(1310-09-20) Treasonous Sandwich
Summary: The Mereliot family chirurgeon calls upon the Mereliot family invalid. (Warning: they talk about sex. Yes, on a Kushiel game. Astonishing.)
RL Date: 20/10/2018
Related: None
emmanuelle ortolette 

Ortolette’s Chamber — Ducal Palace

A dark and somber, sober chamber, slight and tall-ceilinged, trapezoidal in shape with a long slivered edge that curls slightly along an outer wall of the wing's external architecture. One window in the far recessed corner is often as not curtained in dark blue to match the thick, lush carpeting and the costly bedding which mixes sateens and velvets for a luxurious experience to anyone lying abed. On the wall to one side of the bed is a low chest for a modest wardrobe, stacked on top with bottles of unguents and elixirs, a regular little pharmacy, with stacked washing-clothes and an ewer of icy water and an ewer of heated water always kept on offer, along with corresponding basins of Ch'in porcelain, white with blue dragons delicately painted upon them.

In the acute corner near the window a writing-desk has been appointed for Ortolette to take her correspondence, when she's sufficiently capable of being thus seated. Beside the table is a little bit of joy, a tiny sparrow kept in a cage hanging from a little stand. Otherwise she takes her correspondence abed, with a functional little lap-desk on oaken arms sitting perched firmly over top her legs as she sits up, with a gleaming lamp set in sparkling crystal overhead. The wall opposite the bed houses tall mahogany bookshelves and Ortolette's smattering of historical, political and economic treatises, as well as her prodigious collection of operatic libretti, most illustrated and beautifully bound, some signed by important casts who have premiered or made famous the opera in question. Perhed high up atop the bookshelves, the top few shelves of which a servant would have to climb a ladder to access, is an oddity: what seems to be the top part of a human skull, missing the lower jaw, sitting staring off of a corner of the bookshelf, looking over at the wall above the wash-station.

Ortolette has her hair down, freshly washed, the crimp of its usual braid let to dry into a loose wave down the small of her back. Her nightgown is as it ever was, a simple cotton shift with a lace applique along the chest and shoulders and a threading of pink ribbon through the ends of the sleeves to bundle them just above her fragile-looking wrists. But, oh, how different from the last time Emmanuelle saw Ortolette in bed. She's sitting up. Not even leaning back on pillows against her headboard — sitting with her back straight and shoulders back, eyes full of life and industry while she pores over a mobile desk that sits over her lap. The remnants of her tea sit to one side, a small tomato sandwich with a bite or two taken out of one of its two triangles, a cup of something with the dregs still sitting in the bottom of the cup. In front of her, a volume of lined paper bound luxuriously in purple velveteen sits up on a little stand to keep it angled toward her, an inkstand and quill to the other side of her tea. On her lap, a small bundle of correspondence, from which she's picking small details like flowers from a field and arranging them into the bouquet of her notes with an avid precision of spirit.

The knock is firm; the entrée granted, Emmanuelle Shahrizai nó Mandrake comes in and shuts Ortolette's door behind her with her usual nonchalant but precisely-aimed kick. The advent of an aunt from the capital is not unprecedented in Ortolette's short life: the girl is always one of Emmanuelle's first calls on her rare visits to the city of her birth, usually just after a conference with a worried mother fearful of losing her middle child to some new cluster of symptoms. Her return to Marsilikos has, thus far, been a discreet one, but by now enough of the ducal palace's denizens have seen her lazily prowling the corridors that Ortolette must have been half-expecting her with every moment.

The approach of autumn finds her dressed in a double-breasted frock coat of dark violet velvet, trimmed at collar and cuffs with black fur; the two rows of buttons down the front of it are set wide apart and linked not with braiding but with gilded chains. This, over a man's black buckskin breeches — though can they really be called a man's, when they're fitted so neatly as to be hers alone? Her soft leather boots slightly overtop her knees, their heels sharp and high, their golden spurs jingling in the stillness with each step she takes. The pin nestled in the folds of her black silk cravat is in the shape of three golden keys, twined together in a delicate triumph of some Elua jeweler's art.

