The Nine Scents of Sorrow

  1. Sillage de la Reine: A bright top note of orange blossom, intertwined heart notes of rose and jasmine, and a trio of warm base notes of sandalwood, iris, and cedar. Laughter in the gardens of Versailles.

“Astound me, Monsieur Fargeon,” the queen says. She laughs, showing all of her pretty teeth.

She is not wearing the robe a la française, as she did at their brief introduction, but something light and filmy, with ruffles around her shoulders and forearms. The ostrich feathers in her hat bob as she bends down, her white arms extended. Her curls tumble over her bare shoulders. Sorrow wants to look up at her face but is afraid.

Sorrow kneels on a gravel path in the gardens of Versailles. The stones dig into their knees through their velvet breeches. Roses bob their heads in the sunlight. Somewhere, a fountain plays.

The day is hot, and the wig that hides Sorrow’s hair feels heavy and cumbersome. They were told to wear oranges and orange blossoms, for the queen. Instead they have worn roses. Green vines and pink blossoms climb the front of their frock coat.

Sorrow holds up the tiny bottle of scent. Sunlight winks on the glass. The liquid inside is the color of amber, priceless.

This perfume is the most complex they have ever created. They have labored over it in their Paris workshop for twenty-seven nights, adding extracts a drop at a time, until finally they achieved the right balance.

Sorrow uncorks the bottle with a flourish of their lace cuffs.

The scents of orange blossom and rose and jasmine curl through the air. The queen catches her breath.

She is wearing roses too, tucked into her hair. Sorrow counts their heartbeats as they wait for the queen to speak.

“So it is true what they say,” the queen says, and her voice is no longer teasing. “The fragrances of the heart,” she quotes from the society papers. “How do you do it, Monsieur Fargeon?”

Sorrow looks up, into the queen’s face. The queen’s eyes are the grey of the sea on a stormy day. Her mouth is a pink bud. She is younger than Sorrow herself, for all that she has now been married for seven years.

She is not looking at Sorrow at all, but away, past the rose bushes and the orange trees, past the fountain that plays invisibly in the background. Sorrow knows that she is lost in a memory. They can even guess what that memory is.

A garden in Austria, perhaps. A giggling sister in a blue dress. Yipping dogs.

Running. Running with their arms entwined, through the dew and the wet flowers, their feet bare in the cool grass, their legs light and fast and free.

Running as she never will again.

Sorrow’s chest aches for her. “That is one of my secrets, Madame,” they say, and they do not bother to lower their voice.

The queen looks at them.

Some perfumers say the hardest scents to balance are musk, or citrus, or myrrh. That for them, these scents overwhelm all else, and must be used only in small quantities, with caution.

For Sorrow, the most difficult scent has always been that of the rose.

  1. la Mère de Tristesse: A dark green top note of tomato leaves, a heart note of night-blooming jasmine, base notes of rosewood with a hint of spicy patchouli. Blood spilled in the night.

Sorrow’s mother is a pistol, mahogany wood chased with silver, left by one of their father’s clients to settle a long-standing debt.

Sorrow’s mother is a woman, who died with her babe in childbirth nearly a month before Sorrow came into the world. The red stain is still there, on the floor of the apartment above the workshop.

Sorrow’s mother is their father’s perfumery, le Vase d’Or, The Golden Vase, in Montpellier. The wilting roses on the windowsill. The curls of cinnamon bark and anise pods rolling across the wooden counter. The chunks of ambergris in the brass scale.

When Sorrow’s father cannot bear the loss of his wife any longer, he uses some of his earnings to secretly purchase a pinch of powder and a single ball of shot. He locks himself in his workshop, with the pistol that he may or may not be forbidden to own. Moonlight spills through the small front windows and pools on the stone floor.

He puts the gun to his head.

When he pulls the trigger and the hammer strikes, releasing a small puff of smoke, what comes out of the end of the gun is Sorrow—a child of six or seven, fully formed. Their feet hit the cool floor.

They catch at their father’s jacket, to steady themself.

