(1310-12-02) Two Peaches
Summary: An audition of sorts, one afternoon at the Lis d’Or. (Warning: Some Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 23/12/2018 - 30/12/2018
Related: The Carriage Held But Just Ourselves.
emmanuelle sarielle 

The Lis d’Or

The salon of Lis d'Or emanates the very air of refinement. Be it through the elaborately done inlay work in the wooden floor, a depiction of the marque of the salon, the golden lily; be it through the heavy curtains of purple brocade with golden lilies embroidered upon them guarding the floor to ceiling windows that look out on a carefully kept garden, where nature pointedly has been subjected to human hands and taste. Be it through the fashionable chaise longues and chairs, carved from dark mahogany, with the purple upholstery and embroidered cushions enhancing the comfort of seating. The walls have been kept to a light mauve hue, adorned with masterfully done paintings of several notable former courtesans of this salon. It is all there, the grace, the poise, the perfection, and sometimes even the frailty that has blended into this salon's canon. A canon so adequately displayed by the courtesans and adepts that can be encountered here.

The summons is peremptory and permits of no disobedience: the Dowayne of the Lis d'Or desires that Sarielle come down from the dormitory and dance, at once, upon the smaller of the salon's two beautiful and well-sprung stages.

When she answers the call, in whatever she happens to be wearing at the time, she finds the chamber lit as if for a formal recital (novices are still moving about with tapers), and a cluster of the salon's best musicians putting their instruments in tune for her. She need only name what tune — or, if she's unlucky, suffer it to be named for her.

At this hour of the afternoon her audience consists of a few curious denizens of the house who noticed something going on and, sitting front and centre, Philomène nó Lis d’Or herself, on the other side of an occasional table from Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai. The two women are sharing a drink and a (restrained, elegant) laugh together as they await the performance, the visitor lounging at her ease in an exceptionally comfortable chair with a booted foot stretched out before her and her red leather gloves tucked into a pocket of her long coat.

The adept, for all the alacrity in which she was put together, remains impeccably composed as she enters — barring a single faltering step, muffled by the white kid-leather embracing her high arched feet, when eyes fall upon the particular member of the assemblage semi-recumbent beside the Dowayne. A desperate prayer is lifted to Eisheth, begging artistry, and Kushiel, begging mercy, as Sarielle steps upon the irreproachably maintained stage. Her tenue du jour, as a blessing, is something she can actually move in; a gammura of finely woven merlot silk, laced flatteringly to her slender form and lacking sleeves due to haste, an unusually fitted ivory camicia, and hair neatly plaited with coordinating ribbon.

Without ado, the girl whispers a word to the closest member of the ensemble, a flautist d'Allemagne, who inclines his head in acknowledgement and passes along the word. A single curtsey to the Dowaynes, current and prior, before she draws herself into position with her arms crossed before her body and chin tucked against her shoulder, ready for the first strains of music to begin.

Of course the acoustics in here are a marvel; the soft sigh of Sarielle’s gown as she curtseys serves to arrest the attention of both her leading spectators, though as their eyes turn from one another to rest upon her instead, Emmanuelle is still drawling in an undertone some deadpan observation which renews Philomène’s smile. Together they present a formidable tableau illustrating their two canons: the regal older beauty indistinguishable from a great lady of the daylight court, and the lady highborn in truth making herself at home beneath the other’s roof with all the arrogant insouciance of a Mandrake and a Shahrizai.

The Lis d’Or’s splendid hall is a long way from the heady confines of Emmanuelle’s jewel-box carriage, wherein one is never beyond the reach of her hands. But the reach of her eyes is such that, as the flautist draws those first sweet notes from her instrument, as she commences to regard Sarielle with that steady ice-cold gaze which might just pierce through the girl and carve twin knot-holes in the painted scenery at the back of the stage, the hall shrinks down to an intimate, claustrophobic retreat occupied only by they two, the watcher and the watched.

The musical selection is bold, almost jarringly exotic in the confines of a D'Angeline sanctum. It seems the Lis d'Or Dowayne knows the dancer well enough to have planned for a such a contingency, for the ensemble brought along a few of the odder instruments suited to the drum-and-string led style of Khebbel-im-Akkad.

And then there's naught in the world but the space between them, the watcher and the watched. Sarielle can hardly hear the andante accompaniment over the rush of blood in her ears, body moving on sheer instinct. Sinuously, she unfolds her right arm, keeping her other pressed firm against her body, her eyes — softly focused — and head following the flow of her hand. The other arm sweeps away, gaze following, and she twists both limbs in a way that brings about the illusion of lacing and unlacing in a way that's wholly impossible for solid flesh to achieve.

