(1310-10-05) An Akkadian Trinket
Summary: Just a spot of nocturnal commerce. … No, not that kind of nocturnal commerce.
RL Date: 05/10/2018 - 06/10/2018
Related: None
emmanuelle alcibiades 

The Kraken’s Den — Marsilikos

A tall-tottering inn with a variety of rooms to let on the upper floors, from three fine suites just above the main floor to a collection of ramshackle one-cot rooms that sway with the harder gusts of wind in off of the sea in the upper levels. It has seen its share of fires and renovations, and every time it falls in ashes it seems to rise higher in the aftermath. Outside, proudly burnt-carved signage displays a huge black-tentacled kraken winding its limbs about in repetitive knotwork patterns. It hangs from a post on four links of bronze chain, and creaks when the wind hits it.

The main floor is part restaurant, part lobby, with a warm hearth next to a counter at which guests in the rooms above can pay their bills or ask after vacancies, many fine chairs and some a little less fine to fill out the number. Small tables amid all the seating provide room just enough to have a tea or a beverage and maybe play a game of cards with your mates. A low bannister-fence separates off the dining area from the lobby, to keep some semblance of order among the diners and to keep out the riff-raff.

Riff-raff, of course, is welcome to make its way downstairs, or else to descend into the alleyway behind the tavern and find the rear entrance into the half-basement, where a bar slings some of the hardest-scorching liquor known in Port Marsilikos, and attracts some of the roughest elements of society. It's dimly lit, with rough stonework walls and flooring and sturdy oaken furniture which must have been built in order to best resist any effort to shatter said furniture over someone's head. Fights are the nightly norm here, black eyes and sopping intoxiction, and for those without the coin to attract the contract of a proper courtesan, some affable ladies are usually present in the evenings in case any gentleman wants to buy one a drink.

When looking out of the windows, you see: It is a fall day. The weather is cool and drizzling.

What is the proper etiquette for selling a horrific torture device? Alcibiades paces back and forth, soft-soled boots brushing against the inn's floor. He holds a pewter tankard of ale in one hand. Tucked beneath his other arm is a package, neatly wrapped in black cotton. He's wearing plain clothes, a sun-faded blue jacket and duck trousers, every inch the seaman. He stops abruptly, looking over at another man, one eyebrow arched. "Jaime?"

The other man is older by a decade at least, his skin leathery and marred by a network of scar tissue. Where Alcibiades is evidently wound-up, Jaime is calm, unflappable. "He's not here yet. Drink your ale." Jaime's eyes don't leave the door to the inn as he leans against the bar, absently reaching down to adjust the heavy cutlass hanging at his belt.

"I know he's not here yet, you prat. I have eyes." Alcibiades' tone is fond rather than irritable. He stops beside the other man and takes a long drink of ale. "You think he'll show up at all?"

Meanwhile a man has been making his way down the stairs into the tap room, a nondescript older fellow attired as might befit a middling-prosperous merchant with marine connections. Nothing too new, nothing too showy. A knife at his hip as is only sensible for a night's drinking in the port of Marsilikos. He has a word here with a man behind a desk, a word there with a barmaid he stops in passing; he arrives unhurriedly in the company of the two seamen he's seeking just in time, did he but know it, to settle their disagreement.

"Gentlemen?" he says, mildly inquiring, looking up with difficulty from that package under Alcibiades's arm to meet the man's eyes. A quick glance to Jaime, too. "I understand you've a small Akkadian trinket to sell," he goes on by way of invitation, not looking at it, not looking at it… Oops. He looks at it.

"I have a small Akkadian trinket," replies Alcibiades mildly, "But I'm uncertain whether it's for sale. I believe Jaime conveyed to your contact our terms. This time, we meet the buyer." The rangy seaman glances down at the bundle and, just for a moment, looks uneasy. The expression passes, replaced by an easy smile. He looks the older fellow up and down, then glances aside at Jaime. "What do you think? Are we selling?" Jaime's scarred features contort in what is either a sneer or a smile as he, too, takes in the man. "I think we gotta meet the buyer," he answers Alcibiades. "Like we said before." This last is directed at the older man, mildly enough.

