(1310-10-17) Something Old, Something New
Summary: Isabelle’s last dinner in Terre d’Ange before setting sail for Kriti.
RL Date: 20/10/2018 - 26/10/2018
Related: Takes place immediately after A Quiet Favor and Masquerade.
chimene isabelle 

Boudoir — Ducal Suite — Rousse Residence

This small lozenge-shaped chamber boasts as many facets as a cut gemstone, each exquisitely paneled in ivory and gilt boiseries with repeating motifs of dolphins, peacocks, and swans. Four of its smaller facets appear to be taken up chiefly with glass panels, lined on the outside with ruched powder-blue silk: they are all secretly doors, two for the use of servants, the others leading respectively into the main salon and the bedchamber of the lady who owns this boudoir. Another facet is consecrated to a modest fireplace of gilded porphyry with a gilt-framed looking-glass above, and another to a porphyry-topped console table beneath a matching looking-glass. These are placed in mirrored positions to the left and the right of the chamber's outside wall and its alcove containing a double window overlooking the gardens. The latter may be shuttered and screened by a curtain of powder-blue silk embroidered with gold, to create a more perfect cosiness.

On the chamber's other longest side, directly opposite the window alcove and between two of the doors, is a luxurious sofa covered likewise in powder-blue silk and set into a mirrored recess. Its frame of gold-tasseled powder-blue draperies transforms it into a petite stage for the theatre of a lady's life.

A quartet of fauteuils upholstered either in ivory and gold, or the inevitable powder-blue, stand here and there upon the crosshatched parquet floor. Light from the small crystal and gilt chandelier overhead is supplemented by mirrored candle-stands. Occasional tables may be presumed within reach when needful.

An exchange of fragrant letters folded and sealed with coloured wax culminates in Chimène Rousse de la Courcel's deft expulsion of her old friend Symon de Perigeux from the premises and, an hour later, the arrival of Isabelle de Valais.

The future duchesse de Roussillion meanwhile has her bath and a glass of wine while she's soaking. She emerges more exquisitely scented even than her correspondence, and dons a pure white silk chemise beneath a certain gorgeously embroidered robe that was sent round to her, just yesterday, with its neck adjusted to enhance her own. Her maid brushes out her brown hair at great length and pins it up into her usual perfectly plain, perfectly smooth, perfectly silken arrangement. The parting in the middle, the sleek wings of hair almost covering her ears. Satisfied, she arranges herself in an elegant sprawl upon the powder-blue silken sofa in her boudoir, and examines herself in those two looking-glasses that are tilted, just fractionally, so that she might always see what effect she's creating.

Again wine is poured, this time for two, and the decanter left on the porphyry surface of a tiny gilded table just within her reach. She savours a few moments of perfect calm before her visitor is shown up through the dark wooden dullness of the Rousse Residence and the sudden delicate greyness of her own salon, and into this chamber best suited for the reception of beautiful friends.

The hours past have seen her in the residence of her friend and ardent patron, Jehan-Pascal de Baphinol, before returning to the heart of her haute couture empire to oversee the last few preparations she deems necessary before her departure for Kriti the next morning and an impromptu appointment with members of her own family. When the appointed hour finally arrives, she presents herself to the valet and is thus ushered to salon of the future duchesse de Roussillion in desperate need of a drink and company gifted in pulling her away from matters of business, if not just for a few much-needed hours.

She has managed a luxurious soak before her hair has been re-pinned, and has dressed herself in an elegant sheath pulled directly from her own mind - a high-necked affair that bares the shoulders and back, and dyed a crimson so rich that it cuts through the burgeoning darkness of the twilight hours. It is a creation that is almost too cold for the weather, but makes accessorizing all the more important, when paired with a warm cloak and fitted gloves that extend past the elbows. Small crystals adorn her hairpins, leaving the effect of glittering stars in the midnight sea of her loosely curled coiffure. She even wears the rare dots of perfume on her skin, albeit very sparingly, one behind each ear.

"Darling," she says, sweeping into the boudoir and taking in for a moment its lovely decor, appreciation hinted on her imperious features. "You know that I always look forward to seeing you, but today even moreso. You won't believe the day I've had." She gestures to the leather portfolio she carries in her hand. "Preliminary designs for Fleur's new couture, as well as an itemization of costs and estimates and a standard contract, but nothing that can't wait."

A good fire is crackling in the hearth, to make Chimène's cosy retreat even more so: to be relieved alike of one's portfolio and one's cloak — the one being deposited on the console table next to the curtained windows, and the other borne away by the servant who escorted her in — is no hardship here. And Chimène's arms are opening, long and white and drifting lazily through the air: she wears no gloves in her own home, and she gathers Isabelle close with bare hands that offer the lightest of caresses upon the couturière's shapely shoulders.

