This is a novel excerpt from my work-in-progress, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” The title may be changed and maybe this scene deleted, because this is between one of the protagonists and a minor character, a courtesan protegee. But I liked the dialogue and I think this scene shows the world the Shepherd has found himself in very well, as well as shed some light on the other protagonist. If you’d like to read another excerpt from this work, click here.
I shook my head.
“You don’t mind?” Astrid persisted. “Or you prefer I leave you be?”
“No. I don’t mind.”
“Good,” Astrid smiled. “Because I wanted to ask you some questions about that scene this morning in the town square.”
“You were there?”
“Of course I was. Everybody was there, even the scrubbers from the dirtiest whorehouse in the Capital were there.”
“What do you want to ask me about?”
“What possessed you and the Wanderer to give the bounty on Ella Bandita to the children of the orphanage?”
“Why do you want to know about that?”
“Because it’s too marvelous! Who would give a fortune for a private education fit for highborn children to a bunch of penniless, nameless forgotten little bastards? Not to mention a modest legacy to start life once they left the orphanage?”
I tensed up. I had not expected this at all. The Wanderer and I had agreed it was the best possible use for what was essentially blood money, but we also believed that such a gesture would silence any questions.
“It seemed like the right thing to do.”
“I’m not saying it wasn’t. But you could have lived as patrons for the rest of your lives!”
“That means nothing to me.”
Astrid’s hazel eyes were wide in her pale face.
“But everybody wants to be rich.”
I relaxed a little. Nothing in Astrid’s expression indicated suspicion or cunning. She merely seemed amazed and curious.
“I can’t explain how or why. But I’ve never coveted wealth and I’ve always had what I need.”
Astrid nodded slowly, and her white cheeks flushed a pale pink.
“I can’t claim to understand you, Shepherd. I simply wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing that.”
“I appreciate your kind words. But why are you thanking me?”
“Because I’m one of those forgotten little bastards. Most of us here at the Casa came from the orphanage.”
“Celia and I grew up together there.”
Astrid nodded to the trio of mandolin players, whose ethereal music filled the air.
“They’re younger than we are, but I remember them from the orphanage. Almost all the servants came from there too.”
“Are the musicians also protégées?”
Astrid shook her head.
“Not everybody can be for the Life. Originally, they came here as little girls to train to be maids. But Mi’Lady always tests the children, and discovered these girls had a natural talent for music, so she mentored them in their learning. Now they get to be musicians. Not only do they entertain us, but they are often hired to perform at various salons around the City.”
“Do they live here?”
“There are two dormitories at the back of this yard. One is for servants and servants-in-training. The other is for the protégées, as well as the artistic girls.”
“Really? That is extraordinary.”
I stared at Astrid, who smiled at me in appreciation.
“What you and the Wanderer have done is truly wonderful. You saved this generation of boys from a criminal life and eventual hanging, and all of the girls from the drudgery of servitude and prostitution in the brothels. The orphans who had any kind of lucky star on their side end up at the Casa, and the Casa is full. Except for a truly gifted and beautiful girl here and there, Mi’Lady doesn’t have much room to add to her household for at least twenty more years.”
I was speechless. Astrid paused for a moment, then continued.
“There isn’t an orphan, harlot, or servant who wouldn’t sell their soul to be here.”