(1310-09-04) The Ultimate Truth
Summary: Matthieu de Rocaille is visited by his great-aunt, Oriane Somerville de Toluard, who brings tidings of the state of her house. Truths are told, and truths sought.
RL Date: 04/09/2018 to 08/09/2018
Related: Both Alike In Dignity
matthieu oriane olivia 

Rocaille Townhouse

Lavish and refined in its design this townhouse seems to spare no expense while still maintaining a cozy atmosphere. The floors are polished ebony marble, gleaming under the light of many high windows and wrought iron candle filled fixtures. The walls are painted a deep forest green and adorned with various works of art depicting the companion Shemhazai and the lands of Siovale. The main rooms of the townhouse are for entertaining guests, the sitting room and dining room respectively. Other rooms branch off these and a staircase and well lit hallway leads upwards and deeper into the house where the private rooms are. The building seems to have been constructed around a large garden in which various herbs and flowers are planted. The garden also boasts a small well kept pond with exotic fish at its center. Both the dining room and the sitting room have large windows and doors that look out onto this garden.

Somewhat less than an hour after Oriane Somerville de Toluard receives a certain letter from her great-nephew, the heir to Siovale, the carriage he dispatched returns with her inside it. No, she doesn't keep him long: called, she comes. The views of any curtain-twitchers who may have been active within the Toluard residence at that hour, have not been confided to History.

When shown into his presence the erstwhile consort of the duc de Toluard is graceful and wholly composed, clad in a simple black silk gown with bell-shaped skirts and froths of pristine white lace about her hands and her neck. 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 on great occasions by ladies of lesser taste, lesser backing, lesser personality, lesser renown.

She studies him intently with blue eyes which contain a startling intelligence. Both her hands, black-gloved, lift as she crosses the threshold, and seek for his as she comes nearer. "Matthieu, you look pale," she sighs, entirely concerned with this fact. "How are your healers treating you? What do they say? Will you pardon me for inquiring? I know," she admits with a rueful smile, "young men don't care to be fussed over; but you have been very much in my mind."

Summer is at an end, and it can be felt upon the air; the breeze is edged by a gentle chill and the leaves are starting to turn away from verdant memories and into ruddier and more gilded transitions. The change is visible whenever the Lady Oriane Somerville de Toluard is shown into the garden patio that affords her a sprawling view of the grounds situated at the back of the Rocaille mansion. From a distance, a glass construct can be spotted, fashioned like a bird cage, that functions as the property's greenhouse and vault for its beautiful blooms. Soon, everything in the garden will be weighed down by frost, but at the very least, the colors within its confines will be preserved through the year.

The dining set has been prepared for tea - it is certainly a far cry from the lavish affairs he had been treated to as a many-time guest of House Toluard's ducal court, but the proper accoutrements are present, with a tea cart waiting in hand to pour fresh cups when required. A platter of sliced, chilled fruit is also present, the remains of Oriane's bountiful basket, left in a colorful array upon delicately painted porcelain.

There are two men in attendance, and both familiar. The first she will recognize is Gabriel de Montreve, the Comte de Montreve's second son, tall, lean, dark-haired and dressed in the familiar gray uniform and silver armor of the Cassiline Brotherhood. Matthieu de Rocaille's boyhood companion has nursed a trickster's reputation for most of his life, and his manner reflects it - casual, bordering on irreverent, as quick to smile as he is with anything that can function as a weapon…and all deceptive. It has worked for and against him many times.

"Comtesse!" the Cassiline greets enthusiastically, his expression lighting up, fueled, no doubt, by the lively and colorful memories he harbors of the Toluard ducal court where she once presided as the first of its ladies, and giving him a look of a man much younger than his twenty-nine years. "It's good to see you!"

Ever the gentleman, Matthieu rises from his seat. He was never one to be ostentatious, tall, broad-shouldered form dressed in impeccably tailored, but minimalistic attire: a high-collared shirt tucked into black riding breeches and knee-high boots, his coat dyed a deep blue that enhances the glacial shade of his irises and makes the silver storms within them all the more visible, sewn with black buttons and epaulets. He has no necktie, scarf or ascot - it is the convention, but he never liked it, even as a young lad, and all the moreso now with three years spent in collars and cuffs under his belt. He bows respectfully to his great-aunt from the waist, before lifting his hand, palm-up, in offerance for a fonder greeting. And once she ventures closer, her own extended, he will take one of her hands with a light touch and dip his head over her knuckles.

"Aunt," he greets, low, cool baritone softened only a touch in deference to their history - rare as they are, these changes in his pitch, and only for a very chosen few. "It has been a long time. You're very far from Bordeaux. Have a seat." He releases her fingers, and shifts so he can pull out a chair for her.

On his left hand is a walking stick - the only part of the tremendous set of injuries with which he has returned to the land of his birth that is visible. His leg has been wounded, judging by the way he leans against it, but only slightly. Whatever pain there is, Matthieu's expression and demeanor betray very little of it; he has long since learned to withstand the sharpest of discomforts to appear insurmountable.

He has changed from the affable youth she has known, an eager visitor of the culture and entertainments she provided to her guests. His complexion has been darkened by the sun, away from the fair skin of his early years, rendering his pale hair all the moreso, and the passage of time has molded him into a spitting image of his father, Fernand de Rocaille, when he was around his age, but with stark differences - his features are handsome, but hard and the smiles that once perpetually graced his features are gone.

