(1310-10-08) Happier Than Most
Summary: Chimène returns from a period of exile in the duchy of Roussillion, to Marsilikos where her sister Fleur has been living so quietly meanwhile…
RL Date: 16/10/2018 - 18/11/2018
Related: None.
chimene fleur 

Boudoir — Ducal Suite — Rousse Residence

This small lozenge-shaped chamber boasts as many facets as a cut gemstone, each exquisitely paneled in ivory and gilt boiseries with repeating motifs of dolphins, peacocks, and swans. Four of its smaller facets appear to be taken up chiefly with glass panels, lined on the outside with ruched powder-blue silk: they are all secretly doors, two for the use of servants, the others leading respectively into the main salon and the bedchamber of the lady who owns this boudoir. Another facet is consecrated to a modest fireplace of gilded porphyry with a gilt-framed looking-glass above, and another to a porphyry-topped console table beneath a matching looking-glass. These are placed in mirrored positions to the left and the right of the chamber's outside wall and its alcove containing a double window overlooking the gardens. The latter may be shuttered and screened by a curtain of powder-blue silk embroidered with gold, to create a more perfect cosiness.

On the chamber's other longest side, directly opposite the window alcove and between two of the doors, is a luxurious sofa covered likewise in powder-blue silk and set into a mirrored recess. Its frame of gold-tasseled powder-blue draperies transforms it into a petite stage for the theatre of a lady's life.

A quartet of fauteuils upholstered either in ivory and gold, or the inevitable powder-blue, stand here and there upon the crosshatched parquet floor. Light from the small crystal and gilt chandelier overhead is supplemented by mirrored candle-stands. Occasional tables may be presumed within reach when needful.

It has been raining all day, since well before Chimène woke up — and pouring, too, with small obligations which devolve naturally upon her as not only her husband’s representative in Marsilikos, but from time to time her father’s and elder brother’s as well.

She acquits herself as a dutiful wife, daughter, and sister ought, listening to the dry-as-dust letters her secretary reads aloud and dictating thoughtful answers, listening as well to the tedious conversation of upper servants and factors and merchants who require a word or two from someone authorised to give it… There’s also a beastly man with three vowels of hers that require redemption and it’s her hand that signed them, no doubt about it. Her small stash of coin and other people’s notes-of-hand is duly depleted, again, and how many days left till the next payment of her allowance—? She’s counting them, in the back of her mind, whilst nodding along with the cook’s suggestions for next week’s dinner party menus, when through a door left open she hears a far more familiar voice speaking some politeness in the antechamber.

“… Fleur?” she calls, a rising note of hope lifting her soprano voice into a new region of the air. Her eyes seize the cook’s; she fields her gentlest, most apologetic smile (copied, mark you, from a smile of Fleur’s) and breathes: “Forgive me; my widowed sister, you understand?”

The menus, it is soon decided, will wait till the morning, and Chimène has the cook on the way out in time to curtsey to the sister coming in. The blue and golden boudoir is tightly shuttered against the weather and a small fire serves to warm the air — that is, when the servants aren’t letting the heat drift out into pasageways and who knows where! Chimène herself is already smiling a real smile, and curling up her legs underneath herself and arranging her pale grey gown out of the way to make room for her little sister upon her sofa of state. Nobody else sits here with her: her dignity (aided by her legs) serves to bar any non-sisterly incursions.

“Oh, come here,” sighs Chimène, opening her preposterously long arms to an embrace which she knows, even before it begins, will make her feel immeasurably more contented with the world and her place in it. Her day, her life, they all look better with Fleur in them.

"Chimène," Fleur breezes into her sister's inner sanctum like a breath of fresh air, and thereafter into her arms. Her hugs are the hugs of the divine, and she embraces her older sister warmly, enveloping them in a fragrance that’s as floral as her name. The hug, though it lingers, is eventually released, and she pulls back from the embrace and smiles at her sister. "How well you're looking, and how lovely too. Grey suits you so well." She too is wearing a gown of a similar hue, though her own is of a much darker pewter grey, with black and silver knotwork embroidery that spills across her bodice and onto her skirts. They rustle suitably well, hinting at the quality of the silks employed by the seamstress, as she sweeps them aside with a much-practiced hand and settles herself neatly alongside her sister and takes her hands in hers.