She's carrying her large black chirurgeon's bag, a familiar sight with its polished leather and brass clasps shaped like knives.

Familiar too is the lift of her bold dark eyebrows as she looks the girl over with those Shahrizai-blue eyes that pierce sharper than scalpel or flechette — though perhaps not the knowing drawl in which she utters: "I see."

Ortolette hears the knock, gives some indistinct murmur of approval to Girard, as he mans the door. It's the sound of boot meeting door and her door slamming home that makes her look up, with an admirable presence of mind, at that, and without the least appearance a jolt of surprise at the noise. Far the contrary, a smile settles into place upon her lips, and with a slight tug of a ribbon she bundles off her correspondence and sets it aside. "My Lady Aunt," she bows her head in what will have to do for a curtsey from this position. "I had heard tell you were returned to us," she goes on. Her voice— still small, like that of the child Emmanuelle had seen swooning away her death throes in this very bed, though now infused with just enough vigor not to fade from hearing at the ends of her breaths, not to mention a warm if very politely expressed merriment to be so re-united. The sharp look— the knowing drawl— for all that, she adds, tipping her chin just half-perceptibly upward in a mote of confidence. "As, it seems, have I," she acknowledges her own recent recovery from ailment. "Girard, please, come and take away my desk. I would visit with my Lady Aunt." It is soon enough seen to.

Emmanuelle doesn't apologise for interrupting the diarist at work; she only disposes her bag on the end of the bed, flares out her coat-tails with both hands, and sits down next to it. A bedpost serves her to lean against. One booted foot remains on the floor, the other leg she folds up in front of her the better to sit side-on to her niece and watch her at rest with one eye and Girard in retreat with the other. In profile she is elegant, austere, Kusheline.

"I wonder," she goes on after a moment in that languid drawl in which every syllable is nonetheless enunciated with crystalline precision, "that none of us had the wit to prescribe you a man before now. He's done wonders."

Ortolette smiles fondly to Girard when he comes to relieve her lap of all its burden. She sets the bundle of letters atop with the rest, and closes the tome before the whole of it levitates off of her, freeing her to fluff up the blankets that have gotten crumpled down about her lappers, then smooth them out and look up just in time to see Girard step out to take up his post outside, just there, past her aunt's grave and dignified countenance. One she's had long chaance over the years to contemplate from her bed. One she might well aim to emulate in her bearing, even if in her case it comes off rather more prim and fastidious than austere and elegant. The perils of looking to the world like a doll gained life. "I obtained Eisheth's blessing before I sought out Naamah's, my Lady," she corrects the record with a sideways metonymy, but a sly little smile, no less. "But, yes. I had long thought I would never meet the Bright Lady. But now I have, and I am very contented to have done so," she's happy to report.

"The one so often conduces to the other," in Emmanuelle's opinion, "provided one observes moderation in all things." The last four words Ortolette has heard so often from her, that she could probably chorus along with them: it's perhaps not a doctrine one would expect to be in vogue at Mandrake House, but Emmanuelle is speaking more as an aunt than as a former Dowayne of that august establishment. And it's definitely the aunt in her who goes on: "If you'd finished your sandwich I should have said there was very little the matter with you today." Yes, she noticed the sandwich. She draws her bag closer to her now and snaps open its clasps, glancing again at Ortolette. "Is it still the same young man? Or have you been summoning the flowers of each salon to brighten your chamber in turn?"

"Meden agan," Ortolette appends to the first chorus— strophe, antistrophe— she doesn't speak Hellene, but is well educated enough to know some important phrases to sprinkle in conversation to indicate the depth of her spirit. On the topic of the sandwich, well, she's not going to quibble, though the sandwich is not yet disappeared— she may have some of it later. But if she's being honest, she probably won't. She folds her hands onto her lap and smiles brilliantly under the elsewise-clear bill of health. "Still the same—" she begins in a bit of confusion, "Oh! No, it was only the once, my Lady Aunt. So far," she is ready to add, as though to make it clear that she doesn't intend to put the sport down entirely. "It did make me very sore, for all that it was otherwise pleasant. And I don't want to overtax myself just as I am able to be up and about."