Alcibiades nods and sets his ale down on the bar. "So," he says to the merchant. "Are you the buyer? Or am I to consider this a misunderstanding?" His clothes may be common, but Alcibiades is choosing to enunciate every word, speaking with a patrician arrogance as he watches the older man's features, gauging his reaction.

The nondescript older fellow has seen scarier critters than this; in fact, to his certain knowledge there's one waiting nearby… But he bows his head, he lets himself appear just a little bit submissive. "I have with me the sum agreed upon," he says smoothly, "but perhaps we might conduct our business somewhat less publicly—?" A gesture of his neat grey head toward the stairs.

A glance at Jaime, and Alcibiades seems to read something in the older man's gaze. He looks back to the nondescript fellow and inclines his head gravely. "Certainly," he says. "My friend shall wait here." Perhaps that is an unwise decision, leaving the obviously-competent Jaime behind. Regardless, Alcibiades steps toward the staircase, leading the way - another display, perhaps, of recklessness.

Which arrangement the nondescript older fellow accepts with equanimity. "As you wish," he agrees, bowing slightly to Alcibiades, which display of politesse helps lose him the lead. He walks a little faster to catch up, and arrives at the head of the stairs only a step behind the younger man.

But their destination proves not to be any of the half-dozen comfortable apartments on this floor, or even one of the shabbier wind-swayed boltholes above. A chambermaid is loitering next to a locked door at the farthest end of the passageway. Sighting the nondescript older fellow she begins unlocking it. "This way," the man suggests to Alcibiades, ushering him in that direction with a gesture deliberately non-threatening. "My client, you understand, doesn't care for the Kraken," he explains apologetically. He has a coin ready in his hand to press into the maid's waiting fingers with a courteous, "Thank you, Michelle."

Alcibiades pauses for a moment as the door is unlocked; perhaps it's a hesitation, but he covers it up by grinning wickedly at the chambermaid. "Thank you, Michelle," he murmurs in an echo of the older man. He shifts the bundle beneath his arm, glancing at the older gentleman. "I'm surprised to find your client so squeamish, given what they're purchasing." He doesn't seem to be passing judgement, merely noting an amusing peccadillo — and, perhaps, clumsily fishing for a revelation about this mysterious client. He gestures toward the door. "I'll let you lead the way, sir." This time.

The revelation will come soon enough. The nondescript older man murmurs, "Too kind, too kind," and steps past Alcibiades with another furtive glance at the… the item. As though it might leap out of its wrappings and molest him as he passes by. There can be no doubt he knows just what it is.

Michelle grins back at Alcibiades, at least until it transpires there's no further tip forthcoming; she locks the door behind them as they descend a narrow servants' staircase into a back passageway used mostly for storage, and echoing with the racket of a busy kitchen next door. A small side door which is only bolted opens into an alleyway, where light rain is falling.

"You will forgive these manoeuvres, I hope," the nondescript older fellow goes on as the two men make their way along the alley and round a corner, shielded partly from the rain by overhanging eaves. "It is simply that my client does not wish to cause a stir." He pronounces 'a stir' as though it would be dreadful indeed; the carriage they are now approaching is plain black and unmarked, but to a discerning eye an expensive equipage drawn by fine horses. There's a driver on the box and a footman behind, in clothes just as plain; but no pack of armed guards waiting to pounce on poor Alcibiades, or anything else of the kind.

The nondescript older man raps twice on the door of the carriage and then waits. The door opens from the inside. He bows again, gesturing Alcibiades inside.

“Oh, no, I quite understand. I would hate to cause a stir." Alcibiades' tone is absolutely devoid of irony — in fact, it is so innocent that he's almost certainly teasing the older man's solemnity. His eyes sparkle briefly as he eyes the carriage. "This reminds me of an encounter I had once," he remarks in a far more casual aside. "I discovered that a bouncing carriage is a rather inconvenient place for a romantic rendezvous." He glances aside at the older man as he speaks — the small hint of lewdness is, perhaps, one more probe.

There's no real time to wait for a reaction, however, with the door open before him. He enters the carriage in a seamanlike manner, one hand on the door and the other cradling the… device.

Eyes cross in that nondescript face, just in time for Alcibiades to glimpse the fellow's consternation before he climbs up into the carriage's interior.

