(1310-10-03) Awkwardness, Part Deux
Summary: A second meeting between Desarae de Mereliot and the most taciturn of her various aunts.
RL Date: 22/09/2018 - 04/10/2018
Related: The Passage of An Heirloom.
emmanuelle desarae 

Gardens — Ducal Palace

The only specimen of her aunt Emmanuelle’s handwriting that has yet come into Desarae’s possession, is an invitation to a walk in the gardens tucked away behind the Dome of the Lady. It is short and to the point, hinting not at any purpose for the meeting: a few bold and legible phrases taking up a whole page. The ink is black at first glance; in truth, the deepest of purples, several shades darker than the wax impressed with her personal variation upon the Dowayne’s Seal of Mandrake House. The stylised blossoms; but also, the likeness of a key.

Emmanuelle arrives a couple of minutes before the appointed hour, brought up to a side entrance of her late mother’s palace in her father’s unmarked carriage. The guards offer her no challenge. She entirely avoids court and courtiers and goes straight to meet her niece before the appointed statue of Eisheth, a landmark unchanged since her own childhood here. Her fine-boned figure is armoured against the chill of an autumn morning by a greatcoat of soft charcoal-coloured wool, cut in the masculine style she favours, adding a little something to her shoulders and elongating the lines of her limbs. Beneath it her breeches are tucked into a more than usually sensible pair of boots, with low block heels suitable for straying from paved or pebbled paths. They’re black, of course, and laced up to her knees with ribbons of watered silk in a dark violet to match her cravat. A silver chain contributes to the efforts of her buttons to hold her coat shut against the weather; another such chain is woven through the heavy blue-black braid pinned up at the back of her head; silver spurs sound softly at her heels.

She sights Desarae some yards before it will be convenient to address her and approaches thus in silence, unhurrying, with inevitably something of the stalking predator in her gait. She has ample time to study the girl; to study, too, her Cassiline shadow; to be studied in return.

“… Good morning, Desarae,” she says at last. No effusive affection. Oh, no.

"And a good morning to you too, Aunt Emmanuelle." Desarae turns from her Cassiline to greet her aunt. She cuts an elegant figure today, with the darker palette of her mourning period have been cast aside in favour of a gown of warm ivory brocade that flies in the face of more traditional autumnal colours. The pale fabric accents beautifully the inherent golden undertones of her skin, and the cut of the garment is artfully simple; with sleeves that protect against the encroaching chill which hug to her elbows before flaring over her wrists, and a fitted waist that's enhanced with a belt of burnished gold. Her skirts fall in a gentle drape over her hips, being full enough to be luxurious but not to distract, and over the top of her gown she wears a fur-trimmed cloak of white wool, the front of which is held closed across her chest with three golden frog fastenings.

"I have a new Cassiline," she says, her voice lowering to those of a confidential tone in case her aunt has noted the change of the face at her side. "His name is Nicolas Guillard. I have commiserated with him upon how dull and boring his life will now be, since his former ward was the Duc de Chalasse." An apologetic smile is ghosted Nicolas' way before she brings her attention back to her aunt. "But," she continues on, "… you invited me to walk with you. So walk we should."

“We should,” agrees Emmanuelle gravely; and she possesses herself of her niece’s hand and tucks it into the curve of her elbow, a gesture in keeping with her attire and her chosen manner today, which verges upon the avuncular. In her walking boots she is not much the taller of the two. Kusheline women sometimes run to great height; Mereliots, less often.

For several yards they walk in step and also in silence — Emmanuelle assuming the lead, subtly as is her way — and then, when a comfortable span has opened between them and Desarae’s discreet Cassiline escort, she ventures: “I see your cousin Ortolette is blooming. She has a curious resilience of her own, unlike yours, still beautiful in its way.”

"I think," Desarae muses following a brief moment's pause, "that a great many people would be more than a little surprised by my cousin if they looked beyond her obvious frailties and the constant confinements to her rooms. She has a sharper mind than many of our peers, and possesses a strong will and a stubbornness of character which, combined with her intellect, means that she should not be dismissed out of hand." Her arm curls tighter within her Emmanuelle's as they take a corner in the path to head deeper into the gardens, lengthening her stride so that it matches well to that of her aunt.

