HER HAIR WAS RED-GOLD, like honey on toast—a startling contrast to her skin, which was olive-toned and as smooth and flawless as one. Or so he said. He used culinary metaphors, he said, because they made him all the hungrier. For her.
She was like the interior of a seashell, smooth and flawless and a dark brown color that was more purple than pink, or was it the other way around? This everyone said. She knew it to be true. And her smile—whispered behind her back—her smile was the seashell's edge, as pink and smooth, as sensuous and sharp.
Tonight, Calibri smiled, and those who best knew her were afraid.
She was furious.
In Maldonia the pleasure-domes secreted throughout the big cities were considered, archaically, a taboo topic for respectable women, and for men to discuss with respectable women. But among themselves the domen, the girls employed at the pleasure-domes, knew no forbidden territory in conversation among one another, none. She was annoyed. Shouldn't she have found out much sooner, as a result?
The Saubehus was the best pleasure-dome in Maldonia's capital city of Brima—in the entire country, surely!—and Calibri was its crown jewel.
And speaking of crown jewels…Had she spoken the thought aloud, it would have emerged as a venomous hiss.
Once the prize beauty of a pleasure-dome was attached to a man as his mistress, he was no longer considered free to consort with other domen in the same pleasure-dome, let alone with employees of another. It was a sort of inverted marriage contract; while it lasted, the man was pledged as if in blood—while the mistress might have any number of patrons she chose at a time.
Calibri fumed, her cheeks flushing to nearly the same brilliance as her fiery hair. Herri had pledged himself to her. He had told her she was like honey, bread, olives—one sweet, one essential, one a Maldonian speciality—and now! Now…
Now she wondered how many other domen had been told similar things. Hair smooth and brown as polished mahogany. Cheeks like precious peonies. A voice as melodious as—what had he called it?—a clarinet, what an unmusical name for an instrument! Curls like the round-dimpled pattern in a new wheel of butter. Calibri amused herself—for lack of a better word—with such similes for a while, but quickly returned her attention to the matter at hand.
Scorn, like acid, washed away again any amusement she might have briefly garnered. How dare he betray her, Calibri, the most expensive and attractive doma in the country! And not even with those who ranked beneath her in the Saubehus; that would have been a logical (if undesirable) transgression. No, instead, as she had discovered, there was hardly a pleasure-dome in Brima—and a few of the surrounding cities—which did not boast Harri's patronage to its best doma. What kind of man was Harri, to have the arrogance which went hand-in-hand with the wealth required to support so many domen?
Fortunately—or perhaps unfortunately—Calibri knew.
Harri was not Harri. Harri was, in fact, better known to the public as His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Naveen of Maldonia, etc., etc. Calibri had used the rest of his titles and names, everybody knew them, as a mantra, to calm herself while the little maid, her tongue loosened by coin, rattled on about how she was only a poor maid, miss, only there to deliver a note from the Prince, and not knowing the Prince in the way that miss did, miss, and so, please, not to harm her. After all, hadn't she told miss everything she knew?
Calibri was satisfied that she had; and, paying the terrified girl for her silence, dismissed her and ripped the note open. It was apologetic; he would be later than usual that afternoon, and hoped she would forgive him. It was the royal seal, obviously set to the envelope in a moment of hasty indiscretion, which had betrayed its sender to Calibri.
She knew almost instantly that she had been right to bribe the girl into silence. If Harri—or rather, the Prince—was going to be late, she had time. Smoothing her creamy dress down with her hands, with a serenity of manner (and of course, of smile) that belied the plan swiftly forming within her mind, Calibri crossed the room and picked up the telephone receiver.
ONE HOUR AND FORTY-THREE MINUTES later, Prince Naveen bounded up the steps of the Saubehus in an excellent frame of mind. He knew Calibri would pout coquettishly at how very late he was, but surely he could convince her to forgive him his tardiness. And, if he failed the first time, why then, he could try again, and again…The smile, white as pearls, which caused visiting princesses to hyperventilate, flashed across his face.
As to why he was late…Just as Naveen had changed into normal, commoner's clothes—a far cry from the braid and gilding and itchiness that characterized formal, royal wear—his personal butler, Laurence, had entered carrying a curiously shaped package, which Naveen seized upon at once.
He'd dashed off a quick note to Calibri, the afternoon's doma. Ripping the brown parcel paper away, Naveen regarded the ukulele in his hands with all the reverence of a little boy with his first set of toy soldiers (a simile Naveen could personally attest to). It was much, much smaller, and higher-pitched, than a guitar, but certainly easier to carry down the street than a guitar, or a clarinet, or saxophone, or piano, or tuba or trumpet—most of which Naveen himself knew how to play. They were all instruments which were used by "jazz" players in New Orleans, America. This jazz music was very different from anything Naveen had heard before; and, in the way of young adults, loved it as much as his parents were annoyed by it. Someday he was going to travel to New Orleans incognito, bringing all his instruments, and play in a band on the streets; maybe he'd break a few hearts while he was there.
It would be amusing to see their faces—the women, the jazz players—if he revealed his identity. But then, the fun of keeping it all a secret would be gone. He was already practicing this, after all—his parents and everyone else in Maldonia had some idea of his amorous adventures, but no one knew how much he ran around. In the pleasure-dome districts he disguised himself, giving a different name—Calibri knew him as Harri, for example—and he was very careful not to confuse either his own names, or those of his paramours. (He would have to stop acquiring for now, though—already six were hard to manage.) He wanted to make quite sure no woman in Maldonia could brag of having cavorted with their Crown Prince, as much for his own sake as for that of his parents and small brother.
Naveen had cheerfully leaned back in his chair and picked out, first chords and then tunes by ear, for a long time; then, almost reluctantly, he set it aside, jammed his cap onto his head and set off to meet Calibri.
He was still picking at the ukulele strings, in his head, when the hallway door opened and Calibri pulled him in.
She was almost violent, tugging at his clothing, and Naveen was the last person in the world to protest her urgency. Within seconds, tugging was no longer necessary. On either side.
It seemed hours and hours later (though it was only a matter of minutes) before the flashbulbs went off, like big round eyes, like frog's eyes perched atop the reporter's cameras, blinking at the pencils which buzzed like insects over pads of paper, opening and closing, opening and closing, opening
Next: A RUDE AWAKENING, in which Naveen reaps the wild oats he's sown for years.