(1310-10-12) Green Velvet Battlefield
Summary: In his own inimitable fashion, Alcibiades solves one of his problems by manufacturing for himself an even bigger one.
RL Date: 12/10/2018
Related: None
chimene alcibiades 

A Completely Made-Up Place

The fiction is that this a private house in the Rue du Port, where the hostess simply invites her personal friends to make up a few tables of an evening. In truth introductions to her circle begin with word-of-mouth and end with cold cash, gold ducats usually; and when they've changed hands, why, you've been a dear friend for donkey's years, haven't you? If the City Guard should drop in you'd swear that that was the case. But they won't. They've taken their cut, and a generous one it was — and so the world goes round, and round.

Given the frequency with which the house invariably wins, no matter how scrupulous its denizens are in opening new decks, you'd think something could be done about the tarnished silver candlesticks and the aged velvet tablecloths.

Still. The gamblers who congregate here have eyes only for their cards, and overlook these little deficiencies in the decor provided the play is swift and the wine keeps flowing. It's rumoured the man in the corner, who serves as croupier, is a disgraced Bryony who failed to make his marque. It's rumoured the woman in the curious head-dress is a true Bryony: certainly she seems to win more than she loses. And of the woman sampling a new goblet of wine with evident distaste, and getting up from her table with a slow and apparently endless unfolding of her long limbs, nothing much is said at all. The regulars know who she is. They don't like to tell newcomers, preferring to keep such a rich vein of gold to themselves.

Alcibiades Rousse is — well, let's face it, he is a Rousse lord in name only. But since arriving in Marsilikos, he has rediscovered the importance of dressing to impress. He's wearing an exquisitely-tailored navy blue coat. While its sleeves bear a bit of black embroidery, the truly stand-out feature of the coat is the evident quality of its fabric. His shirt is an immaculate white, his cravat a stark black. Charcoal breeches and gleaming black boots complete the ensemble. He is leaning against a wall, watching the play at a whist table, his expression amused.

A trick is laid down, and he chuckles aloud, apparently satisfied with some inner conclusion. When the woman stands from another table, however, his attention and his interest are both drawn toward her. This private home, this gambling den, is too small — there are not enough players to go round for Alcibiades to simply find a game. He must wait his turn.

And now a mark - excuse me, a player - has detached herself from a table. Alcibiades presses himself upright and moves in the woman's direction, taking in her features with a frank curiosity. Pausing a respectful distance away, the tall man offers a bow. It's not courtly, but it is trying to be. His tone is educated as he addresses her. "Forgive me, madame, but I cannot fail to note that whist is not holding your interest this evening."

In low-heeled shoes Chimène is little shorter than the stranger accosting her; her hazel eyes widen at him and then she bows her dark head very slightly. "It would be more correct," she confides in an airy soprano voice, "to say that this wine couldn't hold the interest of a pig in a sty, and I have drunk enough of it for tonight." At the table from which she has alighted there's a chuckle of general agreement, and a reshuffling of players, with a woman who was only watching before moving quickly to occupy the seat abandoned by this long, graceful creature in the austerely plain blue silk taffeta gown. "… Do you intend to make me," the lady murmurs, holding against her bosom a white linen handkerchief wrapped round a fairly substantial quantity of coin, "some more palatable offer?"

Alcibiades eyes that bosom — to be fair to the gentleman, his eyes remain fixed on that coin rather than the lady's other assets — speculatively. "Well, madame, I am afraid there's little I can do about the wine. I might suggest an excellent brandy, but.." He opens his coat, revealing a flask peeking out of an inner pocket, "… I'm afraid that it would involve sharing this with me. As for games — well, we could play a few parties of piquet if you are interested?"

Is she interested? … The lady makes a moue at Alcibiades, and lifts a richly-bejeweled hand to indicate his flask. Ah, there's her wealth: worn in plain view. "Let me taste it first," she suggests, her small smile deepening.

