(1310-11-09) A Herring on the Line
Summary: A chance encounter in the presence of quality seafood, not to mention… brandy.
RL Date: 08/11/2018 - 09/11/2018
Related: None.
emmanuelle etienne 

A Completely Made-up Place

Up a dozen and a half uneven steps nailed briskly together out of old lumber, over a chandler’s shop in a part of Marsilikos where one draws in salt with every breath, there’s a broad balcony hanging right over the water and a small square white-washed chamber wherein the freshest and most savoury seafood is served at modest prices to habitués of the port district… and a few other locals who know which steps to make their way up, and when.

Gathered round the biggest table is a group of sailors and neighbours into which Étienne d’Arguil melts easily, being of an age with most of them and prepared to listen to whatever tales the older seamen have to tell. The food is cheap, the wine dreadful, the companionship of the most jovial kind — a place is made for him on a bench and he eats, drinks, laughs among his new peers in an entirely uncomplicated way. He even, after a few cups of vinegar or possibly paint-stripper, finds himself admitting that he has a bit of Eisandine blood in his own veins, via his Baphinol mother… Which revelation alters, inevitably, the way the commonborn local men speak to him — and alters, moreover, his fate for the rest of the evening.

Out on the balcony, enjoying a view of the harbour and the ships in it lit up for the night, sits a woman screened from the general view by the drape of a sailcloth curtain. A black-clad man of pale but startlingly handsome mien, altogether regal in his bearing, has been going to and from her table over the last hour or so, bearing dishes and glasses, relieving her of the obligation to step up to the hatch in the wall to receive her viands directly from the cook’s hands. Mind you, she has eaten the same as everybody else here tonight — and enjoyed it, as her empty plates and bowls testify — the oysters, the shrimp, the incomparable bouillabaisse…

She has not however been drinking the same wine.

Two carefully-selected bottles arrived with her, in a basket on her servant’s arm, one packed in ice and the other swaddled protectively against the evening’s chill. With her dinner she had a glass and a half of a decent white from a family vineyard; for her dessert she partakes of apple brandy with similar pleasure but similar restraint. When she elects to summon Étienne into her presence, she does so by sending him a glass of that brandy via her servant’s hands.

It isn’t the very best brandy. It’s perhaps the third or fourth best of its kind. But is the handsome lad she’s taken note of this evening really such a connoisseur—? Liquor of that quality will surely pique his interest, and draw him in to where she sits behind a half-cleared table, her skin ghostly-white in the moonlight and her lips by contrast so tremendously red as they curve into a cool smile of greeting. Her hand lifts; she gestures him to the chair opposite.

The young man has indeed noticed the man in black going back and forth, and has perhaps made note of his general appearance and kept an eye on him as he passed, much the same way as he tracked the movements of the other people in the small dining area. His eyes move about in a way that suggests he misses very little — though, often, those eyes stray to the view of the water, much the way a young man might look at a beautiful woman across a crowded room, always aware of her, catching quick glimpses while engaged in conversation with someone else.

He has enjoyed the food with the real delight of a man who knows his seafood and savours it. The relatively simple preparation shows off the truly fresh catch to its best advantage. He relishes the talk in much the same way, taking in each word, fishing for stories with sunny smiles and obvious interest, listening far more than he speaks.

The brandy is unexpected, and he takes the time to smell and taste the first mouthful properly instead of rushing, as many young men his age might. His eyebrows raise in real surprise at the obvious quality. He is not in a position to know exactly how good the brandy is exactly, but despite his youth he knows well enough that this is definitely something he can’t afford and is superior to what he has had back home.

He excuses himself, rather quickly, though with real warmth, and follows servant to mistress. His steps are steady enough even if the wine has warmed his cheeks a bit, and he has the sort of walk that has a simple grace, with no wasted movements — elegant, like the line of a properly-cut sleeve. He himself is in a simple dark blue tunic and paler hose. All well-cut and of decent quality, but not fancy enough to stand out in this section of the city. His boots are sturdy and well cared-for, but not new, exactly the sort of thing for doing a bit of exploring in a new city. His curly black hair is tied back with a matching dark blue dyed leather thong, though a number of curly strands have come loose around his face in the course of the evening.

