“It’s easier for people who’ve let you down to continue the pattern than to break it.”
Saturday morning, 15 August 2015
GM: For better or for worse, tomorrow eventually comes. Amelie dreams of flickering ghosts, purloined blades, and sinners interred in ornate mausoleums with full funerary honors. After she showers and brushes her teeth, she finds her aunt in the kitchen downstairs. Christina is seated by the island and eating a plate of eggs and toast.
“Good morning. Did you sleep well?”
Amelie: Now that Amelie’s hair is brushed into a much more deliberate style, mostly to one side and mostly controlled, she certainly looks a lot better than she did last night.
“Good morning. I slept good, the bed was almost too soft, I thought it was going to swallow me. How about you, Auntie?” Amelie simply sits with her aunt, wiping blear out her eyes and blinking out the last of those flickering ghosts.
GM: “I slept well, thank you for asking. There’s more eggs still in the pan.” Amelie also finds bread by the toaster. Once she gathers up food and sits back down, Christina adds, “I’m going to be out of the house for most of today. If you want to go anywhere, like your visit to McGehee, feel free to take the other car around.”
Amelie: Food sounds good. When she sits back down and hears her aunt’s next statement, however, she can only chuckle. “That’s an amazing offer. But I can’t drive. Having a walk around the Garden District will be nice.”
GM: Her aunt frowns briefly. “Hm, I suppose we can sign you up for driver’s ed classes at school, if that’s something you’re interested in doing.”
Amelie: Amelie nods. “I’d be interested, for sure. Now that I’m allowed to take them, I’d be happy to.” She pauses for a second, clears her throat, and starts just poking her eggs. “I called my father last night, about my things. It didn’t end well.”
GM: “I’m sorry to hear that. It’s easier for people who’ve let you down to continue the pattern than to break it.”
Amelie: “That’s true. He just threw it out as well, that’s the part that made me so upset.” She sighs and almost angrily pops more egg into her mouth. “I’ll have to make another. Anyway. You’re going to be out today. I’ll keep myself busy, take that walk, unless you wanted me to stay in? I don’t know if you had a key made for me or anything.”
GM: “Rebuilding and moving on is often all we can do,” her aunt nods between a sip of coffee. “So far as today, I’ll leave you fare for the streetcar and other expenses. If you still want to go shopping, today or later, I can see when my assistant is available to also drive you around. And yes, I did have another key made.”
Amelie: Amelie takes a moment and just kind of laughs at herself. This is all so different from what she’s used too, and in more ways than just wiping up bad free-sample microbrewery beer vomit. It’s almost surreal. “I think I’d like to get as much done as I can before school on Monday. Today would be great. But won’t you need your assistant for your work?”
GM: Her aunt takes a bite of toast. “No, not today. It’s the weekend.”
Amelie: “I’ll be sure to return her in good condition then. I’ll do the dishes here, too.” Amelie stands up again, her plate already empty, and goes to wash it. “Would it scare your assistant if I brought her in to see a gunsmith?” It’s not a tease, but her tone is joking.
GM: “That’s thoughtful of you. And she has a fairly level head,” Christina counters with an equally faint touch of amusement.
Amelie: “Oh, I’ve got no interest in the guns. I wanna see how much Louisiana sells their acetylene and permits for, and see if I can’t make some friends. I have a year to set the groundwork for a business.”
GM: “I haven’t a clue there, but I’m sure the internet could tell you.” Her aunt then remarks approvingly, “Good for you though wanting to make some contacts. They’re the lifeblood of any successful business.”
Amelie: “The internet is great. But I don’t have a cellphone anymore. But I’m glad you think so. I need to get in touch with the Mardi Grass costume shops and float artists, performance theaters, and as many old Civil War fanatics as I can. Restoration is good business.”
GM: “You’re sure you didn’t actually come over as a Syrian war refugee?” Christina remarks wryly, shooting off a text on her Solaris. “All right, she can take you out to buy a cellphone as well. You can get by without knowing how to drive, but there’s really no excuse not to have a phone in today’s day and age.”
Amelie: Amelie chuckles, shaking her head. “I had a phone. You just don’t have Telus here in the states. They made me give back the phone when I ended the contract early. As for driving, I can just get rollerskates.”
GM: Her aunt looks as if the concept of ‘giving back’ a phone is foreign to her. “Hmm, that’s not a very equitable deal. We’ll make sure to get you a phone that you actually own.” The mention of rollerskates only elicits a dry look before Christina puts her plate in the sink, rinses it, and remarks, “All right, I’m taking off. My assistant should be here in an hour or so. The extra key is on the dinner table, along with the gate code. Enjoy your day.”
Amelie: Amelie just grins back at her aunt about the rollerblades comment, but decides against stepping in to wash her plate. She instead wishes her a good day and waves goodbye. She then cleans out the pans used to cook breakfast, puts everything away, and goes back up to her room for a moment. It’s going to be an interesting day. Once the hour is up, she’s sitting down at the dining room table, dressed in faded jeans and a white tee shirt almost stereotypically topped with a thin plaid button-up. They’re honestly the best clothes she owns, with no holes and no soot.
GM: The doorbell rings. Amelie answers it and meets a fair-skinned, long-legged and attractive woman with shoulder-length auburn hair who looks in maybe her mid-20s. She’s dressed for the 80-degree-plus weather in a blue and white sundress, closed-toe sandals, and a purse slung over her shoulder.
“Hi! I’m Kristina Winters. You must be Amelie,” she smiles, offering a little wave.
Amelie: New Orleans is off to a good start on the “make you feel manish” side of things so far.
“Amelie Savard. Nice to meet you, Ms. Winters.” Christina Roberts hiring a Kristina Winters, there’s enough joke material there to choke on.
“You look good! I can see I’ll be in good hands as far as advice on appearances. Should we get going, or did you want to sit inside awhile?”
GM: Her aunt’s PA laughs. “You can just call me Kristina. But thanks! Pretty hard to buy any clothes from inside here though, unless you want to do it online.”
Amelie: Amelie just smiles and steps outside, closing and locking the door behind her with the new key.
“More meant to get some water or something, but point taken. Let’s head out, I promise not to take up too much time.”