"Certainly." Alcibiades smiles in response, producing the flask and offering it over. His own smile is slightly crooked, hinting that the man has been discreetly indulging in the brandy for the better part of an evening. "I borrowed the bottle from a friend of mine. Of course, he borrowed it from me first." A low chuckle. "And now, finally, someone drinks it."

Jewels glint upon Chimène's long fingers as she accepts the flask, extracts the stopper from it, and lifts it to her lips. Her head tilts, eyes lifting toward the heavens, as she considers the taste… She takes a second mouthful and a third, squandering Alcibiades's main asset with a joyous thirst. She passes it back to him, breathing out. "Piquet, you said?" And she arches her eyebrows by way of suggesting that with her thirst quenched the next move is his.

"Piquet, indeed." Alcibiades arches his brow in answer, then jerks his chin toward a table with two chairs in the corner. "I must tell you, however, that I play for high stakes. I've found that otherwise, I simply cannot hold interest." His smile is amiable, eyeing that jeweled finger for a moment. "I suspect that you feel the same, however, madame."

Chimène accompanies him to that table, shrugging squarish white shoulders left bare by her gown. "Name your stakes and I'll meet them," she declares, her confidence unspoiled by any note of brashness. "Provided we bespeak a fresh pack of cards. Gaultier?" she inquires, lifting her voice only slightly, and a servant of the house is immediately at her side, bowing and offering just such a pack, sealed still with the printer's emblem pressed into red wax.

"Certainly, a fresh deck. In fact, why don't you deal the first hand?" A partie of piquet has six hands, with each player getting twelve cards and eight cards left to improve their deck. Whoever has the highest score at the end of the partie wins. Simple. "And do drink up." Alcibiades, in the way of men everywhere, attempts to survey the gorgeous creature before him — but discreetly. If he's trying to get her drunk, he's probably only after her coin. He settles an ample purse on the table between them.

An advantage the gamblers in this house give away under only two peculiar circumstances. Either Chimène has met the only truly honest man present, or she's about to be fleeced. Just at present she doesn't give a good goddamn. Those large, long-fingered hands of hers shuffle with absent-minded expertise and then deal the cards with a series of quick, graceful flicks, at each of which her sapphires and her emeralds and her diamonds glint in the low candlelight.

"You don't come here often," she states, lifting hazel eyes to Alcibiades as she gathers up her own twelve cards with a practiced swoop.

"I do not," agrees Alcibiades. His own swoop of the cards is somewhat less graceful. But he is businesslike. In the thirty-two card deck, there are eight cards remaining. Each of the players has a chance to draw and improve their odds. Alcibiades glances down at his deck and, after only a moment's hesitation, draws first — dealer draws last. He may not be graceful, but he does know this game. "In fact, madame, this is my first time here. A friend of a friend recommended it to me. I'm quite pleased, however. The decor is lovely."

The art of arranging one's cards in one's left hand whilst betraying no hint as to their value, is one in which a lady with Dahlia training enjoys a natural advantage. Chimène's lovely face maintains its calm, faintly bored expression as she marshals her forces, a card here and a card there… When Alcibiades compliments the chamber wherein they're sitting she does look up at him and raise an eyebrow. Then her attention is all for her cards, and for the next one she draws when her turn arrives. More opaque ivory boredom. A languid long arm unfurls itself toward the flask of brandy left conveniently on the table.

"Please, finish it off. It shall anger Jaime to no end, and that shall please me to no end." Alcibiades smiles wickedly as he watches that hand reach toward the flask. He seems aware that he's missed a note somewhere, perhaps in complimenting the cozy surroundings they find themselves in. But then, Alcibiades is probably used to a very different type of gambling hall. Now that he's improved his first hand, he reaches into his purse and pulls out a generous stack of ducats. In any game, it would be considered a heavy wager.