"The last healer who attended me was very adamant that I stay off my feet for a few weeks, a directive which I've been unable to follow strictly to the letter, but it couldn't be helped." He refrains from telling her of the riding accident that almost claimed Olivia d'Albert no Rose Sauvage's life…at least, not yet. He remains standing until the lady is seated, despite whatever discomfort that gives him, and will only sit once she's securely ensconced upon a chair. "But in all honesty, I would rather hear about yourself and how the last three years have been for you."

Oriane is hardly altered in the past three years — hardly altered in the past twenty, during which her red-golden hair has faded to white and the lines have slowly multiplied upon her lovely face. Her back is as straight as ever it was, and her hands as soft. She greets the Cassiline with an apologetic smile — he's mistaken, but she can't address it all in one breath — and then her attention is all for her great-great-great-nephew, whose innate courtesy contracts that appalling connexion. Understanding him she sits quickly, in a sweep of dark silken skirts.

"I'm sure you'll do your best to obey," she suggests, applying the most wholesome kind of emotional blackmail, "for the sake of all those of us who have been praying for your recovery… Matthieu, I can scarce imagine what you have suffered," she admits as though dismayed, as though sincerely considering it, "but if there is anything I might do to help you find your way home again… I hope you know you need only speak it," she says gently. "As to the rest…" A ladylike hesitation. "What have you been told?"

Said emotional blackmail is noted, and Matthieu affords the woman the slightest of smiles - visible evidence that while wounded deeply, he has not been completely hollowed out by his experiences. "I haven't clawed my way back to the land of the living with broken bones to be tipped over into the grave upon reaching it. Rest assured, Aunt, that I am here to stay." He gestures to the valet. "Do you still prefer the black leaf, or do you still switch over to red come Autumn?"

Her well-wishes give him pause, and for a moment, those eyes grow distant; with her, and yet not. Her words remind him of her own history, from what he remembers as told by his father, so well-versed with the major and minor players of the d'Angeline halls of power. Her romance with the recently-dead former Duc de Toluard was famous and notorious in equal measure, if not just because of how it started. These days, he finds similar parallels, between his most recent past and that of Enguerrand de Toluard.

If there was anyone alive who knew just how difficult it truly was to return from such straits, it would be the woman he calls his great-aunt.

"I will take that to heart," is however all he says; he was never an emotive creature, and the last three years have only made him increasingly jealous of the private life he lives inside of his own mind. But these are not mere platitudes - the man's word is as good as gold, at least when it comes to matters of import, and he can't afford to be seen as mentally injured on top of being physically diminished - past the Eisandine borders, he can practically sense Ava de Rocaille's opportunism kicking in gear. Whether he likes it or not, he already knows he is going to need her, if not just to consult her on her insight as to how Enguerrand de Toluard was repaired from his own ordeal.

What have you been told?

Her voice is enough to yank him back into the present and once the valet has poured them both steaming cups of her preferred tea, he dismisses him with a nod and it is only when the three of them are alone that he continues: "A boy from the Toluard manse returned the message meant for you back to me," he begins. "Guy L'attelier. He mentioned you were kind to his father and took it upon himself to rescue my letter from whatever abyss they've been consigning the rest of your correspondences. What happened, Aunt?"

His straightforwardness hasn't changed, at the very least.

Nor has her courage.

The woman who more or less governed and administered the Toluard duchy for thirty years, via her loving hold upon its duc, explains it as simply as she can. "You recall your cousin Margot," she explains, as she strips off her black gloves. Beneath she has that familiar signet on her right hand and, on her left, a diamond of a size commensurate with Enguerrand de Toluard's feelings for her. After the habit of ladies who wear gloves she has them backward, and turns them the right way round once her well-kept hands are bare. She takes up her tea in her left hand, lifts saucer from cup with her right, and sips just once before setting the whole business down again.

"She was married last year, in the summer, and we honoured her wedding with a tournament. The late duc de Toluard," she utters, with no more sign of her despair than a breath drawn more deeply, "rode bravely but received the tip of a lance through his eye. He died on the field. I have not visited the Toluard residence here in Marsilikos; but I imagine the staff there have been given orders not to admit me, and that whatever befell your letter was part and parcel of the same. You know my right address, though, it seems," and from somewhere she dredges up a smile, "and I was so pleased when I heard from the viscomtesse de Seyches that you were here in the city, too."

"I recall Margot," Matthieu confirms. "I had not known that she was just married. I will have to send my regards." There's a hint of a smirk. "And ask her forbearance for the lateness of it."

He falls silent then, listening to what his aunt tells him, his tea cooling on the cup set before him. His eyes don't move away from her features and while time has wrought its own changes upon her, they are reminders of her famed vitality. His stare has always been a weighty thing, ever one of studious and - at least these days - ruthless assessment, as if liable to pull the subject in a cloistered room, barricaded from the rest of the world and leave her as his focus.

The news regarding the loss of her great love, and the worrisome knowledge that Enguerrand's half-Milazza son - specifically that one - is now duc de Toluard, hit him all at once, the impact egregious enough that it actually draws a visible frown on his lips. "My condolences, Aunt. I had not known. If there is anything I can provide to ease your bereavement, I hope that you won't hesitate in letting me know." He inclines his head at her. "Though as distressing as the word is, you have yet to tell me as to why you are suddenly barred from the Toluard residence. Did my stepmother have anything to do with it?"