"How I wish that you had been able to come to Marsilikos sooner than this. It would have been so lovely had we been able to spend the summer together. It’s been lonely, despite the children filling my days." But not her nights. Chimène’s fingers are given the tightest of squeezes, and honeyed brown eyes melt with a warmth that's reserved only for those whom she loves. "But nevermind, we have you now. You are planning on staying, at least for a while, now that you're here? Gregorien has given his permission that Bastien, Giselle might spend the winter months here in the townhouse since it's still difficult for me to be at Châteauredon." She speaks with familiarity of the Comte de Digne and the Valais family seat, and there’s a lightness that returns to her tone when, with the smallest of smiles, she further adds, “Louis’ younger brother Gal is barracked here in Marsilkos, and he’s been the most wonderful of company at times, and the children adore him. You might remember him from the wedding, though he was only eleven or thereabouts at the time, so perhaps beneath notice.”

Chimène’s assessment of the other grey dress in the room is swifter still and not nearly as flattering, and by the time she's enfolded it and Fleur both in her embrace she has already formed a scheme for saving her sister from herself.

“My penance,” she remarks, as she studies Fleur's face and wine is served for the two of them by an accommodating maid somewhere just within the corner of her eye, “for last winter… I wish you'd come to us for the summer, almost as much as I envy you your freedom from my maman-in-law’s entertaining.” A long season at Nice, a sprawling summer palace stuffed to the rafters with hearty Rousse friends and jolly Rousse relations — of course the duchesse required the services of her social and political lieutenant. It would have been purgatory for a shy young woman too recently widowed. To judge by Chimène's renewed thinness inside her gauzy grey gown, and that very feeling sigh which succeeds the rolling of her hazel eyes, she didn't find the seaside the most heavenly of realms either this year. “And the worst of it was leaving the city so soon after you came,” she says to Fleur, her voice losing its habitual artifice, “and knowing you were so close… and boats, boats, boats every day.” But that's a little too much heartfelt sincerity all at once. Even with Fleur. A quick glance about — yes, the maid's gone, everybody's gone. “Did I not so cherish my reputation for sea-sickness,” she alludes, significantly, for her sister is one of the few who know what a web of convenient untruths she has spun from that incident during her first pregnancy, “my dear, I might have taken to piracy instead.”

She releases Fleur’s hands and seizes first a sweetmeat she bites into with dramatic effect — she might have captured a ship, just so — and then a goblet of wine which she presses upon her sister. “But now I'm quite settled here again,” she promises, “and I want to see you and see you till you're tired of all my habits. I left the children at Nice, though, do you think I ought to try to get Lucien back for Bastien?” she inquires vaguely. The boys are the same age; the sisters’ mutual pregnancy was much Chimène's least tedious experience of that state.

Fleur visibly brightens at Chimène's suggestion, but not before setting to one side the goblet of wine. "I think that it'd be a lovely thing for you to do to send for Lucien. The boys should spend more time together, Chimène. Before we know where we are, they'll be all grown up and their childhoods will be behind them. Perhaps they could even share tutors whilst they're together, and Giselle… she would so adore meeting him too." Her phrasing would suggest that the two have never met, and her hands loop loosely together within the framework of a lap that's made more expansive by the hitching of one leg so it's curled beneath her on the cushions. "Perhaps, and it's just a thought, you might also send for Leocadia and Esperère? Rescue them from the clutches of their nannies, and allow them instead to enjoy the freedom of a winter's season spent here with their cousins." It's possible that Fleur's oblivious to the purgatorial state that motherhood represents for her sister, or it might be that she simply believes that if one were to dig deep enough, an untapped seam of maternal feelings might be discovered. "Oh, but I forget. Are they fostered now with relatives? It seems that the fog I've been living within these last two years is only just beginning to part." Sadness swallows her expression as she looks at her sister. "I've been so wrapped up in myself, that in the process I find that I’ve become the most terrible of sisters, Chimène. Forgive me?"

With that fog threatening to settle again upon Fleur and cloud over the warmth of her eyes, Chimène reclaims her sister’s hands from her lap as though to lead her out of it. “Don’t say it — don’t think it,” she insists, with a theatrical widening of her own cooler eyes. “You’re still the good sister: you have to be, for you know I’ve no skill at it. If I had perhaps I could have done something that really helped you, instead of just rushing off to Nice every time my lords and masters crook a little finger at me.” A quick, impatient roll of her eyes.

“… As for the children,” this haphazard mother breathes, instinctively wary of so many incitements to goodness, “they’ve run wild already all summer… Leocadia — now, there’s no reason you ought to have known about it, the arrangement is a recent one — she has lately joined the household of ——.” Building armour for herself word by word she names a distant cousin of theirs, a Courcel princess with daughters of the same age. A fortunate and unexceptionable arrangement for a young lady of rank. “And Esperère — I believe he is in disgrace with his grandmama,” she’s a little vague on the details, “so I suppose she’ll either want to get rid of him or she won’t. I’ll ask,” she concludes, defeated.

