(1310-10-17) An End to Piquet
Summary: Vital matters are decided during an autumnal reunion, which happily has a winter season to follow…
RL Date: 17/10/2018
Related: None.
chimene symon 

Salon — 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.

The first time Symon de Perigeux calls upon Chimène Rousse de la Courcel, an old acquaintance newly returned to Marsilikos from her summer by the seaside, the lady is said to have a bad cold in her head: she is not seeing anyone.

The second time — because he's a persistent young man, is Symple Symon, experienced in taking Chimène's 'no' for a 'maybe later, if I change my mind' — he is deposited at first in a downstairs antechamber and then swiftly enough shown upstairs through the dark wooden dullness of the Rousse Residence to a large and light salon paneled in pale grey, where his quarry 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 and and what she lays down to welcome him.

"Symon," she sighs, extending a long white hand to have her fingertips pressed or perhaps kissed. She sounds as though she hasn't seen him for years. Perhaps she hasn't? Oh— it's coming back to her— that Trevalion do in Elua. Not last winter, but a couple of winters past… It wasn't half bad — or perhaps that's merely the blissful effect of the passage of time. Then she remembers the rest. "My lord marquis-to-be! My dear, can it be I haven't congratulated you yet?" She blinks her large hazel eyes at him as though baffled by her own neglect of him.

Symon looks genuinely delighted to be in the presence of his friend once again, and he crosses to her chaise and warmly grasps her hand and bows his head over it. "How good to see your face!" he exclaims. "And no, I don't think w…we've b-been together at all lately. And you know I hardly keep up w…with letters, anyway, so I don't m-mind anyone not sending them." He helps himself to some nearby seating. "You look b-beautiful, as expected. Has your cold gone entirely?"

Chimène's smile blooms a little beneath the warmth of Symon's compliments. He always seems to mean them, and it's a charming change from hearing them repeated by rote. "Almost gone," she promises, with a last pressure of fingertips as he sits down trustingly near to her, "though I did wake up feeling tired this afternoon… I don't know why." Certainly last night's paddle round the old wine-vat couldn't possibly be responsible. "I always think," and she lifts herself upon an elbow and leans nearer to confide, "that by the time I've written a letter and summoned a courier — by the time he's ridden all that way and the person to whom I wrote has found a few minutes to read my letter and think it over — why, whatever I wrote is sure to have become irrelevant by then anyway. If it's important at all it'll be important still when we meet again."

A maid in Rousse colours is meanwhile serving Rousse wine in engraved silver goblets: the Dragon's Blood of the Draguignan branch of the house.

Symon leans forward in his seat, looking at Chimène with some concern. "You know what you m…must do, is to drink a tea w-with spicy roots and honey in it, and then when you go to sleep, to put an agate stone on your chest, that helps draw the cold out. If you aren't b-b-better by tomorrow, you m-must let me know, I'll send you a salve for the chest." He nods at the second part of her remarks as he accepts a goblet of wine from the maid. "Oh, I couldn't agree m…more. Everyone always w…w…wanted me to read and write instead of speak b-but really I hate reading."

Chimène's ivory brow develops a small furrow. "An agate stone," she repeats, in a tone which suggests the handling of the idea with a delicate pair of tongs, probably of silver engraved to match the goblets. Then by means of a tiny shrug as she settles back into her cushions she accepts Symon's superior knowledge in this one particular field. "I hadn't heard of that remedy — but if you think it might aid me in chasing away the last of this cold… I shall try it this very night," she promises faithfully. "I don't see why you should read if you don't want to," she adds. "My secretary reads out all my letters and it does neither of us any harm. I imagine you have one of those too, now? How do you feel about it all?"

"Yes, agate," Symon replies with certainty. "It can be p-polished. It m…might even be all right if it's in a setting. I'm not a physician, you understand." As if there were some great danger of mistaking him for a learned healer. "B-but yes, I have a m…man read everything to me, saves time." For those very busy days of intense idling. "How do I feel about w…what? New digs and new servants?"

"Oh," sigh Chimène, lifting one lazy hand and then letting it fall again amongst the blue silken folds of her gown, "the future, my dear…" She finds her little book of poetry lying next to her hand, picks it up, glances at it as though she can scarcely picture how it got there, and edges it absent-mindedly onto the occasional table next to her untouched goblet and the bottle of wine. "I shan't cry crocodile-tears and pretend your brother is any great loss to you," she says candidly, "but you are rather in the line of fire now."

"The future," Symon repeats softly, sipping wine while considering this unfamiliar word. "It's not really my p-practice to think about the future." But he says that in a less bright tone than he might have done a few years ago. "Now, you know I loved my b-brother," he says. "And w…we all find it difficult to b-be w…without him. Although…the fact also is that I am older and…w-well." He doesn't go on down whatever line he was thinking along, drinking more wine instead.

