(1310-11-20) Talk Less, Smile More
Summary: Étienne encounters Emmanuelle in a temple of knowledge. They discuss the NIght Court: he learns a thing or two about her and she, inevitably, about him.
RL Date: 20/11/2018
Related: The Baphinol Boys at Tea.
emmanuelle etienne 

Raziel’s Sanctum — Place des Mains

Pedestrian traffic flows past the tall, multistorey temple to knowledge without ever daring to glimpse within. Their loss proves the academic community of Marsilikos' gain. Watery light passing through greenish tinted windows throws a distinctly sylvan enchantment over the narrow ground floor. Awash in jade shadows, the built-in bookcases heave with the treasures of the deep and wide world. Volumes mass-produced by printing press in d'Angeline dominate the front shelves, a wild assortment of topics contained within some obscure system of sorting known only to the regulars. Herbalism and gardening stand abreast of architectural sketches from the City of Elua and Kusheline manuals on horse breeds.

A journey up the twisting stairs past the bric-a-brac acquired by years of travelers trading in their goods leads into the true heartland of wisdom. Candles set before stained glass throw rapturous kaleidoscopes of painted colour over a long hall. The open central aisle hosts low couches set back to back on woven Bhodistani rugs. The most treasured volumes — and hence, the most costly — occupy the floor-to-ceiling shelves overseen by the grumpiest of caretakers, an ill-tempered marmalade cat with his own stuffed chair that no one sits in.

The third floor holds a repository of maps and scrolls, aged texts too fragile to hold, and a bookbinding and mending service at a cost.

The head of the permanent staff is wholly occupied with grooming his whiskers, but he has assigned a deputy to the task of hovering over and waiting upon the most important personage to cross the shop’s threshold this afternoon, by far: Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai, not the first in her lineage to channel substantial sums through the book-binding service on the third floor. (She knows of course a great deal of binding, one way and another.) Her books are customarily covered in purple leather embossed with Shahrizai keys in gold leaf, though the series of classical erotic manuals she ordered not long ago for a niece lately come of age were more elaborate still, and more expensive… Today she seems chiefly interested in volumes of poetry, printed rather than laboriously copied by hand — but hope remains that she might be decoyed upstairs by a rare manuscript or so, if only such could be insinuated into the conversation.

She stalks between the shelves attired not for the shop's own warmth but for the November chill outside its walls, her black cloak turned back over one shoulder to show the midnight sky picked out in pearls within it, a three-cornered hat perched upon her head of immaculately braided blue-black hair. With each step the silver-knobbed cane in her grasp strikes the floorboards in harmony with her boot-heels and the soft jingling of her spurs. A formidable music. The clerk in nervous pursuit of her somehow never dares get too close to that cane. He essays a suggestion, and another, which fall upon deaf ears — or so her expression gives him to understand, when she halts before a promising shelf and looks for the first time back at him. She looks if anything surprised to find him still present.

"You may return to your duties," she informs him, regal but not unkind; "if I require your assistance, I shall certainly summon you." This dismissal accomplished, she turns the other way to examine a gilded spine that caught her eye — and turns further, for that is when she glimpses Étienne d'Arguil straying in her direction from the next aisle. That young man has been everywhere underfoot, of late. One might suspect him of concealing a secret twin. As her black-gloved fingertips seize upon that volume and ease it out from amidst its peers she lifts her eyebrows at him in challenge: well, and what of you?

Étienne is dressed much as he was when she last saw him, except he hasn't bothered with the pomade and so a few long curly black strands of hair have escaped their ribbon to hang about his face, lending an unconscious appearance of vulnerability to his long neck. It is quite possible he has chosen his best boots and clothes in hopes of tricking the shopkeeper into thinking he is more in funds than he actually is. He also has a big black hooded great cloak against the rain, and throws the hood back as he drifts bewildered through the aisles trying to make sense of the layout.

He starts in surprise at finding her there, and colours slightly. He seems perfectly sober, as he was at their last meeting. Those cornflower blue eyes widen. He seems left without words for the moment, so simply gives her one of his deep, naturally graceful bows.

"My lord d'Arguil," drawls Emmanuelle, who has a natural gift for using courtesies to create a sense of distance and detachment, even as she takes a step nearer into the young man's personal space, and beats him about the head not with her cane but with the resinous notes in her cologne. "Has your cousin's influence already turned you into a scholar? Your dear maman will be delighted to hear of it."

Étienne's own tone is respectful and correct, "My Lady Shahrizai, I… had occasion to use my Cruithne yesterday, and I fear I am growing rusty on certain items of vocabulary. It also seems the accent as spoken is rather different than I had imagined and I wanted… well, to brush up a bit." His attempts to appear more sophisticated than he is have given way in his confusion to the hesitations of a more vulnerable mood. "Only, I… have never seen so many volumes in one place before and I fear I have gotten turned around somewhere."