She mentions Lucienne, and he does not seem surprised in the least that the Vicomtesse de Seyches has already visited Oriane. As usual, the old silver dragon that fostered him is the one of the very first to make a stamp upon the troubles that plague his province. "Many of the younger lords and ladies would dismiss her as an inconvenient busybody and a relic of another age and yet she manages to direct the right attention upon the path it ought. Were it not for her, I would not have known of your presence here until much later."

Sipping her tea Oriane is quiet for a little while, waiting till Matthieu has taken in her words and their import and drawn his own conclusions.

At last she sets down her cup again and leans her wrists against the edge of the table, and wonders aloud: "Your stepmother? Why do you suppose…?"

Her blue eyes are intent upon Matthieu's face. Watching. Judging. Putting two and two together.

Matthieu's eyes upon his aunt is a steady thing and the silence lasts for a heartbeat or two. "I suppose that after all of her attempts to undermine my position over the years, I've attributed every misfortune to those closest to me directly upon her feet. It's uncharitable, perhaps, but after what happened to me, my willingness to allot any benefit of the doubt in her direction has long since passed. You know that I was fostered by the Vicomtesse de Seyches, a measure that my father deemed a necessity even in the early days after my birth. Make no mistake, Aunt, he knew what manner of creature he was obligated to marry. Hence, I had to ask."

He takes up his cup and takes a sip, his eyes drawn down and his spirit elsewhere. His voice grows absent as he is forced to recall his ordeal to give his comments context; shades of a psychological effect that Oriane may find familiar.

"I won't horrify you with the details of my internment as a Skaldi prisoner," he begins. "Or what followed after. To make a very long story short, I was able to pass myself off to my captors as a lesser lord. I wasn't about to tell them I was the heir of a duc. It had to be done in order to ensure my survival as a hostage, without burdening my father with a ransom that he isn't prepared to deliver. I used a name known to Gabe and myself, so he would be able to track me at the moment I was to be liberated. Even after the ambush that separated us, I knew he was alive."

Gabriel remains silent, his eyes directed upon his environs. The memory of his failure manifests in the way a set of his fingers grip his right vambrace.

"When it was time to exchange me, however, I didn't find Gabe waiting for me. It was a woman, one of the Vralian tsar's personal agents. She somehow knew I was being held by the Skaldi, and paid the ransom for one Lord Christophe d'Albert." He lifts his eyes at last to meet Oriane's. "I've never seen her in my life, but she knew who I truly was. And while I keep such details out of the public eye, for one shouldn't carelessly levy these sorts of accusations, the truth of the matter was that I was betrayed, Aunt. No one else would know of such details but my father's inner circle."

"… Ava always was a little bitch, wasn't she?" Language no one alive could expect to hear from Oriane Somerville.

Having spoken thus she rests her hand on the table close to Matthieu's, but without being so bold as to take hold of it. It's his choice whether to accept such a touch. She understands that much.

A few long moments pass, during which she glances once at Gabriel, the third party to this rendezvous. But no one could doubt his right to be present, and to hear.

"It was in part my doing," she admits quietly. "We desired peace in Siovale, peace and co-operation between the duchies. I wished to be rid of her whilst serving the interests of House Toluard — to arrange as best I could for everyone concerned — and I thought, yes, despite his pretenses your father would be a husband with wits to match hers…" Her shoulders shift slightly; it's not quite a shrug. The burden upon her is too heavy to be shifted with ease. "You were sent to Lucienne d'Albert — a woman who whatever her faults has been a lioness in defense of you. There did seem to be a balance to it. I understand what you are implying — I find it difficult to receive," she admits honestly, "and yet… It is not," she inhales a sharp breath, "out of consonance with what I know of her character. You are certain?" And she looks from Matthieu to Gabriel and back again: willing to be convinced, if they're sufficiently convincing.

Ava always was a little bitch, wasn't she?

The only visible hint of Matthieu's surprise at such words coming from one of Siovale's greatest ladies is a single blink directed at her and for a moment, he is rendered emphatically silent. His Cassiline companion, by contrast, lets out a loud guffaw that he quickly smothers with a hand, and tries to pass off as a cough. But dark eyes glitter with unmistakable mirth, unable to hide it.

"She is," Gabriel remarks, lips twisted in a curve laden with grim humor. "She's done her best to make life difficult for Matt since the moment he took a breath out of his mother's womb. He won't say it, my lady, he bore it all and he's done everything in his power to keep things amenable between them, but Rory was the absolute last straw."

Lorelei. Even now, the mention of her name in the familiar carves a white-hot javelin of pain somewhere in his innards, a deeper and more life-threatening wound ever inflicted upon his person. Matthieu's pupils shrink at the sensation, as if physically stabbed, and all that he tries to banish with another quiet and contemplative sip of his tea as he girds himself against the storms that mention brews in his stomach. Perhaps this is why he turns his fingers over, palm up, against the table for her to take. Still, he is swift to change the subject.

"My father knew regardless that per the agreement between the Toluards and the Rocailles that he would have to marry as close to the main line as possible," he begins. "He may be less than enthusiastic about his fate, but he believed as you did. Both families' positions are strong because of the necessary alliance they made against House Perigeux, to dishonor it is to defenestrate decades of careful investigation and maneuvering." After a pause, something about his demeanor softens. "You and he were only doing what you thought was good for Siovale. As I've sworn to do the same thing as my position dictates, how could I not accept that, also?"