Another squeeze of Fleur’s hands, and she lets go of her to pick up the two goblets: she needs a drink and she rather suspects her sister would be the better for one too. Alas, this has ever been Chimène’s way: to paper over her failures and uncertainties with wine.

"Children running wild whilst still able is something of which I approve," Fleur replies of her niece and nephews, whilst finding, perhaps not to her surprise, that her hand is once more occupied by a goblet. She balances the foot of the cut lead crystal upon the edge of one hitched knee, her fingers anchoring it securely in place about its base. "And you surely know that I would never have expected you to abandon your duties, along with everything else that's expected of you, in order to nurture me through my grief." A half-smile settles upon her lips, a quietly birthed thing which is undertaken to reassure Chimène of her feelings. It banishes, if only for a while, the despondency that had threatened to claim her. "But what wonderful news. How grown up Leocadia must feel, and how excited too, to be living away from home and with her cousins. I remember myself at her age; nine years old and my head filled with the wondrous dreams and adventures that I was sure were mine to collect."

The exhale of breath that escapes her lips as she looks down at her goblet is slow, and whilst most certainly it's not a sigh, for why should she sigh, it does convey a certain something in the further fluctuation of her mood.

"I was collecting shells with the children yesterday, when Giselle took my hand, and said, 'Maman sad'. The thing is, I didn't realise I was hiding it so poorly from them, so it came as a bit of a shock. Tell me honestly Chimène," eyes dark and solemn, lift to her sister's, searching intently for an answer that she probably doesn't wish to hear.

"Am I getting it all so horribly wrong?"

It’s on the tip of Chimène’s tart tongue to suggest how little weight ought to be accorded to the utterances of a two-year-old, who probably forgot all about maternal sorrows as soon as she saw another, prettier seashell — but because there happens also to be a drop of wine upon her tongue, from the goblet retained in her grasp, she has a moment in which to consider her position. “You’re a Courcel,” she points out, warmly and with a firmness unquestionable and unquestioning, “and you’re my beautiful sister. What you do is correct because it is you who are doing it. It’s a kind of alchemy given to our family to perform,” and her words are touched by her silvery laugh; “and as long as we have faith in it ourselves, it will be so.”

Then, her mien slightly and carefully sobered: “Of course, spending as much time as you do with Bastien and Giselle, I suppose it’s only natural that they’re affected by your moods… It happens so easily with one’s servants; how much more so with the children of one’s own body?” she inquires gently, though of course she’s only guessing. “We do lie to children all the time,” which confidence brings her onto more familiar ground, “if only about matters they’re lucky to be too young to bother with — but I know how much you should prefer to tell the truth… Darling, now that I’ve come back to civilisation, do let’s devise a better truth, or at least one or two more amusing things for you to lie about.” And Chimène’s smile takes on a puckish little shape, familiar to Fleur of old as a well-trained Dahlia’s nearest approach to open rebellion against the proprieties. “What would please you? Do you know all the shops yet, or might there be something I could still show you? Have you seen much of the Night Court? I grant you, it isn’t what we grew up with,” a quick, superior roll of eyes accustomed to feasting upon the splendours of Mont Nuit, “but there’s always some pretty new adept to tease… We might give a dinner together, something very select. Or shall I teach you to cheat at whist?”

"Oh listen to you," Fleur smiles. "Ever the sensible and grounded of the two of us. I suppose that I should have more confidence in myself, but I'm still feeling terribly lost. I am trying to find my way back to who I am though, because Giselle, bless her, has given me pause with what she said. If not for myself, I'll do it for them." She lifts that carefully balanced glass from her knee and places it, untouched, back on the side-table near her end of the sofa, before pulling her other foot from the floor and tucking it neatly alongside the first. Thus composed, she ensconses herself more comfortably within the plush depths of her sister's upholstery, flaring her skirts with a flick of her fingers so the silk flows over the edges and onto the floor.

With her eyes still levelled upon Chimène’s, she lodges the apex of an elbow upon the back of the couch and cradles the side of her face in her palm. "It's just that I am, and have always been, the very worst of liars. I'm still as easily read as a book, though this you know. I have only to see someone upset or in distress, to be wishing to offer them comfort. And as for cheating at whist…" Laughter accompanies a shake of her head. "How scandalous a suggestion!" She enters into the spirit of levity that her sister attempts to inject, though shakes her head to further questions which are designed to pry upon her social life. "Only to Coquelicot since it's more familiar to me than the other salons to be found within the city, but as to shops and other distractions, I've had a handful of pleasant evenings at the opera house in the company of some of my Valais relations who have since come and gone, and visited a few of the shops." A brightening of her smile. "There's the most darling of bakeries in the Market Promenade, set quite close to a parfumerie. We could visit there when you have time?"