GM: “Don’t worry about it, your aunt doesn’t need me today.” Kristina heads walks down the house’s steps and over to a silver Prius. Kristina punches some buttons on the keypad to close the house’s gate, gets in on the car’s driver’s side, and takes off once the two have fastened their seatbelts. Tall and proud Southern live oaks interspersed with rows of Colonial-, Victorian, and Greek Revival-style old homes drift past.
“There any particular places you’d like to head, or do you wanna leave that in my hands?”
Amelie: Amelie gets in on the passenger side, looks out the window and enjoys the scenery passing by. It’s still barely real. This part of New Orleans is just so beautiful, and there are so many houses she’s tempted to walk into when the owners are gone just to look around. But memories of the canines and officers patrolling so close act as a good deterrent.
“I dunno if my aunt told you, but I do have one very odd stop to make last. I need to go to a privately owned gun store, to speak with the owners. Plus I need a cellphone. But after that? It’s in your hands completely.”
GM: “Yep, gun store it is,” Kristina nods as the car passes by a garden whose stone fountain is festooned with capering nymphs and dolphins. “There any particular stop you want to make first?”
Amelie: Amelie looks over and cocks an eyebrow at the woman, wondering if her aunt is just that thorough or if Kristina has heard stranger things out of the blue. The scenery is quite a distraction from the question, though, and the teen takes a moment to fawn over the stonework before collecting herself.
“Cellphone has my vote, networking is easier with one I’d imagine. No questions about the gun shop though? Does my aunt send you to look at weapons often?”
GM: “This would be my first time,” Amelie’s driver answers with an amused smile. “If that’s what you wanna do, that’s what you wanna do.”
Amelie: That reply just makes Amelie even more curious, and she can’t help but laugh a little. So tight-lipped.
“If it makes you feel better, it’s for business. I’m not interested in guns. For now, I’ll leave it in your capable hands where to go for this cellphone, and the clothes after.”
GM: “All right! There’s a place not too far off on Magazine Street. We can probably do most of your clothes shopping there too.”
Amelie: “That sounds good to me. Dunno how long we’ll be out though, I don’t need a lot, unless my aunt is planning on taking me to corporate parties or something. In that case, god help us finding a dress.”
GM: “Nah, she’s not much one for those. But okay, Magazine Street it is.”
Amelie: It’s almost a relief to hear her aunt isn’t one for attending every soiree in New Orleans. Amelie doesn’t really know how much she can get away with wearing men’s formal wear before someone shoves her in a dress that shows too much scarring. Though she has to wonder, would showing all that off maybe help her case? No one wants a swordsmith who can’t swing a hammer.
GM: Kristina drives a few minutes, and the greenery-interspersed rows of old houses give way to a stretch of antique shops, art galleries, craft shops, boutiques, coffee houses, and restaurants. Kristina mentions that the street was originally named for a “magazin,” a warehouse that was built in the late 1700s to house products awaiting export. Today, Magazine Street features as historic a range of architecture as the rest of the Garden District, from the large columned Greek Revival style of the mid-19th century to colorful Victorian cottages trimmed in gingerbread millwork.
Amelie: Amelie’s internal struggle comes to an abrupt end when they reach Magazine Street, and she listens attentively to Kristina’s story as she scans each craft and antique store for her interests. “Almost nothing in New Orleans feels real so far. Quebec City is over 100 years older, but it feels nothing like this. So much culture in every piece of… everything. Could we stop in a few of these antique stores later?”
GM: Kristina nods as she parks the car outside a store with “myPhoneMD” marked over the door with a red and white medical cross. “Sure! You never know what items those places are gonna have.”
Compared to the old houses and storied streets the two have passed, MyPhoneMD’s interior feels like it could be anywhere in the United States (or Canada). Kristina says hello to the staff and helps Amelie shop around for a smartphone of her choice. Her aunt’s assistant, personally, is an Apple user.
Amelie: It’s a bit of normalcy at last as Amelie enters the store and starts looking around for what she had before the move. Samsung Note, the bigger kind with the tap pens, and just as akin to a phone and the pocket PDAs of older times. For someone who spent most of her days with hands covered in iron shavings and soot, that kind of phone was a match made in heaven. Once Amelie makes her selection, she saunters back up to Kristina.
“Cheaper than the cutting edge, but function over form though, right? Least I’ll never lose it, le gros baiseur.”
GM: “Oh, your aunt says it’s okay if you want something more expensive,” her driver for the day assures, then frowns a little. “I think I read an article about those exploding in peoples’ pockets…”
Amelie: “That so? Hmm. I’ll take the risk, I like these things. If I get a new scar, I get a new scar, and I can even take part in a grand American rite of passage. Lawsuits.”
GM: “You picked the right aunt to have for that too, she’s got a law degree,” Kristina remarks as she hands over a credit card to the sales associate.
Amelie: “I wonder why she isn’t a lawyer anymore. I asked about her job and it seems she enjoys it well enough, but I gotta wonder.” Amelie thinks it’s a bit of a strange move for her aunt to give her credit card to her assistant, but she steps up to the counter to set up a cellphone plan. She needs a phone number before she leaves this place.
GM: Kristina tucks the card back in her wallet after the sales associate swipes it. “I don’t think being a lawyer was for her. It’s a lot of stress and long hours. Plus, you’d be surprised how many careers a law degree can be used for. Accountants, auditors, bankers, politicians, stockbrokers… I’ve even heard of talent agents and screenwriters who got their starts in law school.”
Amelie: “Laywer in New Orleans, I can see where the stress would come from. Oh well, I’ll have to ask her in person instead of gossiping with her assistant.” There’s something up about her aunt’s work. Even if it’s rude, it’s too tempting not to pry. Slowly.
Amelie is faster, however, in setting up her service, and she has a phone number again in just a few minutes. She also gets a case to protect the thing before they’re done. It’s the first piece of equipment to start towards her end goal, one she’ll set up later. “Next. This part I’ll definitely defer to your judgment more than not.” She grins, motioning with her own phone to Kristina’s Solaris.
