(1310-11-07) Winning By Losing
Summary: Symon seeks an escort to a particularly dire evening party. Chimène just wants a bit of company. Naturally, they dice for it.
RL Date: 07/11/2018
Related: A Separate Issue.
chimene symon 

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.

Symon de Perigeux has met Chimène Rousse de la Courcel before under any number of circumstances, casually social or achingly intimate; but this is the first time he's shown up into her boudoir, a powder-blue and gilded jewel-box of a chamber, rendered cosy by a fire in the porphyry hearth, and welcoming by the wine one servant is already pouring out into two goblets as another shows him into the chamber. His hostess is half-recumbent in her particular alcove, propped upon a pile of pillows, the folds of her pure white gown arranged exquisitely about her, and any number of precious jewels weighing down the hand she stretches out to him. "… Oh," she sighs; "Symon. You don't know what a relief you are."

Symon had on his crimson-leaf-edged cloak when he arrives, though he surrendered it to a servant so as not to get outerwear on the furniture. As he comes up to the boudoir, he turns round over the course of a few steps to get the full effect of the room. "B-beautiful appointments," he comments, though then his gaze returns to his dear friend and her reclining position. "A relief? M…my dear, w-what can it be? You're not ill?" He manages to say that before he has quite made it across the room to take her hand, though of course he is reaching for it and not at all waiting to make sure she's not sick before taking her hand.

"Not at all," Chimène laughs; and she clasps his fingertips in her own for an instant before her large, white, jewel-bedecked hand releases him to a suitable fauteuil. "I'm entirely recovered since last we met — I think it was your agate that made it so! — it's only that I'm beset with the sort of small tediums I know you'll do better than ever to talk to me about."

The fingers make contact just after Chimène confirms there is no illness. "Ah, I told you so," he says proudly. "B-but you m…must tell me about your troubles and then you m…must also agree to go with me to this deadly tableaux p-party I got invited to, or else find m-me a p-p-plausible way out of it."

Chimène draws back — not away from Symon, you understand, but from the prospect he suggests — and breathes out a sound expressive of her dubiety. "Oh," she wonders aloud, "how dire is it—?" The lackey has finished pouring the wine; she waves him away impatiently and a moment later they're alone, in perfect privacy, in the most exquisite chamber in Marsilikos. With drinks.

"Well, I hardly know, only the w…woman who asked me…Now w…what was her name? I told it to my m-man… B-but she is…w-well… She is shaped like a v…very large b-basset hound and she told m-me that she and her sisters and daughters w…would all b-be doing 'heavenly tableaux' for the entertainment of their guests, and…w-well." A dramatic rolling of widened eyes indicates about how well he expects that to go as he helps himself to a seat and a cup of wine. "I really do like this room."

"A basset hound…" The future duchesse de Roussillion, who fails to partake of her in-laws' outdoorsy enthusiasms by sea or by land, pauses to contemplate a particular peacock nestled amongst her boiseries: she noticed long ago that bringing her gaze into line with it lifts her chin to one of its most fetching angles, as well as lengthening the line of her Courcel swan-throat. What is it that distinguishes a basset hound from other hunting dogs? The jowls, yes — but in a discussion of the dowagers of Marsilikos that's not quite a conclusive point — oh, yes, the ears. "Why, I think you must mean Lady — --," she supplies, smiling at Symon with sudden brilliance. "The earrings. The turquoise pair hangs more than halfway to her bosom, don't you think? So tempting to try to take a measurement… The daughters will be gamboling after you like baby bassets once they've got the scent," and she widens her eyes at him rather theatrically. "The sisters as well I shouldn't wonder. Of course you could chuck," she considers, "but the fact is they've rather a fine cook, I believe."

Symon taps his nose to indicate that Chimène has hit on just the lady in question. Or perhaps he means to indicate her prominent nose in the bargain. "I'm afraid so," he admits gravely. "And all three of them shaped like sandbags in corsets." His speech is unusually clear all the way through these casual insults. "B-but I do like a fine m…meal. Especially b-being away from the cook at home, I'm completely at the m…mercy of whoever is feeding me."

