I sat on the stool facing the vanity mirror in my chalet’s suite as I got ready for The Lucerne Music Festival. The Lucerne Symphony was one of the highlights of my year and a rare treat I refused to miss because Curry had always attended it with me. It was my reminder of a happier time-a time when Curry was by my side.
I looked at my reflection and thought I still looked colorless. I dipped my large, fluffy brush into a peach toned facial powder and dusted it across the pale, lifeless skin covering my face in hopes of returning the living glow that my cheeks had not known in more than 200 years.
My hair was down with the front section pulled to the side in an Austrian crystal barrette that shimmered under the fluorescent lighting. I reached into the back of my loose curls and gave them a fluff as I called out softly to the other room, “Madon.”
He appeared behind me instantly in the vanity mirror before I completely said his name. He was handsome in his tuxedo, but a complete opposite of Curry with his straight blonde hair and golden brown eyes. Women fell all over his masculine beauty, but for me, he could never compare to the only one I longed for and no one ever would.
I watched him place his hands on my bare shoulders above my emerald green ball gown and I yearned for it to be Curry touching my skin. “Marsala, you look ravishing as always.” Tonight was no different than any other. Madon complimented me, but his words brought me no pleasure because they didn’t come from Curry.
It had been almost 22 years since Curry walked out of my life, but he still lived. I knew this because I constantly felt him. I had not had a moment of peace as I waited for the agonizing day he found her, the one intended for him by Anteros, his Agápe.
Madon regained my attention when he gestured toward my emerald necklace on the vanity and asked, “May I?”
I lowered my head, reached into the hair spilling over my shoulders and pulled it away from my neck. Madon took the necklace from its box, placed it around my neck and clasped it securely. I lifted my face and looked into the mirror at the emeralds against my fair skin. I touched my fingers to the large center stone as I recalled the first time I wore this necklace 215 years earlier.
New Orleans 1796
It was the night I attended my first and only Quadroon Ball, an event where daughters of quadroons were presented to the manquadroons, the French Creole men in search of fair skinned mistresses. I was just seventeen years-old, a mere child, when my mother escorted me down the hallway of that grand home where the ball was being held and into the ballroom where New Orleans’ wealthiest Frenchmen waited.
I was regarded as a beautiful jewel among my free people of color because of my exotic, unusual beauty. My light brown hair was soft and fell to my waist in loose curls, but my most beautiful feature was the striking color of my pale green eyes, the color of peridots.
I appeared white to anyone passing me on the street, but there was a complicated business concerning this issue of race and color. My appearance and beauty didn’t matter. It was the One Drop Rule that defined what I was- an octoroon with one-eighth black heritage.
I was what the French bastards loved and desired in a quadroon mistress- fair skin, flawless and available for the taking without the commitment of marriage. It was my destiny to be taken and used by a manquadroon until he decided to marry a French woman as his legitimate wife. They would have children he would claim as his own, while any children we produced would be supported and cared for in secret.
My French father, Armand Mercier, loved and doted on me more than his other four children with my mother. He spoiled me endlessly, giving me anything I wanted, yet I was no exception to the rule. He didn’t claim me as his child publicly.
When he married his legitimate wife, Cecile, she demanded he give up my mother as his mistress after their first child was born. He didn’t give in to her order at first, but his visits gradually became fewer and fewer until they finally ceased. I was hurt by my father’s withdrawal of love and affection, but it was the day he passed me in The French Market without any type of acknowledgment that changed my heart forever.
I had not been visited by my father in three years when my mother escorted me to The Quadroon Ball, yet there he stood as a representative for me. Anger and hurt were only a short list of the emotions to pour over me when I saw him.
I turned to my mother, feeling the sting of betrayal and I will never forget the words exchanged between us as I said, “He has no right to be here. He is no Pére to me. How could you allow this, Mére?”
My delicate, soft spoken mother replied, “It wasn’t my decision to make. He is your Pére, Marsala, and it is his duty and right to ensure you are taken by the best manquadroon. Your Pére loves you and wants you to be happy. He has come here to find the most suitable companion for you.”