They have little dark eyes like anise seeds. Their skin is mottled, here light, here dark, with swirls like ambergris. Their hair is all silver curls, like the chasings of a pistol, like smoke. Between their legs is a rosebud.

With a flower in place of the requisite part, their father decides they are a girl, and so largely useless. But he brings them upstairs and tucks them into his own bed just the same, making himself a pallet on the floor where he lies awake throughout the night.

It is perhaps for the best that he will never recover the pistol. It is gone forever, like the flowers in the golden vase, and the ingredients he’d left out on the counter.

Their father tells Sorrow that their mother was a woman who wore perfume scented with jasmine and had long dark hair, but Sorrow is born old enough that they remember.

When they ask their father for the recipe of their mother’s scent, he refuses to tell.

  1. l’Odeur de Versailles: Citrus top notes of oranges and orange blossom, a sweet lily heart note, and spicy base notes of nutmeg and clove, like a pomander. The close-pressed crowds of the glittering court.

The queen installs Sorrow in a little workshop in Versailles, near to the queen’s own apartments. As M. Fargeon, Sorrow takes the title of Parfumeur de la Reine, and is awarded the rank of a chevalier. They miss the freedom and independence of their grand workshop in Paris, and on some days the receipt of these cramped silken and velvet rooms seems like a poor trade indeed.

The courtiers have given them a title of their own. “It’s le Nez,” they whisper, their fans beating at their faces, as Sorrow passes through the crowded halls. The queen’s nose.

At first, the queen visits Sorrow in their workshop nearly every week. Each time she wears a different dress, and each time she smells of orange blossoms and jasmine and roses. They sip champagne, or tea from China and Japan, and the queen gossips about court life. Later, she will follow Sorrow around the room, bending her face to Sorrow’s hands as Sorrow holds up exotic ingredients for her to smell.

Sorrow is developing a new fragrance, one completely unlike the scent that the queen wears now. A fragrance to represent the woman that the queen will become, and not the girl whom she has been.

So far, they have decided on vanilla and tonka bean, perhaps with a thread of incense. Sorrow suspects the queen has chosen these more because of the extravagant expense than for how they smell.

  1. le Vase d’Or: A fresh lemon top note, earthy heart notes of lavender and sage, and golden base notes of cedar and seagrass. Sunlight on crumbling stone.

Montpellier is a city of sunlight and pale stone. Bits of the Mediterranean Sea flash like blue jewels between the close-set houses, whose ancient stone faces are already crumbling into memory.

The shop at the sign of le Vase d’Or is small but respectable, the room above in which Sorrow and their father sleep spare but comfortable. Sorrow’s father is a master craftsman, as his father was a master craftsman, but the cost of materials and the fees paid to the crown are so high as to take away much of his profit. And that is when his customers pay him.

When Sorrow closes their eyes in their father’s workshop it’s as if all of the scents are speaking to them—the dry forests of cinnamon bark and patchouli, sandalwood and cedar; the local lemons and lavender and tuberose; the musk pods from dark English forests; the rare shipments of myrrh and frankincense from the East.

Each carries their own memory, like a little soul.

These souls are kept in tiny drawers which line their father’s workshop, reaching all the way to the ceiling. Their father wears the silver key on a faded ribbon around his neck. An old brass still, for making extracts, clanks and steams behind the counter.

Sorrow’s first toys are empty musk pods that they roll across the stone floor, tiny dolls fashioned from curls of cinnamon. Their first lessons are that the still is hot, my darling, my Tristesse, and that for girls the drawers are locked, always locked.

When Sorrow is three years old—or nine, or ten—a man comes to the shop.

He wears a wig whose raven curls tumble nearly to his corpulent waist. A slashed cape is thrown over his shoulder, and his stockings are held up by bows as wide as Sorrow’s two hands. Sorrow’s father recognizes him as a local baron, home for a brief while to survey his holdings and visit his wife.

“It’s good to find a bastion of civilization out here in the wilds,” the baron says. But he takes inventory of the shabby—to him—shop with some dismay.

Sorrow is working behind the counter, packaging orders with their head down, so their silver curls hide their unusual face. Their father is all smiles and obsequiousness. He holds up each of the usual samples of eau de cologne for the baron to sniff, but at each the man shakes his head.