At this display of brotherly love Chimène makes a moue. "You must tell me when I'm being too wicked," she informs Symon; "you see, it comes so easily to me after a long summer in Nice… Didn't you have a birthday quite lately? There, you see — wicked again," she gives him a smile briefly suggestive of maidenly naughtiness, "for I forgot it. I wish I could forget my own birthdays so easily."

"Yes," Symon says, smiling. "I turned twenty-five on the fifteenth." He doesn't do any wickedness-chiding for now. "Anyway, I w…wouldn't expect you to remember. I didn't even have m…my b-bearings enough to throw a p-party. P-perhaps I can have a late one. I w…wanted to do something a little different. P-perhaps tell frightening stories and p-pull out the w…wicks on a candle one b-by one."

"Oh, yes, you must," agrees Chimène, seeing at once the point of the thing, "though if they're to be very frightening stories I shall have to find someone to hold my hand…" That thought or another has her hauling herself gracefully but with a sigh of effort into a sitting position, from which she reaches for her neglected wine. "How long have you been in the city?" she asks belatedly, between restorative mouthfuls. "I was astonished when they told me you'd called. I should have thought your parents had put you to work," she says — and, because this is a frightening story in and of itself, she drinks deeply.

"How long?" Symon repeats, as he often does with ideas that have scarcely occurred to him. "Oh…a few w…weeks, at least? B-but not so long. It's m…my first time here, really." His smile leans to one side. "I decided I'd had enough w…work."

"So have I," Chimène groans, letting her shoulders sag and her head bow briefly forward upon the long ivory column of her neck. Then with an emphatic 'mmh' she straightens and drains her goblet, and sits up a bit further to pour again for them both. "My maman-in-law has held me captive at Nice for months, my dear, helping to look after all her summer guests… Did you know," and she pauses, bottle in hand, and widens her eyes at Symon and drops her voice. This is to be a statement of great moment. "I'm one of the old women now."

"One m…must escape sometimes," Symon encourages, though her next remark elicits a look of confusion. Probably because it is often so dangerous when women make remarks about their ages and one hardly knows how to react. "Impossible," he settles on saying. "Even though you are so…clever, it m-makes me feel hardly grown-up sometimes."

'Symple Symon' has in fact an impressive amount of horse sense. Though Chimène is quick to refute his refutations. "Oh, I am, I am," she sighs as she finishes replenishing their goblets. She snuggles back against her cushions, clasping her own in long and delicate, well-jeweled fingers. "My maman-in-law wants me to help arrange matches for some of the cousins…" She eyes Symon. "You've got to get married soon," she points out. "Do you want one of my girl cousins?" and she flutters her eyelashes at him inquiringly. "I'm sure I could fix it up."

Symon is glad for a refill and dips back into his goblet immediately. "I know, I know," he says about marriage. "B-but to be honest, I'm dreading it. Having someone always there. And p-parties seem like they would be so m…much more b-boring if you are m…m…married."

"… Oh, I don't know," and Chimène giggles, eyeing her visitor as though recalling a private joke. "I don't always have such a dreadful time."

Symon grins and lets out a mild chuckle at that. "B-but you're special," he says. "And once I'm m…married, everything just b-becomes so real…" This thought seems to trouble him, and his brow goes turbulent as he drinks again.

"Oh, Symon," sighs Chimène, making another moue. "The awful thing is that it was real all along. We only have one life apiece and whatever it is we're already living it." Again she has recourse to her wine, as well she might. "Anyway," she goes on after a moment, "you don't have to like it, you only have to do it. It's how we pay for all the pleasures we take in the in-between times."

Symon doesn't look as though he much approves of that sentiment, but he doesn't really say so, he just shifts his position in his chair and looks into his goblet. "W-well. I w…/will/. In m-my time. I hardly know who m…my choices are, yet."

In her capacity as one of the old women Chimène studies Symon more closely. "Didn't I hear it said your parents were being awfully particular for your brother?" she suggests, with a quick little wrinkle of her nose, hardly enough to mar her beauty even for an instant. "I'm surprised they haven't got lists and lists of every eligible unmarried girl in Terre d'Ange… Or," again that girlish giggle, "didn't you read their lists? I shouldn't blame you."

Symon struggles not to break eye contact, but ultimately he does. He looks away. "My p…parents m-made a lot of m…mistakes," he says. "I'm not currently interested in their p-point of v…v…view." He's usually the opposite of cold, but a certain chill is creeping into these words. Symon must notice, himself, since he makes the effort to banish it by smiling and saying, "And as you know, I never read w…when I don't have to."

Chimène is quick to provide comfort in the form of another drop of wine in his goblet, sure to warm heart and soul and tone alike. "You could do worse than a cousin of ours, you know," she points out. "You could be my cousin too, and you'd always have an excuse to come to Marsilikos when Siovale became too dull… You'll enjoy the winter season here," she predicts, turning more cheerful at the thought. "All sorts of amusing people come south to get away from the cold. I remember," she giggles, "you don't see the romance in a chilly white winter—! We've nothing of that sort here; the harbour never so much as freezes, my dear."