GM: Kristina smiles back as the pair exit the store. “Let’s waste no time then. Fleurty Girl’s just up ahead…”
Amelie: Amelie asks if they can stop early when another store catches her eye. She stands at the entrance for a moment, feeling as though she’s getting punked. ‘40s and ’50s styles, ’Betty’ fashion, horribly impractical hats, and over to one quarter of the store? Lingerie. Lovely. As out of her element as the young woman is, she resolves to keep an open mind about all this, clearing her throat as she strides back after Kristina.
“So these are the clothes you wear when you don’t have to worry about freezing to death. Do you go clothes shopping here often?” Amelie motions to the assistants dress.
GM: Trashy Diva looks largely the same as Magazine Street’s other stores from the outside: dark green doors and two swimsuit-clad mannequins in the windows. The interior has a checker-tile floor, further mannequins clad in the knee-length dresses that were ubiquitous in the ’40s, and the usual racks of clothes alongside a jewelry counter.
Kristina shakes her head at Amelie’s query. “I’m not into the whole retro-chic look myself. But it’s got a classy feel.”
Amelie: If anything, the clothes match the architecture. Amelie looks up at the cheap copper chandelier in the middle of much more modern LED lights. Classics ham-fisted back into fashion using modern techniques and styles.
“Classy is good. Just nothing that shows off my back, okay? Nasty scars from before I was Nouvelle Orleans levels of fancy. You mind if I ask you some questions while we look around?”
GM: Kristina smiles at the sales associate as she comes over and tells the woman that they’re just “browsing around.” She nods at Amelie’s next query as the two walk down the racks of clothes. “Nope, ask away.”
Amelie: Amelie barely knows the woman, but the questions have got to be asked. She pulls a black sleeveless top that is pre-tied up daisy duke style a few inches above the belly button, sighs and turns, holding it up to her chest for appraisal from the more fashion-savvy woman.
“What exactly does my aunt do for a living? I’ve never seen anyone self employed with a personal assistant before.”
GM: “Hmm, that says more country girl or party girl to me,” Kristina remarks of the stomach-revealing cut. “If you’re going for a ‘40s look, it’s pretty much all dresses.”
“So far as your aunt, she works in the consulting business. She helps manage money, make introductions between clients and entrepreneurs, navigate legal issues—the law degree helps there—help with networking, that kinda stuff. She does a lot of things for a lot of people. She’s pretty well-connected and has a good sense for knowing what they want.”
Amelie: Expected reactions for Amelie on all fronts but the shirt. She looks down and sighs as she puts it back on the rack and heads for said dresses, panning them from afar as she continues probing.
“She’s well-connected but doesn’t go to social gatherings so much, might mean people come to her. That last part though, that’s something to chew on. Sorry for prying, I’ve a habit of being wary about the people I live with. Makes my life easier sometimes. How about this one?”
Amelie pulls a black dress off the rack, a short-sleeved button-up shirt on the top, the cleavage cutting straight down in a rectangle window, with a belt at the waistline separating into the actual skirt of the dress. “I don’t know. Just how many men might be intimidated if I show off biceps? But going to an all girls school putting out a butch vibe screams, ‘but I’m a cheerleader’.” She hopes Kristina gets the 1999 movie reference.
GM: “It’s corporate parties she isn’t big on, but I’d say she’s pretty social. If you’re nervous, anyways, you might try just talking to your aunt. She’s a pretty cool lady, and being up front about things can’t hurt.”
Amelie: “So far she’s been scarily like my mother. Just more like she’s the smarter sibling. But she’s been really cool so far, yeah. I don’t know many people who’d take in their niece they’ve almost never seen. But still, old habits, eh?”
Amelie doesn’t exactly trust the whole straightforward approach. What could she say? I don’t think your job is what you said it was. Why aren’t I good enough to help? Right.
GM: “Anyways,” Kristina remarks as turns the dress over, “that’s got a more a ‘40s vibe. You’d probably be wearing it outside of school. Your aunt said you’re going to McGehee, but even most of the public schools here have uniforms.”
Amelie: “I’m guessing it’s to avoid gang colors or something? I like this one. I’m going to try it on. Nothing else really catches my eye. How about yours?”
GM: “I’m more modern-chic than retro-chic, like I said. Knock yourself out though, the changing room looks like it’s over there.” Kristina nods in its direction.
Amelie: “Let’s go to a place more your speed after this, then.” It’s a moment in the changing room before she emerges. The dress fits well on her, matching her athletic body type. Her arms and legs pocked with strangely shaped scars, more than a few looking like they’ve originated from something like branding irons.
“Dresses may not be my speed after all. Unless I’m going for the ‘my first house was a toaster oven’ look.”
GM: Kristina cocks her head in appraisal. “I’d say it suits your figure. How much skin you wanna show off’s a personal call, though.”
Amelie: Amelie smooths it out and appraises the feel on her. It’s good. Something nice to make a good impression on someone later down the line. Without another word she vanishes into the changing room and comes back out in jeans and flannel, looking a little more comfortable, the dress draped over her arm.
“Let’s grab this and go to a more modern place. How about you though, Kristina? What brought you to work for my aunt? From what she says you have a level head on your shoulders.”
GM: Kristina buys the dress at the counter, exchanges pleasantries with the sales associate, and carries off the shopping bag as the pair exit the store.
“Well, I grew up in New Orleans and earned a marketing degree in Dallas, but I couldn’t find much work except as a waitress. Employers all wanted experience and all I had was a ton of student debt. I came back to the city and sort of fell in with your aunt. Couldn’t have happened at a better time, as I’d just moved back in with my mom.” She gives a short laugh that’s not quite humorful or humorless. “I guess that’s our generation’s story in a nutshell.”
Amelie: “Seems like she attracts people who feel lucky to be around her. How long ago was it you started working with her?” Amelie leaves the store with her aunt’s assistant and puts her hands on her hips, looking up and down the street. “Next place. I want to get the clothes out the way so I can visit one of these antiques places. See if I can’t find anything actually worth being impressed about.”
GM: “Long enough to have moved out of my mom’s,” Kristina answers with a faint smirk as the pair make the way back to her car. She unlocks the door and sticks the bag in. “About four years though, give or take.”
