Chapter 04 – Allies and Plots
Cinderella smiled to herself that night, knowing the time for change had come. She now had enough information in her hands to reliably start her plan to become independent and take over the family business. But she wanted to rope in some allies. She fell asleep planning how to word her business proposal to a potential ally.
The next morning was the day of worship. The others went to church, but Cinderella stayed home. Lady Ingram refused to take her stepdaughter to church beginning a few years back when the young girl’s face had started to blossom from a pretty child to a rare beauty. Since Lady Ingram specifically dressed her daughters up to be seen by other church-going aristocrats, she did not want her beautiful stepdaughter drawing attention away from her biological daughters.
Cinderella normally took the day to rest, but today, she put on her nicest dress and went out to the town. In her apron, she carried the incriminating journal with the hitman’s client records.
She intended to meet one of old trading company managers who was loyal to her father, but had been ousted at her stepmother’s command. The old man, Tomas, routinely fished at the end of the pier on worship days while his wife attended the sermons and then socialized with other ladies.
Cinderella held onto her sunhat and squinted at the bright light as she walked down the pier. To her surprise, someone was already sitting next to old Tomas.
The young man next to Tomas looked up as she approached and Cinderella was treated to the sight of a stunningly handsome face with surprisingly light grey eyes. His dark hair was tousled by more than just the wind, Cinderella realized as he shoved a hand into his hair to lift it away from his face. This action revealed a scar that bisected his left eyebrow. It gave him a rather rakish look, which Cinderella appreciated more than the perfection his face could have been.
Hmm. He looks familiar, Cinderella thought. Since she hardly ever left the manor’s grounds, she was able to quickly run through a mental list of men she knew. She tried to recall where she might have seen him before, but to no avail.
The familiar looking young man nudged Old Tomas and tilted his head in Cinderella’s direction, indicating Tomas had a visitor. The old man looked up and a bright smile crossed his face.
“Young miss! You look more like your mother every day! I’m glad to see you! Are those horrid beasts still treating you the same? Are you eating enough? You’re as skinny as my fishing pole.”
Old man Tomas couldn’t help but begin chattering in his happiness.
The young man looked intrigued by the tidbit of information at the mention of “horrid beasts.”
“I take it this is the daughter of your old master trader, then.” The younger man stood up, revealing his full height, which made Cinderella think she would get a crick in her neck from looking at him. The tilting of his head and his jawline sparked a memory.
Cinderella had seen a similar profile on the country’s old coins. The previous king had followed in the steps of his predecessors and had the coins of the kingdom stamped with a profile of his own face. She shot a questioning look at Old Tomas, wondering if the young man in front of her had royal blood. If he did, surely Old Tomas would let her know.
“Let me introduce you. This is Raoul Laurent, he’s a young and promising merchant who comes to ask for advice on occasion. He’s got a great information network, but he isn’t ashamed to ask others for help. He came looking for me after reading some of your father’s theory papers housed at the merchant’s guild. Raoul, this is Miss Cinderella Beaumont, daughter of the finest merchant our capitol city of Renaud ever had.”
The tension left Cinderella’s shoulders as Old Tomas introduced Raoul, but didn’t give any indication of being servile or cautious around the younger man. Perhaps he was a descendant of an illegitimate branch. Cinderella temporarily dismissed her caution and nodded in greeting.
Raoul offered his hand to Cinderella, who thought he intended to shake her hand in the traditional merchant shake. Instead, he bowed over her hand and kissed the air above her glove like a perfect gentleman.
“This is my first time meeting a merchant heiress,” he said.
Cinderella stiffened, thinking he was being sarcastic. With his good looks, it was highly doubtful that merchants with daughters of marriageable age wouldn’t have attempted to arrange a meeting with their daughters. Or perhaps he was attempting to provoke her.
“Please do not patronize me,” she said in a stiff voice. “If you have spent any time in this port, and you were interested in my father’s works, then you would have heard what happened to my family and my father’s legacy.”
Cinderella was proud of what her father had accomplished in his lifetime. And just as much as she was proud, she hated her stepmother for ruining the company her father built and the livelihood of those who depended on it.
“It was not my intention to be patronizing. After all, the trading company still exists, and you can still take measures to regain control of it, even at this late date,” Raoul lifted his scarred eyebrow, as if he was challenging her to act.
“I could, and I may, but the damage to my father’s name has already been done. To regain the trust of customers would take too long. The amount of outgoing cash flow bleeding out of the company is too great. And I am unable to take legal action until I am of age. There is no time left.”
Old Tomas looked heartbroken as she said this. He thought she was finally giving up on the company and had come to tell him this. He didn’t want to break this news to the other old timers who’d hung onto the hope this young lady would be able to raise the company from its grave.
At the same time, Tomas felt a great deal of pity for this young girl who’d lost her father, her inheritance, and her standing as a rich merchant’s daughter, all at the hands of her stepfamily.
“Don’t worry, Old Tomas, I have a plan.” Cinderella’s words broke through his sad reverie and gave him hope.
“That’s why I came to see you,” she said. “I wanted to ask you and the others for a favor.”
Raoul watched as the canny old manager, who he’d hoped to rope into his own business, practically fell over himself in his hurry to promise his assistance to the young lady. The old man vowed he and the other old manager would be at her beck and call.