"Oh," and Chimène makes a moue, and takes up her glass of wine again as she quite visibly tallies up the merits of the young ladies in question. "I wouldn't say they're that bad," she allows at last. "Though to be sure there isn't a drop of angelic blood in that family — which is no doubt why they try so hard, and why they keep such a cook… I suppose if you really wanted to go I could go with you — I might enjoy those 'heavenly tableaux'," as a week's worth of gossip-fodder at least, "but I'm not dressed, my dear," her present floaty white frock being too delicate for the world outside her own chambers, "and I should have to put on full plate, you know, and a helm and little sabatons, before setting foot in a houseful of people so keen to be invited into mine."

"Oh, b-but you're equal to it," Symon says with great confidence. "Don't you w…want to see w-what they choose? W…what they cast themselves as? And to know w…what the b-best cooks are serving is useful, too. And think to w…what advantage such a group w-will set you off. You will seem the seraph of the group, w-won't you." He drinks rather than pour on encouragement too thickly.

But here despite his strategic pause for refreshment Symple Symon's intuition for human motives has led him too far, too fast, and directly over the nearest cliff-edge. Chimène lids her wide hazel eyes and murmurs silkily, "Of course if you feel I shine brightest in the absence of any real competition…"

Symon blinks in return at that statement. "W…what, you only feel v…v…victorious w-when you have a real foe?" he wonders. "There I think you and I differ. I like things to b-be easy. How can w…we make it sporting for you, then?" he wants to know.

On another day, Chimène might hold it against him; but today she's just glad of a companion in what would otherwise have been lonely hours, enlivened by no more than perhaps a visit from her children. "But too much ease is so tedious," she protests without venom, her eyelashes still lowered almost till they touch her alabaster cheeks. "I suppose we might dice for it. Though I warn you, my new pair of dice may be honest but they are quite fond of me." Her good humour is returning bit by bit, perhaps just at the prospect of playing with her new toys.

"I've never had too m-much ease," claims Symon, however speciously. "Honest dice that are fond of one are the b-best thing in the w…world," Symon says. "How could I hold that against you?" He is known, at gaming tables, to be an extremely good loser, though not a master strategist.

Chimène unfolds her long and graceful form from amongst her cushions and her mirrors, the dainty white fabric of her gown showing itself crumpled in a few places — agreeably so, as though she's not too immaculate to dance, or to embrace, or to let her hair down after some other manner. "They were a gift," she confesses, stepping briefly into another chamber, from which her voice drifts back to Symon: "From a… a person I met lately and I haven't quite made up my mind about. They were lucky for him, too." She steps back into her boudoir rattling two dice in a cage made of her long white fingers, her other hand outstretched behind her to push shut the door with its window-panes covered in blue silk.

"Terribly clever gift," Symon judges. "W…wish I'd thought of it. And now you're b-being m…mysterious," he accuses playfully, "But it sounds rather as if you don't w…want to talk about it, so I w-won't ask if you don't w…wish."

"… Well, it's Rousse gossip," admits Chimène, pouting a little as she reclaims her cushioned nest. "I do try to be good about family business, you know, whatever it may cost me in ulcers later on. Here, darling, you go first," and she presses the dice into Symon's hand: two cool cubes of reddish marble which haven't touched her skin long enough to draw warmth from it. Their engraved pips are diamond-shaped, and filled in with gold to leave the surface marvelously smooth. "If you win I'll go with you and try to put the hounds off the scent," and she giggles; "if I win, you'll stay here and have a bite of supper with me, mmm?"

Symon clicks his tongue at being denied this morsel of gossip, but doesn't press. Now, at least. He reaches for the dice and admires them close to his nose for a moment before closing a fist around them and rolling them around inside. "B-beautiful dice," he comments. "I agree to the w…wager." After enjoying the feeling of the smooth dice tumbling in his hand a moment later, he casts them on the table-top.

