(1310-11-10) Miles To Go Before One Sleeps
Summary: In the safe, quiet, and secret confines of La Maison Sanglante, Armandine Mereliot, the Lady of Eisande, meets with her agent, Isabelle de Valais, to be regaled of the harrowing events off the coast of Kriti as well as the startling revelations they have brought to light. With the true extent of his efforts revealed, Alcibiades Rousse takes one step closer to restoring his family's branch to favor.
RL Date: 11/10/2018
Related: Kusheline Snakepit
armandine isabelle alcibiades 

La Maison Sanglante - Place des Mains

Directly abutting the walled compounds of Marsilikos's Night Court, and running in fact for some distance behind the Salon de la Rose Sauvage, is a house which boasts a far more modest frontage upon the Place des Mains d'Eisheth. Its name derives from a violent incident in its past; previous owners tried to redub it in the public mind, but the present ones embrace the term. By their design its three-storey façade of grey stone is shielded at street level by a high and forbidding wall of darker stone, into which is set a pair of intricately-wrought iron gates taller than any man who may ring the bell at their side. Kept locked, their curlicues of black iron are enlivened by a pattern of gilded keys.

Between the outer wall and the house stands a small stone courtyard lined at either side with wormwood trees, which impart a bitter and aromatic fragrance to the air within it. From it half a dozen stone steps rise to heavy doors of dark and ancient oak, studded with black iron and hung upon baroque hinges of the same; these open into a large, square, windowless chamber, occupying the full width of the building and yet higher than it is wide. At each side of the doors is a console table of dark purple marble veined with black, bolted to the wall above a pair of elaborate gilded legs and beneath a matching and equally baroque gilded mirror. There are no other furnishings. Sparse lighting is provided by candles in iron sconces bolted to pillars of the same purple marble, which pass into shadow on their way to support the vaulted ceiling overhead.

The light is, however, sufficient to permit examination of the frescoes which cover walls and ceiling alike from a height of perhaps four feet off the gleaming black and purple marble floor. An artist of great skill and anatomical knowledge has limned a series of scenes of Kushiel chastising sinners. Those who come to him for succour are shown enduring remarkably detailed torments before being transfigured by the raptures of his love… or, possibly, hers. In some panels Kushiel is a man and in some a woman, in others an unmistakable hermaphrodite: in all these incarnations the Punisher is depicted with the lean figure, the austere profile, and the hooded blue eyes of a lady who resides beneath this roof.

On the back wall this unconventional masterpiece is interrupted by the outlines of two single doors, and the elaborate black iron handles attached to each. The door on the left leads to an intimate receiving-room wherein a pair of studded black leather sofas frame a low, well-polished mahogany table. In here the walls are covered in frescoes of the Kusheline countryside, from the same brush.

Under the guise of meeting with her sister, the Lady Emmanuelle no Mandrake de Shahrizai, the Duchesse's visit has been afforded all the aplomb and heightened security it deserves. While the property already boasts guards in Mereliot livery, the presence of such an esteemed personage on the premises is made additionally evident by the fact that there are more of them, as well as a carriage carrying the colors of House Mereliot, waiting at the Lady of Eisande's pleasure and convenience for when she is due to return to the Dome of the Lady…whenever that would be.

Deep within its dark marble hallways and in one of the very private sitting rooms - such that ingress is only possible with Baltasar de Shahrizai's ring of many keys - Armandine Mereliot would be made comfortable by Emmanuelle's very attentive staff, every need seen to immediately. Somewhere to the side of her seat, an attendant bends at the waist, to whisper to her that the other guests have arrived, and will wait until she is ready to see them - and once the appointed minute arrives, they are brought into the room. Isabelle de Valais would be immediately familiar, clad in one of her tailored coats, her breeches and her over-the-knee boots. She has been thoroughly inspected by Armandine's Cassiline, who remains outside the main entranceway leading within, but she is practiced in this regard already. She never carries any weapons in the Duchesse's presence.

The same would apply to her companion.