He gives a bow that suggests either a decent dancing-master or a good sword-master in his earlier education. His bright blue eyes study the mysterious brandy benefactor even as he lowers his head for the courtesy due to someone he guesses to be of high degree. His posture and obedience are very correct; the curiosity and touch of mischief in his expression are rather the opposite. He is unaware that his education has been entirely inadequate for the encounter about to occur.

The table, with only a folded napkin and a brandy snifter left upon it after the servant’s laden retreat, presents a dividing line: seen above it Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai is less audacious than she might otherwise appear. Her coat worn against the autumnal sea breeze is, granted, rather a mannish creation in black wool with gold-buttoned epaulettes and golden chains to link its buttons. Her cravat is of black silk. Her face is immaculately painted, her wide mouth still red at the end of her meal and her ice-blue eyes framed with kohl beneath hooded eyelids. To some, she has a look of the old Lady of Marsilikos: to others, to newcomers, to Étienne, she is merely striking, a woman some years his senior and resplendent in them.

She looks over Étienne as he makes his courtesies; “Sit,” she suggests, as though she has decided it in that very moment. Her voice is Eisandine via Elua and a bottle of uisghe. “… Tell me how it tastes,” she suggests, flicking a glance to the glass in his hand and then looking up again to meet his eyes with her remote and unfathomable own, “to you.”

Étienne is definitely intrigued, judging by what can be seen of his expression before he straightens, though it is just as clear that he has no idea in whose presence he stands. He is good-looking enough in a young man sort of way, but there is nothing particularly remarkable about him except the strongly saturated shade of his eyes and the unruly glossiness of his blue-black hair.

He sits with that same simplicity of motion. He watches her face as he sips, for several long impertinent breaths. Then he closes his eyes and really tastes it, letting the fumes rise through his sinuses. His expression is entirely unguarded, almost wistful with his thought turned inward, entirely in the experience of the moment. She might not be there, nor the servant, nor the noisy group of sailors at his back. When he finally swallows, his eyes open and he is back with her, making bold to look her in the eyes. “Like a swallow of sweet apple fire. Like delight and danger and something wild; like brush fire pretending to be something civilized. Like a thousand of the best apples died and were taken up to heaven and returned….” And then the reverie is broken and he is all boyish curiosity: “What apples made these and what orchard distilled this? Oh, I’m Étienne d’Arguil, by the way.” The almost religious delight he took in those sips, a transport that made him almost beautiful instead of handsome in a garden variety way, replaced by unaffected curiosity and an abrupt return to earth.


The lady remains impassive at first, meeting his eyes with unflinching blue steel in her own — but at length, when he admits to his name, she lifts her own glass to her lips and concedes, before sipping: “I know.” She holds the rich liquor in her mouth for a long moment, before she swallows. “Somerville apples,” she supplies then, answering one at least of his many questions. “One can do no better.”

She sets down her glass and leaves her hand resting idly next to it:her fingers are white, delicate, each tipped with a black-lacquered nail curved almost into a point. “And what brings you to Marsilikos—?” she purrs, with subtle intent. “Étienne d’Arguil,” she repeats, by way of emphasising his foreignness, the distance of this harbour from the waters of his home.

Manners reassert and he lowers his eyes just enough not to challenge, taking another quick sip, “I fear I do not know your name or the proper form of address for you. I fear my Grandmère would give me such a talking-to if she knew.” His accent is very northern, very Azzallese, though noble in intonation, as is the cut of his tunic. Her emphasising his foreignness doesn’t seem to distress him or chase the dimples from his cheeks.

