Julia flew into the mansion, all marble floors and walls full of windows. She looked left and right, quickly feeling out which way to go next. She needed to find the next Doorway before the owner of the house found her. They weren’t always welcoming to Visitors.
Choosing the left only out of a sense of no special feeling either way, she glided into the receiving room (or was it a dining hall?) on her bare feet. She came to a banister and looked over and down into the sunlit dining room. It was there that she saw the Lady of the house, eating breakfast alone at a table big enough for twenty. The dishes were empty of all but crumbs and the air was damp with the soft sounds of sobs.
She was plump, this Lady, as most were, perhaps a little more than most. Her hair was dark, not yet streaked with gray. Julia marked her to be in her early 30s at most. Young, for a Lady.
It was then that the Lady looked up, and her tear-filled eyes became huge with fright. This Lady wasn’t used to Visitors, but more so, she wasn’t used to naked ones.
Julia had made a faster getaway from the last Room then she would’ve liked, and was clad in just her birthday best and a huge smile. She was grateful for the banister she was behind because it afforded a measure of modesty. She decided to make a go of it and take the high road. Sometimes you can win the first encounter, and thus the relationship, if you lead the way as to how it should go, her Gran always said. Her Gran wasn’t a Visitor, and she was rarely naked before strangers, but the idea was the same.
Calling out in as cheery a voice as she could muster, Julia greeted the Lady.
“A fine day isn’t it, good gentlewoman? Greetings to you and this House. If you would be so kind as to inform me of the location of the nearest Door, I would be through it and bothering you no longer.”
The Lady was a Lady in the best possible way, unlike many who carry that title but not the qualities. She sniffed a little to gather back her tears, and reaching to her right, picked up her changing robe and tossed it to Julia.
A gift. From a Lady.
Fine linen, hand tailored with an eye for detail. This was no casual thing to be given away. The Lady knew the Rules, same as Julia. No gift given to a Visitor could be returned. Not just because of the difficulty in finding that Room again, but also because of the Rules. Visitors were untouchables, street urchins, lepers, in the eyes of Quality.
Julia put on the robe quickly, fiddling with the unfamiliar tiny pearl buttons. Real buttons! She didn’t have much time to admire the robe other than to notice it was cream and red striped before the Lady’s consort came in.
Julia turned away to continue dressing. A dangerous move to be sure, for no one shows her back to a potential adversary. But no woman shows her bare front, even if half of it is covered, to a strange man either.
The man was flustered. This is a good start. Julia still had the lead. Was he the Lord of the house? Was he maneuvering to set himself up to be? This could be a self-made Lady. Judging by her hunched shoulders and sobs when Julia first saw her, she doubted it. Loveless marriage, breaking up, it seemed. The Lady would lose her home and her title. She wouldn’t be demoted so far to the status of Visitor, that was for sure. That is a chosen life.
Julia took the opportunity of surprise. She wasn’t one for running, and she still needed to learn the location of the next Door. A Door once exited cannot be reentered soon, so she’d have to leave another way from how she arrived. It would be best if one of them could tell her, rather than her trying to find it. There was no chance for stealth now.
Finishing the last button, Julia turned to the Lady – another dangerous move. One always addressed the Lord first around Quality, but Julia felt some wrong needed to be righted. She took another chance.
“Thank you, Madam, for your kind company this morning!” she said, with a winning smile to the Lady and a sparkling wink in her eyes. She kept both long enough to see if the Lady caught the second meaning under the words.
She did. Excellent. The plan was working.
Turning to the man, smile and wink dimmed just a bit, she half bowed as a courtesan would, not a commoner. She was playing a dangerous game, and she knew it, pretending to be above her class, but it was a calculated game and her figures were adding up well for her.
The man was stunned. He couldn’t tell if this new person was an intruder or a guest, or a lover of his Lady. If the latter, he could not call the authorities for fear of scandal. The Lady’s eyes confirmed his suspicions. She was aglow with delight by now. Little did he realize it was only because she saw, along with Julia, that this game would lever the balance of power in her favor. This formerly desireless woman was desired by another, which made her desirable again. Julia had just upped her value, and thus preserved her standing in society, through her actions.
“You want to go up the stairs and take the first left Dearie.” The lady said with a soft smile.
Julia quickly left before the man could recover, and found the Door. This time, it was a cabinet. The opening wasn’t very large, but it would have to do.