Amelie: Getting answers out of people like this makes Amelie feel like a mix of the blonde from Mean Girls and a shitty daytime soap detective: rude and ultimately ineffective. But at least it’s starting to feel like a bit more of a conversation. The teen smiles and puts her focus back on Kristina.
“Good chunk of time! I’ll try not to make your job any more difficult. I offered to help already, but… well, her mouth said ‘no thanks’ and her eyes said ‘you couldn’t.’ I have to imagine it’s difficult.”
GM: “I wouldn’t take that too harshly, you just need a degree. Most any good job needs one these days. You know the quip about every barista having a bachelor’s…”
Amelie: “I meant mostly just help organizing. But I can see what you mean. Though I don’t think I’ll be attending a, uh… oh geez, is it called college or university in the states?”
GM: “Both, though if you wanted to earn a bachelor’s, you’d be going to college—that’s a school where you earn an undergrad degree. A university’s a group of schools that offer postgrad degrees, plus at least one college for undergrads. That’s why community colleges aren’t ever called universities, because they only offer AAs.”
Amelie: “Ahhh. Same names with different functions, then. That’s not confusing at all. Colleges in Canada offer mostly vocational training while universities offer more academic studies. Either way, I don’t think I’ll be attending. It’s not part of the career I’m setting up for myself, which is one of the reasons I asked for the gun shop stop. Maybe I’ll change my mind after going to this private school. But so far? I see no harm in making sharp things for the good people of NOLA.”
GM: By this time the pair have since gotten back into Kristina’s silver Prius. Magazine Street’s art galleries, coffee houses, and brunch-eating cafe patrons roll by in the window.
“Oh that’s neat, you want to be a gunsmith after you finish high school?”
Amelie: Amelie watches the buildings change intently, more interested in their make than their contents as she listens to Kristina. That question, though, makes her wonder. “Does my aunt not talk very personally with people? She’s never talked about her sister, my mother?”
GM: Kristina doesn’t break stride as Amelie seemingly jumps between topics. “I’d say I know her pretty well for a boss, but no, she hasn’t talked about her family much.”
Amelie: Thankfully, it’s only a short planned branching off. “I don’t think we have much in the way of it. My mother is—maybe was—a champion epee fencer and artisan, and my father was a master blacksmith in a reenactment village. I want to do both the fencing and the smithing.”
GM: “A chip off both the old blocks then, eh?”
Amelie: “Excuse me? Eh is ‘our’ word,” Amelie jokes, trying to deflect from her parents now. “New Orleans has a lot of history. I should have trouble setting up my own deal here.”
GM: “I cry the forgiveness of your maple gods,” Kristina smirks before continuing, “History might be on your side there. Immigrants in cities like New York pretty much kept to themselves and got famous for their ethnic neighborhoods, but you won’t find any Chinatown or Little Italy in New Orleans. The city just mushed everything together into one big pot of gumbo. So hey, maybe you’ll have a few ingredients to add.”
Amelie: “This place is ancient. I’m sure I’ll find people who want a piece of history for their very own. I know the history, and I have the hands that can re-create and restore it. I like that thought.”
GM: “So you wanna make guns and swords, then? The city used to have a pretty colorful dueling culture from what I know.”
Amelie: “I don’t know about guns. I’d have to look into the permits for that. Plus I just don’t like them. Armor and jewelry too, though. Oscar, the limo driver, he told me about a dueling tree here in New Orleans still standing. It’s an incredibly romantic moment.”
GM: “I guess they could be, two duelists taking to the field over some slight against a fair lady’s honor.” Kristina smiles at the description, as if she’d enjoy the prospect of two men fighting a duel over hers.
Amelie: “I fell in love with the opposite. Dueling meant all that mattered was skill, so a woman could take her own sword and her own pistol. Take her own power, name, and fame. I’m sure history is hiding plenty of women who dueled over a man they both liked.”
GM: “Could be,” Kristina nods. “You said you like making jewelry too? Is there a lot of overlap between that and swords?”
Amelie: “Very much so! Swords are just their blades basically… you sharped a piece of W10 or toolsteel you’ve forged and tempered and that’s your sword. The rest is jewelry, the hand carving of wood, the wrapping of leather, the acid engraving of metal, even the jewel inlays in some. Actual jewelry though, rings need to be forged correctly so they don’t constrict in the cold and kill fingers. Every precious metal has so many rules to follow. Chains are quick, but braided chains are beautiful and so hard to make, three hours, tweezers, and magnification goggles just to make five inches of it. I… sorry, these things get away from me easily.”
Amelie clears her throat and crosses her leg looking out the window. “I would have something to show you, but I lost my collection.”
GM: Kristina takes in Amelie’s description of the technical processes with some interest before remarking, “Oh no, I’m sorry! Hopefully you’ll get to make a new one. You sure sound like you know your way around a forge. I never knew you had to forge rings not to constrict in the cold.”
Amelie: “If I didn’t, I dunno what I’d do with myself. Don’t worry, I’ll make you something nice. How about you, did you always want to go into business?”
GM: “I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid, but that didn’t look like it’d really pan out. Marketing’s close enough and pays a lot better.”
Amelie: “I wouldn’t have thought those would be connected at all, but then again I don’t have writing experience. Do you keep up with it? Or does my aunt keep you too busy?”
GM: “I’m more of a reader these days than a writer. People go on a lot about how you should follow the passions you had as a kid… but some things you just end up moving on from,” Kristina answers with a shrug.
Amelie: Amelie sits quietly, thinking on it for a moment. Of course she has backup plans.
“That’s smart. I’ll have to think on that. If anything, it’d look good on a resume to be a, uh… museum curator or something, if I can make and use the things I’m taking care of or studying.”
GM: “My guess is you’d need a degree to work at a museum, but I’m no expert. Weapons experience is definitely an interesting resume item to talk about.”
Amelie: “It’ll require a degree for sure. I don’t see myself having issues with that, though. Of course ‘Plan B’ is ‘Plan B’, I’d rather work with my hands.”
GM: Kristina opens her mouth, then glances up. The subject of her gaze is nestled between a furniture store and a locksmith. Indistinct figurines and metallic shapes peer through dark windows. A wooden sign over the front door bears a single word with no other name:
“That the sort of place you were looking for?” her aunt’s assistant asks.
