(1310-10-16) Her Grace's Clandestine Service
Summary: Armed with the new information about Lord Richard de Morhban's missing ship, and the implications it holds, Isabelle de Valais seeks an audience with the Lady of Eisande and her political refugee, the Dowager Marquise, Charlene Morhban de Fhirze.
RL Date: October 17, 2018
Related: Everything in this page.
isabelle armandine charlene 

Solar - Dome of the Lady

Spacious enough to provide a meeting place of more familiar atmosphere to the residents of the Ducal Palace, the solar is of rectangular shape and generously lit during the day through a number of arched windows in the south wall. The opposite side is governed by a huge stone hearth, a fire crackling there during colder weather conditions. Above the hearth hangs a shield with the coat of arms of House Mereliot, flanked by a pair of exquisitely woven tapestries depicting naval scenes of ships on the sea, one in calm and tranquil weather conditions, the other one in a storm with heavy rain.

All furniture is made of oak, be it the long table in the middle of the room, or the number of high backed chairs arranged about it, flat cushions of blue brocade adding to the comfort of seating. The ceiling is a sophisticated rib vault, constructed of wood, the ribs painted in yellow. Depictions of a variety of sea animals have been added onto the light blue ceiling as well by an unknown artist. Several kinds of mediterranean fish adorn the spaces in between ribs, such as combers, groupers and flounders but also starfish and octopusses.

A door leads out onto a rooftop garden, and an archway opens into the upper hallway.

The note arrived a day prior, this time from a hand that would be familiar to the Lady of Eisande, though it is unsigned save for a crimson wax seal bearing the embossed image of a shrike in flight, promising additional information regarding the circumstances that surround her illustrious guest. It was brief, but speaks enough of its urgency - Isabelle does not ask for an audience very often, and whenever she does, it is always because she has come across something important.

At the intended hour, she arrives, dressed warmly in an effort to ward off the chill of the evening - it is only Autumn, but the wind hints at an early Winter, with winds edged with frost blowing from the oceanfront. A warm cloak is swathed around her shoulders, dressed in the attire she favors for business - an embroidered waistcoat, fitted black breeches, boots that go over the knee, and a tailored coat with tails that extend down to her ankles, weighed down by crystal embellishments and fringed with lace. Never one to be less than impeccably accessorized, a lady's top hat rests on her head, pulled closer towards her forehead and carrying the curled plumage of a black swan. As always, she carries her portfolio of designs, which she hands over to the ducal guard or inspection. She has no weapons on her person.

Whenever allowed at the presence of the duchesse and Charlene Morhban de Fhirze, she tucks her portfolio under her arm. Long fingers reach up to pluck her hat off her head and sweeps her body forward in a bow from the waist, as smooth as any diligent male courtier's.

"Your Grace, Dowager Marquise," she greets. "I have news."

The Duchesse is a woman that sometimes does not cling to the strict rules of court, nor to formalities. And so she rises, her dark blue dress whispering as the fine fabric resettles in skirts. It is late evening, and so the light of oil lamps and candles will be all there is — enough to be captured and reflected by the golden embroideries upon Armandine's attire. Embroideries that run along her sleeves and skirts, dipicting fish. What else?

"My dear Isabelle," the Duchesse greets with a smile, extending her hands to take those of the Valais lady. "The Lady Charlène and I have been expecting you." A gesture of her hand, executed with the gentle grace of a d'Angeline, points out a comfortable seat close to where the Dowager Marquise de Fhirze is seated, and Armandine will sit down and wait for Isabelle to get settled.

Dark hair frames the features of Charlène Morhban de Fhirze, and as if to emphasize her origins, she is dressed in colors all purple and black tonight. Even the hairnet with glittering stones is black, and it will only be those glass stones laying a trail of glittering reflections that reveals she is wearing a hairnet at all. While Armandine stands, Charlène remains seated. A cane leans against the armrest of her seat. But she does offer Isabelle a nod in greeting, and a softening of her features of a darker sort of d'Angeline beauty into a smile. "Good eve, Lady Isabelle." Even her Kusheline accent is more pronounced as it was before, but her hazel eyes regard the Valais lady with kindness and also an undeniable curiosity.

