(1310-09-20) No Poached Eggs Please, We're Siovalese
Summary: Musings of a pastry chef lately arrived in Marsilikos, with a cameo appearance by their chief subject.
RL Date: 20/10/2018
Related: A Lesson on Apples.
oriane quintavius adeline 

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.

Morning in the modest house with the blue door that Oriane Somerville de Toluard has made her home in the city, and the stillness of this lofty perch well above the clamour of the harbour and its market is leavened by an intriguing scent that till now it has sadly lacked: that of freshly baked goods. The waft of bread, brioche and… is that croissants… drifts lazily throughout the house, bringing to wakefulness even the least likely of morning people.

By the time the lady of the house appears, the salon has been set as though for a formal dinner - none of your pushed aside chairs and tables now, but a fully appointed and fine clothed table, carafes of fruit juice and water, fresh flowers (white, naturally), polished silver cutlery set for one, with the sparkling crystal glasses reflecting the light of a single candle, itself in an elaborate leaded crystal holder.

Quintavius has been here. He might as well have stamped it across the wall in indelible ink.

Oriane's habit of rising in the dark and riding through daybreak has carried through to Marsilikos; she returns with full daylight and, crossing her threshold, inhales a great glorious breath of Quinquin. He has obviously paid no heed to her remarks about poached eggs. She anticipates a worrisome interview with her cook, later. For now she mounts the stairs to the salon with a certain expectancy in her tread, unpinning with one hand the three-cornered black felt hat worn lightly upon her braided and pinned white hair.

In Bordeaux she would change for breakfast, transforming herself from the leather-breeched and frock-coated huntress of the dawn into the elegant white-gowned lady of the day. But that was for Enguerrand's delight more than her own. Here, there just doesn't seem any point.

She sets down her hat on the little table on the landing where the maids often park trays when they're serving in the salon, and approaches the grander table Quintavius has arranged for her still smelling faintly of leather and horse and clean perspiration. With her mask in one hand she reaches out with the other to liberate a flower from her pastry chef's painstaking arrangement and bring it speculatively to her nose.

And what Quintavius had intended to be a refreshing breath of Siovalese home is apparently under threat, as no sooner has the lady of the house approached the table within that there is some sort of commotion without. Only one side of the argument is really audible, that of a woman by the tone, and an affronted one at that. The other half of the conversation is too quiet to be heard, but might be inferred by the accusations. Things like "Who the fuck are you?" and "Get out of my kitchen!" seem to point towards some dissatisfaction.

In a castle or a great country house one risks dishes arriving cold upon one's laden board, but at least there's scope for the servants to conduct their quarrels out of one's hearing. Whereas the epicentre of this one is directly beneath Oriane's feet. She makes a deliberate circuit of the table, walking a trifle more heavily than usual (her riding boots help), to let them know that she's home. Perhaps that will encourage a certain caution below stairs? In hope, she settles into the chair intended for her, putting down her mask absently next to her empty plate and loosening the white silk cravat at her throat.

The winner, if we can call it that, of the shouting match beneath her becomes apparent when the breakfast is brought in and not a poached egg is in sight. No, instead today is a delicate arrangement of light, flaky pastries, with wafer thin slices of apple and toasted almonds, all piled high into an unlikely architectural feat. This, brought in by an apologetic looking maid, who then disappears, is followed up by the entry of its architect, today less dusty and road weary, and instead in a neat but severe black tunic, collar, cuffs and seams picked out in white.

By now Oriane has poured herself a glass of pomegranate juice and is sipping it. She bestows upon the maid who serves her pastries and her pale golden Ch'in tea a sympathetic look and a murmur of, "Never mind, Madelon, don't worry."

Then the architect of domestic disturbances and comforts alike puts in an appearance, crisp and clean in the colours worn by all her personal servitors, and Oriane regards him mildly across her breakfast table. "Good morning, Quinquin. You're just in time to tell me how to eat this beautiful little tower you've built. Does one begin at the top and work down?"

