(1310-11-26) The Glass Bear
Summary: Two courtesans, an opium pipe, and expectations for the Longest Night.
RL Date: 26/11/2018
Related: None
heloise iamus 

Cereus House — The City of Elua

From Héloïse's chamber high up in the highest of the Thirteen Houses oriel windows with latticed shutters afford a breathtaking view of the City of Elua, laid out as if at the feet of this Cereus courtesan too frail and too proud to walk its streets… Though at present she is lying down in her cushioned windowseat, with one of those feet hanging off the edge and her golden slipper fallen to the floor. This alone, by her standards, qualifies as déshabillé: more shocking still, she has loosened the laces of her bodice and is playing with the end of one, twining the thin silk ribbon between her fingers, moving it in and out of the late afternoon sunlight that spills in elaborate patterns across her recumbent figure.

At length she drops the ribbon and extends a gracious, graceful hand toward the likewise languid figure inhabiting a pile of cushions close by. "… Are you looking forward to the fête?" she inquires of Iamus nó Gentian, whilst waiting for him to pass up his pipe to her. She speaks so softly he might be dreaming rather than hearing the question; but he has experience enough of interpreting the murmurous, beguiling inflections of her Cereus-trained voice.

"Are we?" Iamus repeats, gently fitting the pipe into her fingers. "I think…I usually look forward to the lead-up more than the event itself. I suppose it will be all right. The food will be good. And we will bring censers." He has a cat's perfect way of sinking full body-weight into a cushion, both shoes abandoned and lined up near the door before he even started smoking.

The smooth warm ivory pipe is an enticement to Héloïse's sensitive digits; she caresses it with her thumb as she breathes in that fragrant and lulling vapour… She might seem to have decided not to speak, or simply forgotten: but she has, above all, her exquisite manners. She passes the pipe down again ere long, to the Gentian adept so expert in its preparation and, breathing out, muses, "It will be the most exclusive, the most sumptuous, the most glittering celebration of the year — and we shall do great honour to Naamah — as last year, and the year before, and the year before, and…" Her voice trails away from delicacy into nothingness.

Iamus tips his head back and laughs quietly. "But what do you think the tide will bring in?" he asks. "I always look forward to seeing new faces. I—" He pauses to correct course, turning his head to look at the delicate vision beside him, "You know that my House is my religion, and I am devout," he prefaces firmly. "But have you ever had to hear the same person recount a boring dream time after time? When even if the dream changes, it is still equally boring? And you have to listen to every word?"

"Oh, my sweet," says Héloïse faintly, despairingly, "they all expect one to be fascinated by their dreams… A patron of mine some years ago would wake up each morning he was in my bed, and tell me what he'd been dreaming. Four times he dreamed of being chased," she relates in dismal tones, "by a piece of cheese that had the face of his wife's mother. Each time he would forget telling me. Each time he would tell me anew. And I," she sighs, "I was fascinated, four times over, and joined him in wondering what it could mean." She meditates upon this. "He was a kind man — those twin silver lamps of mine you're so fond of, they came from him — but I can't say I should wish for more like him. What does it mean?" she wonders, shifting idly onto her elbow to look down at her visitor with that dreamy-eyed countenance her patrons so rarely witness. "A mother-in-law made of cheese?"

Iamus lets out a laugh that comes from low in his throat and reaches gently to have the pipe back. "How could you be so cruel," he asks teasingly, "As to lure me here and give me second-hand work when I come with such a lovely gift." His gaze drifts very slowly to the lamps. "Without knowing of the mother-in-law in question, I would assume it means she gives him pains and blocks what should pass freely. Unless he likes her. Or the kind of cheese she was. Then maybe he just wants a taste." He smiles at the face of his friend. "Is he gone, now?" The question is gentle, but followed by a more joking request: "If not, send him to me and I'll settle his indigestion for another two lamps."

When Iamus laughs so does Héloïse: a rare girlish giggle from this creature turned away from Orchis House in childhood for too great a sobriety.

"… I've met the lady," she sighs then, as if regretting however ephemeral acquaintance it was, "and I should not be inclined to credit the latter possibility. Companions, I'm too old for him now," she explains silkily. "… But for such cruelty you have my apologies, sweet, and when I retire you may have my silver lamps. If I retire." It's the first time she has spoken in Iamus's hearing, in however tentative a voice, that ominous word which rhymes with 'attire'. "And if I do," she adds, more to herself, "it must be soon."