A tiny glass lantern overhead, home to a single candle, illuminates a black-on-black jewel-box of a conveyance in which the seats front and back and the walls too are upholstered in gleaming night-dark satin. But before even sight, the overwhelming impression is one of scent.

This discreet and chary client who doesn't care to make a stir, is at first breath sharply spicy, then leathery, mossy, more than hinting of musk… She — for despite the masculine fragrance, she’s a she — sits sprawled across the back seat, entirely still, entirely at her ease, doing nothing but permeate the air in the carriage with the resinous warmth of her cologne.

Her breeches and her coat are almost black too, their details difficult to make out among the shadows but for the odd glint of burnished gold: a golden chain here and a button there, a golden spur at the heel of a soft leather boot propped now against the wall of the carriage after kicking open the door of it to admit her visitor. Her face, though, is in the light. She is not young nor yet very old. Candlelight flickers upon a formidable and beautiful pale face, a wide red mouth, heavy-lidded ice blue eyes shadowed with a touch of kohl… Those eyes were waiting for Alcibiades: they pierce like twin spear-points, an advance guard for the sheer force of her presence. Her agent outside has already shut the door and the line of retreat.

Alcibiades settles slowly into his seat across from the woman, gazing at her in silence. His features might be that of a man glancing down at his hand of cards and trying to keep his face impassive — a careful mask, reserved, far too empty to be anything but a concealment of some deep emotion — and in that sense, a revelation.

His aquiline nose flares as he inhales, holding the musky scent into his lungs for a moment before expelling them in a long breath out. The package balances on his lap, held in both hands as his blue eyes continue to scrutinize his new companion, lingering briefly on the golden spurs attached to her boots. She is, after all, not riding a mount.

"You smell," he remarks after awhile, "Like the sea." This is untrue. It is also, coming from this salty figure, praise.

The dark woman returns scrutiny for scrutiny, studying Alcibiades's long body folded up in the seat opposite, the careful arrangement of his face that betrays how much he has to conceal, the angle of his eyes traveling across the carriage in return and seeking what may be seen of her. Little, she knows.

"You have something of mine," she drawls at last, in a soft husky voice from Eisande by way of Elua and a bottle of uisghe. Her tone isn't overly peremptory: she is accustomed not to need to be. A shadow moves — a hand, gloved in fine black kidskin, reaching out to receive Alcibiades's shrouded parcel.

The knuckles of Alcibiades' hands turn white as he grips the parcel. Otherwise, the Rousse man does not stir. There are subtle currents at work here, he knows — the pair are alone. There is no strength at play outside their own wills. But her assumption, and her confidence, hint at a considerable will indeed.

"I have something of mine," he replies equably. "Taken fairly and at some cost to myself. Once certain conditions are met, it may become yours." He glances down at the extended hand. "Not before." There is no force in his voice. He is not trying to be overbearing, merely correcting a misconception.

"I understood your agent had explained this."

"You have something taken fairly," echoes Emmanuelle with that same unflinching gaze, that same mildness of tone, "and at some cost to yourself." A beat. "And yet it is I who must determine its real worth. To you it has none in itself — where could you sell it, save to me? You've proven already," she drawls, aridly amused, "that you feel a certain compunction in handling it. I must ask myself: compunction enough to damage it, so that it might never be used?" One bold dark eyebrow lifts to punctuate her question. "I have come in person to receive it, as you stipulated; I have entrusted the sum our agents agreed upon to the good Monsieur Chevrot; I have shown a great deal of faith in you. But I must, as a simple matter of good business practice, inspect the device before authorising Monsieur Chevrot to pay you for it." Her outstretched hand never wavers.

"I did consider that course, madam, yes. I found the device in the place it had been used. I…" And for the first time, the mask wavers. There is an expression akin to seasickness on the man's tanned face. He swallows and continues. "I acquainted myself with the effect it may have upon a person. I disposed of what was left of the person this device was visited upon. And so, yes. I considered destroying it."

Blue eyes glance down at the hand and, after a moment, the tall sailor unwraps the device and offers it out. "Before this transaction is complete, madam, I must know why." Why what? He does not elaborate, but perhaps he feels he does not need to.