"But since we are speaking of such things, there is something of my own upon which I wished to seek your advice." Desarae's head turns towards her aunt as she speaks, an inflection within her voice indicative that this is something upon which she's thought hard.

Emmanuelle appears to give due thought before answering. “I hope I have never dismissed the possibilities inherent in any niece of mine, still less the one whose ill fortune has brought me most often into her company,” she suggests, her tone growing wry as she identifies herself as one of Ortolette’s many medical woes. “In that vein please go on, Desarae,” she says more seriously. “I'm at your disposal this morning.”

"You weren't included in that comment, Aunt Emmanuelle." Desarae states, the tip of her nose scrunching at the near erroneous miscommunication. "But it wasn't Ortolette's health that I wished to speak with you about, but my own." Her eyes slip from her aunt's, lidded and heavy. "My sleep is plagued by dreams and by morning I am worn out. My limbs feel as heavy as wood, my head cottony. I have begun to wonder if I might feel better if I don't sleep at all, because being awake would be infinitely better than the heart-hammering manner in which I'm wrenched from my sleep."

The arm not curled about Emmanuelle's reaches to the side and snaps a brittle twig from one of the bushes. Leaves already yielding their summer coats of green to the more colourful palette of autumnal months, flutter as she twists it in her fingers, and she draws a quiet breath before offering further insight. "Perhaps in some manner the witch has won, because I'm suddenly finding it hard to know the difference between nightmares and consciousness." A glance back to her aunt. "Have you anything in your armory with which to tackle this, and to allow me the peace of a dreamless sleep?" A twist of her lips as she bites at the edge of lower. "Just a night or two would help me so much."

“According to the Hellenes, who were so fond of experimentation, you would not feel better: you would feel worse, gradually lose your sanity and, in several weeks’ time, die in agony,” explains Emmanuelle when her niece waxes wistful on wakefulness. “As little as we understand it sleep is yet essential to the proper function of our bodies and our minds…”

But, as such a lecture is hardly to the point when Desarae isn't even tucked up in bed with her eyes shut, she governs her instinct to discourse and states definitively: “What I prescribe for you is a Gentian. They make indifferent lovers for your kind or mine; but oneiromancers are trained in aiding those whose grief and trauma in the waking world is invading their sleep — such a one would be best skilled to see you sleeping naturally again. And,” the faintest possible clearing of her throat, “if there were any unusual quality about your dreams after your family's recent misfortunes, such a one would be best placed to perceive it and to advise you. Coin is not a consideration for you; why not avail yourself?” she asks simply. And she pauses their stroll and turns to look straight into Desarae’s eyes, seeking the reason why such a logical expedient was not her first choice. Not the full sudden force of her Shahrizai scion's gaze — but hard enough for even another scion to evade.

<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Empathy: Amazing Success. (8 1 7 4 8 3 8 5 8 7 1 2 7 3)

"I did think a Gentian," Desarae admits, allowing her eyes to meet and hold with Emmanuelle's. She doesn't shy away from the intensity of her gaze, though her arm does tighten a fraction where looped through her aunt's. She's open and honest with her reply. "It's just that I am not sure that I have the time to visit Coquelicot and make arrangements for the assignation. At least not at present. I had a letter from my father this morning, and he has requested that I return home."

A worried smile touches her lips. "There is a matter that he wishes to discuss with me, and he tells me that it is something which cannot be done through correspondence. I find that my thoughts are scattered," she confides, "to a point where I think a Gentian would find it difficult to enter my dreams and help in a tangible way." Her voice is coloured with concern, and she glances over her shoulder to where Nicolas shadows their walk. A sigh is allowed before looking back to her aunt. "I can only imagine what it is that what he wishes to speak with me on, but it must be terribly important, since arrangements for travel are already in hand."

<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Empathy: Good Success. (7 1 4 1 3 6 8 6 2 1 6 1 7 5)

Though the niece’s gaze may wander the aunt’s lingers, intently, sceptically.