You are certain?

He shakes his head. "I am not, which is why I've not said anything in public, or sent entreaties to the Crown for an official investigation," Matthieu admits. "But I can think of no other with the knowledge, means, influence and motive. I am presently making inquiries to ascertain my suspicions…but it will take time. And the utmost care. You're aware of what happened to my half-brother, Elliot? He remarked to me upon my return that he left Siovale because he no longer feels safe there, taking refuge here in the duchesse's domain, and even now he's hampered by her eye, unwilling to make any headway of his ambitions here because he did not want to risk her attention upon him again. He is afraid, Aunt, and has taken great care to ensure he doesn't give her cause or reason to harm him. For all of his soft-heartedness, his instincts are good."

After a moment, he continues. "I suppose upon further contemplation, she wouldn't have a reason to act against you," he remarks. "She was the daughter of the duc's consort before she was elevated to take my mother's place by Father's side, and you were careful enough to maintain good relations with her." He cants his head towards Oriane. "But you know as well as I that hardly prevents her from acting on an opportunity, once presented. With that said, I believe it's time that you told me why you have been barred from visiting Toluard property, when you still bear the name."

Oriane's hand clasps his in turn and as he goes on her fingertips provide a steady pressure, unfaltering no matter what dreadful suspicions he may give voice to — perhaps that tactile reassurance, freely given and freely taken, is why he speaks as he does, revealing so much of his thought. She looks at his face, or into his eyes, as much as he allows her. He's the only man in the world, just now — this is what Enguerrand de Toluard knew for so many years, this single-minded attention from a woman of intellect, grace, and dignity. Her thumb strokes his hand softly.

"We do the best we can, all of us, whilst the opportunity is upon us. I don't imagine," she decides quietly, "that Ava would move against me, or that she would feel she had cause — if she saw me once as a threat to her pre-eminence in Siovale, I am surely not now — or that that would be a necessary explanation of my present inconveniences. The resentment of Her Grace the dowager duchesse elucidates all readily enough." A slight, rueful smile. "Yours, however…

"Rory?" she asks simply. Again she keeps an eye on both of them, to learn all she can.

His expression is neutral and tends to betray nothing, but his eyes are alive with everything that he can't in good conscience, or his intractable pride, announce to others. His gentle aunt radiates an aura of calm and maternal care when she takes his hand and applies the kind of comfort that can actually reach him - a feat only a handful few can boast - but nothing gives, at least for now. When it comes to matters he deems important, he is indomitably tenacious: "You'll have to tolerate my attempts to catch up with everything that has happened in my absence," Matthieu remarks. "I was under the impression that the two of you had managed to strike an accord when the former duc de Toluard was still living. Have I been wrong in thinking that you've managed to win her over? What has she done?"


He would continue, but the word she utters in query has him pausing. From his pillar, Gabriel opens his mouth…

"Anything but that, Aunt."

…and closes it at the reply Matthieu gives Oriane about it. There is open hesitation on the man's features, and one that the woman can easily spot. His eyes speak of not just an apology, but also desire; a brother-at-arms that is all too aware of his best friend's propensity to bottle up when he needs to do otherwise.

That flat refusal, from a young man who seems otherwise so eager to take her into his confidence, tells Oriane the tale of it as clearly as if it were read aloud from a parchment, with the turbulence in his Toluard-blue eyes serving for a herald's trumpet.

She comes to several conclusions in quick succession, regarding the Rocaille heir's well-known liaison with a redheaded girl of common birth, and the arrangements by which it was brought to an end; she's already planning how to get Gabriel alone and decant him like a fine Bordeaux wine, as she looks all the way down into Matthieu's eyes and says softly: "I won't ask for your trust; you'll give it or not as you wish, and in your own time. These matters of the heart — these family matters — they may seem simple in shape but they contain infinite subtleties, don't you find? Her Grace the dowager duchesse has not had an easy life in Terre d'Ange, you know," she reflects. An odd sympathy for her rival of thirty years — but then, Caterina di Milazza was no true rival. That battle was lost before it began. "She was perhaps unhappier than His Grace the late duc and I knew… happier, true, when she found an admirer of her own," Oriane confides, "but that didn't last." She shrugs one shoulder, dismissing the interlude as being of little consequence. "We had an accord, indeed, the three of us, whilst His Grace lived — without him our house has lost its equilibrium. And though I believed him to be fond of me once, her son naturally cleaves to his mother's side. That is right and proper; I bear no resentment."

Just there, she sounds tired, and she looks her years.

"… But I didn't come to burden you with my little troubles," she declares, collecting herself and giving Matthieu's hand another gentle squeeze before she lets go to address herself to her cup of tea. "I shall see them resolved in time, I've no doubt of it. Having heard your suspicions I'm rather more concerned to know the truth of how your stepmother has been amusing herself. This business of your kidnapping — it has a savour of her mind," she admits. "Her weakness is that tendency to the baroque. She prefers the complex scheme to the simple one."

He meets her gaze unflinchingly, but listens to her counsel regardless - there is a reason why Enguerrand de Toluard has managed to keep the internal scars his own captivity inflicted upon him as manageable flaws - to develop into a part of the rough roadmap of his life, rather than be defined by them. Matthieu may look predominantly like his father, but the eyes that look back upon his gentle aunt are most definitely his mother's - as clear as ice from the frigid northern poles of their world and the obvious sanguine stamp of Shemhazai.