“These are far too pedestrian,” he says. “At Versailles, a man must have something unique.” He turns as if to leave.

Sorrow’s father follows him. “I could create a blend—”

The baron glances at the endless rows of drawers that line the workshop’s walls. “If those were your finest specimens, I doubt you could have anything in those drawers to tempt me.” But his eyes shine, as if he truly does wonder.

Sorrow feels a tug of recognition in their heart, if they have one. They step out from behind the counter. Their leather slippers whisper against the stone floor. When they look up, into the baron’s dark eyes, he does not look away.

It is then that Sorrow first wonders if there are others like them.

In Paris. In Versailles.

“You are a hunter, are you not, Monsieur?” they ask.

“Of course.” An indulgent smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. Behind the man’s back, Sorrow’s father waves his hands at them, horrified.

Privately, Sorrow imagines it has been several years since the baron was young and trim enough to sit a horse. Yet when they look into his eyes they can see it—the horse’s breath steaming in the cool morning of the park at Versailles. They can see, too, a glimpse of the baron’s childhood—a little boy running through the forest, his shoes slipping on mossy stones.

Sorrow closes their eyes, sorting through the scents of their father’s workshop. “Pine and cedar, perhaps, for the top notes,” they say. They open their eyes and cross the room to the correct drawers. Sorrow touches the silver keyholes and realizes that they do not have and never have had the key. “Father?”

The baron turns, one eyebrow raised.

“Of course,” their father says smoothly, as if it is normal that he takes orders from his daughter. When the drawers are unlocked, Sorrow holds up the extracts for the man to sniff.

“Heart notes, I think, of oakmoss and musk.” The baron bends his nose to the prickly pod that Sorrow holds up in their hand. He nods. He is not amused, not anymore.

“And for the base,” something pretentious, Sorrow thinks. “Myrrh.” The man sniffs appreciatively.

He closes his eyes, as if he is lost in some powerful memory. Sorrow’s father looks back and forth between the baron and his daughter, a look on his face like a man whose dog has stood up and begun to speak. Sorrow holds their breath.

The baron opens his eyes.

“How soon will it be ready?” he asks.

With the baron’s order, Sorrow’s apprenticeship begins. Without a son, or the funds to hire an apprentice or journeyman, Sorrow’s father had assumed his family’s line of masters would die with him.

Now he is not so sure.

He teaches Sorrow all he knows—the best merchants and shipping companies from which to source ingredients, three separate methods of extraction, the recipes of his samples. Also, simple addition and subtraction. How to read.

The baron’s order, he uses to introduce his daughter to the excruciating art of creating a new perfume.

There is much more to blending scents, Sorrow learns, than sniffing out a person’s memories. Even with their unique ability and the souls of the shop to guide them, they struggle at first.

There are fragrances which should blend harmoniously but do not, others so strong they consume an entire recipe. Every time Sorrow adds rose to a scent, for instance, it is all they can smell, until they are sick with it.

And the proportions! The tiniest drop can throw a whole perfume off. It is a long time indeed before the baron’s cologne is ready.

At night, Sorrow creeps down into the darkened workshop and sits alone on the cool floor. They listen to the rustling of the memories in the workshop’s drawers.

It is like being in their mother’s womb.

  1. Jardin Secret: Bitter top notes of cardamom and bergamot. Perfectly balanced jasmine and rose heart notes, with a bright center of amber. Base notes of warm vanilla, sandalwood, tonka bean, patchouli, and incense. Childhood and motherhood. Love and pain.

“I must have a child,” the queen says.

It’s autumn, and yellow leaves and dying rose petals drift in through the open windows of Sorrow’s workshop in Versailles. A counter runs around three walls of the small room, and as the queen speaks she trails her long fingers over it, touching the brass scales and the glass jars and the pipettes.

“It’s a disgrace,” the queen says, “To have been married eight years without a babe.” She idly turns the soft pages of Sorrow’s book of recipes.

Sorrow wonders if the queen can read. They wonder how they feel about the queen’s hands touching their private things.

