(1310-09-30) Perhaps A Modest Cheeseboard
Summary: Quinquin has a tale to tell of woman trouble; also, inevitably, he gets into some of his own.
RL Date: 30/09/2018
Related: Takes place just after Of Husbands and Wives, and is followed in turn by The Lady Doesn’t Quite Say ‘No’.
oriane quintavius 

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.

When Quintavius Anne Toluard has finished seeing his waifs and strays into a pair of sedan chairs which set off for the city's noble district with a steadiness of gait neither could have managed on their own feet, if he should chance to look up at the house with the blue doors (and the blue balcony, and the blue tiled roof) he might very well recognise the silhouette of his lady patroness behind the white silk curtains of her salon. The silhouette moves away and he can imagine her pacing gracefully back and forth, or coming to rest on the edge of her blue velvet sofa… In any case, he can imagine her curiosity.

After being caught in the act the other night, Quintavius has given up on hoping that Oriane ever sleeps. No, he's pretty much resigned to the fact that his lady patroness is a serial curtain-twitcher, and anyone coming or going will be the subject of the next morning's conversation. There's a good reason he kept these waifs and strays downstairs and in the kitchen, away from her domain. Shaking his head, he returns indoors, back to the hallway to gather his sack of new fossils, and begins moving upstairs with a surprisingly light foot, given his size. Maybe he can just get up and to bed before she…

One gets to know other people so well during the course of life in a house of such modest dimensions. Their little foibles, their sleeping habits, the furtive tread of their great big feet in well-polished boots… Just as Quintavius steps out of the shadow at the top of the first flight of stairs and into the circle of light on the landing, one of the salon doors pops open and a face appears framed by a halo of soft white hair. "Quinquin! I thought I heard you come in," declares Oriane, sounding pleased, "a little while ago." She's being charitable, there. It took a while to sober up poor Gregoire, and as for Lady Inesse… "Won't you come and tell me how you enjoyed your outing?" she coaxes gently.

Busted. Still, Quintavius puts a brave face on it, as much as he ever puts a face on anything. The stealthing up the stairs turns smoothly into a polite bow. "My lady, it's been a fruitful evening," he admits. "Several trilobyte fragments, which look to scrub up rather well." There is a pause as she still looks expectant for him to join her, then he relents. "Shall I fetch some tea?"

"A glass of wine, perhaps?" the lady counters.

"And some cheese?" Quintavius immediately suggests, the flicker of a smile appearing at the corner of his mouth. So this is not to be a dressing down today, but an actual talk. Wine means she's in a good mood. Well, or that she wants to get drunk, but either way she's not in a bad mood with him.

"… Perhaps a modest cheeseboard," agrees Oriane, sharing a conspiratorial smile with her Quinquin before she retreats into the salon to await him. She's been in a good mood generally these last few days. Less of the moody staring out to sea, for one thing, and fewer tears in her chamber at night.

Well, the 'modest' cheeseboard could only really be described as modest when compared with an entire tower of cheeses. There have to be nine different offerings there, along with two types of cracker, a pot of good butter, a few bunches of grapes and a few sticks of celery. All this is borne up on a tray in one hand, a bottle of wine and two glasses in the other, as Quintavius steps quietly into the salon to join her, nudging the door closed behind him with a foot. The cheeses are set down, the wine opened and left to breathe, and he moves to double check the fire is well stoked before he's satisfied. "Are you warm enough, my lady?"

Whilst the cheeses are being mustered for her inspection Oriane occupies herself with a white kitten and a white ribbon, which innocent and engrossing play no doubt contributes to the fine spirits in which she hails the return of her pastry chef. "Oh, Quinquin, that looks marvelous! I don't know how you do it… Never mind the fire, it's positively stifling in here tonight." She's dressed in black wool rather than black silk, a sensible choice made after her bath this evening; to demonstrate just how warm she really is, she slips out of the white woolly shawl she was wearing about her shoulders and tucks it up on the back of the sofa. In theory it's out of reach of Daisy the kitten — though those thousands of tiny crystal beads, in patterns suggestive of climbing roses, catch candlelight and firelight both in what amounts to a powerful enticement.

"It'll be a cold evening," Quintavius warns mildly. "It's a clear night, and there'll be a frost in the morning." He takes a moment to rub his hands together before he pours the wine. His hands are far better suited to the white wines, but for the Comtesse of Bordeaux, nothing but a good Bordeaux wine would ever suffice. The wine is duly offered, then a smear of good blue cheese added to a cracker and that, with a few grapes, goes onto a small plate and is also offered to the older woman.

It's true she's also the dowager baronne d'Yquem; but let that not interfere with the poetry of the thing.

Oriane finishes tying the ribbon in a loose bow around Daisy's neck, where the kitten's natural attempts to shed her encumbrance will ensure at least quarter of an hour's entertainment for all present; and with one eye on her baby beast, she accepts the glass offered her. "Cold, you think? … I suppose it can't be helped," she shrugs, inhaling appreciatively that bouquet more tantalising even than her white flowers. "More new friends, Quinquin?"