“Oh, but how could I resist—? A new scent does rather make a new woman of one,” is Chimène’s opinion, held out as a promise and a lure from the other side of that mingling of costly grey skirts, “and I think we could all of us benefit from such a renewal every now and again… I do get so tired of myself,” she laughs, and though Fleur has hardly touched her wine Chimène’s goblet returns empty to the table at her elbow. “I must admit, I don’t go to Le Coquelicot,” she confesses; “there are some circumstances under which one hardly likes to run into one’s papa-in-law — and, you see…” She lowers her voice and her eyelashes both. “Mine has rather a tendresse for a certain Second — Elspeth,” she purrs, that triangular smile returning as a token of her amusement. “When he comes ashore, darling, he hardly troubles to come HE-ah.” She rolls her eyes quickly. Then she asks, “Have you come across her at all? I’m told she’s one of the beauties of the salon. Enormous,” she pauses, “eyes.”

Chimène's terrible confiance in her reasons for not bestowing her own presence on Le Coquelicot draws a sudden giggle from her sister. Fleur can't quite hold her mirth as it spills, silvery and soft, into the space between them.

"Yes. I can quite see how that might be a problem," she eventually allows, her amusement still showing in the warmth of her expression and the quick reach of her hand for her sister's. Fingers twine in a gentle connection as she draws their hands into her lap and clasps it about with her other. Eyes sparkle. "And your informants have not let you down, she is particularly well-blessed by the Companions in the size of her eyes." Her own lid with the curve of her smile, the heaviness of darkened lashes shadowing the glimmering mischief that brightens their depths. "But enough of your papa-in-law's preferences, because you should never get tired of yourself, dear Chimène. If the discovery of a new scent is all that it takes to refresh your opinion, then a visit to the parfumerie shall be the first of the engagements upon our agenda. I believe that I myself shall make a departure from the lighter fragrances that I've worn through the summer months. Perhaps something composed of wild figs, rich red roses and sandalwood would suit my moods." A pause as her thoughts inevitably drift. "Louis did so love wild figs."

And she was doing so well too.

Anyone who has known Fleur during this beclouded passage in her life, knows it was only a matter of time: Chimène swallows alike the curses she’d sometimes like to rain down upon the tomb of the late Louis Valais, and the envy she doesn’t like to admit even in such cloistered sisterly intimacy, and squeezes her sister’s fingers gently between her own long and richly bejeweled digits. “I don’t ever want you to think you mustn’t speak of him,” she says firmly; “darling, if it gives you a moment’s ease I pray you will, as often as you like. But for your scent, I think we ought to exert ourselves to find you a fragrance he neither liked nor disliked. Something that is no part of him at all… something fresh, so that each time you put it on it might suggest to you not old memories but new possibilities… I don’t know what that might be, or whether we’ll find it in Marsilikos — but I do think we ought to look, don’t you?

“… I might,” and Chimène’s gaze lifts from Fleur to her own reflection in the glass behind her sister, looking not at herself but straight through, “have something already — I fall in and out of love with scents so often — but I’m afraid just as often I give them away. Oh, you know me,” she sighs, and another swift roll of her wide hazel eyes brings them back to Fleur’s face, “I can’t stick to a perfume any more than I can to a man or a colour or a card game. I do wonder sometimes how it must be to possess a heart as true as yours, and to be tolerably certain that one will still have this month’s tastes next month too. It must be so much easier from the point of view of decorating,” she breathes. “Did you see those smoke-blue silk curtains in the salon?” An infinitesimal tightening of her eyes and creasing of her alabaster brow, as she reflects. “I don’t know what I could have been thinking. I ought to have done it all in crimson like my bedchamber. But I suppose next month I shall have gone off the crimson as well.”

Fleur's shoulders fall with a protracted exhale of her breath. "You're right, and I know that you're right, but it's just so terribly difficult to constantly ask myself: Would Louis like this, or would he like that? I talk to him in the evenings," she further confesses, "to tell him how well the children are doing. Like when Giselle took her first step, or how Bastien gave Gal the biggest bruise on his arm with the painted sword that he gave him." Chimène might well curse the tomb of the late Louis Valais, but this further bout of melancholic remembrances she's unfortunately invited upon herself. Fleur's fingers tighten where held by Chimène's.

"But here I am, doing it to you again. I'm mortified."