Amelie: Amelie sees it, leaning into the window to get a better look as she nods. Much as she tries to hide it, she looks like a child about to take a trip into a toy store. “That’s exactly it. Can we drop in for a bit?”
GM: Kristina laughs as she parks the car. “Sure. Antiques aren’t so much my thing, so how about you text me when you’re ready to be picked up?”
Amelie: Amelie’s face flushes when Kristina laughs, realizing she may have shown her excitement a bit too much. But she takes out her phone in any case and exchanges numbers with the savvy woman. “I’ll text you. I might wander a little, but I won’t stray more than a block.”
GM: “Sounds good. Oh, in case there’s anything you wanna get.” Kristina digs through her purse and hands Amelie a blue Bank of Columbia credit card.
Amelie: Amelie awkwardly takes the card, looking at the older woman as though she’s just handed a over a severed head. It’s too generous on top of what he aunt is already doing for her. “I’ll… keep it for emergencies, I guess? Oof.”
GM: Kristina laughs again at Amelie’s flustered response. “Well, I’m gonna ask for it back when we’re done here, but your aunt is paying me back for everything we buy. Heck, I get to rack up more cash back and rewards points this way, so I’m actually making a little money here.”
The amusement on her face fades though as she adds, “But seriously, she said to treat you like an adult. Something about that being ‘the best way to get you used to being one.’ So if there’s anything you wanna get, go ahead and buy it. The card isn’t gonna bite.”
Amelie: Amelie stops and takes in what Kristina says. She looks down at where she’s stored the card and thinks. After taking care of her father for so long, she’s thought it fair on occasion to think she’s already very adult-like. Clearly her aunt sees room for improvement, which is both an encouraging and disheartening thought.
“If I see anything I like, I’ll get it. Maybe try to find something I can refurbish and resell!” she assures the woman, looking much more confident.
GM: “Awesome! Pick you up when you’re done.” Kristina shuts the car door and drives off. The dingy-looking shop awaits Amelie.
Amelie: Finally exiting the car, she hurriedly tucks the card into a pocket and waves goodbye. She heads into the shop as the eager historian in her flares back up.
GM: A sales bell lightly chimes as Amelie pushes open the door. The smell of dust, aged books, and old wood and fills her nostrils. The building’s interior has no windows besides the two by the front door, and the store’s cluttered inventory blots out much of the sunlight like a bayou’s hungry plant life.
Confederate flags. Furniture. Dishes. Typewriters. Cowboy boots. Glasses. An Indian peace pipe. Owl figurines. Books. Jewelry. Silverware. Rosaries. A saxophone. Voodoo dolls. Globes. Sailboats. Portraits. Saints helmets. “Mammy and chef” negro salt shakers. Harmonicas. A bird cage. Domino masks. A Mardi Gras Indian feathered costume. Phonograph records. A riverboat captain’s hat. Paintings. A whip. Taxidermies. A sword. Silver coins. Postage stamps. The dim shop is stacked from floor to ceiling with junk collected from the attics of a dozen eccentric uncles.
Amelie: Amelie understands the reasoning behind the darkness the moment she smells nirvana coming from old paper and wood. Maybe the owners want to avoid fading in the sunlight. Despite the darkness, she doesn’t hesitate before stepping in to browse, then delves into the stacks and looks everything over. Some of it is foreign to her, from the flags and whip to the peace pipe and feathered outfit. It’s a marvel to the young woman that there are Natives this far south. There’s a lot she wants to look over, but the moment the glint of steel from the sword pops into her vision, she lets herself be predictable and makes a beeline for it. She almost hopes no store worker intercepts her before she gets a good look.
GM: The subject of Amelie’s attention is typical of the “Walloon” style that was popular in the mid to late 17th century among military and civilian users alike. Two large side-rings are filled with a plate featuring pierced stars and circles, while a knucklebow with an expanded central section is screwed to the ovoid pommel. The large scrolled crossguard is stamped on either side with faded portraits of men wearing large wigs. The grip is engraved with floral motifs and fleurs-de-lis which Amelie has seen in various places throughout New Orleans and her home alike. The double-edged blade looks a little over 30 inches long with a single 7" fuller.
The sword itself is dark and covered in heavy dents and pitting. Amelie cannot make out even a ghost of her reflection, though that might also be due to the store’s poor light. The overall condition, she pegs, is somewhere between adequate and poor.
Amelie: Amelie pours over the weapon, dissatisfied with the bulb pommel and the dramatic wave the Walloon has on the back of the quillion, the crossguard that protects the hand. However, the condition itself is both a good and a bad thing. Heavy dents and pitting mean one of three things; use, exposure, or forgery. This isn’t something that she can swing around, lest the blade splinter or shatter, but it’s a possible study and resell piece. Moreover, the floral motif has her interested, especially when in conjunction with a fleur-de-lis! Maybe a Dutch or German swordsman had this commissioned while living in New Orleans? It’s what she loves most about history, the mystery to unfold! Amelie takes the blade and looks around for a desk, and a light so that she can properly look the sword over.
“Hello? Excuse me?”
GM: The shop is small and cluttered, but Amelie’s voice seems to almost echo through its dark recesses. There’s even a few cobwebs. The place seems bereft of life.
Except for the man who’s staring at her.
He’s tall, standing perhaps a head over her, but slim and gaunt like a scarecrow. Cobwebs of wrinkles crisscross his apricot-like, black-skinned face. What little hair remains on his nearly-bald pate is thin, wisp-like, and shock-white, like a leftover snowfall that’s been melting for several days. He’s dressed in a faded dark jacket, wine-colored vest, and mustard yellow bowtie.
“I see the young lady has found something she likes,” the old man observes with a near-ghost of a smile. His hoarse voice is barely above a whisper.
“Welcome to my shop. I am Raphael.”
Amelie: Amelie jumps slightly when she sees the man just standing there, giving him a fast “flight or fight” once-over before she relaxes and looks politely embarrassed for being startled. Taking the sword in one hand, she gently places the point of the blade against the top of her shoe, a safety habit, before she takes the few steps to the man and extends her free hand to shake with him. Now that her heart isn’t trying to pull out her chest to face the foe on it’s own, she’s all smiles, back to her giddy curiosity.
