(1310-09-18) What It Means To Win
Summary: Oriane’s pastry chef has a surprise for her — and she, a surprise for him.
RL Date: 19/10/2018
Related: None.
oriane quintavius 

Maison de la Porte Bleue — Rue du Port

This narrow house, one of the humbler to be found in the Rue du Port, fronts directly upon the street and is distinguished from its peers by the possession of a pair of large bright blue front doors. Its pale stone walls, gently weathered by the sea air, rise to include three lofty floors and attics tucked away beneath a sloping roof of darker blue tiles. A small first floor balcony overhanging the street vaunts the artifice of local ironworkers, being daintily wrought in the likeness of climbing flowers, and painted every bit as blue as the doors beneath it. To the left of the doors is a lamp of iron and glass, to the right a brass bell fashioned with a small fish affecting to be hooked on the bell's dangling chain.

Behind the blue portal is a perfectly square entrance hall of the same pale stone as the house's exterior, floored with a chequerboard pattern of black and white marble squares. Two small doors in the back wall lead into the offices of the house; between them a generous arched niche serves to display cut flowers or greenery in season, arranged in some precious, well-chosen bowl or vase of beaten copper or silver or coloured glass.

Placed diagonally across the front right-hand corner of the room sits a noblewoman's litter, a luxurious creation in black and white and cloth of silver, with a crescent moon inlaid in silver upon its door.

To the left a pale stone stairway curves up toward the first floor, between intricate black iron railings which resume the floral motif.

The knock in the night and the energetic ringing of the goldfish bell rouses first the guardsman who was, ostensibly, on duty; then the maids who sleep in the attic, whose own bell the guard rings when he recognises, through the porter's hatch set at eye level in one wide blue door, the man outside; then Oriane Somerville de Toluard herself, shaken awake by Madelon's apologetic hand only a quarter of an hour after she fell at last into an exhausted slumber.

She comes down from her chamber in a black silk robe and white silk slippers, with her tousled white braids hastily pinned up to add a little dignity to her nocturnal ensemble. By then the guards and the footmen are all on deck, in breeches hastily donned over their nightshirts; and the entrance hall is rapidly filling up with barrels of… Bordeaux wine? The lady pauses high up on the pale stone staircase, one hand on the railing as she peers down, simply watching until she espies the back of a short-cropped blond head. She waits prudently till he's set down his burden and then calls out: "Quinquin! … It is you."

Some weeks have passed since their last exchange of discreet messages through deniable agents who just happened to be traveling on business between Marsilikos and Siovale. Of his impending arrival, of his recent activities on her behalf, she has had no warning: and so she looks down in wonderment.

Quintavius is hardly in a fit state to be caught, straightening as he hears his name (or at least a variant thereof) and doing his best to brush off the worst of the journey from his clothes, pull on a sleeve here to try to chase out a wrinkle, and square away a buckle there that's been nudged askew. There is a moment of silence as he turns, expression carefully neutral, and offers a short bow. "Comtesse. I apologise for the late hour. There were a number of… issues." And judging by a few stray dents and scrapes in one or two of the barrels, the issues might have come a little closer than intended on his route here.

Oriane has never seen her meticulous pastry chef in such a state: in Bordeaux, he'd never have dreamt of appearing before her but fresh and tidy and clean-shaven, with his hair combed and his boots shined. She surveys him for another moment or two by the light of the torches hastily lit all round the entrance hall, and then settles for: "You know I am a comtesse no longer, Quinquin. But perhaps when you've finished here with your barrels, you'll attend upon me in the salon?" She lifts her chin, indicating the room above.

"Of course, my comtesse," the man responds, deliberately leaning just a little emphasis on the word 'my'. Quintavius waits for the older woman to carry on before he turns back to hurriedly organising the barrels and crates into the unexpectedly small home, an eye out along the street as though still expecting an indiscreet follower to report back on his actions. It's only once the barrels are in, and the maid has pressed a piece of bread and cheese into his grateful hands and showed him to the servants' facilities to freshen up, that he finally feels ready to face his formidable patron and lightly pads up the stairs to the salon to join her.

Salon — Maison de la Porte Bleue

Two square chambers are united by broad sliding doors of black-painted wood, creating a double cube lined with simple white boiseries and floored by squares of dark and light parquet in an echo of the marble downstairs.

The resulting combined salon is sparsely furnished with a few small chairs and tables light enough to be rearranged at will, their styles mismatched but harmonious, all of them painted white. In the rear chamber a single large sofa covered in deep sapphire-blue velvet is placed against the wall to the left as one enters it, across from the fireplace to the right.