His eyes go briefly distant again, “Somerville….my mother still speaks of Somerville apples…. I shall have to write about this brandy in my next letter.” Then his eyes go really wide, “But oh! You really shouldn't waste something so fine on the likes of me! I’m from the Berck branch of the family and not even the senior branch in Étaples! This is….” He remembers himself and straightens, a touch of Azzallese arrogance in the tilt of his chin, though tempered by his suspicion that he might be well out of his depth. His tone turns formal as it ought when speaking to an elder of likely much higher station, “I have always wished to travel and it was thought now might be a very good time for me to do that. By my relatives, I mean.”

<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Empathy: Great Success. (5 5 8 8 2 6 1 6 5 4 7 7 4 6)

“In Étaples no doubt they would be moved to far greater poetry by a taste of the sublime,” agrees Emmanuelle, deadpan. Her hand lifts to take hold of her glass, but she only cradles it in her palm, warming her brandy with the touch of her skin. “My name is Emmanuelle Shahrizai,” she explains gently — a name unlikely to mean much to a green youth from the north, save inasmuch as House Shahrizai’s notoriety has spread to the farthest shores of Europa and beyond; “and you may always begin with ‘my lady’, for even in instances in which it is not the most correct address, neither is it incorrect. I am certain,” and still she’s wearing that mask of mildness the sight of which would put her intimates on their guard, “your Grandmère has told you so, if you take a moment to close your eyes and reflect upon her teachings.”

Thus it may be that Étienne’s eyes are blamelessly shuttered against her scrutiny as she takes a slow sip of apple brandy and then muses aloud upon the minor puzzle he presents for her post-prandial delectation. “So you have been sent away. I wonder what amusements a young man might discover along our northern coast, from which his concerned kinsmen might wish to remove him for a time…” She cocks her head. Coolly, she suggests: “Smuggling?”

The sun in Etienne's open expression clouds over. He deliberately plays up his northern accent, making it thicker and more countrified, "I'm not a poet, My Lady, nor are we much known for it up our way." He emphasizes the 'My Lady.' He cocks his head at the name, and a series of thoughts dart fast behind his eyes like fingerling fish in a pond. Than he says, his accent thick and cold as northern ice, "My Lady, if I do not amuse, I could leave you to your fine vintages and solitary contemplation." At the mention of smuggling he flashes her his cheekiest smile, and shrugs, "I fear I never did listen to my Grandmère as must as I ought and she deserves, and a man must find his amusements where he can.".

Those rapid sea-changes in Étienne's mood leave Emmanuelle untouched, her moderate coolness unvarying from moment to moment. She is neither quelled by that chill in his voice nor charmed, as women so often are, by the reckless display of his dimples. "Tonight, to be sure, you found some of the finest and freshest fruits of our southern sea — I have long been partial to this little cook-shop, though I knew it first under the firm hand of Theo's mother Angélique… Come now," she chides Étienne drily, "don't retreat into your carapace before you and I have had time enough to discover whether we are amused, or how much so."

Etienne visibly thinks that over as he takes another sip, watching her over the rim, "All right, My Lady." Another sip, "House Shahrizai, I've heard of… everyone has." He is too polite to mention what he's heard. Perhaps, he does listen to his Grandmère in some things, "You are important; I am not. I know that well enough…." The dimples return at the talk of the cook shop, and with them his mercurial warmth and excitement. "Aye! And what fine fruits they are. My folk take our seafood seriously and this is truly as fine as can be had and a startling find at this price. I only arrived a few days ago, and am trying to learn as much of the city as I can…. This truly is a grand city, My Lady, worthy of the tales about it. One could spend years and only barely touch her surface I think." He studies her, smiles and impertinence. No doubt overestimating his charms, having only swum in much smaller ponds.

Emmanuelle's only reaction to being reminded of her importance is the faintest lift of her shoulders as though to inquire, need it be said? It is so; likewise, the water lapping below the balcony is wet. These are facts of life upon which she doesn't squander much time. "Did you try the bouillabaisse? You have had it at its best," she explains with a confidential air, one good trencherman to another. "When I intend to dine here in the evening I send saffron in the morning: the only touch necessary for the perfection of the Paquet family's own recipe." She lifts her glass in an ironic toast to the hatch in the wall and the kitchen beyond it; and drinks. Sparingly still. "And do you intend to spend years?" she inquires civilly. "Have you friends here, or kin, or are you entirely on your own?"