She inhales her friend's fragrance appreciatively and breathes out her views and suggestions: "You look so beautiful, and so thirsty. Do sit. Wine? Or shall I find you," a tiny smile, more impish than regal, "something stronger?"

Her tall form stoops to fold into Chimène's embrace, an affectionate press of her lips in the air beside that lovely white cheek - a startling contrast with her own sunkissed complexion, made all the duskier by the rich golden light of the nearby hearth. "Ah, I feel better already," she sighs, taking her own breath of her friend's fragrance and finds some manner of respite within her touch and warmth. "You are, as always, a breathtaking masterpiece."

She does sit, Isabelle settling on a space near her friend. "Something stronger, please. Oh Chimène, what a day. It is days like these that I have to look back and determine whether our generation was ever so quick to give away…everything and we somehow gave the one that came after us that it was a good example to follow."

"Oh, bless you," sighs Chimène in answer to that welcome compliment from one whose opinion has genuine value. A last quick squeeze and she releases Isabelle to a convenient powder-blue silk fauteuil. "… Now," and she lifts a warning finger and issues an order with that self-assured Courcel air: "Don't tell."

And she lowers that imperious hand and leans gracefully down over the edge of her sofa, and reveals the cabinetry beneath to contain a cupboard.

The interior of it is a drunkard's dream: a bottle or two of everything, full ones at the back and open ones at the front, as many exotic shapes and colours as might be found upon the bar in Isabelle's own loft — and perhaps some even older and more intriguing, this being the secret cache of a scion of two ducal houses. Chimène sits up straight again, languidly, every movement a poem. "Just fish out what you like," she says kindly. "Glasses are in the other side." And she reaches down to unlatch the other cupboard and show off an array of glasses and goblets appropriate to every possible intoxicating beverage. "What," she asks interestedly, "did we give away? Apart from our youth and my freedom."

The revelation of the alcoholic's paradise resting so hidden underneath where Chimène is perched earns an open look of interest from Isabelle, before she lets out a low, unbridled laugh. Long fingers lift, to inscribe a small cross in the air above her heart to signify that this is a secret that she will happily keep, before she shifts over so she can pluck a bottle of fine brandy from the rest of its crystalline cousins, followed by a pair of snifters. True to the predilections of one who also likes to drink, and one who is guilty for assuageing her usual allergy to softer emotions with them, she selects the appropriate ones.

She sets them on a waiting table and pours for them both. "My cousin - the younger sister of the Vicomte de Barreme - is to come of age in the next month," she begins. "Naturally, the preparations for the fete are well underway, but every young woman desires something beautiful to wear in an event in which she is to be the star. I pride myself in creating miracles from fabric, Chimène, so I was ready and was even enthusiastic about the task, but then she looks me in the eye, this slip of a girl, not even sixteen, and tells me that she would like it to be revealing."

The choice well-made, Chimène shuts her covert cupboards with a graceful touch here and there; and snuggles again into her pile of silken cushions in possession of a snifter liberally filled with her own good and ancient brandy. It's only fair, after the other day. She drops her voice into its lower register and repeats, with a dubiety which matches its depth, "… Revealing." A little lift of her eyes, a little sigh of her shoulders. She lifts her glass and empties it, to encourage Isabelle to be similarly free with her own. "Revealing," she says again then, fastidiously. Twice she blinks wide hazel eyes at Isabelle, as she restores her glass to the table. "Would she even know how to wear it?"

There's a hearty swallow of her brandy, before she drains it completely. Isabelle then returns to the bottle, to pour the both of them a splash of amber on each. "Perhaps with the right instruction," she replies after a thoughtful pause. "I would be less skeptical were she trained in Mont Nuit, or even the Night Court here in Marsilikos, but alas. I'm fond of Arterre - he was a balm in some of the more difficult episodes of my life and with the recent death of his father and taking up his responsibilities at a mere eighteen years of age, I'd hope to be a pillar for him in the way he was for me. I wasn't about to support parading his sister about so cheaply, and worse, to attach my name and reputation on a tawdry display. Fortunately, he was present during the negotiations and he refused."

She pauses, and takes another swallow of her brandy.

"To which she replied 'perhaps then something that is revealing but just slightly'." There's a helpless look cast on Chimène at the last.

"… Oh, my dear," her hostess murmurs faintly, having similar recourse to the libation conveniently at hand. "A debut of any sort really ought to be conducted with discretion," she sighs; "a girl isn't a piece of meat, is she, no matter how keen she might feel to stretch herself out upon a butcher's block in front of all her young men friends… I wore a revealing costume when I turned sixteen," the erstwhile Eglantine offers then, the thought or perhaps the brandy turning her a trifle moody; "but, my dear," she says again, "I had had those ten years of training. The muscles I had then — you can't picture them." She raises her snifter in a sardonic toast to musculature lost, and drinks deep.