“You have some other reason for avoiding the company of a Gentian adept,” Emmanuelle translates, “that you do not wish to confide in one who is almost a complete stranger to you. Very well, Desarae — I don’t propose to beat your secrets out of you,” she assures the girl with an amused twist of her red-painted lips. Their walk resumes, by her will: people often just find themselves swept along by that particular irresistible force. “How long do you anticipate being absent from the city, or has your father not given you any indication? If it is to be a short visit perhaps there is something to be said for waiting to commence a course of treatment you would be required so soon to interrupt… But I don’t,” she pronounces firmly, “care for the idea of sending you away for any length of time in the condition you describe.”

A beat.

“The difficulty with the sedative powders in my armoury, as you call it,” another small curve of her lips suggests she is far from disapproving Desarae’s choice of terminology, “is that they would serve, at best, as a palliative rather than a cure — while at worst, there is a considerable likelihood that under their influence you would continue to dream the same dreams, yet be unable to wake yourself from that heavier, drugged sleep.”

With the smallest uplift of her shoulders, Desarae gives a shake of her head. "It's not that I have secrets that I would hide from a Gentian, aunt. It's that I can't start something that might take weeks to resolve. What if things were disturbed which right now I suppress, and I take them along with me on my trip." Brows beetle, and she falls easily back into step with Emmanuelle as their walk recommences. "Though I'll admit, I'd not considered the drawbacks of being in a drug-induced sleep. I just thought I would sleep." With the toe of her boot she scuffs a stone from the path upon which they walk, sending it skidding at an angle into one of the well-tended flowerbeds.

"Father writes that the trees in the Great Park are turning, so I'll be glad to be home for that. We used to gather chestnuts when children, and roast them on fires. I'm not sure how long I'll be gone, it wasn't mentioned in his letter, just that there was a matter to be discussed. Perhaps," and her mouth flattens in a solemn little line, "he wishes to see my future settled and has prospects for a match in mind that will be of benefit to both the family and the province. Not that I expect my opinion to be given much weight."

Emmanuelle’s gaze follows that stone to where it lands, and then lifts to regard Desarae side-on as they walk together. “… I meant,” she drawls after a considering pause, “secrets you would hide from me.” And which, as good as her word, she doesn’t pursue.

These cosy recollections of her sister’s life with a man she couldn’t, didn’t, and doesn’t approve of as a mate, still less as a father whose past transgressions brought his family into a mortal peril which only Desarae (and only by Naamah’s blessing) survived, find her regarding instead the path ahead and showing her niece only a profile more than usually austere and stony. But because she is here to make an effort she does, at the end of another pause.

“Would your opinion yet deserve to carry weight?” she asks quietly, and not unkindly. “You’ll be the marquise de Chavaise; your marriage must and will be a dynastic match in the interests, as you say, of House Mereliot and Eisande. I understood that you had only lately begun your education in political matters; it would be odd if you were already a fine judge of those particular risks, benefits, advantages, and obligations. Any proposed match will be vetted by your aunt Armandine. Who could decide for you more wisely, or with greater compassion? If you would have a strong voice in the decision, you need only apply yourself to your studies and speak good sense to your elders… who are, as I hope you never doubt, motivated by a sincere concern for your life as well as for your lands. Remember, as an adept of the Rose Sauvage you would have been expected to lie with many more strangers than just one,” she points out. “And as a woman of Terre d’Ange you have always the right to seek your own pleasures where you may find them. If your husband doesn’t suit you, you’ll find others who will… You look sulky, Desarae,” she concludes, “and it doesn’t become you. Especially not on this point.”

"Do I?" Desarae appears to be genuinely surprised by Emmanuelle's statement with regards to her mood, and her eyes cut quickly up to search her aunt's profile. "It wasn't with any intent, and though it's true that my political education has only just now begun in earnest, I really am under no illusions as to the importance of my position to the Duchy." A frown furrows her brow, and she lifts her hand to pinch at the bridge of her nose. "Forgive me the miscommunication either by my words or my expression, this tiredness is exhausting." Her eyes flick ahead to the path that they walk and silence descends for the next of their steps.