Quintavius moves over towards the window, passing his wine from hand to hand. "Not exactly friends, my lady. A gentleman in need of assistance, which I was able to offer, and a young lady who ought to know better. De Baphinols?" He shrugs a shoulder as if this were of no concern. "Women trouble. I felt the very least I could do was to offer a shoulder and a brew."

The young lady who ought to know better inspires a slight lift of Oriane's perfectly-groomed eyebrows. Or perhaps it's the kitten. "What sort of woman trouble?" she nudges, removing the latter's paws from her plate of cheese.

"The damn fool's fallen for his wife," Quintavius is happy to impart, before pausing to sip at his wine. "But she only has eyes for his brother. It's no way for a man to live. And you are spoiling that kitten," he adds in the same tone.

No, that was merely a prelude — now Oriane's eyebrows aim directly for her hairline. "… My goodness," she remarks, mildly but with an undeniable smile playing about her lips. "What a conundrum for the poor fellow. I wonder what he'll do about it. You'll let me know, if you happen to hear?" For she knows what a habit her Quinquin has of hearing, via those slightly protuberant ears he takes round and about to so many places an elderly noblewoman doesn't naturally frequent. As for Daisy, she scoops up the inquisitive little beast and cuddles her against her bosom, a compromise which permits the safe consumption of cheese.

Quintavius narrows his eyes at the cat, drifting back over to help himself to a good piece of hard cheese. "I can only imagine, my lady, that he'll drink himself into a regular stupor, or find a mistress to take his mind from things. Is the family one of note, do you know? This Lady Louna?"

Oriane meditatively crunches her cracker and its associated cheese, and then enjoys a generous draught of that fine Bordeaux red. "If the marriage is one I recall hearing talk of these many years — then Lady Louna must be the baronne de Monteaux and your lovelorn new acquaintance a gentleman of Camlach, no? The Monteaux line are collaterals of the comtes d'Avignon. Not, I think, close cousins… We must have this cheese again," she says seriously, putting down her glass the better to deal with the pretensions of her sweet Daisy.

"Definitely a man from Camlach," Quintavius agrees, leaning to sample a little of the cheese in question. "A soldier of sorts from what I gather. Certainly a hunter. Perhaps you might yet encounter him on your morning ride, if he's serious about starting a formal hunt here."

"In that case I really must make his acquaintance," decides Oriane, "and see what I might do to encourage him. It sounds just the distraction from which we might all benefit, don't you think?" Though Quinquin's role in her and the late duc's hunting parties in the forests outside Bordeaux was, typically, limited to providing the sweets that followed their gargantuan breakfasts, luncheons, and suppers. "Though I may not ride tomorrow; I'm expecting rather a late evening. I should like my litter at, oh, half past eleven, shall we say? The usual bearers, if they're free? Otherwise of course I shall trust your judgment."

Quintavius carefully pops the end of the piece of cheese into his mouth, chewing slowly and raising an eyebrow a tiny amount. He doesn't actually say anything, but the almost paternal disapproval emanates from him in waves. Honestly, a dirty stop out? At her age? It's not until he's topped up his wine and added a little more to her glass that he queries, "What time do you anticipate returning, my lady?"

Now, now, Quintavius, that's quite a conclusion to jump to on the basis of a single evening call paid by a lady known these many years for her exemplary fidelity to a great lord for whom she is still, even now, in mourning.

Oriane, oblivious to her pastry chef's low opinion of her morals, is helping herself to another bite of the exemplary cheese. "I don't imagine I'll be gone longer than an hour or two," she says vaguely. "The viewing is supposed to be particularly fine at that hour, after the sea breeze has cleared away the evening smoke… There's no need for Isabeau to stay up to see me to bed — she has quite enough to do as it is — but you might leave a light on for me downstairs," she suggests. And then she looks up from the cheeseboard to those sternly chiseled features of his. "… Why, Quinquin," she chides slowly.

"I am only concerned for your well being, my lady," Quintavius defends, chin lifting. "Your 'viewing'? Could it not wait until a more civilised hour?"

Oriane likewise draws herself up, the usual effect of ducal dignity being somewhat spoiled by the tiny white kitten clinging to her bodice and the wedge of bread and cheese clasped in one long-fingered, elegant hand. "Quinquin, for a moment you seemed almost to be insinuating something," she informs him, in a kindly tone reinforced with steel. "I'm sure I must have been mistaken — and I'm glad to be so, for I shouldn't have appreciated that at all, you know."

Quintavius clears his throat quietly, rubbing his fingers together to remove any trace of cheese before tucking his free hand behind his back and using his wine glass to punctuate his speech. "My lady, I only mean to suggest that perhaps you might consider a good night's sleep." He doesn't add the mention of her age. It's implied with that little gesture of wine glass towards her. "Perhaps in the morning..?"

A fresh linen napkin having been provided for Oriane's use, she makes use of it. Then she rises slowly from her seat upon the blue velvet sofa.

"You know perfectly well I haven't had a good night's sleep in fifteen months," she reminds her pastry chef with an air of dignified reproof, "and as I've no reason to expect tonight to be any different, I shall have my litter at half past eleven, Quinquin." And having issued this coolly definitive order she yields the salon to him for tidying, and climbs the stairs to her chamber with Daisy in one hand and a promisingly full glass of red wine in the other.

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