(1310-09-13) The Passage of An Heirloom
Summary: Desarae meets her aunt Emmanuelle for the first time since the tragedy which reshaped their family.
RL Date: 13/09/2018-19/09/2018
Related: None
emmanuelle desarae 

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.

No doubt it’s her aunt Armandine, whose special haunt this is, whom Desarae comes seeking — but what she finds first of all is, visible from the arched entrance, a pair of black leather boots parked upon whatever is the solar’s most expensive article of furniture.

They have a fine mirror-like shine on them, these boots, and long spiked heels that might well leave scratches behind. That’s the fun of hosting Emmanuelle Shahrizai nó Mandrake, a lean woman coloured to match her name, who has nestled herself deep amongst the blue cushions upon an oak-framed sofa near the cold hearth, with her arms flung out and a large book propped open in her lap. The angle of her legs in their black buckskin breeches forms thus a bookstand adequate to her present purposes. Either she doesn’t hear the footsteps coming nearer down the hallway or she just doesn’t pay them any mind. It’s a good book.

No word reached Marsilikos in advance of her arrival. Quite some years have passed since her last visit to Eisande to visit her Mereliot family here and to unsettle the habitués of the Salon de la Rose Sauvage, who are also in a way her kin. Still. The present unexpected heiress to the marquisate of Chavaise was a novice of the Rose Sauvage, in those days, and may find that she recalls those hooded eyes, those thick dark brows, that fine-boned frame which takes up such a preposterous amount of space in any chamber it deigns to inhabit. Yes, there’s a definite aura of deigning. Part of the natural equipage of a Mandrake Dowayne.

Desarae recognises Emmanuelle's distinctive looks instantly. How could she not? It's not simply due to her haunting the salon during her infrequent visits to Marsilikos, but more because that in the years that she'd been fostered at the salon, she'd daily walked past the portrait of the dark-haired daughter of Edouard that hangs on its walls. How often had she looked at those dark-lidded eyes where they stared down from the painting, and how many more times had she constructed fantasies in her head about the glamorous life of her barely-known aunt. It's quite enough to steal her breath away when she spots that self-same woman with her feet propped high on the furniture.

Desarae herself has adopted a palette of colours that's eminently suited to someone who's just recently emerged from a period of mourning; her gown of the deepest aubergines that's shockingly accented with glittering jet on its corseted bodice. Whilst recognition for Emmanuelle might come easily for Desarae, the same might not necessarily be the case where the Mandrake's concerned. In the years since last she'd graced Marsilikos with her presence, Desarae has sprouted like some beauteous weed in a garden, and has passed in the blink of an eye from a child to a woman.

"Companions… Aunt Emmanuelle. I had no idea you were here in the city." She's momentarily rooted to the spot, a book of her own tucked in the curve of one hand. She quite forgets to curtsey so great is her surprise at this discovery. "It's Desarae. Do you recall me?"

The girl’s voice sets something a-flicker beneath Emmanuelle’s half-lowered eyelids, but with her usual composure she reads to the end of the paragraph even as she listens, considers, prepares herself for this unpremeditated encounter. She’s motionless, quite as though she hasn’t heard a word of it, until she judges Desarae’s waited long enough to feel a moment’s uncertainty — and then ice blue eyes, Shahrizai eyes, lift lazily from the page to regard her.

The former Mandrake looks her niece up and down without sentiment. If there’s a loose thread on that fine gown her gaze is sharp enough to snip it. At length her lips part upon the low, purring drawl that she never raises because she never has the need.

“I’d forgotten you girls call me that here.”

A frown settles upon Desarae's brow. She's all the Mereliot looks of her mother, an otherworldly loveliness suffusing features that are delicate yet sculpted. Her eyes and hair however are all from her father Armand, with eyes that are of the most intense green, and hair that's as dark as a raven's wing. She sets her book to one side as she seats herself on the arm of a chair. "I can call you something else if you'd prefer me to, aunt, though I'm not sure what. You're an aunt, and your name is Emmanuelle." There's a rolling cadence to her words as she takes in the appearance of this seldom-seen relative, and a tentative smile briefly ghosts her lips. It's not everyday that a person comes face-to-face with someone that's been quietly revered since childhood. And that reverence for whom and for what her aunt is shows now in her deportment; her carriage erect with her chin tilted up, as if she were once more a novice beneath the eye of a Second.