Raoul sighed and began recalculating his own plans. He quietly watched the two interact and wondered if it was worth it to draw in Cinderella in order to gain the aid of the old merchants.
“I managed to hide a few bits of my dowry,” Cinderella said, passing over a basket. “I want you to sell what’s left and use it to purchase a few things for me.”
Raoul hadn’t thought her basket, which he took as a picnic basket, would contain the remains of her dowry. Old man Tomas was equally shocked.
“Young miss, is this all that’s left? How could that witch? How could she rob you of your birthright? Those were things the Madame brought with her! The laws say the dowry from the mother’s side is sacred! That is property belonging only to the bride and should be passed down to her daughters. Why haven’t you gone to a solicitor?”
“I tried. But because I am still young and unwed, the solicitor said Lady Ingram, as my stepmother, has the rights to manage my investments and finances. It would be difficult to prove she intentionally stole my dowry rather than just made poor investment choices. Although she has done both.”
Ignoring Old Tomas’s flustered objections, Cinderella handed over a piece of paper as well.
“I’ve made a list of items I need. There are also notes of what the market price has been recently for most of the items. However, most of the herbs we need can be dried or powdered, and the new batches of herbs will be coming into the market in the next few weeks due to the harvest season starting. The older supplies will be cheaper during this window of time as the herb merchants try to get rid of their remaining stock. See just how much you can get. If possible, buy in bulk rather than small quantities. Bah, you’re an old hand at this, so I trust you to negotiate the most favorable price.”
Raoul and Old Tomas looked over the ingredients list and tried to decipher what she intended to make with a bunch of herbs and flowers. Tomas was the first one to figure it out after having worked with the First Madame.
“Miss, did your mother give you the secret recipes for her cosmetics?” he asked with interest. He had asked the first madame years ago to sell the cosmetics properly, but she just laughed and said it was a gift from mother to daughter.
“She did, indeed. And these cosmetics will be the foundation for our new success. I will need you and the others to handle the paperwork at the merchant’s guild for me. After all, that woman doesn’t let me off the estate very often.”
“Are these cosmetics really that profitable?” Raoul asked curiously.
Old Tomas looked at him as if he’d said something silly.
“Of course, they are! The queen of this country even asked for some of the madame’s cosmetics back before she and the current king ascended the throne. She swore by them! After wearing them for only a short period of time, the King, who was still a crown prince at that point, proposed to her out of the blue. She always said Madame’s make-up helped her find happiness.”
The old man told this tale with his chest puffed out in pride. It was as if he’d either had a part in the legendary proposal or at least witnessed it. Raoul tilted his head, as if he seemed to remember hearing this tale before. Having heard this, his estimation of Cinderella’s worth and her new business venture went up. But he was curious as to why she was willing to reveal all this information in front of him. Surely, desperation couldn’t be the only answer.
“Aren’t you afraid I could take this information and do something with it? Like selling your ingredient list, or trying to make the cosmetics in my company instead of letting you have a share of the market?,” Raoul asked curiously.
Cinderella smiled and looked at Raoul from head to toe. He stiffened under her inspection. It had been a long time since someone had so blatantly assessed him.
Of course, she did it on purpose. Who told him to evaluate her so openly? It was only fair that he received the same treatment, she thought. Finally, she answered his question aloud.
“Old Tomas here has a keen eye for people. If he didn’t like you, his attitude would be extremely polite, as if he was dealing with a customer. Plus, all you’ve seen is a list of ingredients. You have no idea what kind of products I am intending to make and which herbs will go in what product, let alone how to process the herbs and flowers.
“Plus,” she continued, “some of those ingredients can be poisonous or cause rashes if they are not handled properly. Even if you wanted to steal a recipe from me, you have no way of knowing if I’ve prepared fake recipes that will just cause your clients to have excess flatulence. If you did try to steal the ingredients list and make cosmetics by randomly throwing things together, you are very likely to either scar or harm your customers. If you want to kill your business, feel free.”
Cinderella was cheerful as she thought about what would happen to anyone who tried to get a jump on her new business.
Her careful preparation yet carefree manner made her an interesting contradiction, Raoul thought. She was dressed like a maid, was in fact an heiress, but had the ruthless mind of a merchant. Although he wasn’t sure what to expect from her in the future, he thought he would at least like to see more of her.
“Could I become an investor in your new company?” Raoul asked, stunning Tomas briefly. Old Tomas never thought this young man would be the kind to invest in another’s company. Rather, Tomas expected Raoul to offer a price for the entire company.
But before long, the older man felt a flame of passion ignite in his heart and he immediately began to mutter about contracts and investment return percentages. Cinderella ignored the old man for a moment and stared at Raoul suspiciously.
“Why?” she asked.
“Why what? Why invest when I don’t know you? My instinct for business is telling me that I could make a huge profit from this venture. Or you could take it as I need some entertainment and would like to see if you inherited your father’s brains and knack for trade.”
“Somehow, I feel like the answer is a bit of both.”
Raoul grinned at her response. “And you’d be right. But the added truth is I am a bit interested in you. You seem like you will do something extra entertaining once you’ve gained enough finances to take back your father’s company.”
“So you’re here for the entertainment?”
He nodded and held out his hand as if he was making a trading offer.
“Please make it a good show.”
If you have any suggestions for place names, I need some suggestions for cities, inns, and merchant shops. Please leave me a comment with any name suggestions you have! Thank you!