She bears his refusal to take her into that confidence with good grace, but it would take the fiery end of the world for Oriane Somerville de Toluard to bear anything without it, and even then, that is not a guaranteed outcome. He suspects that even if balls of fire rained down from the heavens to decimate everything they know and love, she will still somehow stare down her death with her signature, unshakable elegance. Even now, she affords her old rival a generosity most women in her position wouldn't bestow, and these are details that he digests with genuine interest. Stories about the Siovalese old guard tended to bring that out of him, never one to turn away an opportunity to learn from their triumphs and mistakes.

But I didn't come to burden you with my little troubles.

"Somehow, I surmise that these troubles are not so little," her great-nephew replies, his baritone rendered dry by the observation. "Though I know you to be astute enough in the game to realize that I requested your presence not just to reacquaint myself with you but also to hear about them. I'm not in the habit of ignoring or coming away uninformed about anything of import that happens in Siovale, especially when it affects my family. So if it is all the same to you, Aunt, I would like for you to tell me. I suppose I can always discover them from myself, but I would prefer to hear it directly from you."

She returns to her tea, but that incisive gaze does not move away from her, his tea forgotten and growing cold by his elbow. Her observations regarding Ava, however, culls from him a thin, barely visible smile utterly devoid of any humor. "Complexity provides her with ample opportunity to maintain her shield of plausible deniability," he muses. "The truth tends to get conveniently lost in a maze than a single, straight path."

Listening to her young host Oriane slowly smiles, and nods her head toward him in tribute to the truth-telling and the compliment. "Then you must yourself," she points out, "be astute enough to know that one always affects to discount one's own troubles, to leave to one's interlocutor the decision whether or not to draw one out upon the subject." Another sip of her tea; and she re-unites cup and saucer and restores them to the table, and clasps her hands in her lap.

"The death was so sudden," she begins, "and in the first days thereafter… I found myself in no state to consolidate my position as I might, with more warning, have done. You see, I always expected I would die first." Her expression is fleetingly bleak. "You were in your swaddling-clothes, my dear, when the old duc passed — you're too young to remember how swiftly I saw Ava's mother pensioned off and exiled from the court. That is simply the way of it, with the changing of the guard. The late duc's consort is neither the widow nor the heir's mother; with his last breath she loses her position; provisions are made for her; and if she possesses an ounce of grace she lets herself fade away discreetly into memory. Very well; I made my peace with it. Then, earlier this year, I thought to visit Elua for a while. My train had hardly crossed the border into L'Agnace when a messenger caught up with me. A proclamation had been issued, in the name of the new duc, to the effect that I was not nor had I ever been the lawful comtesse de Bordeaux, that certain irregularities in the warrant had come to light, that it had in any case been but a temporary appointment for the lifetime of the late duc — in short," she explains, "I have been obliged to resort to a lawsuit in order to recover my title and my daughter's inheritance."

"Indeed." This time, the smile that manifests on Matthieu's face is a subtle, but genuine thing. "Persistence is a curse."

It's a fleeting thing, the faded memory of the dutiful but content youth that frequented her court in the days when she held Enguerrand's heart returning to life for a second or two. But like most ghosts, it vanishes swiftly. Word of the lawsuit renders the man motionless for several long heartbeats; somewhere underneath the sturdy tectonic plates of his manner, something infinitely more white-hot and dangerous shifts - and the more these hidden dragons stir, the lower the temperature in his vicinity plummets, as if feeding off the ambient warmth. His silver-chased eyes darken considerably and his face hardens into an unyielding mask while his index finger tightens into the curl of his cup's handle to the point that any more pressure would make it shatter. The fact that he is furious is both undeniable and palpable; a creature of careful, iron-fisted control most days, his generally stoic demeanor only makes that hurricane temper all the more surprising, at least to those who do not know him well, set with passions so volatile that it is only the blast doors of his reticent and disciplined nature that prevent him from razing everything and everyone around him. It is almost painfully Eastern, this way of his that is determined to master the self.

But he is young, still, and he can swing to the other side of the extreme as quickly as anyone.

His blood rushes through his veins and deafens his ears, his jaw clenches at the hinges in an effort to stay the blistering strains of profanity that bubble up from within his chest. He knows himself well enough to take a breath - a long, slow and deliberate thing that concaves his center once released. It doesn't help, not by a mile, but it enables him to speak in low, careful, measured tones: "Anyone who ever knew the former duc de Toluard knows that he would never make such mistakes. Not with anything involving you. You may have accepted your retirement into obscurity, Aunt, and I'm not so naive as to believe that all a liege's wishes are followed by those that come after him once he dies. But there was no good, practical reason to wrest you from your position other than a lingering grudge - they were the duc's binding intentions, sealed and documented, and equally important and vital, you were good for Bordeaux. Better than good. You made it prosper considerably under your care. Were you a less capable and less trustworthy administrator, I would have understood it, but to strongarm you out of any position of importance is to rid Siovale of one its very few courtiers who actually knows what the bloody hell she's doing!"

His voice rises at the last despite his best efforts, and thunders over the garden patio; while the standing valets attempt to maintain their stiff upper lips, there's uncomfortable flinching here and there. Gabriel doesn't react, his posture remains in its easy and casual lean, but it's clear that the news doesn't sit well with him either with the way his eyes lid.

Matthieu forces himself to let go of his teacup. "Who," he continues, his voice level once more. "Did they give the Comte to?" He speaks with the full expectation that the answer has an equal chance of worsening his mood as it does in mollifying it.