As I heard the words come out, I felt the sting of tears I’d held inside for too many years. “I hate him. He abandoned us, Mére.”
Her gentle smile and manner infuriated me. “It is as his wife demanded and he is forced to bend to her will if he wishes to keep his legitimate family intact.”
Tears streamed down my face as I angrily argued, “We were his family first and he threw us away like riffraff!”
My mother pulled me to the hallway away from the guests at the ball. “Lower your voice, Marsala. I understand your anger, but you don’t want the manquadroons to hear or see your foul mood because it could sway their decision to choose you if you appear strong-willed. You know the manquadroons desire an agreeable mistress.” My mother wrapped her arms around me and told me, “Dry your tears and accept your fate for what it is. Allow your Pére to use his influence to find a suitable companion for you. It’s what’s best for you.”
I loved my mother very much and I would do this because it was her wish, not because there was forgiveness in my heart for my Pére and his betrayal of our family. “Yes, Mére, I will do as you wish.”
I spent the evening being flaunted by my parents and desired by every manquadroon in the room, but it was Jean Phillipe Dauphine that caught my attention and that of my father.
He was wealthy and a potential business partner for my father, but to me he was young and handsome with his black hair and light blue eyes. I loved the way I felt when he looked at me across the ballroom while speaking with my father. His smile for me didn’t make me feel like I was a quadroon being paraded for his potential choosing. I felt worthy of his admiration.
My father motioned for me to join him and my potential manquadroon across the ballroom. I watched Jean Phillipe Dauphine watch me as I closed the distance between us and then my father acknowledged me as his daughter for the first time in years. “Jean Phillipe, this is my daughter, Marsala Mercier.”
He reached for my hand and I allowed him to take it. He placed a kiss on top of it while his eyes never left mine. “It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance, Demoiselle.”
He referred to me as a demoiselle, a maiden, not like the others that addressed me as Maîtresse, the way they would a mistress. I felt butterflies flitting about in my gut and in that very moment I knew I would be devastated if he didn’t choose me because my heart had already chosen him.
I couldn’t have been happier when Jean Phillipe offered to discuss the stipulations of how he would take care of me with my Pére. The details were determined between the two of them in private and I was not consulted about the conditions, but I didn’t care because I was so pleased with my Pére’s choice of companion for me.
I spent the next several days anxiously waiting for Jean Phillipe to visit me. I longed to see him and worried he might have changed his mind about me, but on the fourth night after The Quadroon Ball, he arrived at my mother’s home to see me.
I was wearing my best dress, a lavender and white striped satin gown with a lace trimmed bodice. My hair was pinned up with lavender flowers adorning the loose curls in my hair and I pinched my cheeks lightly to bring a glow to them after my mother called out for me from the parlor.
I practically ran down the stairs and then remembered my years of training as a lady and slowed myself to a polite stroll. I gracefully entered the parlor and my mother left us to be alone for the first time. It was exciting to be alone with a man for the first time in my life, but I couldn’t speak because I feared any words leaving my mouth would sound foolish.
He crossed the room and took my hand, kissing it just as he had the night of the ball. “Good evening, Marsala. You look well, and quite beautiful if I may be so bold as to say so.”
I smiled and was giddy from his compliment because I had never heard words like that. My mother had never allowed me to interact with the opposite sex, other than my brothers. She feared I would be tainted and refused to risk losing the asset almost as valuable as my beauty- my virginity.
I felt the heat in my cheeks as I said, “You are too kind, Monsieur Dauphine.”
A peculiar look came upon his face. “I do not wish to be Monsieur Dauphine to you. Please, call me Jean Phillipe.”
“As you wish, Jean Phillipe.”
A smile replaced his unusual expression and he asked, “Would you do me the honor of taking a carriage ride with me?”
The thought of being with this beautiful man without a chaperone sent chills throughout my body. “Yes, I would love that very much.”