They both count the pips in silence and then Chimène sweeps up the dice in her own hand again, rattles them a little longer than did Symon, touches her closed white fist to her lips in a kiss or a prayer or both — and casts them forth.

Her gaze upon those all-powerful cubes as they determine her fate is anxious, alert, more alive than before. At least till she's reckoned up the number and leaned her head back with a picturesque groan. "At least will you sit and talk to me while I change?" she pleads of her escort for the evening.

Symon leans over the dice each time, perhaps admiring the different faces up close. When he gathers he's won, he smiles ear to ear and sits back with satisfaction, cradling his wine near his chest. "Oh, of course," he says. "W…what will you w-wear? Something heavenly? Or quite the opposite?"

"Oh, I don't know," protests Chimène. Standing up again she gathers her fickle Kusheline dice in one hand and her goblet in the other; from her lofty height she looks over her still-seated friend with a more calculating eye than that with which she estimated his garb upon his arrival. "Something that goes but doesn't match, I suppose," she says vaguely. "Bring the decanter, will you?"

Symon picks up the decanter to fulfill his duty as wine-provider and fashion supporter. "It's just the season for fiery colors, you know," he puts in as he approaches. "I'm afraid I've rather p…p…put you out tonight? How can I m-make it up, I w-wonder?"

The bedchamber into which Chimène leads him is almost the size of her salon, separated from it by the boudoir and certain other offices in between, and lined with the same grey and white boiseries — though the salon's restrained elegance is here contradicted by quantities of gorgeous crimson silk, plain or gold-embroidered, employed in upholstery and draperies alike. The bed is something monumental, separated from the rest by a gilded railing and heavily curtained at this season with golden swans swimming upon a lake of crimson. The fireplace is likewise on a grand scale, hewn from the same porphyry as the smaller one in her boudoir: before it upon a small tabouret her maid, a figure surely by now half-familiar to Symon, sits stitching away at some dainty piece of lingerie. Of course she gets up in a hurry when Chimène, Symon, and the wine arrive.

"It seems I am going out this evening," sighs Chimène to her most valuable domestic as she sways gracefully firewards, "with Lord Symon. I shall want something with a great deal of colour in it — to suit but not to match."

"Yes, milady," and, having had a decent look at Symon in his own finery, the maid curtseys and withdraws into the labyrinth of cabinets and chests hidden away behind the boudoir, taking her sewing basket with her.

Symon looks everything over with curiosity and appreciation, including the maid. When she is headed out of the room, he looks to his friend. "She seems good," he says, perhaps a little envious. "I don't think my m…man here quite understands me, yet."

"She was the very nicest wedding present I had," confides Chimène, standing pensively by the fire with her hands clasped behind her at the small of her back. "If there's anything suitable to hand I'm sure she'll find it…" Lifting her voice slightly so as to be heard next door she calls out a further instruction: "Heaven or hell — if I'm any judge, probably hell." But to show Symon she doesn't mind as much as all that, she gives him a quick, wry smile over her shoulder.

"How do they learn to p-pick out clothes p…properly, I w-wonder," Symon says, as if speculating on the society of bees. He sips his wine and smiles approvingly at Chimène. "You know, if I am to m…marry, I w-want to p…pick a girl like you. Sensibility and humor and all that. P-perhaps it w…would be tolerable."

"I don't think I can introduce you to any girls like me — I don't know any," admits Chimène lightly, "and I suppose if I did I shouldn't like them very much." Another smile, of a different kind, over her other shoulder which she lowers for the occasion. She's entertained. Somehow she's usually entertained, with Symon. Intellect is overrated: most Siovalese are such crashing bores… "Oh," she exclaims suddenly, as a flash of colour catches her eye, "I won't wear that!"

And thus Chimène flings herself into a chair the better to judge the parade of gowns held up in the archway by two maids in turn, the senior and the junior. "The bodice is too tight," she protests; "if I'm going to Lady ——'s I fully intend to eat," she explains, flicking a conspiratorial glance to Symon. And then: "I've simply had it with that one. Why don't you keep it?" she offers. And then: "No, not my new Isabelle, I do adore it but not for going out in."

