Men were pigs. Viridiana had reconciled with this fact long ago. They’d lie and cheat and steal. They’d grab at your ass as you passed and pinch a little harder if you didn’t pull a knife on them to drive them off. They were animals. Most didn’t listen to reason; they were often too drunk to be bothered with such a triviality. So she didn’t try talking. Violence was often more effective anyways. A head smashed against a wall was an easy way to end a discussion she wasn’t interested in having in the first place than attempting to reason with them.
Of all the men she had had the misfortune of crossing paths with, Hu Gibblet was the worst of them. The man had a sadistic streak in him a mile wide and always growing. The most she had learned from him was the places to find the cheapest whores in the city and how to dodge an empty wine bottle thrown in her general direction. . She hated the man, and yet she was yoked to him until she earned her full wetboy greys. When the weather was poor and the whores hid inside for the night, it was she who bore the full strength of his ire.
Hu Gibblet had taken her in as a scrawny youth and beaten her down even further, if that was even possible. He was a viper in a pit of snakes and she could only hope that he would someday suffer a venomous bite of his own. Gibblet had turned her into an assassin, a good one at that. He had utterly destroyed everything else.
It had been Mamma K who picked up the pieces and glued Vi back together. She taught her that beauty wasn’t something to be feared, to be slathered in mud to hide it from a man’s predatory gaze. You could take a mirror and turn it back upon them, wielding that beauty as a weapon. Vi knew more than twenty ways to wear her hair and had two fistfuls worth of wigs for the nights where she wanted something different. She knew just how much cleavage to bear to attract a man’s eye and how much flirting it would take to get him out of the bar and into the bedroom where she could slide a shiv between his ribs and collect her bounty. She was as well-trained as any of Mamma K’s girls. Her beauty had been transformed into a tool. Not for pleasure, never for pleasure. There was little pleasure to be found beneath a man’s weight and grunts, but for business it opened doors that no lock pick could manage.
Once in awhile, though, on her rare nights off she snuck to the safe house she kept beyond the city walls, one that not even Gibblet knew about. In a world full of hardship and enemies, it was her one safe haven where she could retreat in private. It wasn’t much more than a shed, but it was her own. Laid out around the room was a rack with a collection of dresses that had never been marred by the hand of a drunken man and a table laid out with her make-up and a mirror to work by.
The ritual was always the same, on nights like this. She’d made sure her mentor was passed out drunk before departing and would leave a fresh bottle of liquor on the nightstand on the off chance that he woke from his stupor. The only reason she took care of the man was because he was obviously incapable of doing it for himself, the disgusting louch.
She checked the single hair she had wrapped across the latch. Finding it undisturbed, she entered. After a cursory check to see that everything was where it belonged and with no sign of intruders, she knelt to the floor and worked at a loose floor board. From beneath that, she pulled out a wooden box and raised it into the lantern night.
Within this box was the one thing that no one else knew. They had stolen her purity, her beauty, the pleasure she might’ve once taken in attracting the gaze of a handsome man and reveling in the power it granted her. This was her last bastion of defense against that tumultuous tide. Reaching inside, she withdrew the book that lay within. It was a flimsy thing, passed between who knew how many people and carted between what was probably more cities than she could count by traders looking to make a quick penny.
Men had their porn stashes for the rare moments when they couldn’t find a woman to plow, but Viridiana had her romance novels. Oh they were trashy; of that she had no doubt about that. They were full of the frivolous pomp and circumstance that one just didn’t find in the real world. There were men who asked for the pleasure of escorting a woman on a date instead of the nights where she was dragged along as Hu Gibblet’s assistant. There were men who held doors and pulled out a chair for a ladies . The first time she’d lifted one off of Mamma K’s shelf to borrow, it had her in fits of giggles. She had actually thought the damn thing was supposed to be comedy.
In time, though, she had sought permission from Mamma K to borrow from her personal library. For all of the frivolity, there was a charm to such fantasies. What she would give for such a world, for such a life. For a man to look at her as a person instead of a commodity to conquer and keep.
Leaning back in her wooden chair, she licked a finger and flipped the next page from where she’d last left off. The main character, a woman, had been kidnapped by a mighty pirate lord and held for ransom. The handsome hero had rescued her from the dastardly villain with the sort of ease that she could only dream of possessing. The mark never fell asleep and stayed asleep. There was always the noise that woke them up as she was about to climb in through the window or an errand that drew them across town and had her changing her plans on the fly.
Viridiana sighed. Of course there had been a minor swordfight, the hero losing his shirt in the process and exposing his muscular frame (she had a sneaky suspicion that she was probably more stacked that this fictional character. Honestly, how much muscle could you build as a scholarly scribe? For the sake of enjoying the story she banished the thought and continued on). As with most chapters, it ended with the tearing off of a bodice and mind blowing, life changing sex to wrap it all up with a neat little bow.
It was cheesy, she knew it. It was unrealistic to the extreme and if Hu Gibblet ever found her caught her here he’d probably light the book on fire while it was still in her hand. There was a reason that she had a separate safe house for this stuff.
Closing the cover of the book, she ran a finger along the worn spine before putting it back in its box and placing the box in its place beneath the floorboards. She spent the next hour preparing herself to go out for the evening: applying makeup, picking out a dress, donning a necklace and finally styling her real hair. On a night such as this, that solely belonged to her,she showed her real hair to the world with pride. She thought of piling it on her head in the style that was currently in favor in the court, but decided to leave it down at the last minute, instead brushing the wavy hair down along her back.
On the way out she reset the lock and the trap mechanism that would shoot a poisoned dart into anyone who molested this final barrier she wrapped around the part of herself that was totally her own.
She walked to the tavern down the road and hired a carriage and footman for the evening with the bounty from her latest kill. Stepping into the carriage, the man shut the door behind her. She settled down on the bench, letting the plush velvet envelope her frame.
As they trotted off to the merchant distract and toward that evening’s ball, the rest of the world drifted away. Just for the night, there would be no Hu Gibblet or deaders, no shrinking in on herself under the gaze of a man. On nights like this, she held her chin high and her face with a cool serenity. Tomorrow there was a new mark to be dealt with, a merchant who had been skimping on his bribes to the city guard. She had already picked the alley where she would twist his neck to the side and snap it.
For tonight, though, she banished those thoughts. None of that existed. It was a night of celebration, a gala of chivalrous men who lived by an actual code of morals; she could lie to herself for just one night and believe in the illusion sold to her by a slew of romance novels. As the carriage pulled up to the manor, she stepped out of reality, away from the horrors of it all, and into a warm embrace of a fantasy.