There is a fastidious lack of eye contact, but such is hardly necessary to confirm for whom this piece is being danced.

The movement continues, rolling through her torso as she sends her arms skyward, until it's centralized on her stomach. The fluttering of muscles strains the laces of her gammura, lending to the sense of great movement despite her being predominantly stationary.

The tempo increases slightly, gamine-slender hips contributing a side to side tilt with enough momentum that her skirts follow. Wrists fall, crossed, in front of the dancer's solar plexus. A single foot slides forward and to the side, turning her into a perfect stage profile, a whispering contact against the stage, lending the girl greater range of motion. Stretching arms and hands outward, fingers ever in motion, she begins to tip backward beat by beat, arms moving up and up in a line with her torso, until the upper part of her body is all but parallel with her supporting leg and she's forced to bend at the elbows so her arms don't come into contact with the floor.

Just as slowly, she draws herself upright again, her forward leg pushing farther away when her torso hits the point of being perpendicular, transitioning into a series of steps, each white-leather embraced foot in turn, where she's still unbending her body but in motion. As soon as she's straightened, the accompaniment pushes the little lily faster and faster, in a flurry of arms and shimmying hips, until her feet drum on the floor and she turns, faster yet, past the point of her capability and beyond, until the musicians themselves cut off abruptly and she artfully falls in a puddle of deep red silk, bent in supplication with her hands resting on the floor before her.

Her audience of one never wavers in attentiveness; at least, not until the music ceases, at which moment Emmanuelle severs that tenacious and invisible thread by turning away from the bowed figure of her petite danseuse, to the colleague seated serenely by her side… Her next exchange with Philomène nó Lis d’Or is just audible in the ensuing silence.

Would Lady Emmanuelle care to see another piece?

“… No,” that lady drawls, rather distantly, “I have seen enough.”

Would she care for the companionship of the adept Sarielle?

Another pause. “Perhaps,” Emmanuelle suggests, “she will pour for me.”

Of course there’s no ‘perhaps’ about it. At her Dowayne’s command Sarielle must rise from her long-maintained, sweetly submissive posture upon the stage, and demonstrate another of the house’s elegancies — that of cupbearer to a prospective patron — whilst the musicians gather their instruments and depart, and her other observers melt away likewise.

Emmanuelle exchanges another few courtesies with Philomène, and a brief clasp of their hands before her old acquaintance is called away by the understandable press of other duties; she completes the gesture by taking up her glass and drinking a little more of— not wine, nor cognac, nor any of the usual intoxicating refreshments offered to the nobility of Marsilikos within these walls, but the juice of the pomegranate, chilled. She sets it down empty upon the table at her elbow and lets her gaze roam, at last, unhurriedly, to where Sarielle is waiting at her side.

It doesn’t disquiet her in the least to sit in solitary splendour in a theatre still lit for her pleasure alone. She is as easy here as in Alette’s rooms, or her own carriage. So close, the beeswax and the smoke are overwhelmed by the scent of her cologne, resinous and dark.

The physical exertion has taken its toll on Sarielle, lending a sheen of clean sweat to her flushed skin, her respiration quickened in a way her proximity to Emmanuelle is doing nothing to alleviate. With unwavering attention, the Lady Shahrizai's cup is refilled, the adept taking care that every line of her body is held with immaculate grace. When the woman's attention shifts to her, the lily does not shy away from eye contact; beyond her tenseness, strung taut as a hunting bow, a slight dilation of pupils and flare of nostrils are the only visible signs of disquietude — it's hard to tell if the reluctance to speak is meant as an act of submission, pride, or fear at what answers she may find if she lets loose the questions running through her mind at the pace of a full-sailed trireme from her pert lips.

The generous tails of Emmanuelle's long black leather coat spill about her, covering most of the upholstery of the bergère provided for her comfort; inside that encompassing but unbuttoned garment her dark grey silk waistcoat has a very fine red pinstripe, and her black breeches clothe her lean and muscular thighs with a fidelity betrayed only by the telltale bulge in between. Nestled into the folds of a neckcloth sewn from the selfsame black silk as her shirt is a pin in the shape of three golden keys, twined together in a delicate triumph of some Elua jeweler's art. She sits still with one foot extended before her in its soft leather boot, the cuff of it folded down about her knee and its heel dagger-sharp against the floor of polished parquet. She watches Sarielle's hands as she pours, being in her own way a connoisseur of charming movement; and then just as her glass is restored to the table's safety she flicks her gaze up to meet the girl's eyes: a sudden blue impalement like to engrave her initials on the inside of her skull.