"Naamah bless your generosity," Iamus says, but hesitates to truly ask about this subject she broaches now so unexpectedly. Still, the last sentence she utters makes it irresistible, and the golden-brown eyes swivel back her way. "You mean you consider retirement to pursue consortship?" he wonders, pipe cradled in one hand. "Do you have a particular prospect? An…offer, perhaps?"

"None I'd accept," is all Héloïse has to say to that. "… I shouldn't smoke with you, sweet," she complains without venom, "you'll hear how few secrets I truly possess." She giggles again; she's already reaching for the pipe.

"I never tell," Iamus says, lifting the pipe with underwater langour to put it in her pale hand. "People's dreams are so much more private and scandalous even than their real scandals." He eyes Héloïse. "Maybe hopes and wishes are the same."

Thus reassured, Héloïse clasps the pipe and allows the sweet vapour therein to… reassure her even more. "The trouble with Courcels," she confides dreamily — for all the Night Court knows who fathered her dainty little sprite of a daughter, "is that once one of them turns from you — the others won't touch you."

"Mm, I see," Iamus responds, looking from Héloïse up to the ceiling whither all the little streams of smoke eventually wind their way. "Trouble indeed. Are there never exceptions?"

"There are," Héloïse pursues her thought, "seven sovereign and seven provincial duchies, each in theory possessed of an incumbent and an heir. Twenty-eight prospects. But if one strikes from the list the children not yet of age, the women who only prefer men," for men who favour men require at least mothers for their heirs, "and those most besotted with the spouses and consorts to whom they have already sworn vows, the remainder is…" She has recourse once more to the pipe; and then her wraith-thin, blue-veined wrist unfurls down toward Iamus, restoring his property to his lazy hand and eager lips. She closes her eyes; she's momentarily distracted by the pattern of her window-lattices, printed inside her eyelids by the sunset's fire. "… I do admire Armandine Mereliot," she muses, "but they say she has eyes only for her husband. The d'Aiglemort heiress may die young or she may not: certainly one never sees her in Elua, and one cannot seduce those whom one never meets. Her father is almost as much a barbarian as the Skaldi he fights; I can't imagine him crossing the threshold of Cereus House either. The Rousse heir prefers Alyssum girls. His father has an entanglement in the Night Court of Marsilikos," she pronounces doubtfully, "which I understand is well nigh permanent… The new duc de Chalasse has a daughter called Héloïse, and you know how such a circumstance colours a man's point of view. He would no doubt sooner give me a little bag of sugar pigs than a creditable contract." And on, and on, through most of the upper echelons of the d'Angeline peerage, arguments which have the flavour of much rehearsal as well as a certain poppy-induced frankness.

Iamus takes in his breath from the pipe as he ponders the mathematics lesson. Or is it politics? Or in some sense the economics of supply and demand. "I would imagine," he says, "That it might be the rough men who most prefer a delicate courtesan. And yet, it may not be favorable. Or likely for such a man to come here at all." He pauses to consider the unlikeliness of permanent entanglements in provincial ports. "Oh dear, that is unfortunate." About the overlapping names. "Nobody is ever called Iamus. Meaning I never get sugar pigs out of the deal, either." He seems equal enough to providing answering banter to some of these points, but does not sound as though he is trying to convince her of the likelihood or unlikelihood of her aim. "I have never thought so rationally about these things," he says. "But I would never be in such a position, either."

Rough men have no assigned place in Héloïse's cosmos: she only giggles, "Had I a taste for being manhandled I'd court Kushelines." Which she hasn't, and doesn't: the great lords of Kusheth were summarily excised from her list, with only a sideways remark about the brevity of people's lifespans in that province. One might almost suppose her plaint to be against the harshness of the climate, rather than its inhabitants. "… Well, I have no choice but to think of it," she sighs wistfully, "as will you, sweet, in another handful of years. If I remain, I remain." And that will be that: a decorous retreat from assignations into pedagogy, from serving Naamah to serving her servants. "If I leave… I must go before I'm too faded to appeal to the worldly taste. And that will be soon," she judges in today's dreamy, poppy-languid soprano, "in a year or two at the longest."

"You'd be surprised how delicately a fighter dreams," Iamus replies, but without trying to turn the tide of her remarks. "A handful of years," he repeats, eye following a twist of smoke trail. "I don't think very far into the past or future. I have always been all right. I have always known my House." His brow puckers a little. "Anyway, Gentians are not the most popular choice for consorts, are they? Perhaps I have regulars, but…our canon suits the crisis or the crossroads. Few seek us every day."