She takes the lead, her shadow crossing the threshold, lit by the fireplace keeping the chambers warm and cozy from the autumnal chill lingering outside. It is only the late afternoon, but the air hints at Winter fast approaching. Her bow from the waist deep and deferential. "Your Grace, I have news," she murmurs. "Our expedition to Kriti has proven to be tremendously fruitful…and puzzling. May I also present my trusted asset, Alcibiades Rousse, captain of The Myrmidon, who I've mentioned in our last meeting, albeit not by name."

The duchesse has arrived with little fanfare. That is, as little fanfare as is possible for a lady of her station. Of course, the carriage has been escorted by a dozen guards on horseback, and yet, none of those guards remain apart from the trusted Cassiline — the same that will inspect both of those entering the chamber that have been singled out for this rather conspicuous meeting.

Armandine looks almost casual, her garb a rather unobtrusive dark blue with only a few details, embroideries that will become obvious only upon closer inspection. Her blonde hair has been gathered in a hairnet, and the ducal coronet is absent of course, as the visit is anything but a formal one. Upon seeing Isabelle enter, Armandine smiles, and gestures for her and her companion to approach and sit down in the other two seats. A caraffe of red wine sits on the table nearby, and three glasses beside, one of them located closer to the duchesse and already filled with some of the beverage. "I supposed as much," Armandine replies to Isabelle's announcement, and then her grey-blue gaze shifts to regard Alcibiades once he is introduced. "A pleasure to meet you, my lord. Captain?" One brow lifts at that revelation. "A detail, your friend the lady Isabelle failed to mention, when she made mention of you."

A year ago, if someone had told Alcibiades Rousse that he would be in the presence of the Duchesse of Eisande, he would have laughed them out of whatever rathole he found himself living in while on shore. Now, dressed in an exquisitely-tailored suit that calls to mind a Naval uniform without actually claiming that status, here he is. Alcibiades' cutlass - a workmanlike weapon, no frills - has been surrendered at the entryway to the Estate, but his hand keeps going down as though he expects to find the comforting weight of metal.

He follows after Isabelle into the room and takes her lead. When Isabelle gestures toward him, he offers a gracious bow toward Armandine. "It is a… somewhat recent development, Your Grace." He flashes a sheepish smile. "When we captured Ariadne, I… claimed her and renamed her The Myrmidon." He glances questioningly at Isabelle, seems about to go on, and restrains himself.

Armandine's smile is returned warmly, though it is laced with something else…relief being the most prominent emotion. Once acknowledged, Isabelle straightens, crossing over to take a seat. Her voice remains low, and quiet, as if forever aware that others might be listening, no matter how tight the security. She doesn't speak, however, when Alcibiades is addressed directly by the Duchesse, letting him explain the change of his rank himself. Despite the seriousness of the matter, she is patient, her fingers linked on her lap as the two converse.

"Ah… the Ariadne. I see." Armandine's smile does not dim, but the expression in her eyes becomes slightly thoughtful. "The ship of that name… it was the one that was originally called l'Etoille du Soir, and was the ship that was allegedly burnt and sunk with poor Richard de Morhban still on board?", she asks, even if it seems to be less of a question and more a statement. Especially when she adds, "So you were successful. In that you found the ship, and claimed her back from the pirates. Myrmidon, hmm…" Her smile deepens a little, her gaze meeting that of the Rousse captain. "I like that name. Was it you that came up with it?"

There is evident pride in Alcibiades voice as he answers the Duchesse's somewhat rhetorical question. "Yes, Your Grace. We found her off the coast of Kriti. I shall let the Lady de Valais tell the tale in full… but we did recapture her." At the compliment, and the question, the sea captain's smile widens into genuine pride. "I did, Your Grace. It seemed appropriate for the purposes I intend to put her to." Another glance at Isabelle. "Assuming Your Grace approves, that is."

Her smile is faint, in answer to Alcibiades' look in her direction, but when prompted to unfurl the tale, she does so, and when Isabelle launches on the specifics, her attention falls back to the Duchesse in full.