The soft pad of a thumb grazes over the faceted face of one of her sister's rings. It's positively mercurial the shift of conversational topic; switching as it does from Louis to perfumes, to the fallen-from-favour colour of the salon's decor, and there's a knowing curve to the line of her lips. "You're being unsubtle, Chimène, but I can't say I blame you. I could, of course, spend a very pleasant hour or two testing out your collection of scents, but I think that perhaps we could both benefit from an afternoon’s excursion and a visit to the parfumerie. As for my steadfast nature, some might decry that as boring."

“Oh, Fleur,” and Chimène releases her sister’s hands in favour of her shoulders, and pulls her gently down into her lap the way she would sometimes do when they were little girls on Mont Nuit, stealing an hour or two together to weep over those novice woes which seem so trivial in retrospect. The sofa is big enough to accommodate such a position, if Fleur doesn’t mind curling up… And something inside Fleur already seems very curled up indeed: a ball of missing and mourning and longing she’s wrapped her soul around and can never quite release.

“I tire of everything else,” she says softly, stroking that wheat-blonde head resting amongst her soft grey skirts, “but not of you. I’m unsubtle,” she agrees, “but when one doesn’t know what might not work — darling, one tries everything. Why else would I change my curtains so often? I keep hoping the view will be prettier if only I can get the framing of it just right. And some days, you know, it does take on an aspect more pleasing to the eye.”

Of course she’s speaking of more than just the drapes.

Fleur's head is heavy in Chimène's lap, as if the weight that were on her shoulders and in her soul, dissipates with every stroke of those long pale fingers, into the folds of grey silk. "It makes me sad that you feel that way." Her voice is quiet. "I've been so fortunate in so very many ways, and I'd not change what I had with Louis for anything. I'm grateful that Papa has allowed me this time to grieve, and though I feel that I might grieve him forever, I know that his thoughts will already be turned towards my future." Her cheek tenses against Chimène's thigh as she pulls a face in acknowledgment, perhaps for the first time, that she's too valuable a commodity to be allowed to wallow for too much longer, and silks shift with a whisper as skirts are shifted and adjusted beneath the stretch of one leg and the curl of another. It's not a sprawl, it's a lounge, and she fits as easily into the shapes which her sister creates for her as they did in times past.

"Why didn't I learn to treat everything like it was the last time, Chimène? My greatest regret is how much I believed in the future. I think that the last time I saw you truly happy was those times I was permitted by my Dowayne to watch you dance with ——,” and she names a young man likewise a treasure of Eglantine House a decade past. “You were lit from inside in those moments when you stepped on the stage, as if to dance was your only reason for being. Bewitching and enchanting, together you created magic."

<FS3> Chimene rolls Composure: Good Success. (8 5 2 6 8 6 6 7 5 2 5 6)

At that name Chimène’s long white fingers clutch convulsively at Fleur’s hair, just once, then grow still. By the time the younger sister falls silent it’s apparent that the elder sister has forgotten what she was about; her hand lies idle now upon the blonde head in her lap. In the boudoir’s looking-glasses Chimène seems all pale forehead and sombre eyes, a wan but dignified beauty with more Dahlia in her constitution than Eglantine.

Then, reaching for wine across Fleur — the absurd length of her arms proves sometimes a boon — she allows in rather a brittle tone of voice, “I suppose I never quite tired of him either.”

Wine splashes liberally into her goblet. She leaves the stopper out of the decanter, rolling to and fro upon the tabletop’s intricate inlay, the faint scrape of glass upon marble the only sound in the room save for the deep, steadying breath she draws between two mouthfuls of liquid serenity. “Darling, you really were among the blessed,” she agrees, sipping again. “Most people are unhappy a good deal of the time, you know, so perhaps we’re more used to it than you were when it began for you. It doesn’t come,” she laughs suddenly, “as such a surprise to us. Really I’m happier than most, because I don’t think too much about yesterday, or tomorrow…

“Though I daresay you’re wise to begin to think,” and she seizes perhaps a little too readily upon her sister’s prospects as a distraction from her own lack thereof. “A widow usually has more of a voice in these questions — but that all depends upon her having something to say.” She makes a moue, then covers it with another lift of her goblet. “If you’re quite set against it,” she goes on, “you might enlist the comte de Digne — he might prefer that Bastien not be given a stepfather who might interfere in the business of the Valais line. At any rate you might persuade him,” she suggests candidly, “that that’s what he prefers. Or you might get ahead of Papa by finding someone you like before he finishes drawing up his own list of partis for you. Not another Louis, darling, but a friend whose company might please you… There are such marriages, I’m told. A friendship like that,” and Chimène’s clear hazel eyes sting as she speculates, “must be almost as sweet a blessing as having you for a sister.”

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