At last, a suitable employment for the clerk; but when Emmanuelle looks to him she finds empty air, for he took his dismissal as seriously as people usually do when she issues that sort of fiat. Her gaze swerves back to Étienne, her eyes locking again upon his, blue into blue. "I see," she says mildly. "They do," and by way of illustration she hefts the volume clasped in her gloved hand, "offer a wide variety of temptations. I have no doubt your Cruithne dictionary is here to be found — but, given your professed thirst to know more of the wider world, I might recommend you look beyond it, and see what else you may find."

Étienne looks down, embarrassed, "I had thought to poke about to see if there were any good travelogues as well." He is too well-trained to fidget, but there is something of a child caught doing something naughty by an adult in his demeanor, though why he might be ashamed to be caught looking for books in a bookstore, might baffle a reasonable person.

To Emmanuelle nothing seems amiss. Her life is full of the bashful, the suddenly uncertain, and those who simply long to be reassured that they are good boys and girls. "Very well," she drawls, allowing a note of approbation into her low voice; "I'm sure you'll find them… educational." A pause. "And how have you been amusing yourself, mm? Not too much brandy, I trust," and that is positively arid.

Étienne has straightened and is just starting to perk up when she has him blushing again with reference to brandy, "Not since… I have been sticking to wine." He brightens again, mercurial as always and naturally ebullient, "The local vintages really are as good as promised, for the most part." The thought of wine leads him to his conversation with Symon with whom he had recently been drinking and also to the mulled wine of the market, without thinking his interlocutor might not follow these wild leaps: "I met an adept in the market yesterday. I've never met anyone from the Night Court before. He was very pretty, but I suppose I'd expected them to be more… well, more, if that makes sense."

Emmanuelle meanwhile leans her cane against the bookcase nearest her and opens the volume in her hands. She casts an eye across the endpapers; she turns pages; with exquisite delicacy the fingers of her left hand peel back a layer of tissue-thin paper to examine the frontispiece beneath… Her gaze flicks up to Étienne's face, her eyes cool and her flawless red-painted smile evoking once more the demeanour and the proclivities of a wolf. "We are in the provinces," she drawls. "One cannot expect to find here the same heightened pleasures of the Thirteen Houses of Mont Nuit, though by way of compensation it's certainly cheaper."

Étienne is momentarily mesmerized by the page turning and has half forgotten the topic of conversation by the time he speaks. He gives a little start, "Oh! Not…." He takes a deep breath and tries to explain himself, "It was not intended as a slight on Naamah's blessings and we aren't important or large enough to have anyone like that at Berck. I just… from the stories, I'd imagined other pleasures than just the… the blessing itself." He shrugs, a little embarrassed, "Sex is nice enough even if it does always leave one unsatisfied after, like eating nothing but plums for dinner, but I had pictured, I don't know, really exciting conversation and the like. I had imagined…." He waves his hand in a way suggesting total loss for words, then he gives up, "More than quite possibly the prettiest man I has ever seen. It was a dinner of plums all over again, only without the sex."

He looks away, frustrated. "I can't explain what I imagined or what was missing exactly. Just… there was some talk of going to Glycine for gaming or a performance or some such, and I'd been imagining something magical, only I realize it'll likely just be sex and I… am not… I would rather… I don't want to bother with all the mess and fuss when it'd just be someone who is paid to pretend to like me and it likely won't be better than tumbles back home, only with someone prettier.”

As Étienne spills out his heart’s blood upon the floor at her feet — hardly needing to be prompted, so eager he is to unburden himself — Emmanuelle's smile grows moment by moment more lupine. At last she snaps the book shut between her hands.

"If you are so unsatisfied by everyone you— tumble," she suggests, after a pause which suggests that the adjustment to his terminology involves a certain condescension on her side, "I can only wonder what it is that you're doing — or, more to the point, not doing — to vary the undoubted monotony of your diet of plums." One eyebrow arches in reproof. Even with the aid of her spiked boot-heels they’re about the same height — how, then, does she contrive to seem as though she's looking down upon him from such a great and learned altitude? "… Perhaps you've more Baphinol blood in your veins than you know," she suggests. "Certainly I think you underestimate Naamah's servants. The best courtesans, the best lovers of any kind, are always expressing a fundamental truth. The Night Court is known as a place of illusions — but some within its bounds possess the power to forge a new truth from a patron's dreams."

Étienne looks at her with transparent confusion and wide genuinely curious eyes, "What is there to try? Exactly, I mean? Beyond the usual things. And pain for spice, which doesn't… sound like a thing I'd like."