Quintavius cracks a small smile, that much of his pride evident at least. "I'd suggest from the top, my lady. I imagine digging into the foundations would be as catastrophic for a breakfast as it would for a house. I'm afraid those were the best apples I could find today, but I shall endeavour to find something more suitable tomorrow."

"Then let's keep our house and our breakfasts both on good solid foundations, shall we?" suggests Oriane, gently hinting, as she spears a piece of apple with her fork and essays a nibble. "Somerville apples," she pronounces a moment later, before washing it down with a sip of fragrant, steaming tea. "Delightful, I think, for the time of year. How clever of you to find them for me."

Quintavius dips his head in acknowledgement of her taste. "A fellow in the local market had them. There was an odd young lady there who had a mind to buy them for cooking, would you believe. I was able to steer her to a more suitable breed, as it happens, but I was able to secure an alliance of sorts with her. I wonder if it might be of any use to you? The vicomtesse de Cerdagne, I believe. Armed, armoured, and wishing to know more about the fruit. I suggested that perhaps she might help to keep my hand in with a sword. Is this a household who might be helpful for your troubles, my lady?"

Oriane's knife and fork hover over the pastry mountain: "Cerdagne…" she murmurs, as though addressing it by that ancient name. She looks up at Quintavius. "Why, she must be a kinswoman of the Lady of Marsilikos. An old friend, of sorts." Then, because she did after all wash her hands in the bowl of scented water provided by the good Madelon when she came in, she surrenders her cutlery and plucks the topmost pastry between two dainty manicured fingertips.

Her eyes half-close at the taste of it, that not-too-sweet flakiness upon her tongue. She chews and swallows in no hurry, then pronounces: "Quinquin, there's nothing in Marsilikos to touch it. You'll have me spoiled again in no time, I see. And this vicomtesse has a particular interest in… apples, you say?"

Quintavius gives a somewhat sardonic smile, a shoulder lifting. "I'm not convinced it's apples she's interested in, so much as learning more about the world in general that she intends to protect. I get the feeling very much that she'd latch on to any common sense given in a world surrounded by fops and fools, and that she's deadly serious about knowing more about her charges." He pauses, eyeing the pastry mountain, before admitting simply, "I think I rather like her directness."

Quiet appreciation of the next few bites — appreciation which Oriane lets Quintavius see, because she knows it's what he's really come up here for — allows the man time and space to deliver himself of his reflections in the usual two parts. The erstwhile comtesse de Bordeaux knows not to interrupt her pastry chef before she's heard the second. She drinks a little more of her tea and then pronounces: "Well, Quinquin, you may bring your friend to meet me, if you wish."

"I had a feeling you might be amenable, my lady." Quintavius responds, folding his hands behind his back. "I have rather taken the liberty of inviting her to join us this morning. I do hope you don't m—" And there. Perfectly on time, or rather not on time as polite company would have it but a precise five minutes before the time, there is the distinctive ringing of the fish shaped bell outside.

Of course she's early.

Adeline's appearance is splendid, depending on your point of view. Unlike what a Vicomtesse often wears for social occasions, the white-haired woman enters with a long blue robe fitted over what's probably a suit of armor. In her right hand is her staff mace; the other remains buried in a voluminous sleeve. Whoever takes her within may have to take that weapon from her.

Along with a dagger and a splendid sword.

Pleasantries and entrances aside, Adeline brings herself to Oriane with the crisp, clipped steps of a woman who has spent time at war. She bows stiffly at the waist, as a curtsy would be wholly impossible. "M'lady Somerville de Toluard." Beat. "I know that your reputation precedes you, but please forgive my peasant ignorance." She closes her eyes meaningfully for a couple of seconds.

"Thank you for letting me come."

