(1310-10-09) Neighbourly Greetings
Summary: Mandrake-style.
RL Date: 09/10/2018
Related: None
emmanuelle baptiste 

La Maison Sanglante — Place des Mains

Directly abutting the walled compounds of Marsilikos's Night Court, and running in fact for some distance behind the Salon de la Rose Sauvage, is a house which boasts a far more modest frontage upon the Place des Mains d'Eisheth. Its name derives from a violent incident in its past; previous owners tried to redub it in the public mind, but the present ones embrace the term. By their design its three-storey façade of grey stone is shielded at street level by a high and forbidding wall of darker stone, into which is set a pair of intricately-wrought iron gates taller than any man who may ring the bell at their side. Kept locked, their curlicues of black iron are enlivened by a pattern of gilded keys.

Between the outer wall and the house stands a small stone courtyard lined at either side with wormwood trees, which impart a bitter and aromatic fragrance to the air within it. From it half a dozen stone steps rise to heavy doors of dark and ancient oak, studded with black iron and hung upon baroque hinges of the same; these open into a large, square, windowless chamber, occupying the full width of the building and yet higher than it is wide. At each side of the doors is a console table of dark purple marble veined with black, bolted to the wall above a pair of elaborate gilded legs and beneath a matching and equally baroque gilded mirror. There are no other furnishings. Sparse lighting is provided by candles in iron sconces bolted to pillars of the same purple marble, which pass into shadow on their way to support the vaulted ceiling overhead.

The light is, however, sufficient to permit examination of the frescoes which cover walls and ceiling alike from a height of perhaps four feet off the gleaming black and purple marble floor. An artist of great skill and anatomical knowledge has limned a series of scenes of Kushiel chastising sinners. Those who come to him for succour are shown enduring remarkably detailed torments before being transfigured by the raptures of his love… or, possibly, hers. In some panels Kushiel is a man and in some a woman, in others an unmistakable hermaphrodite: in all these incarnations the Punisher is depicted with the lean figure, the austere profile, and the hooded blue eyes of a lady who resides beneath this roof.

On the back wall this unconventional masterpiece is interrupted by the outlines of two single doors, and the elaborate black iron handles attached to each. The door on the left leads to an intimate receiving-room wherein a pair of studded black leather sofas frame a low, well-polished mahogany table. In here the walls are covered in frescoes of the Kusheline countryside, from the same brush.

When the Second of Thorns returns to the Rose Sauvage from an absence as darkly shrouded as his own person, he finds amongst the detritus of several weeks' correspondence that has not quite eclipsed his desk, an austerely plain envelope containing a card engraved with the name Emmanuelle Shahrizai nó Mandrake and the address, if one can call it an address, of the ducal palace. On the other side are two words scrawled in that lady's bold hand, in black ink which shows itself in the light to be the deepest of purples: "Hello, neighbour."

It has for several years now been a matter of public knowledge that her father, Edouard Shahrizai, owns a house directly abutting the Night Court and running for some distance behind the Rose Sauvage itself: the Maison Sanglante of local legend, where seven people bled to death in the foyer and down the front steps. He often repairs there at the end of an evening's revelry, rather than embarking upon the hour's carriage ride to his country house along the coast. An intelligent man should have no difficulty in putting two and two together; and Baptiste nó Rose Sauvage is a man of considerable intelligence indeed.

He rings the bell outside those elaborate wrought-iron gates; the servant on watch recognises him at once. He is shown promptly through the bare and bitter-scented courtyard and into the house proper; he is afforded several minutes' privacy and silence in which to acquaint himself with the artwork.

Then, the lately-retired Dowayne of Mandrake House comes in heralded by the soft jingle of the golden spurs attached above the high stiletto heels of her usual, her formidable, her indispensable leather boots: thigh high, polished to a mirror-bright shine. With them she wears black buckskin breeches and a smoke-blue silk shirt so familiar on her that she might have owned it since her own Rose Sauvage days. She has aged, a little, in the five years since she last paid a visit to Marsilikos. Deeper lines about her cool Shahrizai-blue eyes; multiplying threads of white in her pristine and gleaming blue-black hair, worn at present in a heavy twist of braids at the back of her head. She carries herself as though she were ten feet tall and an anointed sovereign, and the force of her presence is such that many believe in the illusion… Baptiste knows of old that she's five foot five in her bare feet, and that isn't the only secret he guards.

She greets him frankly: "I heard you were out of town."

Upon finding the rather plain card with its slight personalization, Baptiste does not hurry himself over to the home beside the salon. Were the king himself inclined to call upon the man and demand his presence, Baptiste would make him wait. He will not scurry for a mere retired courtesan. But when he is ready, he makes the long trek from his private quarters along down the stairs and out of the salon. Once he's meandered next door, he follows along after the servant. Hands clasped behind his back, his pace unhurried, he pays some minor attention to his surroundings as he is led along and ultimately left alone.

The current Second of the Mandrake-inspired wing of the salon is dressed in traditionally Mandrake colors - red and black - in the form of a flowing silk robe. The way is drapes from his broad shoulders and occasionally clings to certain parts of his well-built form suggests he's not wearing anything else under there. Why would he? Forgoing the current noble fashions in favor of something a little more different, he forges his own path. Or, this is what he happened to grab on his way out the door. Regardless, Baptiste stands in the place he is left, hands still at the small of his back, motionless and wearing a bland expression.