"I do like it w…warm," Symon allows, if a bit grudgingly. "B-but a w…wife… It seems so… It's like… W-well, w…when you go to the Night Court, everyone's v…v…very charming, always, b-but…somehow it's not so exciting b-because you know in the end it's their w…work, or their calling if you p-prefer, and— W-well, maybe I shouldn't be saying any of this to you," he realizes mid-stream, eyes going back to Chimène.

He has at least given Chimène a good laugh, longer and deeper than her wicked giggling of earlier. "Oh, because I was a courtesan once upon a time," she chuckles, calming and quietening gradually as she sips her wine, "or because now I'm a wife—? Really, you've insulted me both ways. At least I should be insulted if what you were saying weren't quite so true. You don't want," and her sigh has no humour in it at all, but only a sudden and uncharacteristic burst of earnestness, "to be your wife's work. Darling, that's very sweet of you."

"Sorry," Symon says, wincing and smiling at the same time. But his posture soon relaxes again and he drinks. "It's not sweet, so m-much," he counters. "Only it just doesn't seem like m…much /fun/, does it? Isn't the real fun in not knowing w…what w-will happen? Seeing who takes a fancy to you?"

"You're talking to quite the wrong girl about that," and Chimène, sighing, forgets to be an old woman. She drinks again, sets down her goblet, knits her long white fingers together distractedly. "You've been the heir a little while — I've been a Courcel since I fell out of my maman's womb, darling, and the future duchesse de Roussillion since I was three years old. I never quite trust," she smiles an apology and looks suddenly fragile, "people who take a fancy to me."

Symon squints curiously at Chimène, then looks aside and smiles ruefully. "W-well," he says. "Anyone can tell you that notions of m…mine are unlikely to b-be v…v…very smart. So w…we'd b-better not take them too seriously."

"Anyway," says Chimène, looking away as though her slate-blue silk curtains were suddenly of great interest — and they are, for soon it will be time to change to velvet, and she's half-contemplating a new colour, "one can still have one's fun discreetly even after one has made a suitable marriage: one can even be fancied once in a while, and decide what to do about it then. It isn't all work, you know… Though…" She sighs, and turns her hazel eyes back to Symon. "You're less work than some gentlemen I could mention but won't."

Symon heaves a sigh at Chimène's marriage-boosting. "Yes, yes," he agrees half-heartedly. "Of course one can and everyone does and I w-will, and all that. I know. B-but it's tiring to think about."

Chimène indulges in another giggle. "Once you've done it you needn't think about it quite so much," she suggests. "And if you trust your wife as my lord and master is so good as to trust me," for that is her habitual manner of referring to Athanasius Rousse — not always with an accompanying roll of her eyes, "you might not have to think about so very many things at all. It's a convenience, sometimes, being two instead of one, with interests tolerably united." It's a wonder he doesn't run straight to the altar after hearing all this praise.

Symon nods at that, but might there be a hint of wariness somewhere deep within his expression? In the corner of the mouth or the depth of a pupil? "I'm sure you're an incredibly able w-wife," he says.

That idea has Chimène, the former courtesan brought up amongst Mont Nuit's heady atmosphere of sex and politics, rolling her eyes. Of course she's able. That's the point of women like her, inasmuch as they have one. "… At least in a marriage of convenience," she goes on, musing, "one doesn't take the same risk as my poor sister Lady Fleur — you don't know her, do you? She married for love — suitably, of course, but for love — and he passed away of a sickness in his lungs when their second baby was barely four months old. I don't know how she's managed so well," another sigh. "She's so much stronger than I."

Symon sets his goblet aside on a convenient table. "W…we really m-m-must talk of s-something other than m…marriage and sickness," he says. And he's not usually one to insist on topic changes. "Anyway, I never said I intended to m…marry for love, that seems foolish even for m…me."

Again Chimène sits straighter and flutters her eyelashes at him. "I've joined the ranks of the old women, remember?" she coos. "We only talk about sickness and death and marriage," she says, listing them in order of direness. "… But all right," and she takes another generous mouthful of wine and summons a light, airy laugh. "What would you rather talk about? Taxes, now, that's something."

"I don't know anything about taxes," Symon says honestly, though even that seems to cheer him somewhat. "I don't know how you can stand it to think of such things all the time. W…why don't you help me think of games for a p-p-party instead?"

"Oh," his hostess laughs, "I don't," and she draws in a breath and admits, "at least not all the time." For there's more to being the next duchesse de Roussillion than making sure everybody's got someone to talk to and is having a good time at the parties of one's parents-in-law. "Well," sighs Chimène, investigating to see whether there's anything left in the bottle — ah, good, "kottabos, of course, and the usual card games… Not piquet," and she pantomimes an exaggerated shudder, "I don't care for piquet this season.”

And she speaks as though it were a matter of high policy to be decided between their two ancient houses. “I think we ought to put an end to piquet in Marsilikos, don't you?"

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