"Captain Rousse's former ship, The Dancer, aboard which he served as its first mate for many years, baited The Ariadne several hundred nautical miles off Kriti in the middle of a squall," she begins. "We planted rumors in Phaistos, aided by a local contact, to ensure that word got to our target pirates. It was a rough battle, The Dancer was dismasted which made taking The Ariadne all the more crucial. Captain Lesse of The Dancer and Captain Rousse led the charge, and while the casualties were many on both sides, they were able to secure The Ariadne's captain, Adom Rashida, and a few of his men. We locked them up in The Ariadne's brig. But our ruse in Phaistos worked too well because another pirate ship got ahold of our trail with every intent to claim both The Ariadne and The Dancer while they were locked in fighting. Captain Rousse was forced to take The Ariadne posthaste and engaged the other pirate ship in battle in defense of The Dancer, which he was then able to sink. He and his men saved our lives, Your Grace."

"Hmm…" Armandine lets her gaze linger on Alcibiades, a faint glint there in her eyes of warmth and even faint amusement when she notes how he begins to report — and then leaves the report as such for Isabelle to deliver. "That will depend, Captain Rousse, on the details your friend can provide…," she murmurs, in light jesting tease, turning her attention then to the loyal lady with the slightest shift in expression. Utmost attention is given to Isabelle as she explains, and Armandine's smile certainly acquires a certain edge, her gaze a clarity. "I see," she finally says, lowering that gaze as she digests the information. "Your undertaking was successful, despite unexpected complications. The Ariadne was claimed, a pirate ship sunk. And I trust, you might have some other information, about the crew of the Ariadne, and of Lady Charlène's brother Richard, and what happened to him during that supposed sinking of the Etoille du Soir?" She shoots Isabelle an inquiring glance.

At the inquiring glance, Armandine would note a change in Isabelle's expression. Her smile fades entirely, her visage hardening into one of determination, all indicative that whatever she has found out across the seas lends to a few serious pieces of information…and implications.

"Many details, Your Grace," she says in preface. "And all disturbing. I would like to present to you now a picture of what I believe happened, based upon my interrogation of Captain Rashida." She takes a slow breath, before she continues:

"I suspect the chronology of events to be thus. At some point in the last months of 1309, an agent was dispatched by Quintien de Morhban bearing correspondence addressed to a Monsieur Jean-Louis Tavernier, with orders to secure a crew of pirates to intercept the Etoille du Soir in its voyage to Menekhet. However, I believe this agent lost the original letter along the way and was forced to forge a new one to deliver to Monsieur Tavernier along with his payment. It is only a theory, Your Grace, but one that I think explains why Lady Charlene remembers a similar, but not the same letter and signed more innocuously by her cousin, and why a forgery exists in the first place…but its intentions are the same. I will attempt to get to the truth of it for whenever I manage to speak to Lord Esekiel…there may be hope yet in tracking the original if it has not yet been destroyed."

"Monsieur Tavernier made contact with the pirate crew of The Kraken, led by Captain Adom Rashida, in Syracuse, where they were tasked to attack the Etoille du Soir and kill everyone on board, with orders to deliver proof of death to the very same city once the deed was done. The crew of The Kraken waited until the Etoille du Soir was anchored off the bay in El Salloum in Menekhet, cut off her escape using their vessel while they crossed from the other side on foot. They took skiffs to get close to her and staged an ambush while the Etoille du Soir's crew members were sleeping. They killed them all, except for two." And at this part, she lifts her eyes to meet Armandine's gaze. "Richard de Morhban and Gustave Maignard. From what Captain Rashida told me, he cut off the finger with his signet and later sold Lords Richard and Gustave to a mysterious third party who paid them double of what Monsieur Tavernier promised them. This person met them on the shores of Menekhet escorted by ten riders. He seemed certain that Lord Richard did not recognize the individual who bought them but whoever he was, he was d'Angeline, and fluent enough in Caerdicci to be mistaken for a native speaker."

Her fingers tighten on her lap. "That is the main reason why I wanted to speak with you alone, Your Grace. My intent was not to insult your friend by leaving her out of the meeting today, but rather because her brother might yet live, held captive by persons unknown. This occurred late last year, however, and that might not be true now, though I can't imagine why anyone would pay such an exorbitant sum only for the purposes of killing Lord Richard himself. Still, I did not want to give Lady Charlene any false hopes."