“Amelie. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Raphael. And yes, I’ve found something very interesting. If I may… is there a story behind this sword you’re aware of?”
GM: The old man accepts Amelie’s hand with another ghost-like smile. His fingers are long and slim, and Amelie can feel the bones through his wrinkled skin as if it were merely a tight, well-worn glove. His motions are slow, but his grip remains firm.
“Less a story than several related discoveries and recollections.” The ghost on Raphael’s lips grows just a bit more solid. “But it has a past, as all items that pass through my shop do.”
He slowly gestures towards the storefront with a spindly arm.
“Would the young lady care to sit?”
Amelie: Amelie smiles, hoping that he’s right. It has a past, it has to have one after the oddities that she’s sniffed out already. But as far as the shop goes, she can already tell she’s going to like this place, and this man. You can tell a lot about someone from the way they shake hands and when they deign to smile the fullest.
“I’d love to, thank you.” She passes him carefully, watching the blade of the weapon before she steps up to the storefront, not sitting just yet. It’s polite to wait until the host sits first, after all.
GM: Raphael makes his way through the forest of piled junk. Sharp angles and jutting edges lurk everywhere, roots and thorns in the man-made jungle. The old man does not visibly sidestep them so much as he does not even seem to have to: none interrupt his path. Eventually, the pair emerge into a ‘clearing’ by the store’s counter and register. Raphael motions to a pair of Victorian chairs with wide backs and faded red upholstery, then clenches each armrest with his spindly fingers and slowly lowers himself into the seat with a deliberate-looking motion.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t see it from where she leads, but she has her own nervous journey through things, curving her body to avoid edges, or stifling her breath and turning sideways so as not to knock into anything. It’s a difficult journey, but she watches the man lower himself at the end of it, before she does the same, careful with the chair.
“If you don’t mind my asking, how long have you had this store, Mr. Raphael?”
GM: Filtered beams of sunlight spear through random openings in the thick collection of junk. A few of them lance across the proprietor’s face. So “illuminated” to Amelie’s eyes, or at least made less dark, the man looks even more ancient. His face’s lined crevasses are deep enough to have wrinkles of their own, resembling a desert’s cracked earth more than simply an apricot. The longer she stares, the deeper the lines seem to run and twist.
“For a long time, Ms. Amelie,” comes his whispering reply.
“My mother willed it to me upon her death.”
Amelie: Seeing the old man like this is a bit sobering from the high her find has given her. But she keeps her eyes on his, pushing her mind back to his story as she gently places the sword on her lap, keeping any stress off of it.
“My condolences. That is quite a pedigree for an antiquarian, though, inheritance. This shop must be very precious to you.”
GM: “She has been dead for a very long time, Ms. Amelie,” Raphael echoes with faint amusement at the young woman’s condolences. “You are correct. It is. It will not be long before it passes to another, I think.”
Amelie: Amelie pauses at the man’s words and looks a bit thoughtful for a moment. It sounds to her like he’s almost ready to die, and she finds that rather honorable, for him to know himself so humbly like that. Death is something that has only peeked into her mind these past years. But just peeked. Or is he just ready to rest for his twilight years, maybe? Still, Amelie gives the man a gentle smile.
“Your handshake was still nice and strong you know, Mr. Raphael. Do you plan to pass it on to your kids?”
GM: “I have no children, Ms. Amelie. My shop will pass to a distant cousin of mine, if he should decide to keep it,” the old man answers.
Amelie: “That’s a shame it can’t go to any descendants again. I hope he treats it with a lot of respect.”
GM: “Not all of us are willing or able to bring life into the world,” Raphael murmurs. “That is also my hope, and his choice.”
Amelie: Amelie can only nod. “Some shouldn’t, despite them already having done so.” It’s a sore spot.
“You have a whole lot of good items here. This sword… it’s like a puzzle. Walloon swords were never popular in any French-speaking nations, and yet… fleur-de-lis.”
GM: “As for swords, I will admit they are not my specialty. I was led to believe walloons were developed among either the Germans or Swiss, fell into the hands of the Dutch, and were obtained from them by the French. A weapon’s success on the battlefield frequently breeds imitation from opposing armies.”
Amelie: The young woman perks up with a small smile as the talk comes back to weapons. “It’s a good style of sword. Ones like these were made to deal with both rapiers of the gentry and the rigors of actual battle.” Leaning forward, she puts the whole hilt in the light as much as she can, trying to get a bead on exactly where it might have come from.
After a good few minutes looking over every bit of it, Amelie has a good picture of it. “It’s definitely real. And you were right! French. 1600s, the Baroque era, very nice. I have to guess maybe a bit late in the era. I wonder how much use it saw. But it looks like it was for gentry, not military use! Which explains why it may be in New Orleans! French dandy came to the New World with all his great-grandfather’s belongings. Though that’s just a guess. What has me excited, this was a blade for gentry in the time of the Sun King! Louis XIV! If I could somehow track down that bloodline…”
Looking up, the girl finally realizes she’s been rambling and clears her throat. “Sorry. I get carried away easily.”
GM: There’s a series of faint, cough-like sounds from the darkness ahead of Amelie. It takes her a moment to realize that the store’s owner is chuckling softly.
“If the blade holds the young lady’s interest, perhaps it will find a better home in her hands than mine.”
Amelie: Amelie again feels like she’s an easy startle when a thought about not knowing first aid pops into her head, before seeing he’s just having a laugh.
“I think I’ll take it. I was told to buy something if I saw something I liked. How much would you part with for it?”
GM: Raphael quotes a figure. Accounting for the sword’s notable age but poor condition and obscurity, it’s “only” on the lower end of several thousand dollars.
Amelie: The figure doesn’t phase the girl until she remembers she’s not buying a piece for her shop in Biccoline. This isn’t exactly her money.
“That’s reasonable, but just let me clear it real fast, excuse me.”
She turns to the side just a little in her chair and pulls her phone out to text Kristina.
Amelie tucks the phone back into her pocket and sits up with a small smile, attention back on the older man. “Mr. Raphael? Would you be willing to give me a small deal? I could do you a favor or two around the shop, or we can work something out to share profit. Once I find the origins of the sword, the price will jump up. Or if you’re looking for company, I could always come back to inspect the sword in my free time, and you can keep all the profits if it turns out to be a historical item.” With her skills, she’s confident see can find the origin, given time.