Today the queen wears a golden yellow gown of embroidered silk that matches the falling leaves outside Sorrow’s window. Lace drifts around her forearms like cobwebs. She looks shyly up at Sorrow, from under her towering hair.

Understanding flushes Sorrow’s skin.

The queen laughs, misreading the look on Sorrow’s face. “Monsieur Fargeon, haven’t you learned? Versailles is a court of pretend. While I do not have a child, they pretend it is my fault, and if I were to have one, they would pretend it was his.”

The queen’s husband is made of clockwork. Everyone knows, even le Nez. When the king’s parents despaired of ever producing an heir in the usual way, they turned to other methods.

A lock sits where his heart should be, its vast inner workings a maze of tumblers. Without the requisite part, Sorrow imagines, it must have served the old king and queen best to call him a boy. Now the king cannot slip off the construct of manhood that was foisted upon him, any more than he can the cumbersome robes of state.

Sorrow looks into the queen’s grey eyes, trying to see the child she so longs for. To call up the scents of its being. But it is hard.

Sorrow has always only dealt in the past.

“What makes you think I can give you this?” they ask. The queen has had several lovers, but none have succeeded where the king has failed.

“Well,” the queen smiles, “Clearly you are not made of clockwork.” She touches Sorrow’s face with her wandering fingertips.

Sorrow undresses for the queen, because secrets or not, one does not deny royalty. When they are finished, the queen covers her mouth with her hand and laughs.

“I must be cursed,” the queen says.

Sorrow has never developed beyond the figure of their girlhood. Their mottled chest is still smooth. The petals between their legs are still those of a rose. They cover themself with their hands.

If they loved the queen moments ago, that love is now nearly dead.

“Oh, redress, Monsieur,” the queen snaps, waving her hand. Her eyes turn calculating. “I must find another way.”

“Cardamom,” Sorrow says.


“Cardamom.” As the queen watched them undress, Sorrow caught a glimpse of her childhood they hadn’t seen before.

A girl eating bite after bite of her favorite crisp pastries, until she has a stomachache. The shame afterwards, when her mother finds out.

A hidden act. Desire and shame twined together like the colors of Sorrow’s skin.

“A top note, to your new scent.”

The queen nods thoughtfully, staring out of the open windows into the dying garden beyond. “And we’ll need a touch of orange, of course. What are those bitter ones? The ones shriveled up and unlovely, like a barren womb?”

“Bergamot,” Sorrow says.

The queen turns to face them. “You understand what I am asking of you?”

“Of course,” Sorrow says. “The fragrances of the heart.”

That winter in Versailles is the harshest in memory. The fountain freezes. Ice coats the rosebushes. The gardeners wrap the orange trees in wool and despair.

Sorrow huddles at the counter of their workshop, testing blends for the queen’s new perfume. A little brazier is lit, over which they sometimes stop to warm their stiff hands. Their breath fogs in the air.

To the base notes of vanilla, tonka bean, and incense, Sorrow has added a touch of spicy patchouli and a thread of gentle sandalwood. The heart notes they keep simple. Finicky rose, still threatening to consume everything else, for the queen. Jasmine, for Sorrow themself. And something warm. Something vibrant. A bright beating heart.

Amber, Sorrow decides.

Discarded glass vials of oils litter the counter, marked “Attempt 21” and “Attempt 18.” Nearly half of Sorrow’s notebook is scribbled black from edge to edge.

They have never used so many fragrances in a single recipe before. But will it be enough? Can the right scent produce a future as easily as it can recall the past?

They lift their pipette, shake a single drop of oil into the waiting vial.

Attempt 28. Attempt 34.

The queen comes to them in the spring. Birds sing in the rose bushes. The gardens of Versailles flush green.

The queen is wearing a loose pink dress, her blonde curls au naturel. Beneath her powder, there are spots of color on her cheeks.

“Well?” she says. “Where is he?” She looks around, as if she thinks Sorrow has hidden her child among the discarded vials and pipettes.

Sorrow bows. Their silver curls stand out in a nimbus around their head like a cloud. Their silk waistcoat is buttoned crookedly. There are dark circles under their eyes.