Etienne nods excitedly, "I did. They said it was best tonight at the counter. I never tasted anything like… I've not had saffron before, that must have been the extra something I couldn't place!" He is all boyish excitement at new things again, the chill of minutes before forgotten. He raises his own glass without the irony. He sips, still savouring the richness of his brandy, not gulping as one might expect of a lad of his limited experience. He seems determined to savour every drop the way he did every bite of his supper. He turns back to her, a touch of wariness in that open expression, "I've letters of introduction to some relatives in the city. My mother was a Baphinol and my Grandmère, was related to House Toluard." He smiles a little sheepishly, "I wanted to get my legs under me…" and sample some pleasures of the city no doubt, "before presenting myself."

<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Politics: Good Success. (8 1 7 3 6 3 5 7)

The book that is Étienne d'Arguil's young visage turns from page to page right there before Emmanuelle's eyes without obliging her to lift a finger, or do anything else but moderate her manner for the occasion. This next page is as easily deciphered as the rest and marks the beginning of the chapter which, did he but know it, caught her eye in the index… She has been flicking toward it ever since, by leaps and bounds perceptible only to herself.

"The Toluards are a Siovalese family, no?" she suggests, correctly. "I am not acquainted with any Toluards. House Baphinol of course I know well. I recall a daughter of the late comte d'Avignon who married into Azzalle: would she perchance be your mother? … She was always," Emmanuelle muses, drawing a softly discordant sound from the rim of her snifter by running a thoughtful fingertip along it, "frightened of me." She lifts a sardonic eyebrow at Étienne as though to say: imagine that.

The brandy has warmed his cheeks a little further, and his manner warms with it, "Possibly. Was her name Isabeau? I have her hair and eyes, and of my family I most resemble her, everyone says." He studies her with the frank curiosity that really his parents ought to have beaten out of him by now, "It is funny, it is hard to picture her afraid of anyone. Except Grandmère, of course. Anyone with any sense is a little afraid of Grandmère." Another of the smiles he clearly expects to charm, having relied far too long on his dimples doing his work for him.

"Isabeau," agrees Emmanuelle, and for this information she rewards Étienne with one of her own most charming smiles, well-practiced and well-polished during her long years of service to Naamah. The effect has been known to intoxicate even when, as now, it doesn't quite touch her hooded and kohl-rimmed Shahrizai eyes. "Yes, I've placed her now. Several first cousins of yours reside in the city at present," she informs him, "the children of your living uncle Hercule and your late uncle Florentin…" That smile again, or its close relation. "I'm sure they'll be delighted to make your acquaintance, when you decide the moment has come to present your letters. Baltasar," she orders without looking away from her young companion's face, "another soupçon of brandy for Lord Étienne."

Her servant emerges from a shadow on the other side of the balcony and addresses himself to Étienne's glass, graceful and swift, hardly making a sound. He's dressed better than your average lackey, in fine black wool and silk; he bears moreover about his chin and especially his eyes, a familial resemblance to his mistress. Looking between them they seem two of a very particular kind.

Etienne leans in towards that smile, but then he catches her eyes and leans back, wary again and spotting a geometrically more skillful deployment of one of his own amateurish tricks. He holds his glass out to Baltasar without looking away from her, fascinated in his own way, "I think… I really wish I knew who you were. Properly, I mean, and not just your name and house. I clearly don't know nearly enough to be swimming in waves so deep."

This confession looks sincere enough, his expression vaguely puzzled. Under his lack of skills, boyish bad habits, and rank ignorance, there really is a perfectly good, if underutilized brain trying very hard to figure out her and her interest in him. One doesn't waste this quality of cognac on someone one hasn't an interest in, but it's clear to him that his more obvious charms are not what led her to invite him to her table. A very discerning eye could likely get some idea of the trend of his thoughts under his rather bland expression of the moment, and he has never met anyone even close to as skilled as Emmanuelle Shahrizai.