GM: “The price is already a modest one, young lady,” Raphael answers in his hoarse whisper. “But what is an antique purchase without haggling, and I do not think another buyer will be coming along soon. I will go $100 lower.”
Amelie: Amelie looks down at the blade, an eager rolling in the pit of her stomach, mixing in with the anxiousness of this not being HER money she’s spending. But if she makes a profit selling it? Well, she can pay her aunt back in full. She nods her head, looking more than a little nervous about it.
“Thank you. I think I’ll take it! Would you still be interested in hearing the story if I find the original owner?”
GM: The old man’s dark eyes glint. “Very much so.”
Amelie: Amelie sits up a bit, all smiles. “I’ll be back, then. Often, if I can help it.”
GM: “The profit margin in selling antiques is low, but only materially,” Raphael states with another hoarse whisper.
Amelie: “I don’t mind breaking even, long as I figure out just where this came from. I’ll start with the metals. Easy to track historic metals. Then to smiths. Then to their buyers.” Amelie stands. “I’d love to chat more, but I might be keeping someone waiting. Hopefully you accept credit cards?”
GM: Raphael deliberately grips each of the chair’s armrests and slowly raises his scarecrow-like frame to a standing position. “I do.”
He takes Amelie’s credit card and fades out of sight behind the counter’s register. There’s a faint, slow scratching sound as perhaps a minute passes. Raphael reemerges with the card and a hand-written receipt.
Amelie: Amelie hates this part. It’s always a tense moment for her to finalize a sale, but she’s sure that she can convince her aunt that this is an investment. After he comes out with the receipt, she checks it real quick before she folds it up and carefully sticks it into her wallet.
“Thank you, Mr. Raphael. I’ll update you as soon as I find something.”
GM: “Good day, young lady. I shall look forward to hearing of your discoveries.” Raphael slowly approaches the door and holds it open for Amelie, spilling sunlight into the dingy shop.
Amelie: Amelie smiles at the man’s manners, giving him the smallest curtsy before she exits. “Have a wonderful day, Mr. Raphael!” Then she’s right back in the sun, squinting as she pulls off her overshirt to drape over the blade of her find, tucking it carefully under the arm holding the handle. She fishes out her phone to texts for a pickup.
GM: Kristina’s Prius pulls up outside the store after several minutes. “Found something you liked?” her aunt’s assistant asks.
Amelie: Amelie simply pulls out the sword to give the woman a quick once-over before she puts it on the floor in the back seat, covers it with the overshirt and shopping bag to keep it from knocking around, and hops into the passenger seat. “1600s. French. Big mystery to me as to who brought it to New Orleans! Then when the mystery is over, I resell it.”
GM: “Oh wow, nice find,” Kristina remarks as she pulls the car out of its brief parking spot by the curb. “Maybe one of the early French colonists or immigrants. The sword might not have even been that old when they brought it over.”
Amelie: Amelie grins wide, very visibly excited. “What makes it even better is that it was made for gentry! Rich and French! If I can find that family line, imagine them getting this piece of history back! For enough to pay back my aunt, of course.”
GM: Kristina laughs. “I guess that’s between the two of you, but in my experience, people who send you out shopping don’t think of it as a loan.”
Amelie: “I still feel… weird about taking money from her. I earned my money all my life. This wasn’t essential, so I’m going to be paying her back. As for the rest of the day? Gotta finish clothes shopping. I can visit a gun store another time, today has already been an adventure.”
GM: Magazine Street’s shops and eateries roll past the car’s window as Kristina tilts her head. “I dunno how much this is my business, so tell me to but out if it’s not, but your aunt likes treating people. I think she’d feel weirded out if you offered to pay her back.”
Amelie: “Hmm… it might just be a difference in etiquette. I’ll have a talk with her. As for it being your business, you’re close with my aunt, so I really appreciate the insight. She’s as hard to read as my mother was.”
GM: “Glad to help, then,” Kristina answers. “Now, the next store worth hitting is at…”
Saturday afternoon, 15 August 2015
Amelie: After dropping off the day’s rather exhausting haul in her room, Amelie takes a full catalog of pictures of her antique and carefully puts it under the bed before she rushes back out to meet Kristina. Just a short trip to the city library, and she’ll have everything she needs to start the hunt for the owner.
GM: New Orleans has a number of city libraries. Kristina drops off Amelie at the Garden District’s nearest one, the Milton H. Latter Memorial, a former neo-Italianate mansion converted into a library. The building sits on a low grassy hill surrounded by Southern live oaks that makes it feel removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Kristina tells Amelie that she’s taking off for the day if there’s nothing else. When Amelie is finished at the library, she can either walk back to her aunt’s house (the Garden District is a lovely neighborhood to stroll through) or take the St. Charles streetcar, which Kristina leaves her with fare for.
The building’s interior still resembles the mansion it used to be, replete with a fireplace, fancy drapes and rugs, and old-fashioned brass light fixtures. As a library, it has the typical reading rooms, computers, printers, and wi-fi one might expect to find.
Compared to the other public libraries Amelie has seen, which invariably seem to draw at least several obviously homeless people with nowhere else to spend their time, patrons at the Milton Latter are generally quiet and well-dressed. The one person who does not look as if he belongs, a black man with an electronic ankle monitor he plugs into an outlet, is quietly escorted out of the building by a police officer.
Amelie: Visions of canine units and street patrols walking the borders of the Garden District yesterday come to mind as Amelie watches the vagrant escorted out, only to replace him as the worst-dressed person in the library as she steps in. Atmosphere immediately sets in as she takes in the architecture of the library, her mind’s eye bringing up where all the furniture and finery would have been in the days of its intended use. But after a moment, she focuses, looking to find the librarian’s desk. If there’s one thing all libraries have in common, it’s a librarian dedicated to its upkeep, a tamer of what one could call a hydra.