"… Well chosen for me," she drawls; "I do like to see a lovely girl on her knees. Tell me," she pursues, steepling her hands in her lap, "do you perform any of the Eglantine pieces which end with disrobing, or congress with a dance partner—? I am unfamiliar, I must confess, with the usual offerings of the Lis d'Or."

Keeping her feet rooted in place, Sarielle's slender fingers abandon the decanter of juice to the possession of the side table; her free hands clasp behind her to rest in the curve of lower back and force the lily to stand upright, display the proverbial steel in her stem. A tilt of her chin almost betokens defiance, but her pulse is quickened to the extent that all it manages to do is reveal the slight throb along the arteries in her slender throat.

The first words from Emmanuelle seem almost to be a reprieve, muscles of her shoulders beginning to uncoil, but the illusion is shattered for the girl but a few moments later. "I… I do, my lady," she whispers, the shade of pink the Mandrake is so fond of coloring her face and décolleté, eyes sliding away in shame towards the floor. Why, even Sarielle herself isn't sure — there's no shame to be found in performing Naamah's Arts, after all, but there's something in the way Emmanuelle suggests it that makes it seem like doing such would be untoward.

Yes, there's a sensual menace about a mature Mandrake courtesan, even in idleness; Emmanuelle does no more than sit and quietly inquire, and essay the slightest tilt of her dark head threaded with white, but somehow her very presence imparts refinements of perversion to all that she may utter… At least, if one is listening for them one can hear them: and Sarielle, now, can do no other.

"A new string to your bow since your debut," she observes, conjuring flickering images of cords, knots, nooses. "But then we never cease, do we—?" A lowering of her darkened eyelids, as flatteringly she includes the adept in a category with her own self. "To refine our arts," she concludes. A pause. "And have you read that little book I gave you, child? … I see that you have."

No, they never do cease, do they? Whatever the art, the training is still the same. Hours of practice until the achievements of mastery are merely the obvious bits. It's furthering your knowledge once you've become a master, cultivating it, spreading it to others, where you make your greatest discoveries. It's enough to make the girl reflective — and note the we.

And have you read that little book I gave you, child?

An eyelid flicker gives it away, her eyes trying to slink downward as she's called on it. "Yes, my lady." Delicately clearing her throat and picking her gaze up off the ground she adds, "Three times."

The table set between them has thus far acted as chaperone. With a breath, Sarielle edges around it until there's nothing to enforce the separation between her and the former Dowayne. Were it any other potential patron, there would be no compunctions about settling abeyante; to do so in the presence of Emmanuelle Shahrizai would mean something else entirely.

So she stands, shoulders set pridefully, regarding the Lady with… what? Trepidation, yes, but also a deep curiosity, a thirst for knowledge.

The post where the girl stationed herself at first by pure instinct, and now her brave inch-by-inch abandonment to circle round the table and into Emmanuelle's reach, are alike amusing to the Mandrake behind her impassive façade. "… Yes, I thought you might agree with me," she murmurs mildly, "as others have, that its neglect these many years was undeserved." And she moves at last, drawing her extended foot closer in toward her bergère, rising sinuously from her sprawl to sit straighter against its upholstered cushions of ivory and gold.

"Closer, child," she directs. She points with one black-taloned finger at a place between her two feet in their high leather boots, planted now so solidly, balancing one another, anchoring her in space. "I'm not going to eat you," she drawls, with a quick theatrical widening of her kohl-shadowed eyes.

After a breath of hesitation, Sarielle obeys. Her slippers skim the floor, closing the distance between them, acoustics of the chamber magnifying every brush. Camellia-instructed, she folds herself smoothly to kneel where indicated, but her gaze does not falter or fall. Respect but not supplication, Azzaline pride warring with her desire to give utterly of herself.

Emmanuelle watches calmly while the girl settles herself, displaying no impatience with her hesitation, no disapproval of the prideful height that golden head yet maintains. At length she instructs: "Put out your hands."

And if Sarielle should be reluctant to offer any part of herself for Emmanuelle's use, those Shahrizai eyes boring into her own will narrow a fraction as a reminder of how much less pleasant this encounter could become for her.