The former comtesse appears outwardly as calm as the Cassiline; the rage-filled roar from the fine, strong, but wounded young animal across the table washes past without seeming to touch her. She has faced down worse tempers than his. And she knows herself in no danger here.

She draws a slow breath and commits to getting it all over at once, to making it worse before she can hope to make it better. "The comté de Bordeaux reverted to its previous holder."

That is to say, Jean-Hilaire Thiebaut de Toluard, the second son the old duc preferred to his firstborn and groomed for the succession during those three and a half years when the child Enguerrand was held hostage in Euskerria. The thorn in Enguerrand's side and the canker in Bordeaux, so gladly excised to allow those wounds too to be healed by Oriane's sensible care.

For all her practiced and polished veneer of civility, the legendary cool that has always been the bedrock of the persona she presents to the world, Oriane's heritage betrays her. Suddenly there is, wafting headily about her where she sits in all her serenity, the scent of apples.

"What?" Gabriel's dismayed exclamation leaves him before he could prevent it. "I mean…really? But he's a…"

Jean-Hilaire de Toluard, his mother's older brother, and his uncle.

Worse before she could make it better, indeed. Matthieu's lips press together in a thin, unyielding line, his grimace pushing up from underneath the stony veneer he has been struggling to maintain, however cracked as it is now given that lance of flashfire temper. He leans back away from the table - too many fragile things are upon it - and lifts his hand to actually rub his fingertips along the bold line of his nosebridge. He is barely able to bite back a scathing obscenity, reinforced by how his aunt's angelic gifts reach out in an effort to temper him. The effects are subtle and carries with them the faint scent of crisp red apples, but his own angelic blood reacts to it, in turn, a kind of resonance reached when the spectre of a Companion recognizes itself in another and allows the inherited talent to take hold. Knots of tension slowly, gradually, unwind from the hard line of his shoulders.

Still, the pieces click into place and he can already visualize the board before him, the calculus of potential political transactions filling his skull. His very first and most important question is, ultimately, what his ambitious uncle had been willing to trade to Caterina di Milazza in order to reclaim his old seat - the current Duc de Toluard may hold the title, but he is scarcely a year in his position. At the moment, he knows even without verification that it is the dowager duchesse of Toluard that holds the cards there.

And there had to be some kind of trade - everything was an exchange in the Caerdicci states, and it was no secret that Caterina has never been able to fully adjust to d'Angeline life. It was one of the biggest reasons why the Toluards' subjects preferred Oriane over her.

He may have been calmed, but his mood has soured considerably - if there is anything Matthieu absolutely can't abide politically, it is administrative incompetence. House Perigeux had fallen from grace due to corruption and mismanagement and the last thing he wants is for the alliance between the Rocailles and Toluards to fall to naught for the same reasons they rose to power in the first place.

"How far along is the lawsuit?" he wonders at last after a few minutes of heavy silence. "And who is counseling your daughter in Siovale?"

The quondam left-hand duchesse de Toluard favours Gabriel and his outburst with a sympathetic glance. Yes, he is, isn't he. She knows all about it.

She knows, too, all about that soothing effect the scent of a Somerville is apt to have, and she lets Matthieu be, thinking it through and finding the questions he most desires to voice. The calm after his tempest draws nearer moment by moment. Her own sudden, suppressed burst of bitterness against the man who, long ago, hurt her love, ebbs likewise away. And at last he speaks and she answers, telling him more than he asked but not less than he'll want to know.

"They tell me it will take some while longer. A year, perhaps, absent any extraordinary circumstances which might bring it sooner before the crown… Of course the people most loyal to me in Siovale largely lost their positions last year, and my own staff at Bordeaux suffered a similar purge when the warrant was revoked. Some of them were locked out of their chambers without so much as a change of stockings." She draws in a sniff, disapproving as always of discourtesy to one's inferiors. "The baronne d'Yquem was in Elua at the time — I was traveling to join her — I was foolish, perhaps," she sighs, "to think matters might remain stable without either of us present in the duchy. My seneschal Jeanne Colbert and of course Françoise Louvois are with her now, and no doubt doing great things as always," she says, naming her own left-hand and her right-hand, whose loyalty in the face of House Toluard's palace revolution goes without saying. "I've brought to Marsilikos only the small household I can presently support. Beyond that — we've done what we could to tide over our people, and found employment for some in the households of friends — I have a list," she adds somewhat apologetically, "which I had hoped to present to you at a more favourable moment. Half a dozen men and women who know Siovale and whom I'm sure you'd find assets to House Rocaille, if you had need of their services…?"

The discourtesy demonstrated against Oriane's people has Matthieu pressing his lips together, but other than the hardening of the line on his mouth, he doesn't speak for another few moments as he gathered his thoughts together. Leaning back against his seat, his fingers draw absent patterns on the table, eyes drawn towards the gardens. Her apologetic look generates an easy response - it's a promise that will require very little effort on his part: "You may leave the list with me, Aunt. If you vouch for them - if they are dutiful, trustworthy and capable servants devoted to Siovale's prosperity, there'll be positions to be had for them."