Men are always trying to intoxicate Chimène. Their attempts usually end in disappointment, loneliness, and their drunken tears dripping into the gutters of Marsilikos, whilst she climbs drowsily into her sedan chair and is borne safely homeward. She treats herself to another luxurious swallow of Alcibiades's fine brandy, and then addresses herself to the knot in her handkerchief. Gold spills out across her side of the table. She blinks twice at the stake proposed, in curiosity more than alarm, and with a single manicured fingertip nudges coins to the same value into the middle of the table to join her opponent's… Then another coin and another for good measure, in case the previous one should get lonely.

Alcibiades is, in some limited manner, a gentleman. Where this woman goes when she leaves here is not his immediate concern, though he may — in the depths of his rather salty soul — wish it were otherwise. No, what he cares about are those ducats. He pushes the coins out to match the lady's raise, smiling across the table at her. "You do come here often," he observes. One eyebrow quirks. "Why? The wine is atrocious."

Those white shoulders shrug. "It makes a change," remarks Chimène, who couldn't really explain it to herself, let alone to a stranger. She changes the subject to a vastly more agreeable one by displaying her cards, fanning them out across the worn green velvet in a charming though not alas a winning pattern.

Alcibiades looks down at the hand displayed before him. His expression grows a bit wooden. Were he playing other seamen, he might gloat or whistle and pretend to be impressed. But he does have some class. The sailor-lord lays down his cards, topping his beautiful adversary by a narrow margin. Worse, he doesn't seem surprised.

Chimène hisses softly and bites her lower lip. Then she looks up, her mask restored. "Your trick, monsieur," she pronounces, and sweeps her losing cards (and the one she discarded) toward Alcibiades with another graceful gesture.

Their second hand delivers the rest of her gold coins into the sailor's grasp; he affects to offer her the opportunity to cut her losses, partie or no partie, only for her to draw off a sapphire ring and drop it in the middle of the table with a magnificent carelessness. A lady always has wealth at her fingertips.

Alcibiades stares at the sapphire ring for a few calculating seconds. He needs this wealth — not for himself, but for his brother. For his brother's son. For his mother. For Jaime. For so many people that look to him, for some reason, for rescue. And then he smiles, looking up at the lady across from him. "You are certain, madame?" It's her deal. He hasn't, yet, answered her wager.

Hazel eyes stare him down, coolly. "How can one hope to win," Chimène inquires rhetorically from her side of the table, her hands full of cards and her manner that of a great lady bestowing largesse, "if one is unwilling to risk?"

"Very well said." Alcibiades throws coins out until he's answered the woman's wager, at least approximately. And then he adds a few more, just to make certain that he's behaving honorably. He scoops up the cards and gazes at them for a few moments. And then he exchanges a single card. And lays his hand down, looking across at Chimène with a carefully-blank expression.

Once again Chimène with the younger hand can exchange no more cards than does her opponent with the elder. She discards and she takes the one allowed her and, when the moment of truth is upon her, displays her hand with the same aplomb that colours all else she does. Again she has lost. Her modest bosom lifts; she lets out another of those hissing little sighs; then she moves on from the loss of her bauble with a fatalistic calm and another deep swallow of Alcibiades's brandy.

That sapphire ring, another set with a square-cut emerald, and various golden ducats pass briskly back and forth across the table during the course of the next few hands, tending toward Alcibiades's side, until at the end of their second partie — nearly the end of the brandy, too! — Chimène in the hope of regaining lesser but still valued gems tosses another ring into the pot. Her white hands are almost naked, now, her dealing not quite so fluid as before and certainly less glittering. She rarely speaks, save to acknowledge her opponent's victories in the most courteous of language. For her the game is the most vital part of him.

