(1310-10-16) A Separate Issue
Summary: Alcibiades pays a formal call upon Chimène before setting sail for Kriti.
RL Date: 24/10/2018
Related: A Chance to Lose.
chimene alcibiades 

Ducal Suite — Rousse Residence

This expansive salon is paneled in soft grey boiseries with dainty and understated details picked out in fresh white, and many mirrors embedded in simple gilded surrounds. Crosshatched parquet underfoot is executed in rare amber and golden hardwoods, and polished to a glorious beeswaxed sheen; overhead, there hangs a large crystal and gilt chandelier surrounded by four smaller satellites, capable of providing a ferocious blaze of light on evenings when the mirrored and gilded candle-stands placed here and there are considered insufficient.

Opposite one another, set in the walls to the left and the right as one enters from the landing, are two sizable fireplaces in blue-veined marble, and above each a painting by a master of two centuries ago: views of Namarre as it was then, of old Courcel castles long since abandoned and gone to seed. Chairs and chaises the clean lines of which are gilded and upholstered in smoke-blue silk form strictly symmetrical arrangements in association with occasional tables. In cool weather these are centered upon the fireplaces. When it's warmer they migrate toward the four pairs of tall casement windows framed by smoke-blue silken drapes which open upon a broad white marble terrace leading down into the gardens.

Doors likewise to the left and the right of the salon open into two sets of palatial private chambers, for the use of each half of a married couple.

Returning to the Marsilikos residence of House Rousse late in the afternoon several days after disclosing his identity to the lady from whose powder-blue boudoir it is governed, must give Alcibiades Rousse at least the briefest of qualms: since the other day whose advice might she not have taken, what might she not have heard, about Julien Rousse and his indiscretions— ? When he gives his name, how shall the servants receive it— ? Has his gamble succeeded—?

… It has; at least, he's no more persona non grata than before, and after a couple of minutes' idling in a downstairs antechamber whilst an investigation is launched into whether or not Chimène is at home, he's conducted into that expansive pale grey salon through which he was twice whisked on the occasion of his first visit. Here he arrives at the same time as a decanter of wine and two glasses, fetched by another servant as the first one was fetching him. His hostess is lying on a chaise-longue next to a merrily blazing little fire. She is either reading a small volume of poetry or she wishes to be discovered reading a small volume of poetry. Either way, that's what's in her hand and what she lays down to welcome him with a reserved but genial smile and an outstretched white hand.

"Cousin," says Chimène pleasantly, with a gentle pressure of fingertips.

A chair near to her is occupied by what might at first glance seem be an enormous hairy beast: it is in fact a pile of sables, cloak and hat and muff.

It is nerve-wracking, setting foot in the Rousse Estate. How many times, as a younger man, had Alcibiades walked by this mansion? How many times, as a boy, had he even run up to the gates and peered in before being chased off by anonymous footmen? And now, for the second time in his life, he has willingly set foot in this place that holds so many mixed feelings for him.

But when action is required, Alcibiades Rousse can force his limbs to move. He feels as though he is walking the plank — the reserve on Chimene's features is easy to spot, despite the way she offers up her hand. Still, he summons a smile of his own and takes her hand gently in his. Bowing over it — and it is obvious he has never actually bowed over a hand before — he presses a kiss to the back of it.

"Thank you, My Lady, for taking the time to speak with me."

"Of course," Chimène murmurs. "… Though this afternoon I fear we haven't time enough for that other game we mentioned," she goes on, reclaiming her hand and turning it over gracefully in the air to gesture him to one of the chairs not presently occupied by a king's ransom in Vralian furs. "I'm obliged to go out in a little while. But not," her smile turns whimsical as her hand's journey continues as far as the glass of wine placed nearest her, "not quite yet."

"And that is a shame," Alcibiades agrees as he settles into the chair. "Because I did bring you a gift." He reaches inside his coat — a magnificent coat by Alcibades' standards, certainly bespoke — and produces a small pouch. He leans forward to set it beside the wine-glass brought to him, and it clinks. "Marble dice. I am certain you own a pair, but these are… my lucky pair." He lifts the wine-glass and takes a small sip. "They were made for me in Kusheth several years ago." Hesitating for a moment, he says "They are honest. But I am certain they'll bring you such luck as they've brought me. Or at least a smile, when you try them."

His hostess seems provisionally pleased, eyeing the little pouch for several seconds and then looking up to meet Alcibiades's gaze with her own cool and considering hazel eyes. "But won't you miss them?" she says simply.

"I have a theory, my lady, that gifts should be heartfelt." Alcibiades clears his throat, considering his wine-glass. He takes a sip. "I am a gambler, among other things. And you are a gambler. What better gift?" He smiles suddenly — his easy, seamanlike frank smile that possesses his whole face, transforms it. "Yes. I shall miss them, my lady. That is why I wanted to make a gift of them. Otherwise, it seems to me it would be meaningless."

