(1310-09-03) Tea and Soundings
Summary: The Lady of Marsilikos welcomes a recent arrival to her city. The two ladies recall the past and negotiate the present.
RL Date: 03/09/2018 to 18/09/2018
Related: None.
armandine oriane 

Solar — Dome of the Lady

Spacious enough to provide a meeting place of more familiar atmosphere to the residents of the Ducal Palace, the solar is of rectangular shape and generously lit during the day through a number of arched windows in the south wall. The opposite side is governed by a huge stone hearth, a fire crackling there during colder weather conditions. Above the hearth hangs a shield with the coat of arms of House Mereliot, flanked by a pair of exquisitely woven tapestries depicting naval scenes of ships on the sea, one in calm and tranquil weather conditions, the other one in a storm with heavy rain.

All furniture is made of oak, be it the long table in the middle of the room, or the number of high backed chairs arranged about it, flat cushions of blue brocade adding to the comfort of seating. The ceiling is a sophisticated rib vault, constructed of wood, the ribs painted in yellow. Depictions of a variety of sea animals have been added onto the light blue ceiling as well by an unknown artist. Several kinds of mediterranean fish adorn the spaces in between ribs, such as combers, groupers and flounders but also starfish and octopusses.

A door leads out onto a rooftop garden, and an archway opens into the upper hallway.

It is becoming a habit these days, that Armandine Mereliot, Duchesse of Eisande claims the solar within the palace for her own personal uses: Meetings and confidential conversations can be conveniently held here, when her guards will ensure a certain privacy, limiting entrance only to those explicitly invited by the Lady of Marsilikos.

It is today, on this late morning after a rather successful grand opening of the annual tournament, that Armandine once again lingers here. Seated in one of the comfortable chairs by the hearth, where a fire has been lit to chase away the chill of a first reminder of autumn - it is moderately stormy outside, and there has been some rain in the earlier hours. Now, with the weather having calmed a little, the hour had appeared right to send a ducal carriage to the Rue du Port. A written invitation had been issued on the day prior, the time announced vaguely to 'sometime during the morning'. By assuring a carriage would be sent, Oriane would at least evade the threat of being too much exposed to the weather.

When her guest will be shown in, Armandine will rise to greet her, dark blue skirts shifting with a low whisper as she stands, attired in the fine fashion expected in a Duchesse. The absence of the ducal coronet lends her appearance a more casual and informal quality.

As it happens Oriane Somerville de Toluard was planning to do absolutely nothing today.

It is not, then, a tremendous inconvenience to her arrangements to answer such a kindly summons from an old acquaintance. If Armandine Mereliot weren’t the Lady of Marsilikos and the sovereign ruler of the city in which Oriane finds herself, she would wait upon her for affection and diversion; but as she is, prudence is nicely in accord with pleasure.

The little house with the blue doors in the Rue du Port has no portico, but the well-trained ducal coachman draws up as close as can be to the small balcony overhanging the street; and a feather-light cloak of black oiled silk does the rest. The weather is thus vanquished and Oriane arrives at the Dome of the Lady bone dry, in the ideal black and white elegance she has spent her adult life perfecting. She presents herself today as the mourning widow, in a simple black silk gown with bell-shaped skirts and froths of pristine white lace about her hands and her neck. (Her maid retains the cloak, somewhere outside the solar, wherever maids and guards are put.) A pin in the likeness of a silver crescent moon set with diamonds nestles among the lace just below the hollow of her throat, a single adornment exceeding in cost whole suites of colourful jewellery that are routinely worn into the ducal presence by ladies of lesser taste, lesser backing, lesser personality, lesser renown.

Her black velvet slippers move silently across the floor; her skirts scarcely sway with her steps. When the duchesse rises and their eyes meet in mutual acknowledgment, she lets a practiced smile convey her appreciation of the gesture. At the correct distance she dips into a slight curtsey, not too much for knees grown elderly. “Your Grace, good morning.”