"And that is precisely why I can't help but grouse about it with you," Isabelle remarks, resignation stamped plainly on her features - d'Angeline fragility rendered somewhat more robust by coloring of the Royal House of Aragon. "You understand the difference between cheap exposure and nuanced seduction. Courtesans in service to Naamah are educated that despite the nature of the service, nothing in the Salons is for free. Trinette has no such training, no such education about these finer points and I'm afraid her flirtatious nature paired with this stubborn belief that she needs to be so sensual while so young would only be a hindrance to an indulgent brother working tremenduously hard to establish himself a capable lord in spite of his youth. Did you know that the duchesse called him to court several months ago to ascertain his fitness to rule? He is on notice."

"… What a moment," muses Chimène, who as well as being wed to the Rousse heir has siblings in line to rule the Namarrese Courcels and House Valais itself, albeit the latter as regent; "and what an unimpeachable excuse — her sixteenth natality! — what a moment, in short, for a doting sister to host an elegant and exclusive fête at which she and her brother might impress the cream of Marsilikos with their good sense and good taste, and set all the city a-buzz with talk of Barrême's sound younger generation." She glances into her glass, then looks up at Isabelle and cocks her head. "… No, I take it?"

"My hopes in that regard," Isabelle replies, dryly, finishing her glass and pouring another, and waits for the unfurling of that graceful, white arm so she can refill Chimène's glass. "Fall upon the efforts of Mademoiselle Cochonnet nó Glycine, who has established for herself a not-insignificant reputation for being the city's premier event planner. I've met with her before, for her plans in connection with an Aragonian-themed fete and in that regard, she needed a consultant on the culture and tradition of the country. She demonstrated in that first meeting what she already learned with the efforts of her own considerable research, her intention to honor the culture plain on every choice. I have tremendous faith in her ability to construct the fantasia that Trinette desires…and her sound judgment."

She exhales a breath, rolling back her head, spare hand reaching to gently work her fingers on a burgeoning knot where strings of muscle attach her throat to her shoulder. "I would have offered to assist in planning the event myself, if not just out of affection for family," she continues. "But such a thing calls for a different expertise entirely and I'm afraid I'm a master in only the one. That and I'm simply too busy for endeavors of that magnitude. Why, I'm to depart for Kriti in the morning, I can't plan a fete while I'm on a boat, and I know how much you adore boats." As in, not really.

Even hampered by ancestral Rousse décor Chimène herself has held one or two moderately well-regarded parties in this city, she would consider; but as she extends her glass toward the replenishment Isabelle offers she lowers her eyelids slightly and concedes of Cochonnet: "I do know of her." More than that would reveal too much of her own on-again, off-again relationship with the Salon de Glycine. "… Kriti," she adds, faintly intimidated. "My dear, I don't know how you endure it. I hope some of the sailors are pretty."

Brandy fills Chimène's glass before the bottle is put away again. "She's one of the more interesting individuals in Marsilikos," Isabelle remarks, her tone absent, busily unlocking the vaults of her memory to inspect the pearls within. "And true to the name, she knows how to have fun."

I don't know how you endure it.

"You know me, my dear. I'm always happy traveling, but I think doing such over water in Autumn might be the true test of my adoration. Phaistos is beautiful this time of year, but getting there. Oh, Yeshua. Squalls and pirates." Though she speaks of these as if talking about temple service. There is a pause, and one of consideration, to decide whether to bring up the name of a mutual acquaintance - but common sense steers her away completely from it as soon as the idea blossoms in the back of her mind. She is not about to mire herself in minefields between two friends.

"There's something about the sea that tends to strip 'pretty' from many of the bodies who work it," she continues. "But I'll settle for hard and handsome. After all…" And here, her smile curls upwards, sly and almost feline. "…I may have given up on finding anyone who can compare on that front, after you."

“What shocking flattery, my lady,” gasps Chimène, pressing a hand to her bosom in mock-horror and leaning away as though she might very well swoon against her bountiful pile of powder-blue pillows. Her head lolls back a moment upon her swanlike throat; then she’s sitting up again and her gesture becomes a graceful reclamation of her glass.

“I suppose I did used to like the hard and handsome ones,” she confesses, wrinkling her nose and then letting the fragrance of her cognac smoothe it again. “But they’re in and out of this house in such hordes that they all look alike to me now, all equally tedious with their talk of riggings and squalls and bowsprits… Oh, honestly,” she chides, putting her glass down again and beckoning to Isabelle, “come here and stop looking like such a martyr, my dear. We have such a nice little supper ahead of us. I can’t have you fail to enjoy it.”