Besides the pomegranate juice the former Mandrake Dowayne is known in certain circles to favour, assortments of bite-sized pastries from the salon's kitchens and out-of-season fruit from some secret succession house repose upon the much-mentioned occasional table, awaiting her pleasure: she picks up a small plate that has been sitting untouched at her elbow and gives it to the little lily. A gentle tug upon the edge of the plate, the pressure of fingertips beneath it, shifts it into the proper position: there Sarielle must hold it safely in those hands more accustomed to the labours of art and of love, than such domestic servitude.

Looking away from her improvised table Emmanuelle selects from amongst the offered refreshments a peach. She handles it with gentle fingertips, imparting no bruise, no puncture, no indignity upon its ripe and radiant skin.

There's relief in being able to maintain her pride, in her mind not being immediate stripped bare. Sarielle holds the position with an effortless grace, arms moving with economy to present her upturned palms, elbows tucked neatly to her sides. The girl's fingers yield the form of the plate, muscles trained for the rigors of dance holding it steady. There's no flare of protest, no objection to being repurposed as a pretty furnishing for the woman's passing pleasure, just simple acceptance of the fate.

After all, it's quite something to be deemed a worthy piece of furniture for Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai.

Her gaze traces the form of the peach then slides back to meet the aforementioned Shahrizai eyes. An unspoken question hovers, but she dare not break the silence.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Emmanuelle=Intimidation+Presence+4 Vs Sarielle=Composure+Mind
Emmanuelle: Amazing Success (5 3 1 4 7 6 1 2 7 1 7 2 8 4 6 2 3 7 7 6) Sarielle: Good Success (7 6 6 2 1 7 1)
Net Result: Emmanuelle wins - Crushing Victory

While Sarielle's eyes are on the peach a small steel knife appears in Emmanuelle's other hand. It is unlikely that a Lis d'Or adept has ever before set eyes upon a fléchette, but that's just what it is: an implement of the darker pleasures so dangerous and so revered that Valerian House requires a letter of introduction, a demonstration, and the payment of a monetary bond before allowing such to be employed upon one of its vulnerable, trembling blossoms.

Knife and fruit come together above the plate in Sarielle's hands. Emmanuelle seems for a time more absorbed in her imminent snack than in her servitor. The blushing skin of the peach curls away in a single long piece from that blade which caresses all the way around it and then round again, its touch slow, expert, and tender. Not a whit more pressure than is needful. Not a scrap of the peach's soft, juicy flesh left clinging to that lengthening peel as it curls down and down to the plate.

But then the knife pauses, and Emmanuelle's gaze flicks upward in glacial blue reproof. "You have not spoken," she observes, "to your Dowayne."

The lily's breathing remains steady when the fléchette is produced from Elua-only-knows, an object almost surreal in the setting of the theatre. A flicker of curiosity turns into rapture when the tender flesh of the fruit is separated so effortlessly from its skin by the keen instrument, Sarielle imagining — first, a faceless supplicant being subjected to such treatment. Writhing against bonds, begging… and then, what it would be like, for the blade to caress her own flesh, so unblemished yet by the passage of years, and to rend it asunder.

When Emmanuelle's hands cease the girl looks upon them puzzled, so lost in her thoughts she cannot parse the sudden lack of motion. The words filter through her addled head and she looks guilelessly upon the woman. Then she begins to comprehend and her eyes grow wide and her fingers become nerveless and the plate— the plate slips from them.

It falls without violence upon the girl's lap, petits fours and a smattering of berries tumbling across her skirts, some halted to the left and the right by the Lady's firmly-planted boots, some rolling beneath the bergère as the adept cries aloud.

Disastrous, ruinous, catastrophic as it must seem in the moment to that little lily whose petals are all a-tremble, it's hardly the worst or messiest accident ever to befall someone spoken to unexpectedly by Emmanuelle Shahrizai.

The Mandrake retains her own impenetrable sang-froid. She switches hands, taking the peach into her right and the fléchette between the fingers of her left, which prove every bit as deft as she slips the blade delicately beneath the trailing peel. She is ambidextrous, alarmingly so. "… Three times?" she murmurs, a pinprick administered just so. "Child, now that you are coming to a richer understanding of your sensibilities you won't succeed in concealing them forever. This little display will," she predicts coolly, "have its sequels. You require knowledge; you require guidance." She pauses. "In three days' time I go to Elua to celebrate the Longest Night. You have until then to take the proper next step, to speak of these matters to Philomène, or I shall do so in your stead before my departure. She may well wonder why you have kept so long from her a secret which might at any time cause you to spill pastries upon the patrons of her house."