"I'm to leave on the morning tide." she ventures once another few steps have been taken in silence. An awkwardness exists between them that's almost prickly as they navigate the sensibilities of one another's moods, though Emmanuelle seems a little more inured to it than the younger of the pair. "Nicolas tells me that we're enjoying a north-westerly wind at the moment, so the voyage will be longer than usual and take the best part of a day. I find I don't mind that." She'd probably do better if she were to confine herself to discussing the weather and the weather alone. It's a far safer subject.

“In that case,” pronounces Emmanuelle at length, after having given to the weather more brooding consideration than it could possibly warrant, “I shall not occupy any more of the time you must require for your preparations.” Then, a reluctant concession hedged about with her usual taste for moderation: “I will send you a powder to take tonight, mixed in a little wine. I’d advise you to have someone keep watch over you while you sleep, to wake you if you appear to be in distress. If you experience no ill effects I’m sure you could find a healer in Chavaise to provide you with the same mixture; though, of course, your body will grow inured to it by custom. It isn’t a solution, Desarae,” she cautions, “only a stopgap to ease your voyage, and not one I would usually advise for a young woman in otherwise excellent health.”

She purses her lips and adds, “I hope when you return to Marsilikos you’ll dine with us one evening at the house in the Place des Mains. We have almost finished making it over — though my father’s taste in frescoes,” and though she doesn’t exactly sigh, there’s a hint of loving exasperation in her tone, “may require a little revision yet.”

Nobody from the Mereliot side of the family has seen this house, the notorious Maison Sanglante down the front steps of which the blood of its murdered residents once flowed, since it passed into the hands of the Shahrizai side of the family. It has for several years been Edouard Shahrizai’s city pied-à-terre; his daughter’s co-ownership came, recently, as news.

"Aunt Armandine trusts your decisions when it comes to the matter of Ortolette, so it would be churlish of me to think that I know better." Desarae decides. "And you appear reluctant to prescribe me the mixture, so I shall do without." Determination to do what's right brings a lift to her chin, displaying a perfect profile that sublimely blends the steel of the Morhbans with that of the Mereliots. The fur of the cloak that hangs heavily on her shoulders, tickles the underside of her jaw, as with an uplift of her shoulders, she brings to a halt their progress at the forking of the path.

"You're not occupying time that's not mine to give, though I should, now you mention it, return to my rooms to ensure that enough of my warmer gowns are packed. Who knows how long my trip might be, or how the weather might turn whilst I'm there." She fiddles with the cuff of her left sleeve, twisting a loose thread about her finger, and though there's a tiredness still to be found in her eyes when she looks at her aunt, there's something else there too. A curiousity for the home that this aunt of hers inhabits.

"Maison Sanglante." It's a statement of fact. "I used to look at its steps when I passed to and from Rose Sauvage. I would love to dine there on my return. Thank you."

They have come whilst speaking to a place where the paths fork; here Emmanuelle halts, and unlinks her arm from her niece’s. Without speaking she takes hold of Desarae’s wrist instead and, with a well-placed thumb here and a sharp twist of two fingers there, snaps off that little trailing bit of silk without pulling any more of it loose. She tucks the broken thread away in a pocket and looks up into Desarae’s eyes with a quiet gravity in her own.

“Perhaps, then, you will notify me when you return to the city. Travel safely, Desarae — and, please,” her smile shows a hint of neat white teeth, “give my regards to your father.” She turns and parts company with her niece, taking the path that leads away from the ducal palace.

Though, whatever was left unsaid, a small packet arrives for Desarae later in the day by the hand of a liveried page. It contains the sleeping powder — a single dose wrapped in an exquisitely-folded little purple packet — written instructions for its use, and advice for any healer in Chavaise who might dispense to her the same or different. The latter documents are not in Emmanuelle’s own bold hand but the whole of it is secured with her familiar mandrake seal. The choice of what is right, rests in this instance with Desarae herself.

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