The guard who, at the sound of the fish bell, peers out through the porter's hole has been briefed in advance by Quintavius and recognises the vicomtesse de Cerdagne at once. How many like her can there be, after all? And so a heavy blue door opens to receive her; and she is shown to a table upon which her weapons might be laid down before she enters the lady's presence, and a maid hastens to her side with a bowl of cool lavender-scented water should she wish to wash her hands. These minor preparations are audible through the open doors of the salon above, giving the Toluards time to compose themselves for her visit.

The maid who escorts her up pale stone stairs and into the salon announces with sonorous gravity: "The vicomtesse de Cerdagne, milady."

Quintavius is standing off to one side; Oriane is seated at a breakfast of solitary splendour, her table covered in white damask and laid with fine silver and crystal and fresh white flowers. She is a lady of (ahem) mature years, her pure white hair braided and pinned back from a face which was once of surpassing beauty. She has however just come in from her morning ride, as her boots and her leather breeches and her long flowing black frock coat can attest even before, rising from her chair to greet her visitor, she brings with her the mingled scents of horseflesh and clean perspiration and… apples? Apples.

"My dear, I think I knew your grandmother," she confides kindly, in an accent which speaks of Elua rather than Eisande, or Siovale; she offers Adeline a pale and manicured hand bearing a silver signet ring engraved with the "OE" ligature, formed with a crescent moon. "Alexandrine Victoire de Mereliot?" she guesses.

Quintavius's greeting is both more formal and more efficient, a simple bringing together of the heels and a tiny inclination of his head, no more than an eighth of an inch (one could take measurements by the man). Where Oriane is the picture of elegance and ladylike hostessing, her treasured pastry chef and odd job chap is more of a stoic sort, remaining silent unless bidden. Still, at least he brings some decoration to the room. The pastries, of course. I meant the pastries.

Adeline's pale face grows more so at the mention of her grandmother.

"Adeline." There's a pause. "My grandmother and I were close," confesses the Blue Lady, reaching out to take Oriane's hand in her callused fingers. As a knight-gallant might, the woman draws low to one knee and respectfully kisses the ring. "And my mother named me for her — Victoire." And Victoire, like her grand-daughter, was never far from her own protection, a quirk of the Cerdagne family.

Perhaps Adeline was her favorite.

"M'sieur Toluard was gracious enough to suggest we meet, your Grace. And I have heard of your repute from at least one other." Beat. "But I must confess, I am unfamiliar." The Blue Lady rises to her full height again. "We talked of apples, your Grace, and of other matters that seemed to offend the ears of a shiftless young man." Shrug.

"I'm not fond of such indolence."

Oriane takes the kiss in her stride and presses the younger woman's fingers gently between her own; and holds her gaze, smiling, for another moment before letting her go. But then she mistakes her meaning. "I'm afraid it was Quintavius who surprised me with such an indolent breakfast when I came in from my morning ride. I should usually have had a poached egg in my chamber," she says apologetically — some might consider she's apologising for the wrong thing, "but as you see, I was accosted by the scent of pastry before I could even go upstairs to change. I hope you'll forgive me my indolence and my disarray both, and join me in a cup of tea? Quintavius, surely we have another cup? … I did admire your grandmother's strength of character," she adds, resuming her seat, "very much. I can see that you must take after her in more than just your name."

There's probably another cup and saucer of fine white bone china trimmed with silver lurking on the little table on the landing, next to Oriane's lately doffed three-cornered hat; certainly there are more chairs to be had.

It's with a remarkable turn of speed that Quintavius springs into action at the word of command, like a clockwork automaton wound up tightly then set off at a pace. For those paying very close attention, the very suggestion of a mere poached egg for breakfast has his lips pursing, but who's really looking other than the curious servant who's redfacedly caught listening at the door when he opens it?

Within mere seconds, he's striding back in with a second cup for the table, and is already lifting with ease a sturdy looking chair to present it closer to the table to join Oriane. "My lady vicomtesse?" he offers in a low murmur, one hand on the back of the chair ready to push it in after her.