Desarae presses her hands, palms together, between her knees, biting back something she appears about to say, before supplanting it instead with a simple, "Are you to stay long?"

"I've been a mother too these many years," drawls Emmanuelle, "but my children don't stroll about Mont Nuit calling me 'Maman'." As she speaks she reaches unhurriedly for the book in her lap. Then her gaze flicks up from Desarae's embroidery to Desarae's face, one corner of her wide mouth likewise lifted in a discreet show of amusement; and an instant later that heavy volume bound in crimson leather snaps shut in her hands.

In the quiet of the solar it has the effect of a perfectly-timed explosion.

It’s nothing, however, to the next one.

“But I’ve retired now,” Desarae’s aunt explains mildly, “from Mandrake House. I suppose you might consider that taking up residence in Marsilikos is indeed — staying long.” Her shoulders shift, as though on this point she herself remains undecided. Still studying the girl before her, and the past generations of Mereliot women so visible in her face and her deportment, her mien grows grave and she adds, “I thank Naamah for preserving you for us.”

"I thank Naamah too," Desarae decides, her gaze settling heavily upon Emmanuelle, "…though I also thank Séverine and Jacques. It was because of them that I remained in Marsilikos at Rose Sauvage, and was unable to be with my family at the festival." She presses her lips together, shadows haunting her expression in the sudden lidding of her eyes and the tightness of her mouth. "Ma mère would have been sad I was not there, for she'd planned a party for my sixteenth natality, a joint celebration with my brother Gabriel, who would have turned eight. I don't suppose you met him, he was what ma mère fondly referred to as her most wonderful afterthought."

As has been her particular preference of late, Desarae wears her hair down, caught back from her temples on each side by silver combs who's beauty lies in the simplicity of their design. She pulls one from her head, and traces the curl of the silver along its top edge. "Maman's." Her eyes flick back to Emmanuelle.

"You were missed at the funerals, but they couldn't be delayed. If you would like something of hers then you'd be most welcome. Her jewellery collection is extensive, as were the books she collected, some of which are quite rare."

Listening, letting the girl say her piece without interruptions either by voice or by eyebrow, Emmanuelle slowly uncrosses her ankles and, one by one, lowers her booted feet to the floor. She plants them farther apart than any well-brought-up lady would: even her seated posture radiates self-assurance and a quiet command of her surroundings. At length she sits up out of her nest of cushions, her back ramrod straight and her fingers woven loosely together in the space between her knees. She nods. “That is as I understood it,” she confirms; “your service kept you safe… I’m shit at writing letters,” she explains offhandedly, in case Desarae is surprised by the literal nature of her remarks and the private knowledge thus betrayed, “but I have still one or two correspondents in this city who haven’t given up on me.”

"You were missed at the funerals, but they couldn't be delayed.”

“That was well done,” she agrees, lifting a hand to forestall any further comment on the subject. “Even had the constraints of time and distance not precluded it I was not free, then, to return to Marsilikos — I would not have had your mother denied her due honours for one day on my account.” She is quiet another moment, weighing her niece’s next courtesy. “That sounds a practiced offer,” she pronounces. “I hope,” and she hopes sincerely, “you haven’t let good manners betray you into giving away anything you might regret having parted with, later.”

Desarae continues to sit, perfectly poised, on the arm of the chair. A nod to what Emmanuelle says is given, though there's a detachment to her voice when she quietly states. "I just succeeded at the job of not dying. I'm tenacious that way." The comb in her hand is turned over, and she grazes the tip of one finger along its teeth. A glance up to her aunt. "There is no need to excuse yourself for being a poor correspondent, for even if you were an habitual one, there is little you could have done from afar."

Her bearing and composure is that of someone older than her years, and her brows knit heavily as she pushes back her hair from her face, and re-inserts the comb amongst the dark lengths. "I suppose that it is a practiced offer, but only to those that had a real care for ma mére. I have set aside anything that is of sentimental value to me, along with those treasured pieces that should remain within the family. But I am not the only one who feels the loss of my mother keenly, so if something of hers might bring them a comfort, well… what kind of a creature would that make me were I to deny them."