Symon stays on his feet just for now, eyeing the presentations of gowns. "We'd b-better have some m…more selections," he determines, since the first round have been rejected, it seems. "B-but it's a shame you can't w…wear that new one, who did you say m-made it? The embroidery looks lovely."

"Oh, I had it from Isabelle de Valais," supplies Chimène obligingly; "she's a sort of cousin of mine — that is, a cousin of hers swept my sister Fleur quite off her feet, you know, and took her away from Mont Nuit to be the next comtesse de Digne — but then he had the poor taste to leave her a widow… I do want you to know Fleur," she sighs, looking up at him with her lower lip caught between her teeth, "but coaxing her into company is no simpler a business than getting blood out of a stone. She was deeply in love with him," and on that note Chimène looks away and empties her goblet, and her eyes start seeking the decanter. The next gown held up for her appraisal she waves away without even a word: it's possible that in this moment, she'd hate anything she might be offered.

"W…wouldn't anyone who p-prefers to stay at home b-be absolutely fed up w-with me in an instant?" Symon doubts, at last helping himself to a seat, since he can't go on standing for minutes. "As for Isabelle de V…Valais, is this that noblewoman I keep hearing of who m…makes clothing? Or are there quite a lot around here?"

"Well, Fleur used to be fonder of company than she is at present… I think perhaps she won't be happy till she falls in love again," that lady's elder sister muses, half to herself, "but how she's to do that when she doesn't like to go out and meet people, I really don't know. Do pour, darling," she says to Symon, the man with the decanter, extending in his general direction her goblet and a mildly imploring gaze. "I should think Isabelle is the one you've heard of — I can't think there's another," she says honestly. "She is something of a personage, you see, so she carries off what other ladies couldn't. And her couture business here and abroad has made her really rather enviably independent of her family… No," she declares once again to her long-suffering femmes de chambre. "I shall wear red tonight — nothing else but red."

Symon picks up the decanter and leans to pour his host a generous glass of her own wine. He freshens his while he's at it. "Some young slip of a girl w…was telling me about her seamstress cousin. Quite a forward girl, you know, b-but I don't remember her name." He waves that irrelevant subject off. "I suppose independence is enviable, b-but I can't really see w-working in that way…" He glances at the maids and then back to the owner of the chamber, since she appears to have made at least one decision. "Red is good," he agrees.

"I think so," agrees a meditative Chimène, watching without much expression as a sizable copper bath is carried in via the archway by a pair of liveried lackeys and established in front of the fireplace. They retreat to commence the customary bucket relay; her head, resting against the back of her chair, lolls slightly toward Symon. "I think if so many other ladies are to be heavenly beings — I ought really to come up out of hell and provide them some sort of nightmare, don't you? You must," she nudges, "or I don't think you'd have asked me."

Symon smiles slowly, slyly at this suggestion. "I confess," he agrees, "It is just what I had in m…mind. B-but how could I p-presume to tell you w…what to wear?"

This strikes Chimène as the correct attitude for a gentleman to take: before she has even lowered her goblet, her lips are curving into a conspiratorial smile the mirror of his own as a spark of mischief kindles between the two of them. "You just want a good dinner," she teases, "and the devil on your side."

Symon blinks at this accusation. "…Doesn't everyone?" he replies. "If m-man's journey on earth is for any other p…purpose, I m-must have slept through that lesson.”

"Some men want rather more than that," Chimène drawls silkily, underlining her words with a little lift of her well-groomed eyebrows before she looks away to the pair of red opportunities appearing on display in the tender hands of her two maids. Her arm lifts — her hand unfurls — unhesitatingly she points, to the darker of the two gowns, which happens also to be the lower-cut. Various hems, worn and unworn, graze the parquet as the maids curtsey their recognition of her choice. "And my diamond feather pin," she calls after them, peremptorily.

"Oh, if they w-want anything much m…more difficult than that, then they are m…misguided," Symon judges. "P-people shouldn't w…want such difficult things. A good m…meal and a genial demon are p-plenty." Not counting wealth and fine clothes and wine and elite social situations, of course.