Chimène reaches a decision. "Then I thank you," she says softly, with a return of her crooked and amused smile, "for your sacrifice." Another mouthful of wine; and she sets down her glass and lifts herself languidly up from her half-recumbent posture and tucks her feet away under her skirts. (A pair of slippers, dyed blue to match her gown and embroidered with birds of paradise, are lined up discreetly under her chaise-longue.) Sitting upright and straight-backed she unfurls an arm to claim the pouch, open it, examine the treats she finds within. "… My lord and master," she murmurs wryly, "never gives me anything half so amusing."

There are times when one is sailing fast and clear, all sails belly-full with wind, and suddenly an uncharted reef appears to rise straight from the depths of the ocean to strike and knock all aback. Alcibiades has sailed in dangerous waters for much of his life. This too, in its way, is a dangerous shoal. There is no decent response to Chimene's comment and so Alcibiades tacks around it, seeking to maneuver himself back into clear water without quite ignoring the hazards entirely. "I have not had the pleasure of meeting your lord husband," he remarks. Sipping his wine, he continues "But I'm delighted you find the dice pleasing. If we had more time, I hoped to teach you a few sailors' games. Gambling is, of course, forbidden aboardship. And therefore rampant."

And, speaking of reefs and shoals — a mask of perfect distant uninterest suddenly falls into place upon Chimène's aristocratic features. "Yes," she murmurs, "so I understand." Her long white fingers restore the dice to the table — they rest now on top of the pouch — and she catches up her glass instead and drowns all this talk of sailors' entertainments in good (but not too good, her visitor is only a poor and distant cousin) Eisandine wine. "… Do you hunt, my lord?" she inquires then, her eyes flicking up to his. "I understand there is some talk of establishing a formal hunt here in Marsilikos, for the winter season."

Alcibiades senses the uninterest — one could hardly fail to see it, in truth — and smiles politely until Chimene changes the subject. There is a hint of relief on his features and a hint of awkwardness as well, for he has no good answer to this question either. "I am afraid, my lady, that I never learned to hunt." He sips his wine, then rallies as best he can. "But what I make up for in inexperience, I shall certainly try to remedy with enthusiasm and — of course — panache."

"… Panache," Chimène echoes. Her glass seems to have emptied itself. She begins to look about, only to find her liveried lackey detaching himself from the wall he was holding up and coming forward to her rescue. "Well," she says, rallying, "I daresay House Rousse could do with a little more of that. Are you married yet, cousin?" she inquires. "Nobody seems to know."

Alcibiades grins suddenly, leaning forward in his seat and taking another sip of wine. "I'm afraid not, my lady. My mother laments the fact that both Michel, my older brother, and I remain unwed." He waits until the lackey has finished backing away before continuing in a quieter tone. "There is a young lady who gives me hope that, sometime in the future, a marriage proposal might not be entirely unwelcome." It is obvious, suddenly, that Alcibiades Rousse has never considered marriage as a political tool. "However, I am afraid that I would make but a poor husband. Michel would be the man for a happy marriage, I believe."

Here, at last, the fortunate black sheep has found a subject in which the impeccably groomed white sheep on the far side of the decanter might plausibly take an interest. "… A young lady?" she nudges. "Would I know of her?"

"Oh, I really couldn't say, my lady." Alcibiades sips his wine, a subtle hint of amusement touching his features at the sudden interest from the woman across from him. He sips his wine, perfectly poised for once, smiling across at Chimene. "I have likely overstated her interest in any case. I tend to read my hopes as fact." His voice is suitably modest, sea-blue eyes sparkling.

The glimmer of Chimène's interest at least continues to shine truly, though as Alcibiades demurs she lowers her eyes for a long moment, in thought. "… And what else do you hope will be fact?" she wonders at last, fixing him again with those inquiring hazel eyes, across the rim of her glass and a tremendous gulf in status.

"That is a difficult question, my lady. I fear you'll think me a mere fortune-seeker." Alcibiades grins crookedly, then glances with a pointed expression down at the dice in their pouch. "But sometimes, one must simply take the risk. I hope to someday help my brother restore our family to House Rousse's favor." Alcibiades squints for just a moment, as though trying to spot a ship at sea. "Would you believe me if I said that I view our acquaintance as a separate issue?"

Chimène's shoulders lift as she draws in a breath — the sleeves of her gown threaten to slip away, but don't quite — her head leans back and her swan-throat elongates elegantly and she laughs. "Oh," she gasps, rolling her eyes heavenwards and then lowering them again to his: "But how could it be—?"