For a moment, Adeline is caught in a moment of weakness.

Her brows furrow. Soldiers do not sit. But, here she is, no longer a soldier but instead a titled noble with expectations and obligations. Visibly, the Blue Lady takes in a deep breath, and then releases it. And then puts her butt down into a chair slowly and sigh daintily. She looks behind her to Quintavius, awkwardly, and murmurs quietly.

"Thank you."

Her attention goes back to Oriane. "Thank you for your kind words. I'm sure my grandmother would have preferred being known for her strength at arms." Adeline smiles very briefly. "She was vain like that." Pause. "But I came not because of memories; rather, I came because I wanted to learn." Beat. "With my mother passing, I suddenly find myself in very unfamiliar territory."

"I thought I'd come to you to ask for help."

Oriane favours Quintavius with a smile for his prompt arrangements, and then Adeline with an approving nod for for falling in with them. She picks up her tea pot and pours out into that second cup placed conveniently within her reach. The finest Ch'in tea, pale golden in hue, an invitation to indolence all by itself.

"I don't take honey," she explains to Adeline in an aside, "but I'm sure we could find some if you wished it…? No…?" she supposes, from her guest's expression. She smiles as though that preference were praiseworthy in and of itself. "I think many a young person might boast of strength at arms," she muses, "but it is an underlying strength of character that makes a great commander or a great lady like your grandmama, don't you think? And it is strength of character that remains, that may well keep increasing year by year, even when one's limbs grow weaker with age." And, graceful and unhurried, she presents Adeline with her tea.

"Now. What was it you wished our help with, my lady de Cerdagne?"

"I have noted a number of ladies and gentlemen in this city already," Quintavius notes, his tone measured as ever, "who are only too ready to display their skill with a spear or a sword. Many fewer, however, who are prepared to demonstrate good sense and judgement. Loyalty and duty, if I might suggest, my lady, are a rarer and more precious commodity."

The offer of adding to the tea is politely refused with a wave.

The way that Adeline holds her cup is almost funny. The genteel members of Eisande's nobility would hold it by its handle, but the rough-hewn, scarred woman picks it up as if it were a mug of mead. Unlike a drunkard, however, Adeline still sips gingerly at the edge, like an ogre from a brandy glass.

"Recognition," she admits quietly.

And then she elaborates. "My mother ailed, I am told, for almost five years before she passed. Her influence — and that of my grandmother — faded away here in the city and province." There is no malice in her voice; just the odd, distant sadness of a child left with words unsaid. "While my sisters tend to the viscounty, I am tasked with tending to our family's reputation. And I haven't the faintest idea where to begin."

With a faint, self-derogatory snort, she admits, "I can't even make a decent apple pie."

Adeline looks over to Quintavius, and nods in agreement. "I know where my strengths are, your Grace. They are with the mace and the lancet." CLERIC POWER. "But the mace and the lancet will only go so far for my people. They need someone with, as M'sieur Toluard says, good sense and judgment. I know loyalty and duty, but I do not know how to do what I must. And if I am to learn, I need to learn from someone whose name is sung." It's a decent pitch.

"And that is why I've come to you."

The lady of the house occupies herself in transferring a portion of her pastry mountain (and its associated apples and almonds) to a smaller plate, and sliding that smaller plate across the table to rest next to Adeline's saucer.

"Please," she says gently, interrupting at last, "you mustn't call me 'Your Grace'. I'm afraid that's a conceit of Quintavius's — an excess of loyalty, one might say, about which I've often had to speak to him. In any case it was a part of my previous life, and it doesn't belong here in Marsilikos." This with a look of mild reproof for her pastry chef: she's not angry, she's disappointed.

To Adeline she says, "I'm sure you underestimate your own capacities, vicomtesse, as much as you overestimate the nature and the scope of the challenge. The name Mereliot is the most honoured in Eisande, after all. You have a deep, deep well of credit to draw upon, and many ears already disposed to listen."