Alcibiades, in turn, refrains from gloating even at the most egregious of his victories. He is delighted, and it's obvious from the flush in his skin. He allows the woman to have as much brandy as she likes, though he hasn't been skimping himself — he's been taking no unfair advantages. Raising a hand after the latest hand, he signals for a fresh goblet of wine. The pile of ducats and jewelry is now almost embarrassingly large as they approach the final hand. He takes a long, long, draught from the freshly-delivered goblet. His flask, it seems, is now Chimene's. It's his turn to deal. He shuffles with greater aplomb than he displayed in the first hand and begins to deal, with quick flicks of his fingers. "Shall we settle on stakes?"

Chimène notices his increasing deftness — but remotely. In the last few minutes of high, quick play, in which exaltation and despair have changed places in her heart with frantic haste, in which for a change she has been able to feel her heart — beating — fluttering — sinking! — rising again fortified by brandy and ready to take another sally at this foe whose nerve matches her own, she has lived more than in a months-long idyll at Nice with her relations by marriage. Of course this man sitting opposite her in his well-tailored coat, his boots gleaming from a good valet's attentions, is more the hardened gamester than he wished to appear when he offered her piquet and liquor. It's simply the way of the world, that when one knows such pleasures one must then pay for them. Very well. Let it be so. But she is a woman who will only pay for the very best.

"… Everything," she breathes, in a small voice which seems to come from far away. She twists off the last of her rings, a large sapphire which might indeed equal the value of all they've hitherto risked against one another.

Alcibiades looks at the pile of wealth before him — more than he's ever won in a night, in a month, perhaps in six months — and there is a flicker of unease in his eyes. He can afford to lose now. He has the jewels. No, it seems the card-player is having a qualm of conscience. But he swallows it. He pushes the pile before him into the center of the table answering the woman's wager with a nod. "Very well then," he says quietly. "Everything."

Reader, let us cut to the chase: on that last turn of the cards Chimène loses all.

All, that is, but the soupçon of Jaime's good brandy remaining in Alcibiades's flask, with which she chases down the sour taste of defeat. She adds that empty vessel to her opponent's pile of loot with an air of munificence summoned from who knows where; her handkerchief, she simply forgets. She's already rising. "Gaultier— Gaultier." The first repetition of his name is a dull whisper, the second an imperious call. The servant is ready, his arms full of sables.

Again her dark head bows upon that swanlike white throat. She looks down at Alcibiades from her great graceful height and pronounces, as though conveying a considerable favour, "You may call on me to see my jewels redeemed."

"Madame—" Alcibiades rises as well, staring at the woman with an expression half-stricken, half-gleeful. "I never received your name, madame. Where shall I call?" The words are carefully modulated, but she can probably hear the vibration of eagerness behind them, the desperate need so carefully concealed.

"And of course, if you would care to name a time and a date, I can certainly await your pleasure." He looks awkward, half-hunched, as though he's used to spending a majority of his life ducked down.

She hears his need, the note of it in counterpoint to her own; later it may dawn upon her as a point of interest, but in this moment she couldn't care less. Nor for any of the fiddling little details he proposes to settle here, now, on the spot, when he's wrung so much strength out of her so quickly and left her feeling like a marionette in search of a quiet corner in which to crumple.

"… I suppose you might come one afternoon," she says vaguely, submitting to Gaultier's arrangement of that sweeping sable cloak about her shoulders, "provided you speak to no one but me." Tall women require so many more pelts than short ones. There's a hat, too, and a generous deep sable muff. She's already turning away from the battlefield of green velvet and the victorious Alcibiades standing over it, as she names herself to him: "I am Chimène Rousse de la Courcel."

She departs, furs sweeping: most of the house's other patrons look up as she passes, and behind her there springs up a wake of murmurous talk.

Alcibiades stares after the woman. His jaw is slack, eyes wide. He looks down at the fortune piled up before him. Squinting, he begins to pile it into whatever pockets he can fit things into. The motion is mechanical, but the way that he moves to shield the table from the view of others — to shield the gossip of his new-found wealth from the view of these sharks — is not. He swallows hard, then reaches forward and drains his goblet of the house wine.

"Aw, shit," he mutters softly. The accent is decidedly lower-deck.

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