Their hand shakes as they hand the queen the final glass vial.

Attempt 98.

In their lifetime, Sorrow has created countless custom scents. Seven that they are truly proud of. But this one—this is their masterpiece.

The queen turns the vial over in her hands, her eyebrows drawn together. The amber liquid glows in the thin sunlight.

“This is what you’ve made with all of my funds?” she asks. Her face falls. “Just another bottle of scent.”

Sorrow rises, horrified. “Madame?” The queen has misunderstood.

Sorrow is not an alchemist, to conjure a child of alcohols and oils. Sorrow deals in scents, and a scent sealed in a vial is a dead thing. To come alive, a scent must be worn; in this case, by the woman for whose body it was designed to react with as no one else’s.

The queen’s soft gown does not hide the fact that she is nearly as gaunt as Sorrow themself. The bones stand out in her wrists. “Nine years without a child,” she says, “And this is what you would give me for my pains?”

“Madame–” Sorrow tries again.

“When you speak,” the queen snaps, “You will address me as Majesté.” She draws her shoulders back, sweeping up her skirts as elegantly as if they are the richest gown. And then she casts the glass vial against the floor.

It shatters.

Sorrow gasps.

Every new birth requires a little violence.

  1. la Naissance: A fresh narcissus top note, floral heart notes of lily and rose, and dusky base notes of sandalwood and musk. The first blush of a rosy dawn.

When Sorrow is nine years old—or 15, or 16, flat as a windswept beach and mottled as—well as ambergris, a wasting fever sweeps through Montpellier, and takes their father with it.

Before he is buried, Sorrow takes the key from around his neck and unlocks every drawer in his workshop. In the bottom of one, near the ceiling, beneath a few stray seeds and a curl of cinnamon bark, they find his book of accounts. They sit down with it at the counter to puzzle it out, their head in their hands.

Their father is in debt, yes. But not so much as his clients.

At the back of the book they find a loose piece of paper. It is their father’s will, written in his shaky, slanted handwriting.

“I leave everything—my business and my house, my knowledge and my trade, my profits and my debts—to my son,” he writes, “Chagrin Fargeon.”

Sorrow holds the piece of paper closer to their candle, unsure if they have read correctly. Their hand trembles.

It is not “my daughter,” not “Tristesse.” Girls cannot inherit, any more than they can become master craftsmen.

“Chagrin,” he’s written. My son.

Sorrow tells no one in town of their father’s deception. After his burial they take his book and go around to each of his creditors, begging them to settle their accounts.

They are but a poor girl, they say, left alone in the world with no way to support themself. They want only to pay off their father’s debts and set themself up somewhere safe. Perhaps they will become a nun. To each house they bring a small sample of a new custom scent.

“A bit of what my father was working on, before he died. A gift of good faith,” Sorrow says.

It is amazing what people will scrounge up, when they are driven by guilt.

Sorrow does pay off their father’s debts. Only that part is not a lie. They could not bear to sell the workshop, even if it meant a new life for themself. With a portion of their profit they buy themself a new suite of clothes, and the rest they set aside.

Armed with a fashionable frock coat and a cabinet of oils and extracts from their father’s stores, Mademoiselle Tristesse is reborn as Monsieur Chagrin Fargeon into the world of Paris.

They spend their first two years in Paris as a street peddler, their cabinet strapped to their back. They sleep in stables and alleyways and cheap inns, until they have added enough coin to their profits to pay the guild fees and take on their father’s status of master craftsman.

As a master, they can open their own workshop, and so they rent a small shop in a somewhat fashionable part of town, and they sleep on the floor behind their counter to save their coin.

Even in this dingy room, smaller than le Vase d’Or back in Montpellier, Sorrow does well. How could they not, when every person’s eyes tell them the secret scents of their life? Their years on the streets and in their dark shop make up the rest of Sorrow’s broken apprenticeship.

Which perfumes will sell well, and which won’t. Which memories people want to relive and which ones they’d rather forget. The rapidly changing whims of fashion. The current of goods and coin that runs hand to hand through the city, from the lowest debtor to the king.