The Shahrizai woman lets out a low, husky chuckle when Étienne names his conundrum and in doing so proves he's possessed of the wit to notice it's there.

Not that she's inclined to relieve him of any of that discomfort she's finding so piquant a companion to her brandy. "You'll sink or you'll swim," she prophesies in a purr; "and won't it be interesting to see which—? And good practice for you," she says soothingly, "before you enter into Marsilikos society." She essays another abstemious taste of apples and the upper hand. "Tell me," she wonders then, in an idle manner, "has the Baphinol Curse reached into Azzalle?"

Etienne's smile in response to her laugh could be rounded up by border collies and sheared for wool. Then the mention of the curse brings him up short. His brows draw together and his expression mixes curiosity and puzzlement rather like a glass of Azzallese kir, to be sipped by a connoisseur of expressions. "There's a curse? Mother never mentioned."

"Well," purrs Emmanuelle, letting that long 'l' sound trail away into a throaty murmur as she affects to consider the justice of the thing — though really she's just savouring the tug of the line on which she has this youth well and truly hooked; "I myself do not consider it a curse," she stipulates with one raised finger, "but that is how some people describe the tendency."

She lowers that hand to meet the other and folds them together upon the napkin draped over the edge of her table: white, well-kept, thoroughly pampered hands, but like her ears and her throat innocent of jewels. Whatever her wealth and her position in the world, this woman eschews the most conventional markers of it — and in doing so raises the possibility that, despite her years, she may be unmarried. "… Your mother may not have mentioned it," she goes on sympathetically, "because she may well not know of it herself: I understand it is not discussed within the family, though it has become well-known enough amongst the Eisandine aristocracy that even those who haven't the balls to ask you about it, will be wondering to themselves." This she says all very pleasantly, very conversationally, whilst holding Étienne's eyes with her astute own… At last, she puts her squirming north sea fish out of his misery with a quick, neat blow. "The men of House Baphinol — your uncles, your cousins — seem to be universally fond of wearing women's clothing, particularly in the bedchamber."

Etienne raises his eyebrows at 'tendency,' but is now far too curious to remember he is holding a glass of the best brandy his lips have ever touched. He is indeed hooked, not even fighting the line now, but rather leaning in, eyes wide to discover this secret everyone else seems to know. On hearing the nature of the 'curse' his mouth forms a fishlike 'O'. Then he closes it and leans back, eyes clouded with thought and he gets the faraway expression he adopts on those rare occasions when he bothers to think seriously about something. His fingers trace an absent-minded wave pattern in condensation on the glass. He does not blush, not does he betray any guilt or sign of foreknowledge. It is pretty clear, she has introduced him to something entirely new and unexpected. After a bit he agrees in a tone as distant and thoughtful as his expression, "No, she didn't mention it…."

After another moment his gaze focuses on her, suddenly as sharp as Azallese steel, and genuine interest tinges his tone, though whether academic or more personal, it is hard to gauge at this juncture. Perhaps her little herring isn't sure himself. "That is a thing men do? For pleasure I mean?" His gaze wanders over her face and form, then does much the same for her likely Shahrizai-descended servant, "I had heard that some like the sting of the lash or the like for seasoning, but I'd not heard of dressing as a woman." A touch of the ovine smile of earlier twists his lips, "I have enjoyed the blessings of Naamah, but I fear such a wide experience was not available down in the village, nor do I know much of the more arcane arts of lovemaking." A touch of mischief alights in his intensely blue eyes.

As she reels in her little herring nearer and nearer, as he leans over the table and grows yet more intent upon her than he was before, Emmanuelle's eyelids lower at that whiff of curiosity and salt. Still, her gaze is steady; she treats these questions as though they're unexceptional because of course to her they are.