Quintavius returns the glance to his patron with a schooled lack of expression. Or at least what would appear to the world in general as a lack of expression. A faint flaring of a nostril here and a hint of a tightening around his eyes would indicate to those who know him better that he's clearly quite amused by the reproof. Attention turning briefly to the pastries, a critical supervision as they're just dumped on a plate rather than expertly placed, his lips purse, but then he switches that ice blue gaze to the guest. "I would suggest, my lady, that baking an apple pie is hardly the sort of renown one might expect of you. The comtesse," Yes, there's a sly glance towards Oriane for a split second, "can no doubt help steer you towards activities more conducive to a good name in more elevated circles than that of cook."

Adeline has to think on how to respond.

At least she's thinking. Clearly, she's not some empty-headed ditz or blood-thirsty battle-fiend. She thinks, she processes, and she considers her next move. Like all of this were some sort of grande game. "If you tell me, then, how you wish to be honored, then I shall do so." Beat. "However, where I grew up, titles and honors come from deeds and tales, and are not easily taken by laws made by those who haven't bled for their people."

That sounded nice. Adeline even smiles for a second.

"Also, where I grew up, mere wealth of resources meant little. What matters is how those resources are deployed." The conversation gets even more serious, if possible. Adeline's tone changes correspondingly. "One wrong move, and whatever credit my name may bring will be lost. And I don't intend to make a wrong move. But I may do so unless I am advised and shown to better, wiser paths."

Her icy-blue eyes move to Quintavius.

Her smile re-emerges for a second. "And that's why I'm here, M'sieur Toluard. I'm here because I have no doubt that she can." Beat. "That said, my failure to make something as simple as a pie showed me my ignorance and arrogance all at once." Another beat. "I don't intend to make that mistake when stakes are higher."

She likes him. But she looks back to Oriane.

Oriane meets Quintavius's sly glance and emits a small patient sigh as she looks away again to Adeline at her side, meeting ice blue eyes with azure. "It's very simple: I'm properly called 'Lady Oriane'," she explains, "and any honour you do me is not in a name or a title, but in the trust you may repose in me when we know one another a little more… Though I must confess myself bewildered to receive such a visit as yours, at such a time as this. May I ask, my dear," this with a kindly, grandmotherly air, "whose tales you've been listening to, besides Quintavius's? He's quite correct when he insinuates that it is less a vicomtesse's task to bake an apple pie with her own hands, than it is to identify someone who will bake it better than she — but he is apt to speak in terms too glowing of the hospitality it was once my privilege to offer my friends."

"In my defence, my lady, I offered only breakfast and pleasant conversation," Quintavius defends himself, folding his hands behind his back and lifting his chin a little in pleased defiance. "The tea was your idea."

Adeline slowly sets down her cup.

"My grandmother and I were close when I was young." As if that explained everything. "I never understood much of what she said or talked about until I had to become Vicomtesse." Beat. "The privilege of living and dying for Terre d'Ange, I suppose, is not having to worry about how heavy a mantle can be." Shrug. "Still, when I'm told of a woman who is the subject of poems and praise — "

She leaves the comment there.

"As for identifying those who can help?" The Blue Lady just smiles momentarily. "I am here." She looks to Quintavius, and then back to Oriane. "If you would be willing to sit and talk with me on sensitive issues every week, I would be more than happy to return such favor as I or my name can." Whatever that means. "Even if such chats were simply about current affairs." Beat. "Otherwise, I will suffocate under the hot air of licentiousness that seems to permeate every nook of this city." Snort. "I appreciate the spirit, but the common, adolescent vulgarity of it — "

Quite the vocabulary for a simple soldier.

The air in Oriane's salon, by contrast, is cool and fresh; that faint savour of apples persists, emanating not entirely from the somewhat neglected pastries on the ladies' plates. Adeline is here; Oriane acknowledges the point with a graceful nod, and reclaims her cup and saucer to pour her more tea as a reward.