“My lady of Toluard!”, the duchesse greets, and it is with the lightness and somewhat respectful enthusiasm of the younger that she herself executes a curtsey in greeting for the famous consort of the late Provincial Duc of Siovale. Hands are both extended in a refreshing disregard of protocol, as the Lady of Marsilikos follows the instinctive urge to bid her guest welcome with all the warm hospitality her province is known for. “How glad I am that you would take it upon you, despite the weather.” A slight tilt of her head indicates a pot of tea already sitting on the table with two cups and a plate of some sweet pastries beside. “I thought we could chat a little over a cup of tea, if you like. Revel in memories, and speak of the present and the future. First of all, I feel so pleased that it is here that you elected to spend your time, Lady Oriane. I must insist that you will visit the palace regularly, and be it just to entertain me and my court with tales of your eventful past.”

The erstwhile consort’s gloved fingertips squeeze the duchesse’s gratefully before the two women move toward the table, in step with one another, as though no time has passed and no reversals have been endured since their last meeting. How good it is to be on firm footing here, Oriane can't help but reflect, when the rest of one’s world is as quicksand.

“I'm not sure I have any tales to tell that haven't already been told,” she protests lightly, “and by tongues wittier than my own… I came to your city intending to live quietly still, Your Grace,” she explains in a tone more sober, more resolved, as she waits for her hostess to sit before perching neatly upon the chair nearest her, “so quietly that when I had your note yesterday I'd not yet made up my mind when or how I might greet you… Though, you must know,” and she clasps her hands in her black silken lap and inclines her head toward her hostess, “I'm always at your disposal, and delighted to be so today.”

"Ah, Lady Oriane. The twitter of younger birds can be inspiring, now and then. At least that is how I perceive it. My ladies are of varying ages. One might think the younger ones are sometimes foolish and would benefit of a tale or two. And if only to learn from the experiences of others.", Armandine Mereliot tells the other woman as she resumes her seat from before. "How quietly then do you intend to live in our marvelous city? Pray, don't tell me you intend to only rarely delight us with your company?" Her smile deepens, as far in fact that it elicits a light glow in her eyes. "I hear you have taken some very lovely quarters with a fine view over the harbour and the sea."

“Is there a bird in Marsilikos that doesn’t twitter its secrets in Your Grace’s ear?” Oriane breathes out a few notes of her quiet, well-tamed laughter. “I was lucky to find something so agreeable, so soon after I arrived and began to look about me. I have a salon, a bedchamber, and another room I don’t know what to do with,” recounts this woman who has in her time laid out new ducal chateaux to her liking and found them not too imposing for family life, “an agreeable neighbour on one side and an absent one on the other, and a roof I am assured won’t leak.” She lifts her blue eyes heavenward in amused supplication.

“Settling myself is proving an occupation; but if it hadn’t been, I’m afraid…” She hesitates and then with a slight shrug admits it. “I still wouldn’t have had much taste for company.” She smiles. “One’s adversities make others uncomfortable, don’t you find? The spectacle they present constitutes too awkward a reminder of just how fragile happiness can be in this life, which is the last thought anybody wishes to dwell upon at a party,” she explains practically. “And so people I have known for many years suddenly don't know what to say to me, or how to treat me — I am not even a widow, you know,” she points out with a slightly whimsical twist to her lips. “I haven’t liked to go about with my own little rain-cloud over my head, casting shadows and showers upon everyone I meet. Especially…” Her voice lowers, softens, grows gentle. “In light of what I understand of the events not long ago at Béziers. My dear, I am so very sorry for your family's losses. House Mereliot is in my prayers.”

Armandine Mereliot smiles at the counter, lips pulling far enough to reveal a glimpse of her teeth. “They are hardly to be called secrets,” she replies with that hint of amusement, those who are richer in experience and years sometimes employ. “But the usual follies of young maidens. Do you remember?”, her brows lift. “That even you and I, some time ago were not too different from them? I do not envy their youth, when it sometimes means they have their sobering moments still ahead of them.” She falls silent then, to listen to what Oriane has to say about her new habitat; amusement increases, but it is colored with the warmth of a friend. “You make it sound like a very delightful place, Lady Oriane.”, the duchesse finally states. “And yet… I do wonder, shouldn’t I rather offer you adequate chambers here in the palace? There have been times, when such a treatment would have been offered without question. And I find myself unwilling to deny you such, just because…” her hand lifts, and wiggles a little in a dismissive gesture, “your great loss caused some inconvenience.” To put it mildly.