"What news are you bringing?"

It is the guest, not the host, that poses this question.

Both of those beautiful white hands are taken by her sunkissed own, Isabelle dipping her head to press her lips upon the air above both sets of knuckles - while she doesn't take the liberty of dispensing her own affections so directly, the reverence with which she imparts the gesture clearly speaks to where most of her fervent, elusive heart truly lies. They say that Love is the d'Angeline curse, and the woman before her duchesse loves nothing more than the land of her birth.

"My apologies for the urgency of my missive, but I'm afraid what brings me here is a deadline, depending on what your counsel would be," she replies, moving to the directed chair. She does not sit down until Armandine does, however, and proceeds to do so once the Lady of Eisande is settled. Dark-and-gold eyes shift to regard the Kusheline dowager.

"When we last spoke, we were attempting to determine the authenticity of the letter in your possession," she begins, directing her reply to the Lady Charlene. "It was addressed to a Jean-Louis with instructions to arrange, perhaps, a pirate attack on the waters of Menekhet. A trusted asset of mine made inquiries for me, given his connections in the d'Angeline seafaring industry. He was able to inform me that the Etoille du Soir has a distinct and unique figurehead - a mermaid holding a star. This said figurehead was later spotted by a reliable informant of his, who had just returned from Kriti. It is attached to a pirate ship called The Ariadne."

She pauses to let the words sink in, before she continues: "With this information, I believe we are looking at two possibilities - either the figurehead was carved out of the missing Etoille du Soir and later attached to a pirate ship, or The Ariadne is the Etoille du Soir, claimed as a prize and rechristened by the brigands who took her. Most importantly, it lends to the credibility of the contents of the letter in your possession - that a pirate attack did happen." Her eyes lift to meet Charlene's. "The letter has been in your care for weeks since I returned it to you. I must ask, my lady, if you still doubt its authenticity now that you've had the time to keep it and examine it in your own time."

The Lady of Marsilkos leans back in her seat, content for now to listen and observe. When Isabelle speaks of the pirate ship with the significant figurehead, Armandine tilts her head a little to the side, elbow settling on the armrest, a pair of fingers held to her lips in contemplative gesture. "I have never heard of a figurehead having been carved out to be used again on another ship…", she murmurs thoughtfully, before her grey-blue eyes look towards Charlene, inquiringly.

The Kusheline lady shifts a little, back straightening even as her hands remain loosely joined in her lap. There is a slow blink, a downflit of that dark gaze, as Charlène considers Isabelle's question for a moment. "It is interesting that you ask. I have looked at the letter. Again and again. And I am very certain now, that even if it may come close to Quintien's hand, it is not his writing." The Dowager Marquise lifts her gaze, to give Isabelle a long look. "Also. The fact that he would write such a letter, and sign it, with his full name and title… it would strike me as an awfully stupid thing to do."

She believes the lady. It is apparent on Isabelle's face as she regards both women before her. Armandine's remarks about the figurehead has her dipping her head towards her duchesse - she, too, has thought the same. Such a thing would have been a costly endeavor. It was easier, in the end, to relieve the ship of its colors and rename her, than hack it to pieces and use its parts for another ship.

Charlene's words taken stock, she falls silent for a few moments before she continues. "Then I must conclude that the letter was not written by His Grace, but by another's hand and sent to Jean-Louis to make Lord Richard's assassination happen. This Jean-Louis may not even know that the order did not come from His Grace and I think we can conclude now that the man did indeed exist and did arrange for the Etoille du Soir to be attacked. He just did not know, or did not care, who actually signed the letter. After all, it mentions payment and that may have been the only thing he cared about. Now that his existence has been established, however, I believe if we find this man that we will at the very least know for certain who is behind the death of your brother if we can get from him a description of who delivered his orders in the first place, perhaps even a name…and our most direct line to Jean-Louis are the pirates currently in Kriti. My asset is ready to pursue The Ariadne in our continued search for answers, but he will have to leave quickly as pirate ships do not stay in port for long and if this chase happens, we are already delayed."