The box rests for a moment upon Emmanuelle's palm before her other hand lifts to support it. She removes her booted foot unhurriedly from the wall of the carriage — her golden spur jingles, discreetly — and sits up a little straighter in her seat the better to have a lap in which to unpack her treat from far away.

Her gloves prove no impediment to her clever hands' inspection of the device, from which it's abundantly clear that even in the low light afforded by a single candle she knows what it is, how to handle it safely, how indeed to operate it to the detriment of some other poor soul trapped in a tormented body.

At Alcibiades's question her gaze flicks up again to meet his: "I gather, monsieur," she suggests, almost kindly, "that you are not a collector."

"I sometimes tickle a violin," replies Alcibiades. It seems a non sequitur, but perhaps he feels that it answers her question. Every musician is a collector of instruments, after all. Merely a different sort. The dissonance of his topic and the object that Emmanuelle holds seems to strike the man suddenly, and he quirks a smile. There is a trace of the ridiculous in his face as it opens up, the mask seeming to slip away.

"Am I to assume, then, madame.. that this item is not intended for use?" His eyes watch her hands, then look back to her shadowed features. It's so obvious that she knows perfectly well the damage the device can do, perfectly well how to inflict that damage herself. And yet his question is pleasant rather than accusatory.

"You may rest assured that you have removed it from the world," answers Emmanuelle distantly, one eye still on Alcibiades as she lifts her putative purchase to turn it over in the candlelight, "save as a curiosity. It is part of a set, you understand, which I have hoped for some years now to complete…" One last caressing touch of her fingertips, making plain her admiration of the craftsmanship; and she tucks it tenderly back into its box.

A silence stretches. Alcibiades is studying the woman once more, and he leans forward slightly - a liberty he takes without qualm, it seems - to better scrutinize her features. "..Very well," he says at last. "You may consider your collection complete, madam." He glances at the box and quirks another smile, his lean features lightening. "And I may tell my partner that our concerns have been laid permanently to rest."

Emmanuelle takes his satisfaction for granted: she knows herself to be the proper authority in matters of human torment, and it's not so startling to her to see someone else recognise it. "But by its very nature a collection is never complete," she points out, fitting the lid to the box and holding it in her lap with one lightly possessive dark-gloved hand. "That of course is the other reason I agreed to meet with you this evening. I have, in truth, long been satisfied with the ingenuity and the discretion of… your partner." She smiles slightly, as though she might know something — or might wish him to suppose that she might. "May I suggest that if, in the course of your future voyages, you should come across any other objects which might interest me…?" The interrogative lift in her voice is accompanied by a lift of one corner of her red mouth. She's curious, perhaps a little bit hungry. But exquisitely controlled.

Alcibiades smiles as well at the tiny hint that she may actually know Jaime, or know who he is. The very implication reveals that she doesn't — at least, not well enough to know that the pair have no secrets from one another. He considers her smile, her eyes, back to her smile. "If, over the course of a long and — one hopes — profitable career at sea, one does not discover a few oddities.." When Alcibiades shrugs, his jacket is tugged upward briefly, providing a glimpse of his forearm, just above his wrist. Completely covered in a tattoo of some sort, though it's impossible to make out the full art. "Well, then, madame — one is doing something quite entirely… wrong."

"… And you," decides Emmanuelle in a soft and definite tone, "would never go so far wrong." She drums her fingertips on the lid of the box in a quick, staccato tattoo of their own, stills them, and adds: "You know I am in a position to see that any expenses undertaken on my behalf, within reason, are repaid. I shall look forward to the fruits of your travels, monsieur—?" She makes it a question.

"Alcibiades Rousse, madam." The sailor gives a seated bow — despite his common attire for the evening, he is graceful in the darkened confines of the carriage, and clearly well-bred. This is no impostor claiming nobility. And, as a further sign of his good breeding, he does not reciprocate in asking for Emmanuelle's name. His is offered freely, a gift, but to demand something in return would be.. crass. "My partner and I shall keep your interests foremost in our minds. It is ever a pleasure to be of service to one so.." A considering pause, another inhalation. "… Understanding."