“Rest assured, I am not at a loss in how to treat you. As I simply have decided that none of what has occurred will change my respect and esteem for your bright mind and wisdom.” Grey-blue eyes turn thoughtful then, and the smile dims, as only is natural at the events the Toluard lady references. “Still fresh is the void of my own losses,” Armandine admits quietly. “My sister, and most of her children. Only Desarae remains. Due to what happened at Béziers, I had to dissolve the arrangement that bound her to the Salon of Rose Sauvage. Today, she has returned from a lengthy stay at her home. I believe the tournament will offer her some distraction. She is a dear one. I shall introduce you to her, when I find the time.”

The appeal to their own memories of youth finds Oriane receptive: “… I may recall,” she grants, with another slow skyward lift of her gaze and a wistful softness to her smile. “But, you know,” she confides, looking again into the duchesse’s eyes, “I am not like you: I grew up playing barefoot in the dirt in my father’s vineyard. I was not always used to—” Her hand lifts, palm-up, in a small gesture formed to encompass greatness. “This. I should not dream of taking up chambers you might require for guests who can’t be expected to do without them — I know too well the way people have of assuming that with a palace at one’s disposal one will always have room, and so they show up without any real warning — and besides,” she maintains with gentle firmness, “I like my little house. Perhaps one day when the press of your duties allows it, you might let me give you tea,” she suggests lightly.

Of course she’d be delighted if her suggestion were taken up: of course, equally, she’ll be undismayed if it never comes about. She’s still negotiating her new social rank.

“Perhaps,” she adds with that practical bent she’s always had, “with your niece, if you want more little distractions for her. I’m sure she hasn’t often paid calls in the Rue du Port. I should so like to meet her, of course, and to admire again the other gems in your coronet.” Herself a mother of two daughters, she isn’t speaking of coloured stones.

“Encountering modesty in someone with your illustrious past should take me me by surprise - and yet it does not.”, Armandine replies. “Lady Oriane, how refreshing a presence you are, compared to other courtiers, and we will be having more of them, now that the tournament has commenced.” The sentiment is genuine, as genuine as the statement that follows, expresses actual interest in the other’s woman’s circumstances. “The way you speak of your new home, I shall definitely have to pay you a visit there. It sounds delightful. And you know that I do enjoy a moment of tranquility now and then, away from the immediate duties that come with my station.” A soft sigh then, when talk turns to her niece. “Yes. Yes I do. She needs distractions. She needs to meet people. Especially people who have known their way in the political arena. As for my other ‘gems’.” Her smile deepens. “Of course. You know a mother can hardly allow an opportunity to pass, of showing off her daughters. My middle daughter has had issues due to her frail health. But… Ortolette has finally felt strong enough to brave the challenge of becoming a woman. The adept in question has been carefully selected, and I am glad to say, the experience has enlivened my dear daughter. She looks as healthy as she has never looked before.”

That hail of compliments is easily shaken off the elegant back of so experienced a courtier as Oriane, who maintains in a discreet murmur beneath the younger woman’s words that the Lady of Marsilikos is simply: “… Too kind, Your Grace.” That subject is one she is glad to let lapse, in favour of the usual teatime talk of d’Angeline mothers and grandmothers, whose interest in the romantic lives of their progeny recognises all too few boundaries.

“I’m so glad that after all the trials Lady Ortolette’s body has brought her, she’s finding its pleasures at last.” Oriane mirrors the duchesse’s smile, her own just a little bit conspiratorial. Or — a little bit sad? But whatever that was about the set of her lips and the angle of her gaze, it’s gone soon enough, replaced by her usual flawless social mask.

“… And, you know,” she adds by way of both comfort and praise, “it isn’t as unusual as some might suppose for a girl especially to wait a year, or two. I’ve known it to happen often enough, for all kinds of reasons. The right person, at the right moment — that’s all we wish for them, isn’t it? It sounds as though you’ve done very well for your daughter, and now you see her blooming. I can imagine what a joy that must be for all your family.”

With the topic being no longer pursued, Armandine shifts to the next, and of course, nothing can be as gratifying a topic for a mother than the well-being of one of her daughters. “I wasn’t rushing her, in that regard. Even if, as you know, people start to talk, when the traditional wickedness of a sixteenth birthday, as would be usually expected, does not come to pass. No. It was Ortolette who set the time, perhaps encouraged by the White Rose Second of the salon, Mademoiselle Olivia. And I do not feel wistful, at my daughter finally learning about pleasures, and experiencing them. She has acted, in a way, more grown-up than her sisters for a while. It was almost scaring me a little. It is relieving to see the pieces fall into place, my lady. For all of us..”