Alcibiades grins ruefully, nodding his head once. "How could it be? I asked a friend of mine that very question recently, and he replied…" Alcibiades lowers his voice from his own baritone to a rather more gravelly imitation, "It can't, y'fool." He sighs, finishing off his wine and setting down the empty glass. "If I make an enemy of you, I doom my family. But if I seem too eager to be your friend, I do the same. So I had resolved to simply… be your friend." A tiny shrug of his shoulders. "And yet here we are."

The liveried lackey rescues Alcibiades next, looming discreetly over his shoulder to fill his glass anew from the decanter: another good sign.

Chimène quirks already-arched eyebrows at him. "Novel of you," she suggests, holding out her own glass lackeywards whilst her eyes rest still upon her visitor. Somehow 'novel' becomes a compliment. "Do you suppose we should like to be friends?" she asks him. "What would it be like, I wonder—?"

Alcibiades glances at that lackey gratefully and takes another, longer, sip from the refilled glass. He smiles again at Chimene's quirked brows, studying her features for a few moments. "If I may, my lady, I hope that it would be interesting." He quirks his own brows in response and glances down at the dice between them. "I believe — with respect — that we share a few interests. Surely that's a beginning?"

"We both like to gamble," concedes Chimène, taking his point; "but that's barely a beginning at all. Everybody in the house where we met likes to gamble. But do you see any of them," she inquires pointedly, "here, in my salon—?"

"Well, no," admits Alcibiades. He glances around the salon for a moment as though seeking a better answer. "However, I am here." He sips his wine contemplatively. "I think, perhaps, that I am here because I am something of a novelty." Setting the wine-glass down, he acknowledges "Though it is true we could hardly gamble all our time away. Tell me, do you enjoy music, my lady?"

Again Chimène's eyes seem to become veiled. "… I suppose," she grants, glancing away as though the novelty is growing less novel by the moment. The lackey starts forward, thinking he's been somehow remiss: she waves him away.

"Ah, well." Alcibiades is floundering visibly, mentally casting aside his violin. He takes something more akin to a gulp of wine than a sip and presses on. "I love it," he admits quietly. "I realize it's something of a cliche, but I see something beautiful in the mathematics of it, the cleanliness. And the way that even through the order, something can spring up and surprise you." He trails off, suddenly embarrassed again at his own enthusiasm. "I… play the violin. Not very well, perhaps." He pauses for another moment, considering. "Did you ever study mathematics?"

If he's embarrassed — at least Chimène, discreetly surprised, is averting her eyes. For a little while she's quiet. "… You must understand," she says at last, rather stiffly, "that before my marriage, my name was Chimène nó Eglantine." Thus she names that house of Mont Nuit — one of the original Thirteen, which the mere salons of Marsilikos can only dream of imitating — wherein every adept is a creative and every marqued courtesan very possibly a genius. "It was a long while ago," she goes on, lifting her glass to hover before her lips, regarding him with a challenge in her eyes: "but I'm afraid my ear was spoiled for life. I don't often like what other people call music." And she drinks, recklessly deeply.

Alcibiades stares at Chimene for a few moments, working his jaw. He meets her gaze steadily before, after grave consideration, inclines his head. "I did not know that," he admits freely. His eyes narrow for a moment as he studies Chimene further, and it is obvious that there is a question upon his lips. But he restrains himself, glancing down at his wine-glass for a moment. "In that case," he says suddenly, flashing his quick grin, "I shall absolutely never torture you with my own compositions." He pauses briefly. "I do have some sheet music composed by various House Eglantine musicians… but the truth is, it is far easier to appreciate it than to play it."

Under his stare Chimène grows coldly defiant: when he relents, so does she, for why else does one keep wine to hand? It eases all such difficult moments. Having said more than she intended she murmurs, by way of taking a step backward, "Of course it is to be preferred to hear something simple played well." She empties her glass; the lackey steps in, very properly, and whilst he pours she adds, "There is no reason why you ought to have known. It was, as I say, a long while ago."

"Well, I can assure you, my own compositions are perfectly simple. No, excuse me. Imperfectly simple." Alcibiades' smile turns rueful. He empties his own wine-glass and sets it on the table beside him, gazing at Chimene. His expression turns curious. "I don't mean to intrude, but what did you study?" He absently rubs a hand down his pant-leg, the calluses audibly rasping along his fine wool.

That regret in his eyes touches Chimène to her heart — she knows what it is to be perpetually unsatisfied with one's own efforts. Meanwhile the lackey is stepping forward in his soft-soled indoor shoes, attentive as ever to Rousse requirements.

Chimène sips her wine and admits, reluctantly: "I was a dancer." But can that surprise anyone who has seen her walk across a room— ? Who has watched her long elegant body sway gently upright upon her chaise-longue—? She never moves without seeming to obey the strains of her own music, inaudible to anybody else.