"I'm always happy to receive such charming visitors," she claims, "and it's natural, isn't it, to talk of this and that, and what might be going on in the city—? But, my dear," she pauses to restore the tea pot to its place, "I think before you propose to link your name with mine, and risk such tales as might be told of the both of us together, it is my duty to warn you that my position in the world is nowhere near as secure as once it was. I have a lawsuit before the Crown, regarding certain properties and rights. In Siovale some have taken sides for me and some against — I have no doubt that Marsilikos is even now forming similar opinions of its own. You might find better guides amongst your Mereliot kin, who surely have every interest in seeing you flourish," she suggests, placing Adeline's cup and saucer before her again with a flourish of her own.

Quintavius clears his throat softly. "My lady, might I suggest that you are eminently better placed to advice the vicomtesse, given that you do not, as it were, have a dog in the fight? Your opinions are more objective, and you come with significant experience." A quick glance and the hint of a smile towards Adeline. "Although the public declaration for my lady's cause may be less politically sound, at least not yet."

It is a fair warning.

But Adeline doesn't seem deterred. Stubbornly so, perhaps, but the look in her eyes suggests that she isn't naive. Maybe she doesn't appreciate her own gifts. Maybe she has a plan already. It's hard to say. "My House will always have an interest to assist me. I may not always have the opportunity to learn from the perspective of — " She looks to Quintavius. " — as M'sieur Toluard suggests — someone with no particular interest."

She rises.

"Thank you for the tea, Lady Oriane. I will gravely consider your words." Beat. "But I have considered what I have heard of your suit, as minimal as that information has been." Another beat. "I think that the next time we meet, however, I will bring a pie. As a way of showing that, no matter how insignificant such a dessert may seem, I am willing to learn from those who know better than I."

There's a smile for Quintavius.

"Until we meet again." And then, the Blue Lady goes. She exits as purposefully as she entered, pausing by the table at the door to retrieve her weapons. Dagger. Splendid sword. And that wicked-looking staff mace: the sort of weapon that dares young men to fuck with her, just once. Just once.

And then, she is gone.

Naîve indeed, to assume that Oriane Somerville has no particular interest.

Having murmured the appropriate farewells and summoned with a slight lifting of her voice Madelon to show the vicomtesse out, Oriane applies herself to another pastry with a zeal Quintavius is sure to approve. She did bring home a healthy appetite from her ride; it's just that good manners demanded she suppress it for the sake of conversation… She finishes her pastry, and sips her tea.

"You do bring me the most curious treats, Quinquin," she observes then to her pastry chef, hulking there at her elbow in his neatly-pressed tunic. "But I hope," and she turns to him and places an imploring hand upon his arm, "that you'll find a way to get on better with Germaine. I look to you, you know, as the senior man in my household here, to make sure we haven't any more of these little upsets belowstairs, when I might find myself receiving guests at any moment…"

A brow actually raises. It's almost like he's expressing… an emotion! "Comtesse, I…" comes the immediate protestation of innocence, before he presses his lips together and composes himself. "My lady." Really, it's all that's ever required. 'My lady'. It covers a whole multitude of sins. Besides, it's not as though it's his fault that the local woman took offence. Maybe if she could bake a croissant that meets his exacting standards then he wouldn't object so much, but… well. Poached egg. That about sums it up. The thoughts flicker through his mind like lightning, each taking a toll on his lack of expression. A slight narrowing of the eyes here, a tension in his neck there, a darting glance towards the remaining pastries. "I shall see that there are no further issues."

Oriane's smile, turned up towards him, grows luminous. "I know I can always rely on you." She squeezes his arm approvingly; and from then, she has nothing to say but compliments upon the lightness of his pastry, the freshness of his apples, and the cleverness of his arrangements upon the plate she obligingly cleans.

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