The duchesse listens in silence, taking care not to interrupt the flow of Isabelle's words. "So this Jean-Louis finally has a last name," she murmurs then. "Which speaks for the letter having been written. The order was to have them all killed?" A pause follows, heavy with the implications of that statement. "We are entering dangerous grounds now, Lady Isabelle, as it is quite obviously implied that Quintien de Morhban made arrangements for his cousin's death, most likely to seize the ducal position." Her hand lifts as if to intercept any interjection Isabelle might wish to put forth. "But… if what you say is true, and if this Captain Rashida has not lied to you… We can hope that Richard is still alive. Maignard?" Her chin lifts, as she touches her index finger to it. "Gustave Maignard? He and Richard are of Kusheline nobility… who knows…? Either they were too valuable, or this… mysterious gentleman had a personal grudge against them to settle elsewhere."

Alcibiades remains silent now. His gaze flits between Isabelle and Armandine, listening with an intelligent interest — but this is not a discussion the man can take part in. He clasps his hands behind his back, merely watching.

"Indeed," Isabelle murmurs, because all of the Duchesse's suppositions are sound. She shifts in her seat, her eyes moving to look directly at the woman before her - ever so dauntless in the face of whatever dangers her undertakings present. "I intend to pursue Jean-Louis Tavernier, and further inquiries in Kusheth, in hopes of tracking down the original order as well as establish a pattern with the deaths. I also…" She hesitates. "I wished to inquire about the potential trail in El Salloum, if we have anyone installed there who could pursue it, or if you would want me to, after The Longest Night is over. I've spent some time there, and I am fluent in the language."

After a few heartbeats of thoughtful silence, her eyes lift towards the Duchesse again. "I am curious about Gustave Maignard," she confesses. "And why he was spared, along with Lord Richard. It may be personal as you say, but if I remember correctly…His Grace, Quintien de Morhban, has a Maignard wife. If we suppose that they are still alive, I must address another possibility, depending on the connection…that whoever this mysterious third party is may be keeping them alive as leverage on the currently sitting Duc and Duchesse de Kusheth…and the possibility that they might not know that thumbscrews may be applied to them by virtue of their survival. Lord Gustave is obviously a kinsman of the current Duchesse de Kusheth but I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the actual relationship, whether he is a brother or a cousin."

The Duchesse nods, her mien grave. "Be careful when pursuing your investigations in Kusheth.", she tells Isabelle with concern coloring her tone. "But yes. I cannot deny that I'd like to know more about Monsieur Tavernier." Another nod. "So much time has passed since all of this happened… But I would like to learn all information that could be gathered even as late as now. I can't say that I am at ease, with all this new information you and Lord Rousse here have managed to gather." A shake of the head then, as Armandine obviously does not know as much about the Maignard family as to know in what way a Lord Gustave may be related to the wife of Quintien de Morhban. "Maybe Charlène can tell us more about that," she muses before she lands her grey-blue gaze on Alcibiades. "The Myrmidon… you mentioned a purpose you'd wish to use her for?"

Alcibiades steels himself — this is the moment he has been waiting for, the decisive throw of the dice. Behind his back, one hand clenches down hard on the wrist of the other, but his features are composed. "Yes, Your Grace." He pauses for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "Myrmidon is a thirty-two gun frigate. I intend to — with Your Grace's permission — sail her as a privateer, in the service of the Duchy." He draws in a breath, nervousness breaking out across his face.

"Your Grace, my father was a weak man who cast himself out of his family. The Rousses are Naval officers, as you know." He forces a smile to cross his features. "I wish to serve my Duchy, as my father failed to do. With Myrmidon, I can both assist Isab — the Lady de Valais — in her assignments, and protect our waters."

"A privateer…?" Armandine echoes, her gaze brightening. "It is not as if we are currently at war with any of the other countries, but yes… I will write a letter of marque for you, with the explicit permission to eradicate pirates, and to claim their ships as prizes. You should be additionally compensated when assisting Lady Isabelle in her travels. And perhaps… in time, I may be able and inclined to put in a recommendation for you joining the Royal Fleet as one of its captains."

Alcibiades breathes out heavily, looking — as if he needed it — as though he has just gained several inches of height. He grins, absolutely gormless, the relief and the pleasure evident on his features. "I am so glad to hear that, Your Grace. As for compensation for assisting in these tasks — I consider it my duty. All I ask is that provisions be made for my men. I require no personal compensation." At the mention of entry into the Royal Navy, his brows lift again and he seems about to burst forward with further gratitude. Instead, hand hovering where his sword-hilt ought to be, he bows. Very low.