GM: This hydra’s tamer looks as if the lernaean beast has resisted his domesticating hand. He’s a middle-aged man with a closely-shaved graying beard, hair of the same color, oval-shaped glasses, and wearing a beige blazer over a collared light blue shirt. There’s a large bandage over his forehead whose boundaries extend to the edge of his glasses. The placement makes the two items seem almost connected, as if pulling off his eyewear would rip off the bandage and half his scalp with it.
Amelie finds him sitting behind the service desk’s computer as she approaches. An overweight, nasally-voiced 30-something man wearing socks and sandals clutches a stack of comic books to his chest, thanks the librarian for his help, and waddles off.
Amelie: Amelie pays the man already at the counter no mind, wondering more about the comic books and what they could have to do with the library than anything else. The type of people she’s seen up until now haven’t given this place the sort of air where comics might be kept. Pushing it out of her mind, she approaches the desk and waits a moment for the man to make eye contact.
“Excuse me, I was wondering if you had a moment to help me find something. It’s a bit weird.”
GM: “Someone who works at a library sees ‘weird’ more often than you might think, ma’am,” the librarian answers with a subdued smile. “What are you looking for?”
Amelie: Amelie gives the man a bit of an amused smile at the statement, taking out her phone and sliding a picture of the sword across the desk to him.
“I’m looking for books on the region around France in the mid to late 1600s. I’m trying to identify three things. Mines the French got their steel from, the blacksmiths of note at the time, and the major and minor nobility at the time.”
GM: The librarian strokes his chin. “Famous blacksmiths should be the easiest to research. Mines after that. Major nobility are fairly well-documented, but you’re going to have quite a project if you want to identify all the minor French nobles of the period.”
Amelie: Amelie nods. “That’s the order I’m gunning for. Broad list of blacksmiths, narrow them down by the steel they use, and then cross my fingers those blacksmiths kept a record of their work to nobility. I’ve got a hunch the descendants of this dandy are now in New Orleans.”
GM: “They might’ve kept records, but I don’t know how likely you are to find those posted online,” the librarian considers, then types a few things into his computer. “Let’s see what we have, anyway…”
Amelie: Amelie pulls her phone back to her and starts to tap her fingers around in the memo app, starting a record of her search.“Merci! Oh, and if you have other work, please don’t let me distract you too badly. This is a mystery that will take awhile.”
GM: The bandage-wearing librarian pulls up a few titles on blacksmithing for Amelie and suggests those as a start, as well as that she use one of the library’s computers to do further research. Several hours later, Amelie is confident that she’s exhausted every non-checked out title on blacksmithing that the Milton H. Latimer Memorial Library has available in its modest collection on the subject. Many of the books are concerned with technical knowledge of blacksmithing rather than the craft’s history, and most are fairly recent titles too… the oldest how-to manual she can find is Practical Forging and Art Smithing, published in 1915.
Blacksmiths themselves, too, appear to generally be less famous figures than their arms and the bearers of those arms. Most well-known blacksmiths are figures from the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, the former are often famous for reasons besides the quality of their arms and armor. Thomas Davenport (1802—1851) is remembered for inventing the electric motor and simply happened to also be a blacksmith. John Fritz (1822—1913) is known as the “Father of the U.S. Steel Industry” for inventing the first three-high rolling mill. He also happened to begin his life as a blacksmith. Alexander Hamilton Willard (1777—1865) is notable for being a blacksmith on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Contemporary blacksmiths, in contrast, are famous because it is easier to become famous and because crafting swords (rarely armor) is a more distinctive occupation than it used to be. As industrial technology has progressed beyond its roots in hand-operated forges, modern smiths have become more renowned for the quality (and expense) of their weapons than any technological innovations. The Okinawan swordsmith Kiyochika Kanehama best epitomizes how specialized the market has become: his pieces sell for upwards of $15,000 each and he rarely sells more than one sword a year. Most of the ones he crafts do not satisfy his stringent expectations.
“When I saw my first sword, at a friend’s home in 1974, I was stunned by its power and beauty. I was a college student, studying accounting, but knew instantly I had another calling,” Kanehama explained in an interview. When commenting on his first encounter with a treasured sword, the Okinawan smith also remarked, “When I encountered an old sword which was registered as Japanese National Treasure, I was captured by its beauty and warmth. The elegant curve of the blade fascinated me. I discovered… that Japanese swords are not mere weapons, but they are manifestations of the spirit of Japanese culture.”
Amelie digs deeper for actual historic smiths. The closest she finds are Kunz Lochner (1510—1567), a master armorer from Nuremberg. There’s also Antonio Missaglia, an armorer from 15th century Milan, and Lorenz Helmschmied, a second 15th century armorer who crafted mail suits for the Holy Roman Emperors Frederick III and Maximilian I. Many of the surviving pieces of their work are now on display in museums.
Half an hour before closing time, the librarian announces that fact over the building’s intercom. The announcement is repeated at 4:45, and again at 4:55, at which point patrons are asked to begin returning or checking out their reading materials and packing up their laptops and other personal belongings. It looks to Amelie as if unearthing her sword’s maker is going to be a multi-day project.
Amelie: Amelie keeps bibliographies of the works that interest her, as well as a few pictures of the examples given. None of these things quite match up, and it’s slightly frustrating to have her hard work not give her any immediate results. But she resigns herself to the feelings of anxiety that come with long bouts of work. This library was a great source of starting information, but for the subject at hand it’s outlived its usefulness. Packing up, she rubs her eyes and slides the last book she’d grabbed back in its proper place, before returning to the man at the desk to thank him for his work.
GM: The librarian replies that she’s welcome and to come again if she has any further questions. Amelie files outside with the rest of the patrons. Afternoon feels like it should be waning into evening, but the lazy Dixie sun still hangs fat and sweltering in the humid August sky. A half-hour walk back to her aunt’s house awaits by foot, or a twenty-minute ride by the St. Charles streetcar.
Amelie: Amelie thanks the librarian again and promises to be back sometime as she heads home, resolving to walk and save the streetcar fare for a time she actually needs it. The heat is a mixed bag. She knows this subtle labored feeling from living near an ocean inlet—it’s like trying to breathe in steam. The heat still weighs on her during her walk, and she feels sweat down her back by the time she reaches the gate to her aunt’s house. It’s a climate that will take adjusting to.
And a culture.