It is entirely possible that Emmanuelle heard the whole story from her sister before she set foot in Ortolette's chamber, and that she's only engaging in a sport of her own: niece-teasing. Those cool Shahrizai eyes linger on Ortolette's face and she lifts one slow dark eyebrow, as if to imply a suspicion of covert moonlit orgies conducted upon this very bed. Then she looks down into the chirurgeon's bag from which she has on other occasions brought forth so many uncomfortable instruments, mysterious lozenges, and foul-tasting teas.

"… So much shit in this bag," she grumbles aloud, unpacking from it a coiled bullwhip, a bundle of papers tied with black ribbon, another whip (she needs a spare?), and the pair of gloves she was wearing when she arrived at the palace. She often arrives in gloves, fine kid or doeskin or silk according to the season. At present her hands are bare; her black-lacquered nails are typically flawless, shaped into rather pointed ovals, the talons of an exquisite beast. "The soreness as I'm sure you've been told will trouble you less in time — unless of course you take up with my kind, and that," she says drily, "I should not recommend." She produces at last from the depths of her bag a small square bottle of heavy crystal, sealed over its cork with black wax and a silver ribbon. She turns it upside down and gives it a good shake before offering it to Ortolette on the palm of her hand. It contains not scent but a rich purple ink, flecked with silver.

The contents of the bag come to litter the bed which has so often been Ortolette's whole world draw her attention as they're added to the universe, one by one. "Yes. Yes, I was warned of the pain of the first time. But I had so much cramping, I felt it all the way to my knees and through to my back." This is her first divulgence of the pains her assignation brought her, since it has since faded and come to matter naught. But it did seem to her to be worse than he had been led to expect, and perhaps she's floating it to her medically-minded aunt by way of sounding out whether that's all normal or not. "Oh!" A little gasp for the beautiful gift which surprises her, even after she must have wondered what all this rummaging was in aid of. Or maybe her attention had merely been dallying on her Lady Aunt's collection of whips. "How lovely! I will hate to use it up!" she marvels at the sparkles.

It's not the whole collection, we hasten to add. Only a few judicious and versatile pieces selected for their suitability for social calls.

One of the advantages of a Mandragian education is a poker face even the most reckless Bryony wouldn't care to play against. Emmanuelle, fishing again in her voluminous bag, nods to the ink as though it were her chief concern. "That stuff will clog your quills faster than you'd imagine possible," she advises, darkly disapproving of her own gift; "if you want to do any serious writing with it make sure Girard cuts you at least a dozen in advance." With both hands she extracts a second gift, a shallow rectangular wooden box which she places on the bed within Ortolette's easy reach. It will prove to contain a hundred sheets of very smooth, very delicate white paper, bordered with a thin edging of lavender.

Then she unfolds herself from her perch at the foot of the bed, as though she's just stretching, and prowls round the side. "Show me where you felt the pain in your back," she instructs her niece calmly, eyeing her with hands on slim hips.

"I will keep it for accents and for names on envelopes," Ortolette decides, thereby both sparing her quills the worst of it and getting to use the pretty ink for longer. The box is taken up next, and the paper swooned over with a soft caress of the back of her hand. "It's all so lovely, my Lady Aunt. Thank you," she issues forth the dutiful words of a grateful niece, but with more feeling than as if the words were simply the correct thing to say. She closes up the box once more and gives it a place next to her on the bed to sit with the bottle of ink settled sentinel atop it. She nods her head at the instruction, and, leaning forward, she draws her arms back and plants her hands to either side of her spine, just between her hips and the bottoms of her ribs. "It was right in here… it was worst when we were… in the middle of things, but it lingered on into the tail end of the following day I had some of my tea from Eisheth's temple and convalesced before nightfall."

Emmanuelle utters a neutral 'mm', indicating that her niece's thin and pretty cotton nightgown fails nicely to obscure the general area under discussion.

"What you felt isn't normal," she confirms quietly, "but you knew that." She pats Ortolette's shoulder, just once, and then her golden spurs sound again as she returns to the foot of the bed and resumes her seat.