The small balcony overlooking the Rue du Port, is echoed by a much larger one on the opposite side of the double cube, between the sofa and the hearth. Sliding doors, similar to those in the middle of the salon but set with diamond-shaped panes of leaded glass to let the light in, give onto a fragrant bower suspended amidst a magnificent view of the harbour. Small orange trees grow in pots, scenting the air with their sweetness; the blue wrought-iron railings are festooned with windowboxes planted with such useful household staples as rosemary, thyme, basil, sage, and lavender. And, for pleasure's sake, every white flower that might hope to thrive in the climate of Marsilikos has a place here, whether in a hanging basket or a pot moved inside at night. Overhead stretches a black and white striped canvas awning, the angle of which can be adjusted by lever to provide shade to plants and persons resting beneath it as the southern sun moves in its course.

The stark whiteness of this chamber, furnished with only the minimum of small tables and chairs lined up against the walls when the floor was swept at the end of the day and not yet redeployed over the chequerboard parquet floor, must come as a surprise to the eyes of a man accustomed to seeing Oriane Somerville enthroned amongst ducal splendours. Only one standing candelabra has been lit for her as she awaits him; she sits in the far corner on a large jewel-blue sofa, her pale features and white hair softly illuminated by its light. Opposite her the fireplace is empty despite the autumnal chill in the night air.

"What happened?" she asks softly, the moment Quintavius has shut the door to the salon behind him. Her voice carries to him easily, amplified by the simple white boiseries all about her. "Quinquin, where have you been these past weeks? Why didn't you write to me? Are you all right? And why all this wine?”

Quintavius glances around once again before approaching closer, an impertinence to the casual observer but a necessity as far as he's concerned. "My lady, I thought it the most circumspect way to bring certain items with me," he admits with a small, sharp bow of his head. "Only three of the barrels are wine, in case of inspection on the way. The others are various things which may be of interest or use to you, from your… from the… from Siovale," he eventually decides upon. He paces towards the balcony, ostensibly to check the curtains are hanging straight, but perhaps to just double check he's not about to be overheard in the meantime. Voice lowering considerably, he notes, "I was unfortunately not quite as unobtrusive as I'd thought, my lady, and I didn't want to risk a letter going astray and back into the hands of…" He pauses and just gives a pointed look. "I should have been stopped for certain."

The sudden gleam in Oriane's azure blue eyes, was not put there by the reflection of any mere candle. "Quinquin," she says slowly, in that cultivated Eluan accent of hers that never slipped throughout her years in Siovale, "just what have you brought me?" A beat. "The papers from the lower root cellar?" she speculates, that being where she has since time immemorial squirreled away several small cedarwood trunks the rest of House Toluard would be astonished to learn about.

Quintavius inclines his head very slightly in acknowledgement. "The papers from the lower root cellar," he agrees simply. It's not a boast, although it can hardly have been a trifle to sneak the trunks out from under the watchful gaze of the new comte's household. "And a few warm furs and other such things. I thought… well… the winter. And there's no way that she should have them." He squares his shoulders defiantly, looking Oriane directly in the eye.

Oriane clasps her hands together in delight; on her left hand, a diamond of a size commensurate with the late duc de Toluard's feelings for her, catches the light. That at least she retains in her exile, and the silver signet on her other hand that so often has sealed private notes to him. "Quinquin," she sighs, persisting as ever in giving him his boyhood nickname, "I could kiss you!" In lieu of which tribute, she extends her hands to him as she rises. "Of course this changes everything. Shall we have a look? Did you find the empty chamber upstairs? I didn't like to hover over you," she smiles, "giving orders."

Quintavius accepts the hands, transferring them to his arm to support her as she rises, her delight echoed only as a faint shadow on his face, a satisfied curve of the lip, a tightening about the eyes and scarcely an eighth of an inch drop in his shoulders as he relaxes. "I'm not certain it changes everything," he hastens to correct, nonetheless sounding quite pleased with himself. "You'll be able to tell me, of course, what I've missed. I'm not certain I'll be welcome in Bordeaux to collect it, however, but I do still have a few friendly contacts who might be able to do a favour or two. They're to go in the chamber upstairs? I'll see to it personally, my lady."

The lady's hand curls about his arm with the ease of old habit, and squeezes a little just to emphasise how pleased she really is. "No, you can't go back, can you?" she agrees at once, looking up into his eyes. That Toluard blue. Unmistakable to anyone who knows it; not quite her own, despite her long and wholehearted identification with the house and its interests.