As for the rest…

He makes a quick but careful accounting of what he knows and the timeline that Oriane has described to him and once more he finds himself performing a balancing act - get involved too little, and he, and by extension his House, may be seen as too detached from the affairs of the duchy and content to let its courtiers fend for themselves, no matter the result whether it prospers or diminishes the province, and worse, too cautious and unwilling to leave their political stamp upon matters of import connected to the administration of Siovale. Get too involved and it might be seen as a reflection of distrust towards House Toluard, longtime allies that, quite frankly, they can't afford to lose with the Perigeuxes waiting for such an opportunity to cause fissures in the alliance's foundations, and its ability to maintain order in its own lands and could be interpreted as an overreach, painting his own House as meddlers at least and tyrants at worst.

And all of that didn't even address the trap-laden field the optics would present. Jean-Hilaire de Toluard was his uncle, no matter how incompetent or influence-hungry. His dead mother's older brother, and half-sibling to the Duchesse de Siovale. No matter how trustworthy, brilliant, competent, exceedingly qualified and capable his great-aunt is, what would it look like to the rest of Siovale if he visibly acted against his own blood? If he appeared to favor a Somerville over his own?

And yet something has to be done, or risk ushering disaster upon Bordeaux - one of Siovale's most important holdings - in the hands of Jean-Hilaire, so the choice is less about doing as it is about doing how much.

The fact that her left hand and right hand are assisting his cousin in the legal matter mollifies him slightly; they are familiar to him, and he is assured of their competence.

"Undoubtedly, my father is already informed of the situation," is what Matthieu says in the end. The situation is tricky enough to turn towards the older statesman for his thoughts and advice, however willing he is to let his son make and learn from his own mistakes. "My first thought is to reach out to Monsieur Depardieu." Raphael Depardieu, common by birth, whose legal brilliance has found him elevated over the decades to a position as Fernand de Rocaille's master of laws. "But in order not to alert the duchesse, the request will have to go through the Duc de Siovale. Perhaps his analysis and insight in the matter will be helpful?"

"The fine judgment of Monsieur Depardieu is always welcome," Oriane says, accepting with a graceful inclination of her white head. "Of course all I seek is for the truth to be reaffirmed, in the most public and definitive manner," she gives him a wry little smile, "so that to question again the succession of the comté de Bordeaux would be to question royal justice itself." A beat. "Then it will be my pleasure to abdicate in my daughter's favour. I think she would prove a more adept counselor to His Grace the new duc, than His Grace's uncle, don't you—?"

Taking his agreement rather for granted — but why not? — she goes on. "I shall send you that list, with my gratitude. It pains me to think of Siovale losing the service of loyal retainers, in whom we've already invested so much training and trust… The more of them we can keep close against future need, the better, surely. And Siovale is always stronger when Houses Rocaille and Toluard act in concert and speak with one another as friends. It would seem," she reflects, and that fleeting expression of weariness settles once more upon her elegant features, "that some of our number, on both sides, have lost sight of that ultimate truth and are pursuing their own short-sighted, short-term ends. I'm afraid the burden of correcting the situation will fall too much upon you, my dear, and at a time when you ought to be left in peace to concentrate upon recovering from your ordeal… I can only promise you what help it is still in my power to give. I have spent these forty-nine years working for House Toluard, since I came to Siovale as a bride with the next baronne d'Yquem already in my womb. It seems I've not finished yet."

"Ambition is as much of a blessing as a curse, as it is with all things," Matthieu replies, his tone absent and still mulling over the complicated landscape before him. Depardieu's counsel is a good first step and as always, when it comes to such matters, he would rather do something than nothing.

I'm afraid the burden of correcting the situation will fall too much upon you.

"It's nothing that I've not been prepared for all my life, Aunt. My toils are many, but if nothing else, they've assured me of my ability to survive even the most dangerous of circumstances. Worst case scenario, we'll do what we've always done - what is absolutely necessary for the greater good." Even if it means pruning the branches of the tree in order for new, more cooperative and capable limbs to grow. His eyes harden at that possibility, wondering how much effort would have to be levied on his part for the pieces on the Toluard board to be reshuffled in order to obtain a positive end.

The greater good. At those words Oriane's head inclines again in another slow and stately nod, the gesture of a woman who knows well what that might entail. No one cuts more ruthlessly than a gardener making a place for healthy new growth.

She looks up at the sound of footsteps, her pleasant social mask restored in the blinking of an eye now that the three of them are no longer alone on the terrace.

It'd be hard to miss the figure that's shown out to the terrace, for the white of her silks stand out starkly against the backdrop of greenery that the garden affords. It's Olivia that's being shown by a servant to the terrace, the graceful figure one that's become quite familiar to the Rocaille household since Matthieu's return. Her face is concealed by the artifice of finely spun veils, the delicate silks pinned with the aid of an intricate headpiece that glitters where fixed to her head. Gabriel is the first to arrest her attention when she pauses to orientate herself within the gardens, stepping forward to take her hands in greeting. "Gabriel," Olivia's voice shows delight in her tone. "…it is so lovely to see you again. Has it really been a week already?" There's a lovely fragility to her appearance today, the drift of her silks in the late summer breeze bestowing upon her all the grace and artistry of a wind fae as, with her hand tucked to Gabriel's arm, he leads her across the terrace.

Whatever expression might claim her face behind those veils is denied to all, but there's a warmth to be found in the clarity of her eyes when they briefly touch upon Oriane. "My Lord. My Lady." Like Olivia herself, her voice is one of quiet serenity, though it's coloured today by the natural shyness of her canon that Oriane's presence inflicts. Her curtsey to the older woman is exquisitely made, according her the deep respect that she's no doubt due.