"Perhaps some charming creature of birth and means will feel you've rescued her from her personal perils just as if you were a knight on horseback," muses Héloïse, who seems to hear the dream of hoofbeats — but it's probably just a novice somewhere below, a child whose movements are not yet trained to the permanent calm befitting a Cereus, the distant sound transmuted into phantasy by the haze of opium smoke beginning to cloud her chamber. Outside the sun is going down. She ought to get up and light her silver lamps. She doesn't.

"… Or perhaps," she goes on in a vein of sudden archness, "we'll each find someone special on the Longest Night. … Do you recall," and her voice is suddenly that of a young girl again, high and fluting and sweet, "how we grew up dreaming of it—?"

"Perhaps some charming creature of birth and means will feel you've rescued her from her personal perils just as if you were a knight on horseback," muses Héloïse, who seems to hear the dream of hoofbeats — but it's probably just a novice somewhere below, a child whose movements are not yet trained to the permanent calm befitting a Cereus, the distant sound transmuted into phantasy by the haze of opium smoke beginning to cloud her chamber. Outside the sun is going down. She ought to get up and light her silver lamps. She doesn't. "… Or perhaps," she goes on in a vein of sudden archness, "we'll each find someone special on the Longest Night. … Do you recall," and her voice is suddenly that of a young girl again, high and fluting and sweet, "how we grew up dreaming of it—?"

"I've never been on horseback," Iamus reflects, "I don't think." The room becoming darker bothers him not a bit. His gaze returns to his friend and he smiles. "I still feel excited by it," he admits. "I remember shortly after my debut, thinking of all the beautiful possibilities that strangers trail with them."

It's Héloïse's turn with the pipe: she's slow to speak again and, when she does, she seems to have recovered her customary equilibrium, her decorous maturity. "I rarely meet a stranger, anymore," she admits. "Our world here is an enclosed one," she means of course the life of Cereus House, where new patrons come chiefly by the introduction of established patrons and are always so easily placed by according to lineage; "save on the Longest Night, when we open our doors… You know, I don't know who to invite; my regulars are usually the Dowayne's guests more than my own. Perhaps," the opium suggests, for Héloïse nó Cereus would surely never propound so outlandish a scheme, "I'll give a token to a stranger, this year, and see if Naamah favours my choice with… a beautiful possibility," she echoes.

Iamus looks taken up in excitement by that idea, eyes shining like molten gold. "You must vow to tell me everything," he says. "I think Naamah could only reward such a spirit at such a time." He stretches his body, then relaxes it. "I want to meet strangers, too. One of my favorite clients has not been to see me since her marriage and others get lazy when the winter comes. There is a void. Or…at least a space."

"We must help you to fill that space, sweet," sighs Héloïse, returning the pipe to Iamus and clasping for a moment his hand in an impulsive gesture of friendship, "or for lack of diversion you'll turn too far inward, as I find I do." Then with another sigh she collapses into her cushions, eyes closed and fingertips curled in among her ribbons. "Sitting high on the hill waiting for patrons to find me," she confesses, "has brought me too little joy of late, and Naamah too little homage… I don't quite know what to do, sweet. I feel that something must change, soon — but I don't know what,” she says vaguely. “Perhaps that's a two-pipe problem."

Iamus seems approving of the idea of a change. "Adventure, then. We will go out in search of the right custom. In celebration of the revels you could transform for a time from prize to hunter." He eyes her appraisingly. "It could throw your delicacy into greater relief. It needn't be a permanent change, but perhaps it could lead to one. A favorable one."

"Your opium is addling your wits," Héloïse points out with a sudden access of dignity. Immediately spoiled when she giggles, "Mine as well. Or is it so strange, to think of lying down in the marketplace in her name—?"

"In this season, yes," Iamus determines. "You'd freeze." He grins at Héloïse. "If you were to do it you would need an altar of blankets at the very least."

But a courtesan of Cereus House can do better than blankets. “I’d wear my furs,” Héloïse informs her friend with another giggle, “all my furs… My lovers would go away,” she pronounces imperiously, “boasting of their fine congress with a tame she-bear.”

She stretches and, sighing, kicks off her other slipper. Sans her wealth of furs or even her court dress, she’s a slight creature and frail, fit to get lost among so many cushions. “But one way or another I shall not end this season as I begin it.” Whether it is a prophecy or a vow, it’s the last piece of sense either of these degenerates speaks for quite some while.

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