And her long white fingers reach out toward that knot of tension between her guest’s neck and her shoulder, the too-tangible legacy of the day she’s had, with which Isabelle herself seems to have been wrestling in vain. Chimène is no Balm — but nobody escapes Mont Nuit without becoming prodigiously learned in the art of easing away a long day.

Shocking flattery, she says.

Her gasp and that brilliant diamond of humor has Isabelle tilting her head back and laughing, feeling tension from the earlier conundrum regarding her cousin unwind and burn away into ash. The smile that follows after is a warm and open thing, breaking apart her imperious exasperation. “What…” she begins, raising her glass. “Would have I ever done without you, my dear?” And she tips back the rest of her drink after that.

Another refill, for herself and her hostess, if she needs, crimson silk slithering about her as she shifts to the edge of her fauteuil. Her head cants, offering up the elegant line of her throat for the former courtesan’s ministrations, lashes lidding at the pleasure of being touched so expertly, the rigorous discipline of Mont Nuit apparent in every gentle knead. “I always liked the ones who could fight,” she continues, absently. “Or rather, the ones who know how to hold their own against me.” By the way she speaks, she doesn’t mean physically, or just. "And as you know, darling, I could never respect a man who allows me to walk all over them…well, unless it’s deliberate.” A more feline look there, shades of her most exacting tutor surfacing from the depths. “Much less lie with them. Women, though.” And here, she leans forward towards Chimène, a touch of rare affection suffusing over the line of her mouth. “I definitely like if they overwhelm me in some way.”

She leans back after, fingers swirling her glass. “And these days, coming across them becomes rarer by the year, if my young cousin is to be the gauge of what is to come. Ah, but it’s so good to see you returned to us in Marsilikos.”

Chimène owes her striking looks in part to disproportions which challenge without quite alarming the eye: she has large hands and is clever enough to flaunt rather than to conceal them, wearing enormous jewels on several of her fingers and often disdaining gloves on occasions when most other ladies would consider them de rigueur. And then, when she wills it, the reach and the strength of those magnificent hands grows moment by moment more apparent: her touch surer, less gentle, pressing deeply into both Isabelle’s shoulders and kneading hard muscle into a new and buttery softness. Perhaps some persons would, depending how fully out of the blue it came to them, consider such an experience… overwhelming.

When Isabelle seems to wish it she lets go at once and clasps her hands demurely in her embroidered lap. She has a thoughtful look in her hazel eyes. “I suppose,” she muses, “one’s tastes do grow naturally more refined over time… What I always hope for,” and she sighs and flicks an extravagant glance up toward the draperies framing her alcove, “is something new. And doesn’t that just grow more and more difficult to find, my dear. Everybody in Marsilikos, everybody in Elua — they all possess the same little book of suggestions upon how to seduce a future duchesse. The trouble is,” and she blinks twice at Isabelle and leans closer with the air of one confiding a secret: another of her favourite affectations. “I’ve read it too.”

She enjoys it, this woman who has no qualms throwing herself body and soul to whatever she is experiencing at the moment, and Chimène’s hands are nothing short of art. Her hostess would feel her growing lax, akin to some sleek jungle cat kneaded and caressed into submission - and that is precisely what is happening, in these short, blissful moments between words where Isabelle does nothing but wholeheartedly capitulate to what is being done to her.

Overwhelming, yes, but she is inured to the experience of pain and pleasure being inexorably intertwined, and can withstand it better than most in no small part due to the domineering shade that occasionally manifests in the back of her mind, especially when things prove to be physically….difficult. She is no anguissette, the motes in her eyes are gold and not crimson, but she has learned, and trained, with the very best that Mont Nuit had to offer.

What I always hope for is something new.

It is that specific commonality with which they’ve bonded a few years ago in the blissful, and somewhat blurry, aftermath of Fleur’s wedding. Her expression grows solemn in agreement, a hand lifting to delicately touch the point of Chimène’s chin with her index as she leans forward.

“I’m of the mind,” she tells her quietly, seriously. “That no one in this world deserves you, so to watch or hear about even the greatest of attempts would find only skepticism on my part.” After a considering pause, mischief manifests plainly on her sunkissed mien. “Though I can’t help but wonder, my darling, if that’s not a hint. Should I try and find something new for you while I’m out braving the seas in Autumn?”

Chimène doesn’t shy away from the touch of that finger… at least, not at once.

“Oh,” she sighs, “if only you could.” From looking deep into Isabelle’s eyes she lets her eyelids flutter closed, as though carried away by some private imagining — a courtesan’s trick, but with something of real yearning in it beneath Chimène’s artful but brittle exterior.