There's a quietness to her in the wake of her words, and her fingers lace where now placed in her lap. "I expect that you will be wishing to call upon La Rose Sauvage at some point. If you should like company when doing so, then I would happily offer myself. I've not had the chance since returning to the city, and I really should go and pay my respects."

Emmanuelle rises, sending a waft of her very particular cologne in Desarae’s direction: sharp and spicy at the first inhalation, then warm and resinous, leathery and mossy, as it works longer upon the senses. It is a man’s fragrance rather than a woman’s. Well, it’s this woman’s.

“I did not excuse,” she states softly, her heels clicking on parquet as she moves past her niece and toward a window, “nor did I apologise. I explained, which I feel has quite a different savour…” She shrugs one shoulder, without looking to see whether Desarae follows her point. “As you say, there is naught I could have done to avert your present circumstances; and when there is naught I can do, I prefer to wait and speak face to face.” She turns suddenly and leans one hip against the windowsill, her arms folded across what there is of her bosom.

“I don’t know what your mother told you about me,” she says, in a gentler voice, meeting Desarae’s eyes again. “She and I were close when we were little girls together in this house — but there was a moment from which,” her lips twist with a certain bitterness, “our paths diverged. I have no wish to take anything of hers from you. There is something I should like to give, instead,” she indulges in a feral smile, “to her tenacious daughter. The gift she sent me upon my debut as a courtesan. I think it belongs with you, as you make a more difficult debut.”

Desarae pivots on the arm of the chair, her skirts flicked aside as she tracks Emmanuelle's progress across the room to the window. "Explained, not excused," she corrects herself. A flash of annoyance shows briefly in her expression at Emmanuelle's self-professed detachment from the situation.

"You more than anyone must know the restrictions upon Novices once they are fostered within a Salon. I saw her infrequently once I entered Rose Sauvage, and though there was so much else to speak on in the times that we did, I know she felt pride for what you achieved. She held you in high regard, and presented you as someone whom I might aspire to emulate." She clips her bottom lip with her teeth, a spark of rebelliousness rising in her chest whilst intelligent eyes watch closely her aunt's expression. "She regretted that you and she were not closer, and felt that you disapproved of her match with my father. If you did, and she wasn't wholly certain if that was the case, it must mean that you disapprove of me also."

She pauses as a question gathers in her eyes. “But if you did, you would not be offering me something that must have been so precious a gift to you.”

There isn't much to watch: Emmanuelle's wide mouth and her dark brows, the subtly arrogant angle of her head, the temperature of her Shahrizai blue eyes, are disciplined all to an unvarying neutrality as she listens and studies Desarae in return. "If those were Monique's words, she was taking care what she said," she remarks drily, "perhaps in order not to prejudice you against me." Then her voice changes, modulated with all the subtlety of Mont Nuit into something gentler. "But I don't think what you say follows. You are not merely the sum of two people who met and married before you were born; you are a unique creature. I'd have to get to know you better before I could disapprove of you."

"Ma mére rarely took offence to anyone, and it was even rarer for her to speak unkindly of them," Desarae notes matter-of-factly, "She was a gentle soul, and I think she was sad more than anything that the two of you grew apart when you left. If there was anything further between you and her, then it was never mentioned to me." Emmanuelle's next statement is denied with a shake of her head. "Then you are quite unlike other Shahrizai's that I have come across; both within the salon and without. Old rivalries and bitterness burns deep, and transgressions are rarely forgotten. At least in those that come fresh to the City from Kusheth. Even my father…" She exhales a breath with an irritated sigh, pleating her fingers in her lap. "It doesn't matter. As you say, I am my own person. More now than ever, given everything that's happened. I very much hope that you don't disapprove of me, if only because I have ever looked up to you."