She hesitates, but only briefly, before turning to Charlene again: "My lady, I must also ask about your eldest brother, Lord Venetien. You mentioned that he died of an illness, and my sources tell me that before expert healers could be dispatched from Eisande that he had already died before help could reach him. I am trying to establish a pattern of deaths in hopes that it might open another avenue of inquiry in the event that things go awry in our pursuit over the oceans. Was Lord Venetien particularly sickly?"

The pause Charlène makes is prolonged by Isabelle's interjection. The faint smile dims as the Valais lady presents her own conclusions, and the dark-haired daughter of the late Duc de Kusheth considers once again. "That… would be a possible explanation," she allows. "I believe I did mention though… The first time I had the letter, I was very sure it was written by Quintien. And I recall, that it was signed in a manner far less compromising, with a single letter 'Q'. But… You are right. Finding this Jean-Louis seems to be the key to the puzzle, and the pirate ship seems like a good lead." Her hand moves to touch against her own neck, and Charlène glances towards Armandine first, before she turns her gaze to a servant. "A bit of wine, if you will. My throat feels utterly parched." Waiting for a glass of dark Kusheline Red to be poured, Charlène's attention never wavers, even if her eyes lift belatedly when she is addressed with the question. "Venetien… was quite the opposite. A proud man, as hard and unmovable as the rock upon which Pointe d'Oeste has been built. He would have made a formidable Duc." Air leaves Charlène in a soft exhale, her expression turning a bit wistful. "It was a sudden illness. And as I heard… it progressed swiftly, deconstructing his health, and making him unable to leave the bed. A few days. He was in an apathetic state for a few days, coughing up blood and the like. That is what I heard. I was not there. When I arrived, Venetien had already been dead for a bit longer than a month. He died three weeks prior to the news of Richard vanishing.

"It would be helpful, indeed, to find the document that that was originally in your possession." Isabelle chews on her bottom lip, her fingers coming up to touch the point of her chin. "Maybe it could still be retrieved, but that would require finding and speaking with Lord Esekiel once more and determine from him how he managed to obtain the forgery in the first place. It tells me, at the very least, that he had reason to believe that the letter was genuine." Another avenue to chase, perhaps. She files it away in her memory.

The suddenness of Venetien's death has the ducal agent narrowing her eyes visibly, making note of the symptoms the woman described, before leaning forward, her forearms braced on her knees. She is not unfamiliar with poisons. The timing, the fact that he was coughing up blood - a fit, strong, and formidable man to succumb to something that sounds like wasting sickness in a matter of days.

There's only one way to be certain. "Were you informed as to who was caring for Lord Venetien while he suddenly took ill?"

"Hmmm…" Charlène's expression grows thoughtful, when Esekiel is mentioned. "I haven't heard from him since you told me you met him in Cabriès. He intended to return to Kusheth. But I agree. I would like to know where he found the letter… or how he acquired it."

"There are Charlots currently in Marsilikos," Armandine interjects with a fine smile. "Perhaps this young heir to a Charlot Vicomté… What was his name… Lord Thibault… He seemed eager to find out about Lord Esekiel. He called him his uncle. Perhaps this Thibault may have received news from him. Or maybe he could be motivated to help in the search."

It is a thought, spoken in the moment it crosses the Duchesse's mind.

"There are other Charlots. Lord Cyriel, the holder of the other Vicomte title under Charlot. House Baphinol is especially attached to House Charlot, the Comte is married to a lady of that House. And… House Rousse of course. The mother of the Vicomtesse de Draguignan was Aveline Charlot.", Armandine observes calmly. Before her expression turns even more thoughtful at the next question of Isabelle.

"I would assume that Monsieur Gustave Laroche looked after him," Charlène Morhban de Fhirze replies after a brief pause. "He is the trusted médecin of my family… I didn't see him though when I was there. They told me he was… away to visit some distant family of his."

"I am familiar with Lord Thibault, in passing," Isabelle informs Armandine. "He is something of a paramour of Lady Ailene de Trevalion, who I'm on friendly terms with. And the future Comte d'Avignon, Jehan-Pascal de Baphinol, is a friend and patron of mine. I know him better than I do Lord Thibault and he may be amenable to making inquiries for me…but the more directly related to the affair, the better…" She is already pondering her options, thinking of how to spin it.