Her head turns, chin lifting, profile briefly sublime against the candlelit mirror at her back. Unerringly a hand lifts from her lap and seizes upon her glass. At the taste of brandy the shades lift from over her wide hazel eyes, and she regards Isabelle with a hint of the same mischief. “Do, yes,” and she lets loose a quick soprano giggle, “if such can be had. I don’t know whether I believe in it.” Again the double-blink of those long dark lashes. “My sister thinks I ought to take a consort — I can’t imagine it. Who in this world, my dear, has the faculty of being forever new—? I don’t believe in it — and you know me, darling,” for which avowal she borrows Isabelle’s own words: “I never settle for less than just exactly what I want.”

“A consort?” Isabelle wonders, and that is when a skeptical brow actually, slowly, climbs towards her hairline. “Whatever for? You’re married, your position secure, you’ve done your duty with the womb, why would you even contemplate reducing whatever freedom you manage to still hold onto? Though I suppose…” And there’s a visible frown, the first stitch of discomfiture on her mien when she inspects her snifter. “That she comes from a different set of experiences to which neither of us can fully relate, or appreciate the scope and magnitude thereof. She had Louis, after all. There was a point in my life, once, if you could believe it, and only once, when I actually wondered what it would be like if I had a Louis of my own.”

Pause. Beat.

“And then I tipped my head back and drank some more.”

After a moment, she sighs, turning her body so she could regard the beautiful, graceful form of the future duchesse de Roussillion near her, long legs crossing by the knee and angled towards her. “It was never in either of our natures to settle for less than what we desire, no matter how many times the desire itself changes. I can be utterly capricious in my worst days…or best, depending on who’s listening.” Good humor glitters in her stare. “But really, why should we? Settle, I mean. I hear the word all too often, especially whenever I take a new wedding gown commission. Is it so terrible to be unattached, I wonder? I’ve not regretted it once.”

“And then I tipped my head back and drank some more.”

Chimène suits her actions to Isabelle’s words, toasting her visitor first of all. By now she’s positively swimming in good cognac: a state in which, for a few hours in the evening, she achieves a contentment with her life and even a degree of optimism regarding her future.

“She’s a Heliotrope,” she reminds Isabelle in an exaggerated whisper; “she believes love is all, because for her it is. Or it was. And it will be again, please Naamah make it so,” a soft groan imbued with sisterly sentiments so deep and sincere that Chimène can’t utter them without finding a way to diminish them through exaggeration, “for she’s the one who needs it, you know. You and I — we are — well, you’re sufficient in yourself,” she pronounces, eyeing Isabelle and her legs admiringly, “and I think I am too, most of the time. I may lapse now and again,” she confesses. “You’re so fortunate, my dear, you’re young and you have the choice still ahead. And if you keep it still ahead you’ll stay fortunate, too…” A little giggle. “Perhaps if one gets it far enough into the past, one might enjoy the same state.”

“You speak as if you believe yourself ancient,” Isabelle replies. “And I won’t have it. I’ve a mind that your dullard of a husband wouldn’t be invited anywhere diverting, for years, if you weren’t with him. Your presence is practically a social requirement, if not just for the hosts to declare that an impossible beauty such as yourself graced their fête. Besides…” And here, there is genuine envy. “I know for a fact that I will visibly age before you do. You’ll look the way you are, still, once we reach the years when Winter weighs even more heavily on our bones.”

She takes another determined sip of her brandy. “I made my choice long ago, and I’ve held on to it tenaciously ever since. My father’s attempts at betrothing me were downright annual for a while, and I proved myself insufferable in each. Thankfully, I’ve enough of a talent and drive to free myself from whatever designs House Valais may have had for me - either they leave me alone or I withhold my significant contributions to the family name and coffers.” She draws her pinky finger over the lip of her snifter. “No, Chimène. I shall never marry, nor take a consort, nor have children. Perhaps in doing such…” And her mischief returns. “I’ll be able to hold onto my youth for longer than is expected.”

"… Oh, now now," says Chimène, making a moue of disapproval and narrowing her eyes just a fraction; "you mustn't slight my lord and master. He's a fine man, you know," she concedes without so much as a flicker of reluctance — the brandy's that good; "he's intelligent and capable and as dutiful as the night is long. If you consider him to blame for not pleasing me — you must own that I'm just as much to blame for not pleasing him." She gives an elegant shrug.

"But I'm quite on the other side of it now — why, I'm one of the old women already,” she claims with her patented long-lashed double-blink. “My maman-in-law has me helping to find and to negotiate matches for certain of our cousins. She doesn't like to travel — and His Grace is always at sea, isn’t he — and I tend to be rather in the middle of things — it's easier for me to conduct the necessary discussions." The mantle of responsibility doesn’t seem to be chafing her unduly; perhaps she’s just comfortable in that embroidered robe adjusted for her so painstakingly in Isabelle’s atelier. She’s nonchalant. She’s philosophical. “… You’re fortunate,” she says again, “but it’s a fortune you’ve built yourself. I do admire it, you know. And not simply,” she gives vent to a deeper laugh than usual, “because it will preserve your youth.”