The peach-peel falls into Sarielle's lap; Emmanuelle raises the naked fruit and sinks her neat white teeth into its flesh. Only a small bite. Too soon, before Sarielle can even gather herself to speak, she remarks: "Watery. Not unusual, at this time of year." And she drops the peeled and mutilated peach back onto the plate of fruit whence it came, rejected by her fastidious palate.

<FS3> Sarielle rolls Composure: Great Success. (6 7 8 6 8 7 6)

The distraught girl looks for a moment as though she's going to burst into helpless tears, or scramble after any number of the stray berries, or fling herself prostrate and beg forgiveness. Instead, she inhales, holds the air for a three-count, and exhales sharply. Again. Fixing her eyes on the uncoiling peach skin — did Emmanuelle just switch hands? — she straightens the plate on her lap with one hand while the other skims along the floor, plucking the fruit bits from beside Emmanuelle's boots without ever coming into contact with them, silently attentive but for the threat of a sob at the edge of her breath. There's a sharp breath when the woman speaks of her travel plans and the teasing is rewarded with but a fluttering of tear-damp eyelashes.

Sarielle's just reclaiming the plate when the peach-skin comes raining down; without thinking, she moves to intercept it, catching it neatly on the plate. Flabbergasted, the lily beholds the peel until her rosebud lips are pulled into an impish grin, turned for a split moment upon Emmanuelle before wiping the expression from her face and dropping her eyes.

"I wasn't sure, my Lady," she replies at length, none of the humour of that statement lost upon her.

Seated straight-backed above the flustered lily adept Emmanuelle draws a large white linen handkerchief from an inner pocket of her leather coat and shakes out its crisp and voluminous folds. There's hardly a trace of peach juice clinging to her fléchette; the tip of her tongue flicks out to lick a droplet from the nearer side of the blade, and then she sets about wiping it on her handkerchief with practiced care. She is wholly acquainted with the hazards it may pose. "You were not," she echoes in that deep, drawling, uisghe voice of hers, "… sure."

Then the fléchette is away again in its hidden sheath; and Emmanuelle licks her fingertips and puts her handkerchief to further use. These tidyings are unhurried, unclumsy, carried out with her eyes unwavering from Sarielle's face.

"I had an idea that I might hire you to provide entertainment at a small dinner party I intend to give in the new year," she goes on, rather distantly, folding her handkerchief again with the edges put precisely together, "but I cannot in good conscience pursue any further acquaintance with you without your Dowayne's full knowledge and consent to it: she stands as a mother to you, in all that relates to your vocation as a servant of Naamah," she states seriously. "… And," she drawls, "amusing as it might be to receive you in my house in your present state of tremulous innocence, I should prefer you not to inundate my guests with berries or wine, or snap the strings of your harp if you should hear a risqué remark."

Seeing the woman's excellent posture prompts the lily to correct her own. "Yes, I'm well aware, my Lady," the girl admits sheepishly, "of just how ridiculous that sounds. Especially considering…" Unable to tear her eyes from the expert ministrations the Shahrizai applies to the fléchette, she gasps audibly when Emmanuelle's tongue caresses the blade.

Yes, that. Considering that.

Sarielle's face, so carefully observed, regains that charming shade of pink the woman seems so fond of her in. And yet with the fléchette safely sequestered away, it is a more engaged adept who attends to Emmanuelle's words. The opportunity slipping away elicits a faint sound of protest. She’s stung by her own cowardice in not speaking to Philomène before the application of such astute prodding, the colour of her cheeks deepening.

It's the implication of lack of competence that finally breaks through the haze, having justified pride in skill hard-won. Without thought, she ripostes petulantly, "I assure you, I'm not in the habit of it," frantically adding in a fit of self-preservation, "my Lady."

“… Child, you don’t know what habits I could inspire in you,” Emmanuelle drawls, tucking her handkerchief away in her coat; “though I might begin with a more perfect modesty.” She banishes the savour of that inferior peach from her tongue with a slow swallow of pomegranate juice, and then another. “Speak,” she states, not unkindly, “or I shall speak for you.”

Her words are punctuated by a soft clink as she restores her glass to the table.

Then she rises and her gaze lowers, her eyes holding those of the little lily adept for a last heady second or two before lifting away toward the open doors at the rear of the hall. Her weight shifts to one foot, and she steps neatly over Sarielle’s lap and away: that unnatural swelling in her breeches almost brushes the girl’s cheek in passing, and the tails of her long dark coat certainly do trace a fleeting caress across the pool of red skirts in which she kneels.

One or two stray berries are crushed beneath a firmly lowered boot, their juices smeared across the parquet by the Mandrake’s steps as she stalks away in a waft of leather and cologne.

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