Those things do go without saying — at least without being said by a future duchesse nestling in the warmth of her own well-upholstered lair, whilst paired servants empty paired buckets of hot water into her polished copper bath.

"But one must have something new to eat, at least," stipulates Chimène, "and something new to do now and again of an evening… I'm rather beginning to reconcile myself to the prospect of these tableaux. You do offer me little treats that other people don't, you know, darling…" She trails off absently, glancing once to where the bucket brigade is establishing a tapestried screen between the bath and the chairs where the two of them happen to be sitting with their precious decanter. Not that the bath is quite ready yet. But preparations are well in train. All it required was the news that she had an outing in mind.

"That is the whole p-point of me," Symon claims, topping off her wine. "Doing w…what others do all the time is absolutely deadly, isn't it? Speaking of w…which, do you know w…who I m-mean if I say I m-met a very large brutish-looking nobleman, w-with a m…morose temperament?"

"Companions," sighs Chimène, gazing up to her glorious corniced ceiling, "there are such a lot of brutes about in this city. They come in from the sea, you know." Wine, obviously, will jog her memory: she sips, sips again, and then lowers her eyes to Symon and concedes, "I don't know that I know a morose brute. Did you miss his name too? What a pity one can't really ask again."

"A really b-big one," Symon says. "I didn't really think he could b-be a nobleman. Never seen such a p-person before. And to turn up in the Night Court of all p-places." Sometimes he does tend to start midway through a story, especially when drinking. "All upset." He rolls a shoulder. "No, I remember the name," he says. But perhaps he's being mysterious to spin the story out more as if it were a better piece of gossip.

The bucket brigade puts in its farewell appearance. The maids are busy conveying towels, soaps, scented oils, and various other barely-glimpsed articles of feminine paraphernalia to a small table beyond the upholstered screen.

"In the Night Court? Who in Naamah's name is upset in the Night Court?" wonders Chimène, exaggerating her curiosity the better to encourage its satiation. "Even if he was only arriving — what of the pleasures of anticipation, after all?" She makes a moue, and unfolds herself languidly from her chair.

Symon drinks from the wine, satisfied that he's at least gotten a show of interest. "W-well. It seems that he w…was all stirred up, something about his p…past, I'm not sure I understood it p-properly or listened p-properly. Something about b-being stolen by Skaldians and lied to and b-being all upset about w…what he'd done in w-war…" He makes a gesture to show how mystifying all this is. "And he didn't seem to know w-what to do with himself there."

Before retreating behind her bath-screen Chimène pauses with her hands curved behind her back toward her buttons, and gives Symon a droll little look with lips curved and eyebrows aloft. "… How complicated is it?" she inquires. And then she steps round the side of the screen, leaving only a giggle behind her.

"Not," Symon agrees. "And I did feel sorry for the p-poor adept there, only he w…wasn't v-v-very interesting at all, so I don't feel as b-bad for ignoring him. So anyway, I p-picked him up. The giant, not the adept." He turns sideways in his chair, folding his knees over the arm of it.

A scant few feet away but in quite another psychological space Chimène is disrobing with the able assistance of her favourite wedding present. Garments appear draped across the screen, all white, growing steadily smaller. "Oh, did you?" she inquires with cordial interest. "Was he still morose then?"

"Not as," Symon says, drinking from the cup. "Anyway, the I suppose it w…was rude not to hire the adept. B-but shouldn't they at least b…be interesting? All I remember about him is he had a lot of hair."

There's a soft splash and then another as Chimène steps into her bath — and then a passionate and protracted groan as she sinks her long limbs beneath all that hot water. Several seconds pass before she can gather herself to answer. "… Well," she muses, with a tolerance of which she might well have been incapable when dry, "we are in the provinces, darling. Mont Nuit is another matter. But I suppose wherever courtesans might serve Naamah they'll find patrons for whom a pretty young body is the only essential quality. People can be like that."