Sorrow tracks this current down like a bloodhound. Soon they have created a network of suppliers and customers, and their reputation, at least among Paris’s bourgeoise, begins to rise.

They have been in their little shop for over a year when they first meet another person like them.

“I’m looking for a special gift,” he says, “For my amore.” He is dressed like an artist, in brightly-colored loose clothing. His skin is dark as worn wood. His hair stands up, stiff as the bristles of a brush. His eyes are as liquid as oil; yellow, like linseed.

It is all Sorrow can do not to wipe the powder from their face, to rip open their linen shirt and cry “Look!”

They look into his eyes, back and back—to the crack of a paintbrush, to a jar of oil shattered against the floor. A half-finished painting that disappears overnight. When Sorrow takes him to bed they can trace the brushstrokes of it across his skin.

It is not so unusual, Sorrow learns. Not here in the wide world.

Not here in Paris.

It is another two years before they have saved enough to open the workshop that will make them famous, on rue de Roule, not far from the palais Louvre.

They call it la Naissance, the birth. Their sign shows a hammered bronze sun rising from silver clouds.

The interior of the shop is lined from floor to ceiling in drawers. Sorrow wears the little brass key on a velvet ribbon around their neck. The counter is white veined marble, and a Persian rug covers much of the floor. Gold velvet curtains hang in the wide, sparkling windows. Twin Louis XV chairs sit by the door.

Sorrow’s apartment, upstairs, contains a bedroom and a parlor, the walls covered in watered blue silk. Sometimes, they invite their finest patrons to chat and sip chocolate with them there.

  1. les Miroirs de Paris: An overpowering orange top note mellows into heart notes of vanilla, spicy cinnamon, and cardamom, with a lingering base note of anise. Candlelight through glass.

The young prince has eyes the warm gold of amber. When he laughs, it’s like petals of rose and jasmine falling, in a hidden garden in the middle of winter. Tight green curls cover his head, like the bergamots that grow in the orangerie. His skin is nearly translucent, fragile as glass. He cannot run and tumble through the corridors of Versailles, not like other children can.

Sorrow watches him grow in snatches between projects for other nobles at court. Now that the queen has what she wants, she is happy to share her parfumeur, her nez, with the rest of the palais.

Sorrow sometimes dreams of opening a new workshop in Paris, or of going back to le Vase d’Or, but they cannot bring themself to leave their child. Not even when life grows dangerous and strange in Versailles.

Starvation has swept through the city and become a mob. The Bastille falls, and then even Versailles is besieged. The nobles shut themselves up in the palace and barricade the windows and doors, but nothing can keep hunger out for long. Families begin to disappear overnight, fleeing to estates in the countryside.

The queen comes to Sorrow’s workshop for the first time in years and years. The hallways are dark, and servants and courtiers alike walk up and down with candles in their hands, weeping with fear.

The queen wears a dark rose robe a la française. There are jewels around her neck. Her blonde hair is swept up under a white wig. “You must smuggle him out of the palace,” she says. Only her grey eyes are panicked.

“We are very noticeable, he and I,” Sorrow says.

“You can disguise yourselves. A servant woman and her child, perhaps.” The queen drops to her knees. She clutches at the hem of Sorrow’s coat. “You will have help, getting out of the palace. A carriage. Someone I trust.”

“What makes you think I would do this for you?” Sorrow asks.

“He is your child too,” the queen says.

“You have never said so before.” Sorrow thrusts away her hands. They realize then they are afraid, as afraid as those weeping in the halls.

But they cannot deny their own child.

As they pass through the Hall of Mirrors they see that every glass is shattered, reflecting a thousand broken images of their powdered face.

The prince stands alone in the middle of his darkened nursery, abandoned by his maids. He clutches a toy soldier in one hand. Sorrow can see straight through his thumb, to the painted wood beneath.

He was born a toddler, and now he is seven, or eight. Perhaps nine. Sorrow feels faint when they realize they aren’t certain of his age.

“Who are you?” he asks.

“I am your father,” Sorrow says. “You must come with me, and fast.”