Lord and master. The look on Isabelle’s face, for a brief flicker of a second, is simply indescribable.

But at that effortless shrug prompts the designer to leave it enough alone, though her bias is quite visibly stamped upon her. The smile that follows is a commiserating one, and she leans forward to clink the edge of her glass gently with her friend’s own, before taking another quiet sip. Sipping this time, for now. She is starting to lose track of how many glasses she has had, and while cavalier with her own (many) vices, alcohol is one in her very short list of exceptions - for many reasons. It serves her purposes well enough to convincingly appear limitless; her hearty constitution certainly helps.

“Your cousins?” she wonders, finally. “That’s a tremendously long list, from which branches? I suppose it is the season, isn’t it? Hunt during the Fall and Winter to prepare for the following Spring?”

Chimène’s stated admiration has her smiling faintly. “And I admire your resilience,” she tells her, voice lowered to impart her sincerity like a terrible secret. She doesn’t clarify, doesn’t expand upon it or explain, but the fact that she means it, her imperious manner falling away to reveal a hint of the creature underneath, is evident enough to one so socially perceptive. The implication that Isabelle would not have survived Chimène’s circumstances is as glaring as red on green…and telling, for a woman who prides herself on being able to survive almost anything.

But Chimène isn’t inclined to be terribly specific: she has a decent head herself and, let’s be frank, her breakfast wasn’t so long ago. “… Oh, this one and that,” she says vaguely. House Rousse’s internal affairs remain internal. Then: “… Oh, but aren’t you going to show me what’s in that rather grand portfolio of yours? … You’re so diverting, Isabelle,” and she leans confidentially nearer and bats her eyelashes, “that I quite forgot my sister’s sartorial plight. Perhaps I shall be able to forget it forever, if we’re apt enough about our business.”

<FS3> Isabelle rolls Fashion Design: Great Success. (1 4 7 8 2 2 5 7 4 7)

Amusement there, when Isabelle flashes her friend a certain look, but that, too, she is willing to leave alone, rising from her seat momentarily to retrieve the elegant black portfolio left behind in one of the tables, propped up so carefully by an attentive Rousse lackey. Resettling near Chimène once done, she withdraws her hard work carefully, pages splashed with color and neat, black outlines - every model is faceless and angular in the style most designers favor.

“This, so far, is my favorite.” The creation has a choker-styled collar, attached to the fitted bodice by a white gold accent with a yet to be decided-upon gem in the middle, fitted over the bust and the taper of the waist before flaring out in a free-flowing skirt. It leaves the shoulders bare, with a set of separated sleeves that could either be ribboned to puff at the wrists, or left sleek and flowing, to be worn with or without depending on Fleur’s mood, with notes as to how to attach it to the arms seamlessly. The embroidery is lovingly, painstakingly detailed, running along the collar down to the torso, stopping at where the hips end and the thighs begin and outlining panels of Courcel blue over the ivory under-dress and lining, and not a single stitch of black, brown or gray within it. “Silver, I think,” she says, of the embroidery. “Though I’ll have a test palette with gold, just to see what fits better. Lace hemming, of course - delicate. I’ve yet to experiment on the fabric combinations, but it would be a pity to opt for heavy textiles when the silhouette is so light and airy. With the right accents, I think, like your decadent Vralian furs over for the colder months. I thought of green, truly, it makes brown more interesting, but Fleur’s hair and her complexion. I couldn’t not have gone blue.”

Examining the couture-to-be with a critical eye, she can’t help but laugh. “Though this does mean putting her lady’s maids to work putting her in it, but it’s a deliberate choice on my part. You did imply that she ought to be pampered more.”

Whilst Isabelle fetches her portfolio Chimène shifts and sits straighter, her left elbow well-propped upon her pillows. She receives each proffered drawing and judges with an instantaneous eye which, were it more universally possessed, would save Isabelle a great deal of the time and fuss she must sometimes put into soothing clients’ uncertainties and guiding them toward the most flattering conclusions. Chimène likes something or she doesn’t: and though that Dahlia-trained composure of hers diminishes the signs of dissatisfaction about her mouth or her eyes which the brandy might otherwise betray, she sorts Isabelle’s designs swiftly into those good enough for Fleur and those that just aren’t quite.

She does seem taken with the couturière’s own acknowledged favourite: she looks at it the longest, the sheet of fine parchment clasped gently between her long white fingers.