We left my mother’s home and he lifted me effortlessly into his carriage. He joined me on the bench seat and boldly sat close enough for our fabric covered legs to touch. It was exhilarating and the touch of his leg against mine sent fiery tingles throughout my body.
The driver pulled the carriage onto the street and a light breeze blew against my face. It was spring and the crisp scent of new blooms was strong in the air.
I turned to look at Jean Phillipe and asked, “Where are you taking me?”
He hesitated as though he was contemplating what to say. “I want to show you the house I have purchased for us.”
There it was- the confirmation I needed to tell me he hadn’t changed his mind about me after all. “You’ve already purchased a house for us?”
A look of discomfort came over his face. “I’m sorry, Marsala. I should have allowed you to help choose the house. It was thoughtless of me to not consider that.”
I was humbled by his reaction and reached for his hand. It was so cold against my warm one as I said, “No, that’s not what I meant. I’m not displeased. I’m just surprised is all. Pleasantly surprised, that is,” I told him.
He placed his cold palms on each side of my face and looked into my eyes as he said, “I want to make you happy, Marsala.”
I smiled at his words because he had no idea that just being with him made me happy. “You are already making me happy. I am quite pleased by our match.”
We were silent the rest of the short ride to the home we would soon share, but he held my hand tightly in his. When the carriage stopped, he said, “This is it. This is where we are going to begin our lives together.”
I turned to see the place I would now call home. It was dark outside, but I could see it was nothing like the cottage my father purchased for my mother when she became his quadroon nineteen years ago. The only word I could use to describe the house before me was mansion and it left me speechless.
“You aren’t saying anything. Does that mean you dislike the house?” he asked.
I turned to him to explain. “No, I think I’m just a little shocked because I expected a small cottage, not a house of this magnitude. It’s beautiful.”
“Is it too much? Would you prefer a quaint cottage outside the city instead?”
I adored his eagerness to please me. “No. You chose this and I love it.”
He dangled a key in front of me and asked, “Would you care to see the inside?”
“Yes, of course.”
I looped my arm through his as he led me from his carriage toward the front door through a gate made of black wrought iron. As he used the key to unlock the door, I noticed a symbol above the entrance. It was ornate in design and made of black wrought iron to match the gate and fence around the courtyard.
“What it that symbol?” I asked curiously.
“It’s a Sigil,” he replied.
I felt so young and naive for not knowing what a Sigil was and I debated asking for an explanation when Jean Phillipe said, “It is a symbol identifying this house and its inhabitants to others like us.”
I didn’t recall a Sigil over my mother’s door, but I felt a deep sadness come over me as I realized he intended on treating me as a mistress and not as his legitimate wife. “Oh, I see. You are referring to the arrangement between manquadroons and their mistresses?” I asked.
“No, Marsala, I’m not referring to manquadroons or mistresses. I’m referring to vampires and their covens.”
I was abruptly brought back into the present when I felt a sudden pain through my heart, the place where I always felt my connection to Curry. I briefly wondered if someone had driven a stake through my heart until I looked down and confirmed there was nothing protruding from my body. There was only one conclusion I could draw.
“Marsala, what is wrong?” Madon asked, concerned after seeing the pained expression on my face.
“I felt it the moment it happened,” I said in disbelief although I had waited 22 years for the day to come.
“I don’t understand. What has happened?” Madon asked in confusion.
I never told Madon or Wythe about the curse placed on me by the gods the day Curry walked into the sunlight away from me. They believed he met his true death on that day after the eclipse and I would have thought the same if the gods hadn’t cursed me.
My punishment was devastating, but simple. I felt Curry every moment since we were separated. I felt his happiness without me and I was forced to endure the pain of feeling him find the one to complete him-his Agápe.
I looked at Madon’s worried reflection and decided it was time to tell him and Wythe the truth. “He has found her.”
Madon’s enraged expression told me he understood who ‘he’ was as he shook his head in disbelief. He shut his eyes tightly trying to block out my words. “No. It can’t be because he met his true death years ago,” he argued.
“It’s true. Curry is very much alive and he has found his Agápe. Now, we must find them because the girl has to die.”