"People do a great many different things for pleasure," she confirms for him gently, "wherever they may meet to pay homage to Naamah together, in the Thirteen Houses of Mont Nuit or beneath the shingled rooftops of your seaside villages in Azzalle… Never assume, my dear Lord Étienne, that you know whose doors are left on the latch at night, or for whom, or for what purpose," she advises drily, and her epauletted shoulders shift in a casual shrug. "Whether you have those Baphinol tastes, I don't doubt time will tell you. But I thought it best for you to hear of them now, from me — and not in some larger gathering where you might find yourself the only one misunderstanding a jest. Consider it a gift." With which she gives him a whimsical red smile, and a lift of her glass.

Under the scent of the good brandy he's imbibed, he really does smell of the sea, as well as good leather polish for his boots and belt, and a warm masculine musk natural to his skin. There is a hint of soap about him still from when he washed earlier, but no scent of pomade or cologne. He is a country lad, after all, and not travelled until just now. His long lashed eyelids blink at her slowly, covering those rather innocent cornflowers. All his attempts to appear charming and worldly are burnt away by his need to focus over the brandy fumes sending vinelike tendrils into his head to erode his sense, and his intense curiosity about an entire aspect of sexuallity he never even guessed existed. A tipsy almost girlish giggle erupts from him like a bubble. Alarmed that such a sound might come from his mouth at all, let alone in this august and dangerous company. he covers his mouth as if to prison it by force, even as he clamps his lips shut on it. In the confusing following, he attempts to cover with what he meant to be another sip of the fine Somerville brandy, but ends up swallowing rather more than intended. The resulting coughing fit leaves him rather red and breathless.

"… Baltasar, water," directs Emmanuelle, who blessedly elects not to exercise her wit at the lad's expense in this moment wherein he might very well keel out of his chair blue in the face if she made him laugh, or weep. "Breathe," she suggests kindly, and with a hand held in the air before her chest and rising and falling with each of her own breaths she pantomimes the correct technique.

The water arrives in one of the establishment's own clay mugs; it's clear enough and sweet enough, much to be preferred to their dreadful wine.

Etienne's eyes drift to her ambiguous but well dressed torso as he attempts to breathe in time with her breathing, calming enough to take the proffered water. "Thank you." It is not clear if it is for the water or the 'gift' or the brandy for that matter. Mostly, he concentrates on composing himself.

This demonstration of the ideal method of employing one's lungs, by a well-known chirurgeon, ceases once Étienne has taken a mouthful or two of cool water to soothe his throat and perhaps also steady his brandy-fuddled nerves.

"… I see," Emmanuelle drawls mildly, "I have captured your imagination.”

Etienne eyes her warily. Then it dawns on him, "Was that your purpose all along?"

"To lure you in," suggests Emmanuelle, holding his gaze as she finishes his thought for him, "corrupt you after the manner of city dwellers, and fuck you?" This, she disclaims with a wave of one white hand. "I collect imaginations by the dozen, my dear," she says kindly. "I don't necessarily keep them."

Etienne cocks his head, genuinely trying to work out the real meaning under the mask and not quite getting there. Musing, he sips again. "No… not sex, I think, and imagination… wouldn't be enough, but I can't guess what exactly, even if my life depended on it." A flicker of self-mocking amusement twitches the corner of his lips, "I think you could do great harm, if you wanted me harmed, but I don't think I'm important enough to need to be concerned in that way." Another sip and then he leans back, the clean movements of earlier more rubbery from drink, but still controlled. This little herring knows he's caught, but has the sense not to wear himself out struggling, despite never having met anyone even close to this clever before. He waits instead, sipping the brandy and watching her and weighing her response to his deliberate vulnerability.

"I might," is Emmanuelle's next suggestion, delivered with absolute conviction, "harm you purely for my entertainment in an idle hour, and think of you no more."

The curve of Étienne's lips make the oral equivalent of a shrug. "You might; you might not. I am… harder to hurt than I look, I suspect, though certainly, I've no means of stopping you harming me if you really tried. I think you must be very good at it, even with my limited experience of the world." It is hard to tell if this is meant as innuendo or not. Perhaps even the little herring doesn't know.

The curl of his lip transforms into a genuine and sunny smile, "You are the most interesting person I have met… ever, I think. As such, no matter what you choose to do with me it will likely be worth it just for the experience of watching your blade as you spar."

