It's generally considered rude to keep daemons visible when working with a client. Quite apart from the logistical issues of having them around, daemons are much worse at dissembling compared with their human counterparts. As Nancy points out, it tends to spoil the carefully crafted illusion of enjoyment if one's daemon is scratching at the floor or coughing up hairballs during a moment supposedly dedicated to passion.
(An exception is made, as always, for Betsey's sleepy little lop-eared rabbit, who curls up in his basket at the foot of her bed and gently snores through every client she services).
Violet loves her daemon, Sassafras, she really does and always has, but she sometimes wishes that Sassafras had finalized on a shape slightly more sexy than a little Dartmoor pony. She does her best, plaiting ribbons into Sassafras's mane and washing her hooves till they shine, even in the muck of London's streets. Sassafras is too large to be discretely hidden, and even though she’s only in the next room while Violet is working it still feels like too far away. Violet can’t help but feel jealous of Fanny, who can tuck her little Bantam Rooster behind a curtain, or Emily, whose crested lizard is small enough to stay hidden under the bed.
"They don't choose you for the daemon." Nancy says reassuringly, although Violet can't help thinking that Nancy, with her spitting little Scottish wildcat, got slightly luckier than most of them. A cat seems right for a harlot's daemon in a way that a pony distinctly doesn't. The wildcat yawns, slinking around Sassafras’s hooves reassuringly before settling down to sharpen his claws against the stone flagstones.
Violet usually sleeps for most of the day, but sometimes she heads down to the marketplace in the late afternoons, Sassafras clopping along beside her. There’s a stir in the square today, and Violet sighs and rolls her eyes as she recognizes the religious woman, waving her book around and shouting. She’d complain more, she really would, if it wasn’t such good publicity the way the woman points to the doors of all the brothels. She can see men and daemons both turning to look, and she catches the eye of one particularly flustered young man and gives him a wink, smirking as he immediately blushes.
Sassafras clops gently towards the noise and Violet gives a groan, “Oh no – just ignore them.”
There’s a young woman next to the elder Mrs Scanwell (whose red-and-white vixen is lying at her feet, docile and tamed). She turns as Sassafras approaches and Violet sees her eyes crinkle gentle in delight. She has apples in her basket and Violet hurries forward quickly as Sassafras starts nosing at them.
“Oh no, it’s perfectly alright.” The girl smiles and holds an apple out and Violet sighs, stroking Sassafras’s mane to hide her embarrassment. “He can have one.”
“She.” Violet watches the slight look of confusion pass over the girls face, “And I wouldn’t want you wasting your wares. Aren’t they only for repentant sinners?”
“They are for everyone.” Her smile is too sweet, too perfect. Violet isn’t used to smiles and gifts that don’t come with a bite behind them, but this young woman means nothing but kindness. Her daemon is a small red chaffinch on her shoulder, and it flutters towards Violet who, without even thinking, holds out a finger to catch it. The daemon lands, its head cocked sideways and Violet almost can’t breath. She doesn’t even know this woman and here she is, with her daemon in her hand, its breast rising and falling rapidly, claws digging gently into her finger.
She looks up in alarm, all ready to apologize, but sees nothing but a rueful smile, “I’m sorry, she always does that. She likes meeting new people, I can call her back to my shoulder if you…”
Violet lifts her finger, looking curiously at the little bird. So small and vulnerable, yet so completely unafraid, unaware of the huge social faux pas it’s just committed.
“My daemon is female as well…” the young woman’s voice falters, “Mama always said it was because I didn’t think of men, and had no impure thoughts.”
Violet Cross has never thought of men, but she has impure thoughts a-plenty.
Amelia Scanwell – Violet whispers the name back to herself as soon as she finds it out, murmuring it as she brushes Sassafras’s mane, and plaits the purple ribbons into her hair. Amelia Scanwell.
She lives next door to Quigley, which makes it hard for them to meet, but every so often she slips away. There are alleyways and nooks behind Greek Street, and Violet feels each time that Amelia’s hand against her face, her hushed voice, makes everything worthwhile.
The first time they kiss is the first time Violet understands what kissing is. She should be the experienced one, the number of men she’s slept with, but Amelia is something new, something different. Amelia’s mouth is soft and uncertain, her tongue unpracticed, her lips chafed but eager. Her hands grasp at Violet’s shoulders and Violet wants to stay there forever, in a dingy little alleyway, holding this girl in her arms.