The manner in which she addresses her sometimes-patient is different, now, from every other time. She's speaking not to a child whose mother will hear her full report in confidence, but to a young woman deserving of the truths she has no qualms about telling. "You ought to speak of this to one of the Coquelicot women they send you; but this is what I think. Firstly—" She essays a slight smile, and commences to unbutton her velvet frock coat. Beneath it she's wearing a black silk shirt, which matches uncannily the black of her breeches and the black of her cravat. "Your chamber is very warm," she pronounces gravely.

"Second. You've lived most of your life in this bed; we know already that every muscle in your body is weaker than an ordinary woman's in consequence. Including," a wry twist of her lips, "those you used for the first time with your Alyssum boy. Thus you paid for your pleasure with more pain than an ordinary woman would have suffered in your place. You know what to do for cramps: rest, heat, your tea. You're a sensible girl and realistic about the give and take necessitated by your health — I'm sure you did everything correctly. As far as the future is concerned," and it's a pleasure for all concerned to be speaking of one, "for every muscle, there's an exercise to strengthen it." Emmanuelle's pale hand sweeps through the air indicating her own abdomen and parts south. "Speak with a Coquelicot," she reiterates. "… One who has borne children," she adds, lifting a finger to emphasise this point. "Nothing fucks up a woman's body like carrying a baby inside — except of course giving birth to it. There are positions, too, that will put less strain on your back. If you've a copy of the Ecstatica or the Trois Milles Joies," she turns a questioning eye upon Ortolette's library, "I'll mark the ones you'll find easiest."

If there's one thing finer for Ortolette than to have been made a woman, it's to be treated like a woman by one she so respects as a figure of feminine power and confidence. "I had Girard close up my window. My hair was wet, I didn't wish to be chilled by a breeze," she explains the temperature in the room. Then she leans back onto copious pillows at the head of the bed, listening to the second point with her hands both over her stomach. Having children has long been off the table for her— but, then, for the longest time she thought she would die a virgin. Now it won't be so. Maybe she'll die a mother— but she's fairly sure she would die trying to become a mother, and so is happy enough to give that whole endeavor a miss, even if it means her matrimonial ambitions may be laid at nil. Her library is largely dedicated to opera libretti, some bound with illustrations and fancifully illuminated text. Others seeming almost to be actors' copies, but made special by the signatures and notes held within their pages. A bit of a collector, Ortolette. The four shelves that deviate from her operatic obsession are largley dry academic treatises on history and trade. "I don't have a copy of either… though I suppose I may easily have one added to my library." A gleam enters her eye. "Next time Monsieur Aimeric visits me I will confront him with it, and see what colors its pages will make his cheeks turn." What, she has a little bit of the tiger cub about her, delighting in the torment of a little white mouse, after all.

So far as anybody knows Emmanuelle Shahrizai nó Mandrake has never entertained a single matrimonial ambition, and she at any rate seems none the worse for it as she repacks her chirurgeon's bag according to an improved system, and with fewer gifts to take up valuable whip-space. "In the Night Court every novice of thirteen has dog-eared pages in the Trois Milles Joies," she remarks, glancing at Ortolette from beneath hooded eyelids and seeking, by such means, to divert the girl from certain of the thoughts suggested by the placement of her hands. "What were you taught beforehand?" she inquires in the dubious tones of an aunt fast coming to wish she'd arrived in Marsilikos a month or so sooner.

Ortolette shakes her head slightly, coming up with a smile that seems a little too contented to be actually so. "Oh, the basic facts of the process are easy enough to read about. The parts and pieces and everything. And from there only that with which my operas and my imagination had furnished me," which seems to have been enough, indeed.

"… The basic facts," Emmanuelle drawls a beat later, with a slight smile of her own in which whimsy and cruelty combine to wonder: what would those be, then?

She stands up again, with another muted golden jingle from the vicinity of her heels. "I'll have one or two books bound for you to match the rest," she informs her niece, one eye on the historical treatises. "I had a patron some years ago whose back pain was very like yours — with knowledge, with preparation, with care, much can be enjoyed even by a young woman in indifferent health, as I'm sure your imagination has already suggested. Give me your wrist," she orders quietly, for it seems that Ortolette is not after all to escape the tedium of another examination. It was the sandwich that betrayed her into it.

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