Hubbub from the front of the residence, no matter its distance from the garden patio in which all three of them are ensconced, Gabriel pushes off the pillar to take a look, and finds the presence of Olivia d'Albert no Rose Sauvage gracing their halls once more. "Livvy, you look beautiful as always," he greets, offering his hand. "If you keep dressing like this for me, I'll have no choice but to have myself excommunicated from the Brotherhood and sweep you away to a life of adventure!"

He tucks her hand into his inner elbow and escorts her as proper to where his charge and his great-aunt are having tea, breaking the tension in the patio with all the subtlety of a charging bull. His armor rings at every step, forcing those within to look at him - deliberate to be sure, as the Cassiline moved as silently as a ghost most days despite all the metal on him. He clears his throat and the sound of it is enough to break Matthieu out of his contemplations; some manner of intense mental scrutiny that is pervasive on his features - Olivia would catch the severe expression, his brows drawn and the visible twist on his mouth that hints at a grimace, as if tasting something rotten.

All clearing when she announces herself. Ice-blue eyes and their silver shards blink at her, uncomprehending at first, until plans for the day return in a quick rush of remembrance. He stands up from his seat, as proper. "Liv," he greets, turning his gaze towards the stately woman sitting by his left hand. "Aunt, may I present Lady Olivia d'Albert no Rose Sauvage, the Vicomtesse de Seyches' niece, the youngest-born of the Vicomtesse de Montpouillian, Second of Marsilikos' White Roses…and a childhood friend. Lady Olivia, this is my great-aunt, Lady Oriane Somerville de Toluard, dowager baronne d'Yquem, the consort of the late duc de Toluard, Enguerrand and one of Siovale's preeminent ladies."

He speaks of it in the present tense and less out of familial loyalty than one would expect - one has to only look at history and compare Bordeaux how it was in the past to Bordeaux in the present day and know the truth of it.

The white-haired lady visitor remains in her chair but, smiling with an easy grace, she extends her fingertips to clasp Olivia's once the blossom of Alyssum House has risen from her curtsey. "My dear, I have known your mother and your aunt a long while," she says pleasantly, acknowledging the courtesan as a true daughter of her own Siovalese social sphere, "though you and I have not met before, have we—? You were whisked away to Mont Nuit so young."

"No, we never did meet," Olivia confirms, her voice softening when she goes on to add, "… though I will admit to having spied on you when five. It was from the gallery of the ballroom at the ducal palace, at a fête that was held that summer. A number of us were allowed from the nursery to look down through the railings, and we feasted on treats from the tables whilst watching the festivities from above." Silver glints at her wrist as she reclaims her hand from Oriane's, and her eyes slip Matthieu's way, searching briefly within his to see if he, too, remembers that night; her dress trimmed with lace, and the crown of daisies that had wilted in her hair.

Her breath is a slow release that filters through her lips, and there's a brightness to her eyes as the memory of that night is once more re-lived. She looks back to Oriane. "It has been almost twenty years since that night, and the majority of those years I have spent here in Marsilikos, and closeted within the walls of Rose Sauvage." That brightness in her eyes dims a little. "You must be so tired of hearing this, but it was with such sadness that I learned of His Grace's accident." Her eyes lid with the condolences offered, the darkness of her lashes casting shadows across her eyes — for whilst it's simple to give sympathy to someone whom is a virtual stranger to oneself, it's so very difficult when that stranger's one half of a legendary romance.

This small awkwardness, unavoidable under the laws of good manners, is another hole in the ground wherein Oriane has been whiling away her hours. "I never tire of kindness, nor of grace," she disclaims, with a slight bow of her head.

But the girl's story seems meanwhile to have captured her imagination, and she lifts her head again already musing, "There were so many fêtes…" By means of an apologetic note in her tone, a shrug rippling discreetly through her shoulders, Oriane disclaims responsibility for recollecting one in particular. "Perhaps you, for whom there was only one, carried away a sweeter memory from it than anyone else who was my guest that night," she suggests. "I should like to think so — I should like at any rate to think you had enough to eat. My orders were always that enough should be prepared to cater for the nursery contingent as well, but that their treats should always appear to have been stolen. It improves the flavour, no?"

Seeking corroboration she looks from one of the young guests of those days to another, a lift of her gaze including Gabriel as well. She seems to recall he was there, or another Montrève boy.

Olivia would catch that brief confusion in Matthieu's stare giving way to familiarity when she describes the event further, another image pulled from the mists of memory and words rendering it in sharp relief. It is mirrored by Gabriel, who grins faintly at the former comtesse from where he has returned to his pillar, leaning against it. "I remember it," the Cassiline says. "The four of us and a few others, peeking through the gaps between the rails. I even think we used Livvy as a mule, hiding treats in her skirts because we weren't certain we were meant to have them or not." He lets out a small laugh. "Raoul was so proud, masterminding our little heist."

"He was," Matthieu confirms, his voice absent, as always whenever he is reminded of something else.

Still, he shakes his head once and flashes an apologetic look towards his aunt. "The Lady Olivia's presence reminds me that I promised her that I would visit the temples with her today," he continues. "If you are unable to join us, Aunt, I'll have a retinue escort you back to Maison de la Porte Bleue."

The real mastermind of those far-off festivities favours all three of the young people with a smile tempered again by apology, or perhaps regret. "That would be most kind of you."

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