"I only wish I could repay you for what you've done for me," she says simply, a tad more sober now. "At the very least I hope you'll let me take care of you until the lawsuit is settled, one way or another. We might have a bed for you put into the spare room too…? I know it's all rather makeshift," she apologises, with a rueful pat for his arm, "but, as you see, my life is makeshift now."

"I'm not certain I've done as much for you as you might hope," Quintavius admits, eyeing her sidelong. "You're missing a man in Bordeaux now. It was a calculated risk to try to get these barrels here, and I might have misjudged. I can only apologise for putting you out like this. I can find lodgings if you'd rather..?"

"A man of your gifts is of value wherever he might be," Oriane points out to do him justice, as she lets him escort her out of the salon in his usual gentlemanly manner. She can't quite wait, now, knowing what's close at hand… Still, she pauses with her hand on the door to the landing and admits, "It was weighing on my mind, the thought of those papers falling under the eye of the new comte. He would not have liked what he read in them, to be sure." She sighs, her white head fractionally bowed. "All the tactical errors in this business have been mine, Quinquin, and I assure you I claim them and I mean to put them right."

Quintavius waits, holding the door for her to go through before following and resuming his spot with her hand on his arm. "Your staff here, my lady, they're loyal?" he queries softly as they approach the neat array of large barrels, each proudly proclaiming their vintage. "Might it be better to leave the wine alone until there is no chance of… well… of an interested party taking note?"

"Certainly they'll have to be moved out of sight before I entertain any visitors," remarks Oriane, as with Quintavius's unflagging support she steps down into the unusually well-lit entrance hall and surveys her booty. "The wine," she emphasises, "into the cellar, and the rest upstairs… They could hardly be more secure than in your chamber, could they?" she says reasonably, for she waved off any thought of putting him in lodgings. "My servants here are people I've had for years — you know I did what I could to make arrangements for the rest — except the cook, of course. She's a local woman and she doesn't live in. It will do to have the barrels away before she comes in to cook my breakfast."

Quintavius bristles almost imperceptibly beside her, those shoulders shifting that eighth of an inch back upwards. "A local cook? I hardly think that will continue to be necessary, my lady. And I'm sure you would sleep more soundly at night knowing that it is only trusted friends among us. Shall I see to it?" He considers for a moment, then offers a small smile. "I admit that I have brought a few of my own belongings with me. I thought it prudent to weigh down your papers in case we were obliged to dispose of them in the river and I had only some rather specific rocks to hand." An unlikely story, but a neat enough fabrication to excuse him his foibles.

It amuses Oriane, anyway. "Of course," she agrees, "your fossils… You wouldn't want to leave those for the dowager duchesse either." She pats his arm again, treating him after her usual fashion: as an overgrown boy-child rather than a large and musclebound man of indubitably adult years. "I feel I've torn you from your home, Quinquin, and here I have so little to offer you—! The kitchen here is so small, I should blush to show it to you." The idea that she has seen it herself will no doubt be horrifying enough to him. "I certainly shouldn't wish to shut you away in it and waste your talents on poached eggs," she promises him, as with one last loving, lingering glance at her barrels she turns on the heel of a slipper and begins to pilot him back toward the staircase. "My local woman does an excellent poached egg, you know, and she has quite a way with all the fish we eat here — I've never had such fine fish, in so many different dishes."

"Fish," Quintavius echoes flatly, in a tone that makes it rhyme with faeces. "Well, I suppose at least you won't have long to get used to it. If we're back in Bordeaux by the Longest Night I'll put together something very special, my lady. I have a new masterpiece which even you might enjoy."

In her hesitation Oriane finds herself on the step below Quintavius — one arm outstretched by her hand tucked through his, the other hand clasping the balustrade instead of merely trailing along it. "Quinquin…" she murmurs, looking up at him with a grave serenity in every line of that face that was once unmatched in loveliness. "I live in Marsilikos now, Quinquin," she explains gently. "I own this house; I intend to remain in it. My interest now is in seeing my daughter installed as comtesse de Bordeaux, that she might act as our young duc's advisor as he grows into his new role — and you," she smiles, "where you belong, creating your masterpieces, astonishing the court anew with each fête."

Quintavius glances back at her with incredulity. "Your place is in Bordeaux, my lady. How can you even think to give up now? How can you let them win? Oh no, we'll have your place restored. You're tired and not thinking straight, I'm sure. Can I assist you to your chambers? We can look at the wine in the morning."

"Well, I am tired," agrees Oriane with a low ripple of laughter, as they continue together up the stairs, "and I shall bid you goodnight. But I think you and I have different ideas about what it means to win, Quinquin."

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