The pall of what the child had said to him hung between them. The words were so heavy that Victor felt the weight of them further pressing on him, urging him to sleep. He thought of what the girl had just said to him. That something, or someone more specifically, was trying to hide him. To guard him. And what of these people she spoke of? Victor may have been a hidden treasure that his father had locked up in his house, lest he lose his grip on what little held his house afloat, but it was not as though he was a secret then. He knew of and had met with some of the most prominent families in all of French society before his sixteenth birthday. He knew that many of them had since fallen to ruin in the modern age, holding desperately to the laurels of the past. He also knew that a select few had ventured this direction to find a new world where one could build a new name. Where one could erase the sins of the past because no one here had access to all that talk. All those incredibly toxic secrets.
It dawned on him now as he looked over the girl, he’d known before that she was French. He’d easily slipped into speaking the language to her, though he rarely did this with the other staff. Most of them didn’t speak a word of the language and he’d found himself training himself to adopt more of their speech. He’d fought hard to drown his accent as best as he could, creating something of a soft hint of it in his business speak. With this girl, he’d slipped back into those sounds that he’d allow to roll off his lips when he was tired or angry. He had been able to sense it, though the girl had no trace of any accent herself. He sighed.
“The time has come for me to ask some things of you, child,” he said, resigned. He knew he did not wish to know any more than she wished to speak of these things. “I have dreaded this. I know you are a young one full of many secrets. If we are to help each other, I must know what you are hiding. I must know who you are.”
“Please sir,” the child sighed. “There is no good to come of this. My name is of no use to anyone who might learn it.”
“I don’t believe that,” Victor pressed, feeling a wave of sleep trying to pull him down into the bed. “If it was of no use, there would be no point in hiding it. I mean what I say. I will not use this to harm you but I know something must be happening around us. Something that seeks to harm us. You tell me this yourself. What you keep to yourself may well end in death for one of us.”
“It was death that followed this name,” the girl said, her eyes becoming teary again. “No good comes from it or ever will. Sir, you ask me to reveal too much. It can hurt you. It has already hurt me too much.”
“Calm yourself, chérie,” Victor urged. “We must not allow ourselves to give in to despair. You and I, we both have burdens that our names have attached to our backs. I promise you, this world that we are in, we can do something. France is old and in love with its history. This world need not be that way. Whatever death followed your heels in the old world need not be this way here.”
“But it follows,” the girl sighed, looking down. She sounded old. Older than he’d ever heard a child sound. “With my name comes a darkness. A darkness worse than the winter of your name. It is a name that was feared into hiding. A name that Memère sought to keep me from but it was too late for her. She fled here and found only that darkness and now it has swallowed her. It had done the same to my mother before and the only safety is to keep it a secret.”
“I do not fear the dark, child,” Victor said, in a serious tone. “I will not shudder at it, even if it comes to me.”
“I know,” the girl said, looking at him. She frown, looking devastated. “The dark has sought you out many times and it’s so much closer now. I pray you please don’t make me tell you these things. I saw what it did to Memère. I cannot bare the guilt if it should do the same to you.”
“You cannot bare the blame for a fool who walks to greet his death, chérie,” Victor said, gently. “I know that I have danced on this edge too many times before. If death awaits me, I fear it not. I have taunted it too many times to believe that I’m invincible and I know it will come for me. If it comes soon, I would rather know than to allow it to creep upon me.”
“The darkness loves you too much to allow for that,” the girl said, shaking her head sadly. “It always has. It wants us both. You need not give in, though. Winter is not always dark. There are days of light and sometimes even cheer. There can be for you. A greater light than the one you thought you found before. Please know this. Please believe me that what I bare is not simple death. It is a darkness that will haunt me as it did my family. It took them. I fear watching it take another.”
“And you believe that to bare this burden alone is for the best?”
“I was born to it,” the child said, bowing her head. “I knew this the day that I saw this house in my dreams. I knew it when I saw what became of Memère.”
Victor sighed, knowing from her tone that this was not simply a case of the child being fanciful. He knew that he did not understand what she meant but he felt the gravity behind her words. She was haunted and he could tell that just by looking at her. Perhaps it was this that had made him relent in letting her become one of his maids. He had not wanted to. He remembered this now but something inside of him could not say no. He had accepted her, maybe even in part resented that he had, because he could see from the very first time he’d looked at her that this was a child who had so many secrets. So much to tell and no one to say it to. He knew it would be him whom she turned to. He knew that this would become his burden as well. Now that it stood before him, that doorway almost entirely unlocked, he found that he was not afraid of it, though he knew he should be. He found that he was almost eager to meet his fate. That his assumptions would be proven right and come to fruition at long last.
“Tell me, child,” he said, his tone steady but lacking any sense of cruelty. “Tell me of this burden you seek to escape. Tell me that I might yet shoulder some of it. I can and will. Tell me what it is that haunts you. What is this darkness that surrounds you? Tell me!”
“It is a darkness that you already hate,” she said, her voice faltering. “Please, I beg of you! Do not make me tell you. I am not the sum of my family name and I cannot be put out on the streets. Not like before. It was the ruin of everyone I love. This name is a curse and I cannot stand to tell you. Please. I cannot stand the idea that the only person who has shown me kindness in this world might turn me away. Call me anything you like. Stick me in the laundry and make me wash until my hands crack. Please do not make me tell you of this wretched name!”
“Dear child,” Victor said, his tone genuinely sympathetic. “We are so much more than the sum or our names. Than the people who have come before us and saddled us with these burdens. If anyone understands the terrible price to be paid for being born to a family of wretched people, it is truly me. Whatever cruelty or wicked bloodline you bare the name of, you can and will escape. This is the land of forgotten legacy, chérie. We live in this new world where the old need not be the new. History is but a fairytale to the people of this world.”
“And if the fairytale were true?”
“In the old world, they always are,” Victor said, stubbornly. “Do you think I come from pure, kind people? That I would believe such a thing? Oh no. I am well aware, chérie, that I come from tainted stock. The devil’s children that we all are. My sisters are a testimonial to our linage being one of malice and spite. Of cruelty. I am no stranger to such things and I feel it in my veins when my temper rises. I know that we of my family line are not the victors, meant for kingdoms and happy endings, child. I know we are the ones meant to dance to death in red hot shoes.”
“So you’ve found a way to accept such a fate?” the girl said, bowing her head in shame and despair.
“Au contraire,” Victor corrected. He knew that sitting up would sap his strength but he knew at this moment that he would not have another chance to find this out. He knew it must be now. He sat up and leaned forward to look in the girl’s wide, pleading eyes. “Where we came from, those stories have been told. That history is going to stay the same forever. Here, we tell the stories the way we want. That is how this new world is being built. Whatever devil sits on your back, child, you need not carry when you grow older. Give me the chance and I will teach you how to rid yourself of it. Tell me who you are and I will show you how to become who you want to be.”
“I suppose,” the girl sighed, each breath looking like it pained her to even exhale. “I suppose this is the best way. I know what you say and I know that what you tell me can be true but once you know, you cannot take it back. The truth is terrible that way. I do not want to tell you but I should find myself in much more anguish if you should find out on your own. I’m sorry. I know this name is a curse. I carry it with shame and I pray that you forgive me in time. I know this is a name that pains you for I have seen it.”
“And what name might cause me pain, child?”
“My name is Noir. Rosemary Noir, daughter of Claudia,” she said, the shame dripping from every syllable.
Victor nodded to acknowledge that he had heard. He made his face a mask at the sound of that wretched name uttered on the lips of this poor child. A name that he knew very well. A name that he despised with all his heart.