The idea of Alcibiades officially assisting her in her more clandestine endeavors is one in which she is still trying to be accustomed. She has always had Guillermo as another set of eyes, but for the most part, she has always worked alone. Her focus moves away from Armandine and Alcibiades at that, towards the flickering hearth.

…but Isabelle's divergence snaps back to the present at what the Duchesse is offering, surprise plain on her features at the incredibly generous suggestion. There's a slight widening of her eyes. "Your Grace, that is…" Her words trail off, something else resurfacing from underneath her inscrutable mien. Her half-gilded stare falls Alcibiades from where she sits.

"…he's made to do battle at sea," she says, her smile returning and her pride visible. "If it comes to pass due to your regard and generosity, Your Grace, it would be a boon to the Royal Fleet."

With that said, she takes another breath: "I will endeavor to be careful," the ducal agent promises, her expression softening subtly at the concern on the Duchesse's face, meant to reassure her - at the very least, the couturiere, too, is adamant that she doesn't compromise Eisande and House Mereliot with her investigations. "Lord Venetien's widow's investiture to an estate in Kusheth after his death despite the lack of heirs is curious, as Lady Charlene has pointed out, but perhaps there is a way to pose my inquiries to Monsieur Laroche about that…should I be successful in meeting him. I will leave for Kusheth immediately once…" And here, there's a hint of a self-deprecating smile. "…my other life is as prepared for The Longest Night as much as I'm able."

She falls quiet, but only for a moment before she poses: "Does this mean that you think that Lady Charlene ought to be apprised?" she asks softly. "It is of course your decision, Your Grace. If you decide we should keep Lord Richard's survival from her, for now, I can always structure my inquiries in that direction in a more roundabout way."

"I would need to see how Captain Rousse comports himself in future endeavours to truly be able to recommend him," Armandine clarifies with a smile. "But I am certain that we may hear great things from you." Again, she looks towards Alcibiades, before her attention returns to Isabelle de Valais. "I shall wait for your return… or rather… I expect to see you then in Elua, at the festivities for the Longest Night. And until then, I shall pray to the Companions, that you may be safe in your travels, and in your investigations," the duchesse tells the younger lady. "As for Lady Charlène…" Her smile becomes thoughtful. "Perhaps we should wait indeed until we have found out more. I shall send a few others to investigate in El Salloum, but as you say… the trail may already be too cold to pick up."

"Thank you, Your Grace. I certainly intend it to be so," Alcibiades says in response to Armandine's clarification and compliment. He listens to the rest of the Duchesse's speech, but once again he has no valuable input. Looking absolutely pleased as punch, he cannot help to conceal the grin that keeps beaming out.

"Of course." There is a smile, Isabelle's usual mischief showing through. "There is the matter of your final fittings, as well as your daughter's, the Lady Heiress. I am not sure whether Lady Ortolette's health would permit her to travel, but I have been assisting her with her wardrobe since her first assignation. It is a convenient excuse to attend to you in the royal capital in the midst of the arrangements and festivities." She lets out a slow breath. "Is there anything else that you would require of me?"

"This will be all for the moment," Armandine reponds to Isabelle, "apart from this." And here she extends her hand, to take that of the lady de Valais. "That I wish to tell you how much I appreciate your efforts. Yours and those of your friend." A tiny flick of her gaze towards Alcibiades, and she catches that beaming expression. "Serve me well, and it shan't be forgotten."

Her mischievous mien fades, and what Armandine gets in return is an expression of ferocious, determined and undying loyalty - the true face of the roaring tempest caged in this fragile human, feminine vessel. Isabelle's fingers tighten gently over the Duchesse's and she dips her head to press a kiss in the air above them.

"All I wish is to continue to serve you as I always have when I was but a girl," she tells Armandine fervently, before she releases her hand, and makes her exeunt after another sweeping bow.

"I shall endeavor not to disappoint you." Alcibiades bows toward Armandine yet again, that huge smile glowing off him like a small sun. As he straightens, he takes a step backward, preparing to exit the room at the Duchesse's signal.

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