansion does have about a hundred different rooms, some of which you’ve visited only once and likely some you’ve never visited at all, so there’s a lot of dusting to be done. And so the two of you are already mid-battleline of the housemaids when your mother suddenly stops dead and in your sleepiness you almost run into her.
You look up at the poor maid who has brought your mother’s inspection to an abrupt halt.
“Really,” you mother tuts. “Is this how we think a uniform should be worn? Such slovenliness? Is this the sort of appearance we think is appropriate to maintain the honour of the…”
And so forth. You have no idea what your mother has decided to draw attention to, for the poor girl’s uniform looks to be worn exactly the same as the other two dozen housemaids you’ve already passed by. But you suspect there’s nothing wrong with the uniform at all and your mother has merely taken it upon herself to take out some frustration or other on the girl.
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