Opposite him Emmanuelle seems to inhale his offered name and roll it about on her palate before at length, meditatively, looking again into his eyes with that unsettling cool blue stare, she purrs: "I don't know an Alcibiades Rousse; and yet you do have the look of that house. I wonder, could you be—" And she puts her finger upon it, or near enough. "A grandson of Jacobus Rousse?"

Has Emmanuelle ever seen a cat become offended? Certainly, she has. The way they stiffen without truly losing that coiled grace. Something similar occurs here. Alcibiades does not flush, nor even tense. His smile doesn't fade away. But there has been some change in the atmosphere; a frisson has entered into it. "You are as observant as you are beautiful, madam. Yes. My father's name is — was — Julien Rousse."

A slight tilt of Emmanuelle's dark head. "I see," she says mildly, this time with an utter conviction which promises him that she does. Having the advantage she enjoys it, as is her way: not cat versus cat, but cat teasing at an unusually large, plump mouse. "You really don't know who I am, do you?" That purr again.

Wry amusement touches the mahogany-tanned features of the sailor. If he's merely a mouse, no one has told him. For the first time in this conversation, a certain acerbity touches his tone - not irritation, but a merely a glimpse of his own claws. Bold to the point of reckless, indeed. "I have spent the last sixteen years of my life traveling the very broad expanses of the world, madam. My visits to Marsilikos have been rarer than I might like." Then again, perhaps they've been precisely as rare as he likes.

"However, despite what he thought, my father did not raise a fool. I may not know your given name.." And again, he's careful to keep his tone neutral, not asking. "… But I can guess at your House." A brief pause. "You didn't think, madam, that I would hand you such a gift blindly?"

Outside the carriage the rain is growing heavier; Monsieur Chevrot is presumably still standing in it, catching a fine new cold by which to remember this night's work. Emmanuelle is unconcerned by his plight, or by keeping Alcibiades pinned to the seat by her chilly blue gaze. "My house," she echoes again — and that red smile broadens, betrays feral pleasure. "You may as well say you haven't guessed at all. I imagine your father raised you away from the sphere to which you were born, did he not? Even before you fled home and hearth and his influence."

"My father did not raise me," replies Alcibiades after only a momentary hesitation. There's a defiant tilt to his chin now. "He tried, madam. But as you are aware, my father often disappointed himself." Harsh, given that the man is so recently deceased. Alcibiades cannot completely conceal the steel-hard anger that he still bears toward the man. This is not the rage of a youth, but the considered scorn of a grown man. "Your perspicacity is, of course, to be expected. Everything you said is correct on its face. I was not raised as a member of House Rousse." A brief pause, a hardening of the man's features in pride. "And I have never traded upon their name."

"… Except tonight," Emmanuelle stipulates by means of a conversational scalpel, "when you included it to sweeten a deal made with a stranger of noble birth. Not," she goes on firmly, before he can interject any protestations, "that I don't appreciate a degree of frankness, for without frankness there can be no trust. Do you hate your entire family, or only your late father?"

"You will recall, madam, that the deal was complete. I gave you my name as a sign of trust, asking nothing in return." Alcibiades' control has finally broken, to some degree. Or at least, the rebuke is intended to be as blunt as her commentary was sharp. "I love my brother very much," he says after a pause, with a far gentler frankness. "And my mother. I came home for them." Perhaps he has no reason to conceal it, or perhaps he's smart enough to know that such openness can be a weapon in itself. "As for the rest of House Rousse, madam, I do not know them well enough to say. But I certainly don't blame them for what they did to my father. I suspect I would have done worse."

And having jarred loose by her talk this quicksilver glimpse of the real man — having heard him speak in this voice all her senses tell her is genuine, betraying his irritation and his disdain, the ties he disregards and those that hold him still bound in loving toils — Emmanuelle sits back with one at least of her arcane appetites sated. Two, counting the collector’s covetous passion that brought her to this rendezvous and keeps her hand even now wrapped snugly round the box in her lap. A third, waits only upon her next journey through the rain and the night.

“I must tell you I look forward to the next phase of our collaboration, my lord Rousse who is not a Rousse.” She lifts her chin towards the door by which Alcibiades entered her carriage those few tense minutes ago, dismissing him. “Monsieur Chevrot will see you paid.”

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