When Emmanuelle arrives, he watches her approach, silent and patient until she speaks. A brow quirks, just a faint and brief movement, "No you didn't. You inquired or came calling, looking for me. A touching gesture that I appreciate, Emmanuelle." once he's spoken, voice deep and rich, he approaches her but changes course in order to walk in a slow circle around her. His attention is critical as he evaluates her appearance and eventually returns to his original position before her, "It has been five years. You look well. A new wrinkle or two, perhaps, but who among us is not affected by time?" he offers a suddenly warm smile as if to soften the words he seemingly cannot help but speak, "Your presence has certainly not suffered. You put on this show for me. I am flattered."

The still centre of that intense scrutiny, by a man who knows as well as she how the eyes might become a knife, to skewer without mercy or to pare away and reveal truth, Emmanuelle's posture is easy and her tone indulgent. "Baptiste," she chides gently, standing there letting him look his fill, "I had a hundred of those cards printed before I came to Marsilikos, and but seven remain. My curiosity extends far beyond you and your affairs; it's broad enough to engulf our city and drink up half the sea beyond." Then they're facing one another again, and her wide red mouth parts upon genuine, husky laughter as she looks him up and down in a swifter, more businesslike style than his own.

"You're magnificent," she opines; "I see I have nothing left to teach… Except, perhaps, a sense of temporality. You stand poised, my dear, between youth and age; between the boy I saw practicing so intently with his first whip, and the old man you'll all too soon become. You've a few good years left, to be true," she adds soothingly, "but then even your fine arms will weaken. Tell me," and she blinks once at him, by design, "have you found her yet? The woman who'll pay for your comforts and provide your pleasures, when that day comes?"

"It has been predicted - by one of our newer adepts - that I would soon grow soft and escape the salon to become some rich noblewoman's fat, old consort. At first, the thought of that amused me. Then it concerned me. Then it made me think of you." a quick shift of his eyes to mimic her own rapid perusal as he looks her up and down and flashes her a faint smile. Stepping closer, he grasps her upper arms and leans down to give her a light kiss on each cheek and then straightening to look at her from this looming angle above her. Long fingers remain wrapped firmly but not tightly about her slim arms, "I have more than a few years left if I am to remain with the salon. Perhaps not so many left should I wish to find some pretty noblewoman to whisk me away to a life of more peculiar wealth and luxury. I have even considered traveling to the capitol to see what life is like on the Mont. But no, my place is here where I have always been. Marsilikos."

Eventually, Baptiste releases her though he remains standing very close. "Things have been good here." he offers though she has not asked, "The salon runs well. I have had fewer regular patrons in the last few years. I cannot blame it on becoming Second, but perhaps my particularness. The young women of this city have gone soft and week. Blushing girls, not women. There were a few I thought might be promising, but…" he trails off with a shrug of broad shoulders. "It is good to have you back, though. You will ease the monotony."

A favoured manoeuvre of her own, compellingly performed.

But Emmanuelle is one of the few ladies of Baptiste's acquaintance to remain immune to the intoxications of his proximity: she accepts his touch still smiling, the easy rhythm of her breath unaltered, though she doesn't return those fond but formal salutations. She has never been much for kissing.

"Perhaps the fault does lie with your choice. The older women often possess a greater endurance," she suggests, "born of the travails of their lives… Though perhaps I ought, again, to remind you that it is the responsibility of a Mandrake — or in Marsilikos a Thorn — to guide his patrons, to draw them out, to develop their least suspected qualities—? The authority is ours; the control is ours; the failure, too, when it should occur, is ours… You've not worn yourself out already, have you?" she inquires, friendly, but with a feral grin. "The habit of giving up too easily is harder to break even than that of luxury."

Baptiste manages not to roll his eyes at her, though the brief stare he gives her serves the same general purpose. The courtesan slips away from her and finally takes some interest in the room's decor - the artwork in particular. In silence he strolls past the paintings on the walls, footfalls a soft whisper on the floor of the manse next door. There is one in particular at which he stops for a moment or two, head tilted as he takes in the canvas before him with a rumbled 'hmmm', posture languid and relaxed. "It's been a few months since I've painted something. I have been toying with the idea of putting Ophelia on canvas. Do you know her? She is Shahrizai. I don't recall which branch." he does, but he pretends not to, "Perhaps I should paint you first. A portrait for your collection or mine. Or perhaps a gift for one of your children or a lover. I think I've grown quite adept with the brush. My strokes are quite accurate." he murmurs, a brow arched at her. He doesn't respond to her commentary directly.

"You are no longer my tutor, dear Emmanuelle and while the travails of your lengthy life have most certainly given you wisdom and experience alongside your self-proclaimed endurance, I am confident in how I have turned out and in how I continue to serve. Your guidance is a large part in that and so I thank you for the work you have done all those years ago."

Emmanuelle hasn't moved far from the door by which she came in, which was shut discreetly behind her by a servant's hand. She rests her hands on her slim hips and watches Baptiste prowl about, unconsciously critiquing his stance, his expression, the cut of his robes… No longer his tutor, perhaps, or anyone else's; but her judging eye remains as acute as ever it was.

"I see," she drawls. "The young girls have shaped you, instead of you them. Half your talk now is bitchy little remarks about a woman's age — as though that were her substantive quality, or her secret shame! — really," she sighs, pressing thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose in a gesture of unutterable weariness, "if this is all you can provide me by way of conversation, I shan't trouble to offer you a glass of cognac as otherwise I might have done. You may go, Baptiste." And this time, she opens the door herself.

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