She catches a sudden movement out of the corner of her eye and hastily breaks away. Looking down she sees a small albino rat, cowering in the corner of the alleyway, watching them with pale pink eyes.
“This is no concern of yours.” She snaps, “No concern of his either. You tell him that.”
Amelia murmurs her confusion, and Violet kisses her again. By the end of that kiss, the rat is gone.
They can get away with walking together in St. James’s park, just about. There are plenty of people around and nobody pays a huge amount of attention to a common prostitute telling jokes or a giggling girl in religious dress. Sassafras gallops up and down beside the lake, with the little red chaffinch singing on her back.
“I’ve never been outside of London.” Violet admits. “Not sure I’d want to, I don’t think there’s many in the countryside that would take kindly to a girl like me. London’s busy; busy enough to get lost in.”
“When I was very little, we lived in a convent outside the city, before Mama moved back here.” Amelia smiles fondly at the memory, “I would like to take you sometime. Not to a convent, but to a cottage. Somewhere with wild open moorland. Sassafras would like it.”
“She would.” Violet agrees, although she’s not sure whether she herself would like it so much. “Won’t it be dull?”
“I’ll be there.” Amelia’s face is still pure and open but there’s a flash of mischief in her smile now, that Violet doesn’t remember seeing before. “Would that be dull?”
“You could never be dull.” Violet murmurs softly, keeping her voice lowered as Lydia Quigley strides past, her large peacock displaying proudly behind her.
It’s nice spending time together, but even in the park they have to be careful. They can hold hands, but not embrace, kisses must be chaste and fleeting, conversation neutral, glances not too lingering. Violet supposes that would be one advantage of the country, no people for miles around, no-one to care if they spend all day curled up in bed together, or lying on a hillside wrapped in each other’s arms.
Prince Rasselas hurries up behind Quigley, murmuring something urgently in her ear. His skinny little albino rat is curled up around his shoulders, but it scuttles down when it sees Violet and Amelia, stopping to stare at them with beady eyes.
Violet hisses at it, trying to get it to move away before Quigley notices them.
Amelia throws it some breadcrumbs.
It's Amelia’s chaffinch that alerts her first, pecking furiously against the window while Violet’s busy with a client. She feels torn in two, desperately trying to finish the man quickly, her heart pounding inside. Sassafras pretty much breaks down the door with his hooves, and Violet throws her previous takings at the unfortunate John, snaps something about a discount next time, and extracts herself as quick as she can.
The daemon shouldn’t be this far away from Amelia. Violet feels the panic rise within her, grabbing a shawl and hurrying out into the night. She knows the chaffinch can travel far from the girl, further than any other daemon Violet knows except for maybe a witch’s, but this is too far. Amelia must be hurt or injured, and she hurries faster.
The chaffinch leads her straight to an Amelia who falls into her arms, shaking like a leaf. Violet wraps her arms around her, pressing Amelia close as the chaffinch lands with a sad little chirrup on Violet’s shoulder. She’ll never get used to that, how easily it approaches and trusts other people. Even after what’s happened, even after this, it still trusts her enough to touch her.
Violet leads Amelia gently away, into the backstreets of Covent Garden, then into the rickety little brothel room where she can hold Amelia again. It takes a while before either of them speaks, then Amelia’s voice breaks the silence softly, “I’m pleased I did it.”
Violet’s amazed she can speak at all, and her voice comes out sounding nothing like her, “What – what did you do?”
“They wanted a girl…” Amelia’s voice is faint and Violet hugs her tighter. “Oh but I didn’t – not that. I didn’t have to – I was just tied, tied and waiting. I was the bait, and they caught him.”
Violet kisses her forehead gently, feeling the tense girl relaxing against her. “Stay here.”
“I must get back to my mother…”
“Please. Just … just for tonight.”
Amelia draws back and kisses her, “Just for tonight.”
They lay together in the bed, pressed close, wrapped in blankets. For the first time Violet can remember, Sassafras sleeps by the bed next to her, Amelia’s chaffinch curled up in her mane. She can feel Amelia’s heart beating against her skin, and hear the sound of Sassafras’s breath in the night.
It feels good to sleep next to her daemon.