“My father is made of clockwork,” the child says. He frowns. “He is the king. His left eye-jewel is chipped in the corner, and his favorite food is marzipan. If you were my father, I would know it. Who are you?” he asks.

Sorrow’s heart pounds, if they have one. “I am your mother,” they say.

“No, no!” he cries, “You are not!” He stamps his feet. “My mother wears dresses like a shepherdess, and she smells of roses and champagne. You do not. Who are you?” he asks.

“I am a gun,” Sorrow says.

They remove their wig.

“I am a woman who wore the scent of jasmine in her long, dark hair. I am a workshop filled with drawers, and every one of them are locked.” They rub the powder from their face. “I am a nose and a perfumer and a chevaliar. I am a daughter and a son.”

“Who are you?” Sorrow asks.

  1. l’Or des Fous: Exotic top notes of cinnamon and patchouli; rich, golden heart notes of amber, incense, and myrrh; and a lingering base note of sandalwood. A forbidden kiss.

Sorrow’s greatest patron at la Naissance is the Comte de la Motte. He is a rogue, rumored to have stolen even his title, and Sorrow never inquires too closely into the origin of the gold and jewels with which he pays.

“You must come with me to Versailles,” he says one day—for, oh, the fifteenth or twentieth time. He sips from his silver cup, his legs crossed effeminately. They sit upstairs in Sorrow’s blue parlor, the chocolate service on a small table between them.

“You would be as much a sensation there as you are here, I assure you.” His dark eyes sparkle as he straightens the lapels of his embroidered frock coat.

Like the artist, la Motte knows one of Sorrow’s secrets. They have since wondered how wise it was, to reveal so much of themself to such a man.

“Your patronage does me honor, as ever,” Sorrow murmurs. They sip their bitter chocolate. “But I fear Versailles would not be right for one such as me.” They have long moved past that girlhood dream.

Sorrow once created a special fragrance for the comte: an exotic blend of spices and incense they privately call Fool’s Gold. When he leans towards them they catch a whiff of it.

“Nonsense,” the comte says. “Versailles was made for one such as you. Why do you always put me off?”

“Your friends would miss me, I fear.” Sorrow smiles inside their well-tailored coat, their silk breeches, their powdered wig. Over the years, the comte has brought many wealthy and titled men and women to Sorrow’s workshop, each seeking their own custom scent.

“Besides,” Sorrow laughs, “What would I do with this?” They sweep a hand around the room.

“Sell it.” The comte’s eyes flash. “Imagine the profit.” La Motte’s eyes are better than a storybook. Sword fights and secret assignations. Balloons and sailing ships. Ballrooms and boudoirs. It’s no wonder he was drawn to Sorrow from the moment he first stepped into la Naissance.

The comte loves a good disguise.

“Sell my business? My beloved workshop? Comte, you are mad.”

La Motte leans back in his chair, looks Sorrow up and down. “I know what will draw you out of your den,” he says. “I’ll introduce you to the queen.”

  1. le Monde Futur: A top note of bright lemon, heart notes of wet narcissus, lavender, and sharp balsam, base notes of juniper and cedar. The sea, clear as sunlight through glass.

In Montpellier, a crumbling stone house sits beneath the gilded sign of le Vase d’Or, in view of the Mediterranean. Inside, a mother and her son craft scents so exquisite, they say they can recall to you your dreams.

The citizens of Montpellier whisper that the mother is old M. Fargeon’s daughter, back with her bastard son. Others say that no, M. Fargeon never had a daughter, but a son—Chagrin Fargeon, the celebrated perfumer from Paris—and that these must be his émigré wife and child.

They look askance at the woman’s mottled face, the way the light shines through her son’s hands as he works the brass scales.

But they keep coming back.

When they want to remember the France that has been, or imagine the possibilities of the France that will be, they knock on her door with a few of the new francs in their hand, and they beg for a scent.


Jordan Taylor

Jordan Taylor’s short fiction has recently appeared in Underland Arcana and The Deadlands, and was nominated for a 2021 World Fantasy Award. Though she’s lived in cities across the US, she’s finally settled in North Carolina in a little cottage full of books. You can follow her online at, or on Twitter @JordanRTaylor13.

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