Listening with the complete attentiveness of the practiced courtier, as well as a genuine interest that lends a veracity to her eyes and perfect timing to her encouraging, interrogative nods, Oriane draws out this maternal confidence and honours it with one of her own. “Both my girls were in rather a hurry, I must confess,” she admits, with a wry, recollecting smile. “I suppose it was the atmosphere at Bordeaux. People used always to fall in love in my gardens there, or love enough to last a season, anyway,” she grants pragmatically. “I’m afraid we indulged them. I didn’t have one of those terribly wicked sixteenth birthday parties myself, you understand — and I shouldn’t have liked them to have any regrets from those years when everything is so fresh and so exciting. And so we had courtesans from Elua, and strawberry-picking, and goodness knows what else. I hardly remember it all now.”

Armandine smiles. “Of course. But I suspect, young sixteen-year-olds will always have a hard time waiting, whether in Bordeaux or here in Marsilikos. Most often, that is.” She pauses, allowing a slightly pensive expression to settle on her features. “I have been meaning to ask… That is if you would like to tolerate such a personal question coming from someone such as me. Feel free to decline the answer, if I go too far. But, I am curious to know what the state is on the question of your former Comté. Was it legally founded, for Caterina di Milazza to deny your claim on the holding and hand it over to her brother-in-law? Have you put in a complaint with the crown? To have this matter pursued in your interests?” Her gaze settles upon Oriane, enquiring and slightly curious.

When that lovely face across from her own grows pensive Oriane knows what is coming next; and before the duchesse can finish uttering those courteous precursors to the question all Marsilikos and half the rest of Terre d’Ange wants to ask her, she’s already nodding her understanding, her permission, her forgiveness. Her own face grows serenely sombre, just as it might were she following a cortège or laying flowers in a mausoleum.

Small sips scarcely noticed have emptied Oriane’s cup and, she suspects, the duchesse’s as well. She takes up the teapot in both hands and pours: Armandine’s cup first, and then her own. Not an assumption of the rights of hospitality, but a small honour from an elder lady of lesser rank to a younger one whose consequence is so great in this, her own city.

“… So you call her that too,” she sighs over the teacups. She looks up, to catch her hostess’s eye between one and the next. “The dowager duchesse de Toluard has not had a happy life here, away from her own people,” she observes gently. “Still.” She sets down the pot and moves Armandine’s cup and saucer neatly nearer to her, before claiming her own. “I hadn’t understood that she hated me quite so much.” She holds cup and saucer steady and takes a meditative, strengthening sip. “Yes, my daughter and I have filed a lawsuit; yes, I believe the law to be on our side in this matter, as well as the wishes of His Grace the late duc.” She has always spoken with such courtesy of the man at the centre of her life.

“But, my dear, I’ve no intention of lobbying you, or scheming to win your influence to my daughter’s cause,” she maintains. “I have too much respect for your intelligence and your pragmatism to take that sort of line. You’ll make up your own mind and speak or no as you see fit — which prospect you see holds no fear for me.” She smiles.

The gesture is noted and acknowledged with a downwards tilt of her head, Armandine's grey-blue eyes following Oriane's hands as the lift the tea pot to pour them both a refill. The gaze flicks back to the Toluard lady's features, and the smile dims a little. "Be that as it may," the duchesse comments with a faint lift of her eyebrows. "I approve of you pursuing the matter. But I promise not to interfere. Don't ask of me to deny you the courtesy of your visits, nor mine own. It is often those little things. Of demonstrating awareness, of maintaining relations even when status seems to be lost." At which her smile returns in that kind upwards curve of her lips.

"With that said, I shall look forward to visiting your new home. And I will see to introduce you to my niece. Now. I suppose you would like to hear all the news in regards to what has and is to happen at court. Well. There is a wedding coming. One of my ladies-in-waiting is to marry in October, and I have offered to her family and that of her intended to hold the feast here at the palace. I still need to hear back from them, but I suppose the option of holding it outside will be less than feasible. It will already be far into autumn, and who would enjoy being exposed to the harsh elements of the season…?"

At which their conversation has left the potentially hazardous area of probably sensitive topics, to explore the more diverting and more current developments in Marsilikos.

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