Beneath her pearl-strewn cloak Emmanuelle's shoulders lift, and she gives vent to a low, mocking laugh, huskier even than her speaking voice. "Perhaps," she chuckles, "you ought to seek out a book or two on the subject. Raziel's purveys an excellent selection of erotic manuals; I purchased several myself not long ago as gifts for a niece of mine lately come of age. You had better not hear it from me. I might frighten you," she teases, her hand lifting to stroke under his chin with one imperious fingertip. The leather of her glove is exquisitely soft.

Étienne sighs, shoulders slumping, "It doesn't really matter, does it?" He does not shy away from the touch. He just looks at her, a little sadly, a little defiantly.

In answer to that look Emmanuelle's hand drops away from his chin, and she occupies herself in restoring to its place on the shelf the book she was examining a few moments ago.

"Don't whinge at me, child," she orders Étienne absently. "If you're unhappy with your sexual life you're the only one who can improve it — you're not one for me, if you were I'd have smelled it on you by now. I imagine," and she turns with one hand still on the bookshelf and looks him up and down with that incisive gaze of hers that seems to cut through garments and flesh alike, to take the measure of all a man's qualities and his inadequacies, "that when you find what your pleasure requires, it will prove to be something slight and innocuous that you simply haven't had occasion to consider yet. My suggestion about the erotic texts," she drawls, "was entirely serious. You may find that you turn a page and," a muted snap of gloved fingers, "there it is."

Étienne studies her, with a look of thoughts swimming fast behind his eyes, "I know I have not made a good impression on you. That is entirely my fault. I keep trying to do better and failing. I was not… trying to get you to… not that you aren't extremely good looking, I just…. I meant it, that first night, even if my head was swimming, that you are far more interesting for yourself than sex ever could be. To talk to, I meant, not… something untoward that would not be thought of in any case because of our difference in rank. You are a great lady, with an unusual… everything. I am nobody. I know that. I just… sometimes my thoughts dart like fry and my… sense and my words do not always catch up." There is a deep, fundamental disappointment in his expression that has absolutely nothing of a rejected suitor about it.

He gives a very formal bow and turns to go.

Behind Étienne another low wolfy chuckle sounds, amplified by bookshelves and floorboards and the silence otherwise surrounding him. "So in your quest for conversation," teases Emmanuelle, "you've decided I offer more pleasure than a courtesan, and for reasons that have nothing to do with sex…? I'm touched."

Étienne pauses and sighs, "I know, my opinion isn't a thing that could ever possibly matter to you."

"You're entertaining only despite yourself," the lady fires back: another twitch upon the line, to regain the herring's attention and reel him in nearer to her again. "But you may not address me with your back turned," she adds briskly, "I have little tolerance for that kind of discourtesy." A pause. "Or any other."

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Étienne=Perception Vs Emmanuelle=Composure
< Étienne: Success (5 1 1 4 1 8 1 2 4 1 6 5) Emmanuelle: Great Success (7 6 6 8 1 5 8 6 3 4 3 5 4 7)
< Net Result: Emmanuelle wins - Solid Victory

Étienne turns and bows, studying her, but not able to read her well enough for all his trying. "As you wish, my lady." He straightens and watches her with the calm of a man waiting sword in hand for a sparring bout to start.

Emmanuelle's straight-backed, squared-off stance hasn't shifted, and her eyes are waiting to bore again into his when he rises from his bow: her demeanour remains in cool contrast to his sighs and vacillations. "I recommend also," and this she offers more gently, "that you cease to make assumptions about me. You possess too few of the facts to draw conclusions either flattering or veracious."

Étienne cocks his head, though whether in response to words or tone is unclear. “I never claimed to be other than ignorant."

With a lifted hand Emmanuelle indicates the bookshop and its hundreds, very likely thousands, of neatly-bound tomes. "Here you are in a temple of knowledge," she drawls. "If there is something you wish to know, why not ask?"

Étienne thinks for a bit, body naturally taking a posture ideal for long waits in the hot sun, while trying to figure out what to ask. Then he asks seriously, "What is it that I don't know?" Because really, how can one ask specifics when one doesn't know what what doesn't know?

“Let me think,” purrs Emmanuelle; “a great deal, I can only suppose.”

And, knowing the revelation he most earnestly seeks, she draws it out even as she closes the distance he lately put between them, taking a step nearer and tilting her head to a different angle with each item upon her little list of distinguishing qualities. “I am a chirurgeon,” she suggests. Step. “I enjoy reading,” she confirms. Step. “I have two grandchildren, the second born just a few weeks past — you may congratulate me,” she informs him cordially. Step. “Until three months ago,” and now the scent of her cologne is heady in his nostrils and her cool blue eyes are so close to his that he can see the faint wrinkles framing them beneath the kohl, “I had the honour to serve Naamah as the Dowayne of Mandrake House.” A beat. “I assure you,” she drawls, “nobody could pay me to pretend to like you.”