The news from Charlene next, the trusted medecin who was away to visit distant family when she returned to grieve for her brother. "Him, I am also interested in finding," she says. "Would you happen to know if he has returned to your family's service since? Where would he be installed in Kusheth?" She assumes in Pointe d'Oeste, the family seat, but it is best to make sure.

"Lady Isabelle." Charlène holds the glass of wine in hand, swirling it slowly as she watches the red liquid move in deliberate agitiation. "I have left my home when I was eighteen, married out to a very prestigious match to Namarre," she points out to her. "I had looked forward to see Monsieur Laroche again upon my return to Pointe d'Oeste. As I understand it, he was… is still in service of House Morhban. My stay there was too brief. And I have assumed he would be back by now…"

Armandine who had watched and listened suddenly lifts her head. "Careful… Contacting this Monsieur Laroche may bring complications. I'll advise against writing to him. Better to have someone sent there, perhaps, and inquire discreetly. Even if that too could pose a problem, should that discreet person get caught…"

The ducal agent sits quietly where she is, leaning back against her seat, eyes lidded in thought.

"I will go," Isabelle decides. "My business takes me everywhere and I'm always in search of new products, and some Kusheline clients have asked for private consultations before the Longest Night is upon us all, but some indirectness would be prudent. Is Monsieur Laroche particularly close to anyone, my lady? Someone outside of the service of House Morhban if possible?"

Charlène nods her head, a mixture of gratitude and concern flashing in her hazel-brown eyes as she replies, "Of Monsieur Laroche I know little. He may have a daughter in the city of Pointe d'Oeste. I believe he mentioned her back then. Thérèse. I believe, that was her name. I would also like to make mention of… Venetien's widow. Christelle nó Dhalia de Morhban. They were never blessed with children. And yet, she was given an estate in the barony of Morlaix. Perhaps… she could offer some insight as well."

Worry and concern increase in Armandine Mereliot's demeanor, the longer Charlène continues. "His widow… hmm… I would think she would be well guarded and under observation — if all these suspicions would prove true.", she muses. "Tread lightly, and make sure not to get into trouble, Isabelle… But I know you will be careful." She gives the Valais lady a long look. "I am very grateful for your courage and initiative. But we must also keep in mind on how all of this may affect Eisande."

"I would approach Lord Venetien's widow only as a last resort," Isabelle says quietly. "That and Monsieur Laroche would have the expertise I'm looking for, if he happens to suspect the man's death to be unnatural. And if there is no way I can persuade Monsieur Laroche's daughter to set up a meeting between him and myself, I'll return to Eisande at once." Her expression grows serious, her solemn face turning to Armandine. "My duty is to protect you and your interests, and my province clandestinely, Your Grace, I would be countermanding that if I affected it adversely instead."

She leans forward again to regard Charlene. "Though that does speak to the matter of credibility. Letters would be too damning. My lady, would you be willing to part with something of yours to present to Monsieur Laroche to verify that I had come to meet with him at your behest? Something small that he would know you wouldn't part with unless it was important."

The smile returns, albeit slightly dimmed. The Duchesse de Mereliot inclines her head towards Isabelle. "I approve," she says, as her gaze slips to her own glass of wine, sitting there untouched upon the table. "And I shall be expecting your return."

Her guest meanwhile considers the request, and Charlène's lips curve in a half-smile. "I think I have such a thing. A ring. A plain one I used to wear on a chain about my neck when I was a girl. A gift of my mother. But it doesn't have any official crest or heraldry that would point to me, should anyone else find it. A ring of brass, with vines winding around it. I am certain Monsieur Laroche will recognize it, once you show it to him…" Her hand dips into the neckline of her dress to pull that same ring out of its hiding place by the chain that had been covered through the cut of the dress. "It is of sentimental value. And I believe it will serve this purpose," she says, as she leans forward and places the ring on the chain into Isabelle de Valais' hand.

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