Decisively, he finishes his brandy and sets the glass down. In a light tone, the delivery somewhat slowed by drink, but with clear enunciation in his noble Azzallese accent, rather than the thicker, more countrified one he adopted earlier, he declares, "My Lady, I fear that if I have any more of your heady vintage, my feet will struggle to find their way to my inn. Is there aught you might want of me before I take my leave?" He raises his eyebrows invitingly, though not in any sort of sexual invitation. His interest lies elsewhere.

"Ah," sighs Emmanuelle, smiling across the table at Étienne with lazy red indulgence, "but you have not yet seen me spar." She catches up her glass and empties it likewise, another thousand apples burning and dying fragrantly in her throat. Hardly has she set it down again than Baltasar steps forward to claim both glasses and make them secure in the basket waiting open upon an adjacent table. All the balcony tables, of course, were bought and paid for tonight to secure the lady a measure of privacy from the cook-shop's usual clientele.

Then she rises to her feet, the golden spurs at her heels jingling softly as she steps out from behind the table. Below that rather fitted, rather martial coat of black wool, cut higher in front and with flaring tails behind, she is wearing fitted breeches and high boots of soft dark leather, the spiked heels of which add considerably to her own modest height. She rests the fingertips of one hand on the edge of the table; she is closer to Étienne than she has yet been, her cologne correspondingly stronger as it mingles with the sea air.

She looks down: she asks him seriously, "Shall you require a guide to your inn?"

Etienne's grin widens, showing good strong teeth that have had little acquaintance with sweets, "Ah, but I would like to, if you would allow it." He rises politely and perhaps far too hastily for his head. Apparently, the brandy has caught up to him much faster than he imagined it might, or might it be her cologne? He wavers and begins to topple in her direction, flailing rather ineffectually. There is her answer to the question about the inn.

With a firm and unhesitating hand at his waist and another pushing up against his shoulder — really, the speed of her reactions is superb, and she’s well used to manhandling men — Emmanuelle arrests the boy's fall long enough for Baltasar to step in with his stronger arms, his taller and significantly more solid body. He gets hold of the boy's arm and drapes it over his shoulder, lending stability and strength in this difficult moment.

"What is the name of your inn?" inquires Emmanuelle, by now slightly bored with her toy but conscientious, as grandmothers are with other people's grandchildren.

<FS3> Etienne rolls Dancing: Success. (7 2 2 5 2 2 5 4)

The clear, carefully enunciated speech of even a few minutes ago is abandoned in his confusion, along with his carefully preserved dignity. He clings to the servant several long moments while he tries to come to grips with what feels like a tilting balcony and missing legs. He rests his head on the man’s shoulder, eyes closed, and tries to gather himself.

"Leaping. Fish."

Then he takes several deep breaths, opens his eyes, widens his stance, and oh so carefully straightens into a correct, dancing posture, swaying slightly, but upright. The moment he's sure of his balance, he releases the servant. He starts to bow, instantly realises his mistake and straightens again, taking a few wobbly steps before finding his unsteady equilibrium. With slurred dignity he says formally, "Thank you very much for the fine branny…Bran. Dy." He corrects firmly. "M'ady. M'lady." Sway, sway. Stubbornly: "My. Lady. Twaserryfine. Fine." After a thought he adds carefully, "De. L'cius." He looks concerned at what is clearly a mistake, but gives up and barrels on, "Fineinnatic. Clearmyd. Walking." He nods wisely and attempts a casual wave. "Fine. M'fine." He nods again, setting up a more alarming sway.

With the boy finally peeled off her Emmanuelle meets Baltasar's eyes, blue into blue, mistress and man united in this moment of fastidious distaste. They neither of them overindulge. But her responsibility is clear to her and her command holds true, as ever it does.

"Get him to bed," she orders simply, "and I'll send the carriage for you." With her gloves in one hand and the handle of her wine basket in the other, she saunters out of the cook-shop ahead of the men and doesn't glance back.

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