Étienne’s reaction to the first on the list suggests that this was unexpected but pleasing information. The third item is a clear surprise, prompting him to blurt, "I had not imagined you old enough for grandchildren! Um, congratulations, my lady." The last, has him cocking his head, studying her in a way that suggests neither sexual excitement nor revulsion nor embarrassment. Instead, she can get a clear glimpse of the man he might one day become, but is not yet, one who can think calmly and quickly in a crisis, one who can fit information well together without emotion getting in the way. The flicker in his eyes is just visible as he makes a set of mental adjustments. With the even tone of a mathematician who has just corrected a set of calculations, and without flinching away or taking a step back he says, "You have my profoundest apologies for my boorishness and the series of insults I have given you. I completely understand if you wish never to see me again. If that is the case, I will endeavor to stay out of your way." He waits calmly to hear the verdict he has earned.

Again Emmanuelle looks him over, from this very close range. “You didn't do that too badly,” she opines, with a firm encouraging squeeze for his shoulder. “And you are fortunate in that I have very thick skin.” In fact she has very fine skin, so white as to hint at blue veins beneath. “A word of advice, however, for your career in Marsilikos. Talk less. Smile more. You've a pretty enough smile, of its kind.” With which compliment, perhaps the most underwhelming assessment of his looks he has ever received from a person of the female persuasion, she lifts her hand away and turns back toward the bookshelf where she left her stick leaning.

“When you've worked out what you do want from me,” she goes on casually, selecting another volume, “you may call upon me and we’ll speak of it. I'm looking,” she explains, favouring him with another opaque glance as, having swiftly found it unsatisfactory, she returns that book too to its shelf, “for a gift for your cousin. I'm fucking him, though of course you gathered that. There's a poem I particularly wish him to know,” and already she's seeking it between different covers. “I trust you’ll respect his privacy.”

Étienne is not as vain of his looks as one might expect for a man who makes use of his smile the way he does, and so does not take offense. “Thank you for your advice.” He is not even a little shocked by her mention of her relationship with his cousin, which he had, in fact, divined at their last meeting. “My respect for both him and his privacy goes without saying.” After a pause he adds, “I think you suit each other brilliantly.”

The one eye Emmanuelle kept upon him whilst so strongly implying the respect due to the Baphinol heir’s private life, becomes a sharp cold sideways stare as she pauses a moment with a slim volume open in her hands. “This you've concluded,” she drawls, “after all the time you've spent in our mutual company…?” One cup of tea, that was his lot.

Étienne stiffens at her anger, “And now I’ve offended you again, but I have eyes. I could see how he looked at you, how all of him…. It was like you had a horse on a tether you were training and it was like he was always… aware of you even when you were silent and he was just circling on the tether waiting for the click of your tongue. Only that’s not a flattering image. It was more like, the way two halves of a nut fit together. Only that’s not it either. I just… I have no words for it. I really liked him. Talking to him, I mean. My cousin, and he seemed to like talking to me too, but it felt like some part of him was poised and listening for your every breath and that nothing in the world, not his research or anything else could be more important to him than the next thing you would say to him.” He looks down, “I’ve never felt like that. I’m not sure I could feel like that. Still, it was something I could feel in my bones sitting near him with you there.” He smiles crookedly at his own folly, “Talk less, smile more. I’m an idiot.”

Whatever Étienne may suppose it isn’t anger — Emmanuelle Shahrizai is far too self-controlled and self-contained to express anything of the kind, and however hard she may come down upon impertinence in all its varieties she is rarely, in her heart, touched by anything said of her or to her. She regards this inadvisedly loquacious little north sea herring with an unwavering and dubious stare — and then, when he collects himself sufficiently to recall and to echo her advice, she grants him a slight nod. Yes, he’s got there in the end. He has at least the capacity to learn.

She looks back to the bookshelves and continues her quest, turning over the pages of a slightly fatter book bound plainly in green. She’s casually ambidextrous; and her fingers are accustomed, it seems, to conducting delicate operations in gloves. “I like talking to him too,” she mentions offhandedly. “Though I’ve not yet had him on a tether.” She may or may not be joking: her tone affords Étienne no indication. A moment later she shuts the book with another crisp snap, and retains it in her grasp as she takes up her cane in her left hand.

Étienne sensibly responds with one of his bedimpled smiles and a deep bow, “My Lady.” A slow learner, yes, but he does get there in the end.

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