She thinks of buying assassins first, because she is fourteen—almost fifteen—and still a child. But she’s not stupid, no matter what Phoebus might think of her, and he clearly does think she’s stupid. She told him her condition for taking him back, for keeping what she knew from her father, and still, he visits brothels and doesn’t bother to hide it. Assassins would cost, and what was to say they’d keep their mouths shut after the deed was done? And where would she find such men anyway? Certainly one didn’t just pick them up at the market.
Then she considers murdering him herself, catching him in some dark alley with a knife because she is fifteen and newly-married and hurting, but she knows that she is not strong enough, not quiet enough, not cold-blooded enough to find him in an alley and slit his throat. He is a veteran, a captain of the Royal Archers, and she is little more than a child, and no match for his forcibly learned paranoia and martial skill.
And then she is almost sixteen and her belly is swelling with child and he comes home all too often with his clothes out of order and an expression she’s come to be far too familiar with on his face. And she is angry, scorned and smarter than he gives her credit for, and she begins to consider poison and never lets it show on her face, because she knows better now.
Men cannot be trusted.
It takes her months, as her belly swells and she hears over and over again the well wishes of those she knows and how they pray for a boy, and secretly she prays for a blonde little girl with nothing of her father in her features, because this child’s father is a weak man. Fleur-de-Lys has never been one to tolerate weakness. She researches, and researches, and researches, and she finds out so much more than she expected and she learns so much less than she wanted to, and one day she wears a deep hood and speaks to many men and women with stalls in dark corners and herbs drying, and she acquires many small containers. Some hold powders, others leaves and berries, and there is even a small bottle of oil.
She does more research, ignores her husband and simply makes certain that he cannot spend all of the money he earns, and she protects her dowry as best she can and she does it so subtly, so masterfully that he never notices and sometimes she curls a lip in disdain for how oblivious he is. This is why she wants a daughter, wants to wear black, because this man is a fool, all men are fools and she could do so much better given half a chance.
It takes time, more time than she’d like it to take, but she learns what will work and what will not, and the cook finds it difficult to keep cats, but he stops bringing it to the lady’s attention after the fourth time when she merely smiles in that unnerving way of hers and tells him to buy another mouser. The lady is not well-liked in the house, but the lord Phoebus is even less so—unable to keep his hands off the maids, that one, and not polite about it either. But the pay is good and the lady is not cruel, at least.
Eventually the cats stop dying, and the cook breathes a sigh of relief.
She is sixteen, nearing seventeen, and her belly is round and the skin taut and her husband hasn’t even looked at her in months. He does not sleep in the same bed as she does, he sneers when he sees her and Fleur-de-Lys rather thinks that he has forgotten everything she told him when he was obsessing over the zingara, which is very much his own loss.
The bottles and powders that have taken up residence among her belongings show signs of use, and there is a small ring with a hollow behind the stone that she will deny owning should it ever be found, along with similarly strange, Italian-made pieces of jewelry. The Italians have a sort of artistry for such things, and Fleur-de-Lys can appreciate it.
She runs her fingers across the bottles, labelled in cryptic fashion with words that have little to do with what the actual contents are, and finally selects one that is not overly subtle, for as much as she would enjoy spinning this game out for quite some time, she is also becoming irritated at the charade of being married to this oaf of a man any longer, and besides, hasn’t he been ill lately?
Not that she would know anything about that, not she and her little bottles.
Fleur-de-Lys bares her teeth in something that is almost a smile, but has too many sharp edges to quite qualify, and chooses her jewelry wisely.
It’s as simple as that, and if a few of the servants look at her strangely for her composure, they have their own reasons to dislike the master of the house and it becomes a conspiracy of silence among them. Society speaks of how terrible it must be for Fleur-de-Lys to lose her husband, what a pity it is to be a widow so soon after marrying, and while with child too!
Fleur-de-Lys keeps her composure and wears black stoically, though she’s fonder of the pale pinks and pastels of her earlier years before she was married, before she removed her husband. Appearances must be maintained after all, and this one will have to be flawless. Fleur-de-Lys has no intention of being put to death for Phoebus’ murder.
She is delivered of a child several weeks later, and she names the girl Esteinnette and she gives the child to a wet nurse for feeding, but remains close to the girl, whispering the names of poisons and of martyrs and of kings and queens to her child, and telling her of the cowardice of her father, of the blood she will have to overcome to be strong.
She tells her daughter to grow up beautiful, to grow out of the dark hair she is born with, she tells her daughter that ruling a man is the easiest thing in the world and all that it requires is force of will. Not even leverage is necessary, just the illusion thereof.
Fleur-de-Lys will raise a daughter to be proud of, no matter how much of a coward her daughter’s father might have been. Such things can be overcome, Fleur-de-Lys knows that from her own mother.