“… Oh, gold,” she declares at last, looking up to meet Isabelle’s eyes with a spark of delight revealed behind her fluttering dark lashes. “For me it would be silver,” which second-class precious metal earns itself a little moue, “but I must see Fleur again in gold and ivory and blue. That at least we have in common. Courcel women always suit blue,” she explains confidently. “It must be so awkward being a Chalasse or a L’Envers, don’t you suppose? Red and green together, or all those warm colours if one’s complexion would better suit something cool… But blue is almost universally flattering, and doubly so for us.” She surrenders the drawing, placing it atop the stack on the table at her side and then nudging them into tidiness with impatient fingertips. “I yearn to see her in it,” she sighs, “and dancing.”

Chimène has always been inordinately gifted in making things easy for her without even trying - easy conversation, easy company, easy on the eyes, and to a busy woman such as herself, to have a patron who is blessed with utterly impeccable taste and the decisiveness to act upon it is a particular boon that Isabelle enjoys and does not take for granted. There’s a gleam of approval in her eyes when Chimène lifts her own, makes her own choice and states her opinion on the matter, and wine-red lips ease into a broad grin. “Gold it is,” she confirms, and with the stylus that is ever present within the pocket of her black portfolio, she makes the appropriate notation and a curving arrow to the choker-style collar and its intricate white gold setting, to make the change to yellow gold instead to match the embroidery.

It must be so awkward being a Chalasse or a L’Envers.

“The family coloring for both houses certainly poses enough challenges for me,” she acknowledges. “The only time red and green are acceptable together is during the winter holidays and even then, I can scarcely determine what the originator was thinking. The color wheel exists for a reason - if others paid more attention to it, I wouldn’t have to explain to the novices who engage me for the first time whether a shade enhances or clashes with another.” She exhales and tilts her head back to look at the lovely boudoir’s ceilings. “But work is work for a reason, I suppose. I would call it a hobby or diversion instead if it did not have more than its fair share of frustrations.”

Reminded, she shifts so she could look at her friend’s lovely profile more directly. “Speaking of the winter holidays, do you intend to embark on the annual pilgrimage to Elua this year, or are you remaining in Marsilikos?”

“A wheel?” is Chimène’s blank inquiry: for she has always just used her own impeccable eye, trained between the Night Court and the Royal Court and the country houses of her own exacting ancestors. But straight away she shrugs and moves on — for with the greater part of the business done, her glass is tempting her again. She catches it up and sips from it.

“I’ll look over the papers tomorrow with my secretary,” she assures Isabelle, for she knows better than to sign her name after several glasses of exquisite and ancient cognac. And she knows Isabelle, too, will know better than to expect her to do so. “And I’ll see that they’re… returned to you?” The double-blink is this time inquiring. “How long do you suppose you shall be away in Hellas? Because, you know, I do go to Elua in December.” Chimène shrugs. “I always go. It’s expected — the season is not without its pleasures…”

“Of course, my darling, and your secretary can send them to Guillermo at my salon,” Isabelle replies. With the papers set and piled up, she carefully slips them back into the portfolio, but leaves the contract and itemization in a separate sheath, which she will leave with a valet whenever she departs the Rousse manse for the evening. Business concluded, the return to pure socialization is welcome, and she leans back on one hand, snifter held aloft in the other.

“Ideally, two or three weeks. If the worst happens and the weather proves itself utterly abysmal, a month. I can’t afford to be away for too long especially with the Longest Night being one of my busiest times of the year. I have appointments in Kusheth in early November for households that have been clamoring for a visit, and thank goodness for whatever foresight I’ve managed to acquire in my years in the business that I’ve already had Colette…” Isabelle’s right-hand woman and in charge of her execution team. “…vetting and hiring master seamstresses from her own network since September in anticipation of rising demand and urgent requests, and to make doubly sure that everything gets made before people leave for Elua in the event that additional fittings are necessary. As it stands, I’m already thinking of bringing quite a few of my staff with me to the capital in case deliveries have to be made from Marsilikos to there, that way they’ll be in hand should fittings be necessary in the city itself.” She glances over at Chimène. “Have I mentioned Colette? She was the former owner of the building I commandeered, her business was the foundation upon which I built my own. I design, she and her troops execute. I thought that with Courtly Couture being such a staple in Marsilikos’ commercial district that to buy her out entirely would not be prudent - why create a rival when I can have a very talented ally instead? I trust she was one of the main reasons why my humble empire blossomed so quickly.”

She absently taps a perfectly-shaped fingernail on her portfolio. “Though it seems to me that it would be hardly equitable to design something wonderful and original for my dear cousin-in-law and your younger sister, and not to create something absolutely beautiful for my dear friend as well, especially for the season. Unless you already have your entire wardrobe picked out for the trip, of course.”