Emmanuelle tilts her head into a nod, acknowledging the justice of this summation of Monique de Mereliot's character. Then she mentions mildly, "I never saw Kusheth, until I was a grown woman with a child of my own. Within its borders of course these differences, these ancient animosities mean a great deal… Shahrizai," she pronounces, giving the name a Kusheline inflection; then, with a discreet narrowing of her eyes she tastes the word: "Morhban." She straightens from her leonine lean against the windowsill and takes a few slow steps toward Desarae, her bootheels sounding loud upon the parquet floor. "Outside Kusheth," and as she walks she delves with one hand in a pocket of her snugly-fitted buckskin breeches, "as you know, people look at you and they look at me and they paint us in the very same hues, and with a perspective I find… corrective."

She comes to a halt standing slightly closer to Desarae's chosen chair-arm than is necessary or courteous, enveloping the girl in the dark warmth of her cologne and of her presence itself. Deftly, she unpicks knots tied in a black silk handkerchief; and then the handkerchief is crumpled in one of her fine white hands, whilst the other splays out to display for Desarae's consideration a three-row choker of luminous, precisely-matched black pearls. In the middle of it, bright against Emmanuelle's pale palm, is a silver clasp set with two brilliantly glittering fishes. The sigil of House Mereliot, in diamonds.

"From my mother to you?" Desarae's instantly distracted from the difficulties of their shared Kusheline history, her eyes flicking up from the choker to her aunt. "It's very beautiful, and I imagine that a lot of thought and care went into it's selection, especially since it was for your debut."

She's itching to touch it, an undeniable yearning showing in the intensity of her eyes where they dig into Emmanuelle's before returning to the palm of her hand. Her hair slides forwards over her shoulder with the dip of her head, and neatly manicured hands lift to keep the lengths of it tucked neatly behind her ears. ""I wonder what she might have been having commissioned for me on my own debut. She would perhaps have given it to me at my natality celebrations."

The tease is a brief one, by Mandragian standards: another few seconds for desire to mount, before Emmanuelle unfastens the clasp and sweeps Desarae's hair to one side the better to fasten the valuable piece about her throat.

Her touch is light: gentler than one would expect from her manner and her garb and her antecedents, the sardonic drawl in her voice and the whip coiled at her belt. She arranges the diamond fishes at the hollow of her niece's throat, where they nestle as though it's the home they always meant to find; and then she re-arranges her hair just as it ought to be, all with the graceful assurance of a Servant of Naamah accustomed to taking such liberties with others.

"The pearls once belonged to my grandmother, your great-grandmother," she explains; "Monique had them restrung with a new clasp of her own design. She had as you know a fine eye for the aesthetic. She wished me not to forget I was a Mereliot too… As you, now, must be a Mereliot first and foremost. Take it as her gift, if you will, more than mine. In this I'm only the messenger."

Desarae's breath is a soft inhale at the first contact of Emmanuelle's fingers upon her skin, and baby-fine hairs lift at the nape of her neck as she dips her head so the clasp can be fastened. She keeps her head bowed 'til told otherwise, the bump at the top of her spine accentuating the line of her spine and the sweep of her shoulders. Her skin's remained a blank canvas, the warmth of its honeyed tones destined never to know the pain of the marquist's needle, and there's a glance to Emmanuelle's face when the choker is twisted and the clasp nestled into her throat. It glitters brightly, throwing prisms of colour across her collarbones, and she lifts one hand for a tentative touch. A tear pricks one eye. "I think if mother were to see us, she would approve." A glance upwards to her aunt. "I cannot see it, but I know it looks beautiful. Thank you."

The silence which stretches out between them then, as Emmanuelle's hooded blue eyes gaze their fill without apology or interruption, must surely serve to affirm the beauty of shining jewels and shining teardrop alike.

"You'll see it later," she says mildly, at last. "… Understand, Desarae, that whatever I may once have desired for my sister, she found a greater fulfillment in her children's love. No one and nothing else could have brought her the happiness you did, and your brothers and sisters. I am not quite so cruel," her lips curve into a sharp and whimsical smile, for of course the Dowayne of Mandrake House must be notably, famously cruel; "as to have grudged her that."

She reaches out to tame a wisp of hair she missed the first time; her gleaming black-lacquered fingernails just barely graze her niece's forehead. "I hope to see something more of you, should your studies permit it," she adds, indicating by a nod that Desarae is now tidy enough to meet her exacting standards. "Perhaps next time you'll tell me more of what I've missed."

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