Alcibiades glances up gratefully at the lackey, murmuring a soft "Thank you." He sips his third glass of wine with the air of a man preparing to walk a tightrope. Looking across its rim at Chimene, he ventures "I should have guessed that, my lady." Her delicate grace is somewhat intimidating to the man, whose rolling landward stride stands in such stark contrast. "Do you still dance?"

A brittle smile from Chimène. "Of course not," she says dismissively; "that was a long time ago," she repeats, "before I was married and had a family." As though the subject is quite settled she moves on. "You found these dice in Kusheth, you say?" she wonders aloud, touching those cubes of marble with curious fingertips.

Alcibiades seems to take the dismissive tone at face value; he nods his head in understanding, absently swirling his wine in the glass before taking another sip. "Not precisely found," he corrects gently. "I had them made in Kusheth. At the time, I was an enthusiastic frequenter of a particular dicing hall there." His smile becomes a touch rueful. "I was so taken with some of their games that I had these made. It was a vanity, but I enjoy carrying memories with me."

"… And then," says Chimène, as her hand hovers over the dice, "giving your memories away, to women you scarcely know." She sniffs. "If you haven't a care you might run out of these tokens," she teases, "far too soon."

"Oh, I don't think that I shall, my lady." Alcibiades leans forward conspiratorially. He sets down the wine-glass, unbuttons his coat-sleeve, and rolls both that sleeve and the shirt-sleeve beneath it up to his elbow. Several tattoos mark his arm. A ship wreathed in gunsmoke, a man standing with his back to a small child, and a knife snapped in two pieces. Each tattoo is of masterful quality, and each displays a remarkably different style. "Most of my mementoes are permanent. The ones which are transient are… my pleasure to share."

Curious despite herself Chimène sits forward a little to peruse the gallery offered her, head tilted and eyes rather thoughtful. "Not quite," she says absently, "the usual variety of sailors' tattoos…" She has said too much; catching herself she looks away and reaches for her glass of wine. "I take your point," she decides. Her own courtesan's marque, which must surely limn her back from her shoulders down to the slight swell of her buttocks, remains the mystery it ought to be.

Alcibiades tilts his head faintly as he watches Chimene, absently flexing his forearm to make the smoke float around the ship. He seems to take a great deal of enjoyment in actually seeing his own tattoo, as though the mere sight were enough to summon up the original scene. "Most sailors' tattoos," he says as he slides his sleeves back into place, "Are subtle braggadocio. As many of mine are painful memories as are pleasant." He clears his throat briefly. "My Lady, I did come by with a purpose in mind. I am leaving soon. Hopefully for no more than a few weeks, but I did not wish to leave without paying my respects and asking if there was anything I could fetch back from the Hellenic Isles."

"… How very correct of you," says Chimène, "if we are friends." A corner of her mouth quirks at him. She's not quite denying it; but then, nor is she quite accepting it. She regards him for a moment and then sighs. "I can't think of anything I might wish from Hellas, but I thank you for inquiring of me."

"Of course," replies Alcibiades equably. He doesn't push the matter of their friendship — best to let things evolve as they go, for now. He has pushed enough already. Sipping his wine, he continues "I shall keep my eyes open for any unique play-boards, in any case." A thought seems to seize him. "Tell me, my lady, have you ever played kottabos?"

"… Now and again," Chimène allows. She blinks twice at him. "Why?"

"Why, because I imagine some of the finest stands in the world could still be found in Hellaa." Alcibiades blinks as well, perfect innocence on his own expression. "Perhaps I shall fetch one for myself. I'm certain I could not fetch one fine enough to offer as a gift, but at least I could practice and challenge you someday."

The trouble is that Chimène is unwilling to feel beholden, to this semi-disgraced relative least of all. "Well, perhaps you'll find what you say," she says mildly, looking away to the maid who has just come curtseying into the salon. "… My carriage, I think, is waiting." And she uncurls her silk-stockinged feet from beneath herself and, feeling about already for her slippers, offers her silken hand once more to Alcibiades. "I do wish you a safe voyage, cousin."

Alcibiades unfolds from his own chair quickly, taking his dismissal with good grace. He takes the hand and bows over it, a little bit more practiced this time. He is a quick learner, at least. Pressing his lips briefly to the back of Chimene's hand, he glances up into her face before straightening. "Thank you, my lady. And thank you for seeing me today. Perhaps I shall call again upon my return."

"Yes," agrees Chimène who, her hand still in his, stands up lithely from her chaise-longue. Then her hand slips away to smooth her skirts. "You must let us know you have come safely back to Marsilikos," she says kindly. "Farewell."

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