"P-pretty is so b…boring," Symon complains, putting his cup aside and leaning his head back over the other arm of the chair. "I mean, it can b-be had almost anywhere."

Soaking in water scented with citrus and lavender and one other ingredient she prefers not to divulge, feeling her muscles soften and her pores open and the cares of her day drifting away as though carried from her on some marvelous wave, Chimène rather charitably essays one of her rare references to her upbringing. "You ought to try Eglantine House. No adept there is quite like any other."

"Yes," Symon allows, "I think they are some of the m…more interesting. And B…Bryony is fun for the gambling, I think w…we agree on that as well. I suppose no one is p-partial to more than two or three houses…"

"I don't suppose I have a favourite," Chimène admits after a minute's thought, in a small and distant voice lent an echoing quality by that copper bath.

"Do you mean that b-because they're all equally interesting, or b-because they're all equally uninteresting?" Symon wants to know, looking up to the ceiling to see whether it is painted or has any other sort of decor.

He's in luck: Chimène's bedroom ceiling boasts elaborate cornices, gilt on white, so extensive that they reach out to meet the similarly gilded mouldings surrounding the chandeliers presently left dark. There's plenty of light, though, his coming from gilded candle-stands and hers from the fire in the hearth.

"… Some are rather more tedious than others," she allows, beginning at length to splash out again as she washes herself in a desultory manner, "Mandrake and Valerian and all that Gentian nonsense." A pause. "I suppose just to pass the time I've had rather a lot of the adepts from the Glycine and the Lis d'Or here in Marsilikos, but none of them more than once, darling. You know how I am," she says, appealing to Symon's knowledge of her romance with novelty.

"Now, w…which one is Lis d'Or again?" Symon asks, squinting up at the ceiling. "Oh, and there w…was some debut recently, wasn't there? B-but I remember it sounded b…boring."

"The Lis d'Or is the salon supposedly encompassing the canons of Eglantine, Dahlia, Camellia, and Cereus," lectures Chimène, vaguely but accurately and amidst various aquatic noises, "and it may have done once, Companions only know; but I can't say they've offered me anyone truly breathtaking these last several years… Are you going to Elua for the Longest Night?" she wonders, apropos of some thought drifting languidly through her bath-befogged brain.

"Oh," Symon replies, swallowing a yawn. Waiting for women is very difficult. "Hm? Oh, I hadn't thought about it. What are you going to do?"

"Oh, I always go to Elua," says Chimène, surprised to be asked when she and Symon have met often enough in those circles, at that time. The splashing is over: now she's just stealing another few moments of blissful heat. "Sometimes," she goes on wryly, "it's even worth the trip… I hope to persuade my sister to come to some of the parties with me. She really does need to be enticed out of her shell."

Symon has also perhaps not met her often enough, and it being his first time in Marsilikos at this time of year, perhaps he thinks things will be different for everyone. "Then I suppose I should p-plan to go. P-planning…" So difficult.

The next, tremendous splash almost drowns out the reluctant noise Chimène utters as she wrenches herself from the warm embrace of her scented bath and stands up. "I didn't hear you," she calls lightly to Symon, as her maid steps forward to swathe her in the soft white towels that have been waiting by the fire.

"Oh, nothing," Symon says. "I'll tell my m…man to p-prepare to travel. I suppose everyone w-will be going."

"If you haven't any other arrangements you could come along with me and my gaggle of Rousses," ventures Chimène, appearing towel-swaddled round the edge of the screen, with just a faint glimmer of moisture upon her shoulders and her long white neck. "Perhaps we could make up a quartet for whist in the carriage."

Symon squints. "W…well, so long as you're not trying to m-marry me off during the journey," he says, "That m-might make it all the m…more interesting." And involve no planning work on his part.

"Let's have a truce," laughs Chimène, "until the new year dawns, mmm?"

And she quirks her eyebrows at Symon and clasps her towels close about her bosom as she pads damp and barefooted through into her dressing-room. "… But after that," she threatens, "I shall scheme just as much as I please!"

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