“… Oh, well,” says Chimène, “I do usually find my dresses in Elua, from one seamstress or another.” And, like most noblewomen for whom style is a great and enticing game, she forbears to name names. It is understood that Colette, whomever she may have been, was beneath Courcel notice until she nailed her colours to a Valais mast. (If you’ll forgive us such a nautical metaphor.) “My difficulty, you know…” she confides, glancing this way and then that as though her boudoir could possibly have been infiltrated by eavesdroppers: “My difficulty is — well — that however much my hands might reach out and covet such robes as this one,” she runs an elegant paw over her hip and the length of her thigh, “I know I best suit simplicity, and I must discipline myself to it. But have you,” she leans nearer, eyelashes fluttering, large hazel eyes fixing upon Isabelle’s with a sudden intensity, “anything simple for me—? I have dresses enough for the season — but… perhaps…” Now it’s the brandy talking, and her ungovernable desire for novelty: “… One or two?” she breathes, expectant.

<FS3> Isabelle rolls Fashion Design: Great Success. (7 2 3 6 8 5 8 8 1 8)

Simplicity, she says.

“In your case, it does suit,” Isabelle confirms, after a momentary pause to regard her friend and the way she arranges herself upon her bench. “As is with most great beauties, clothes are meant to frame and call to the eye’s attention what is already there. Even with other d’Angelines, that is rare.” Her pinky finger hooks underneath the cover of her portfolio, to flip it over so she could get to the pocket where a small sketchpad can be found, and as always her much beloved stylus, twirled on elegant fingers as she considers.

“Flamboyance tends to be either indicative for a flair for the dramatic or a mask for pre-existing imperfections, and physically, my dear, you do not have any of the latter. But then again.” That sly smile returns. “That might be a certain bias on my part wherever you’re concerned.” Quick flicks of her wrist draw stark, black lines on the pristine white page on her lap, capturing the basic shapes of the future duchesse de Roussillion - long white limbs, large hands and long fingers, that lovely Courcel throat.

What springs forth from her imagination is simple, indeed, but one that does nothing but highlight Chimène’s graceful dancer’s musculature - an off-shouldered affair in but one color, and noted in the margins to be fashioned from Courcel blue silk, the neckline fringed with delicate ruffles, with a fitted bodice and a long, structured skirt - but only at the hips to pull the eye towards the narrow taper of her waist. It leaves her throat bare and the elegant frame her shoulders make with it untouched and in no way obscured, and right next to this preliminary sketch is one to mirror how she envisions her back to be, more dramatic than the front itself, though not overly so - the swooping neckline dips deeper to expose the swan-wings of her shoulderblades and the sinuous line of her spine…and stopping before her marque is visible and thus, keeping Chimène’s history with the storied Mont Nuit house hidden - as it should be.

“Something like this,” she says. “And with the way you wear your hair…well, I think the effect will speak for itself.”

Chimène inhales deeply. “Make it for me,” she demands, those few words containing all the imperiousness of her heritage and telling a whole story into which Isabelle is suddenly conscripted. That single ruffle, the depth of the bodice and the fullness of the skirts — what is shown, and what is revealed — the ideal lines, the richness, the sensibility so attuned to her own — she crumples the sketch in her large and bejeweled left hand and with her right hand pulls Isabelle into a hard and vicious and covetous and wanting kiss.

Make it for me.

Her laugh spills over the relative quiet of the boudoir at the sheer regalness with which Chimene makes her demand, but it is nothing so airy and light that typically comes from a young woman of pure angelic stock. There is no crystal in Isabelle’s voice, always kept in richness and smoke - the audible ambience of candlelit rooms and incense-filled confessionals. She would say plenty, talk about arrangements, after all, this is part and parcel of her condition, is it not? To be able to spend time with a person and be able to make her couture dreams come true? And the more exacting the patron, the more enticing the challenge.

But Chimène’s mouth burns further talk of business away and the surprise from the other woman is only seconds-long. A tactile creature by nature, always so willing to be enslaved by her senses, she is drawn further into her friend’s mouth by the taste of brandy and the scent imbued on her skin. Long, gentle fingers sweep over her right cheekbone in a brush, the satin pad of one thumb tracing its perfect arch. She drinks deep, lips parted and her entire being invested in the act, unashamed, some distant part of her heart sinking into the shadows of her other life, reminded all too suddenly that if things in Kriti go poorly, she may never see her friend ever again.

It might be fitting, in the end, that this beautiful, simple thing that Chimène has asked her to craft for her may very well be her one last gift.

She eases away after a moment, rare affection hinted at by the delicate touch she leaves on the future duchesse’s cheek. Eyes lidded, her smile lifts once more at the corners. “Well,” she murmurs, teasingly. “With enticements like these, who am I to refuse you?”

She lifts her head, turning towards the door on the side. “And now that’s settled, perhaps we ought to find our way to this dinner?”

Just a taste — but that’s enough, to pique a certain interest on both sides without the danger of burning it out so soon, too soon. It’s a memory, a suggestion, a promise, a denial. Chimène for her part draws away and giggles. “Oh, do let’s,” she agrees.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License