(1310-12-04) Swan Dive
Summary: Chimène fancies a night at the Glycine rather than helping her servants pack for the trip to Elua; Étienne thus meets his first Courcel. Thanks, Symon.
RL Date: 04/12/2018 - 10/12/2018
Related: None
chimene etienne 

Gambling Hall — La Glycine

The Gambling Hall of La Glycine dazzles on first entry with cut crystal chandeliers which catch the soft light and set the place sparkling. Beneath four of the largest chandeliers are wide octagonal gaming tables in glistening, polished mahogany, inset with a panel of gently padded green velvet to provide easier gaming surfaces for dice, cards or dominoes. Seating is the height of luxury, deep, buttery leather chairs, lounges, loveseats, for any who want to play or watch, alone, or with company. Along the left wall of the room, a raised mahogany platform swells with a sultry curve, a massive spinning wheel attached to the lefthand wall closer to the door, pie-slices of variegated silks making a striking display of fluttering colors when the wheel spins. Three different indicators chime as they're plucked by the pegs which separate out each segment of the wheel, creating a musical whirling to drive up anticipation of what color might land at what indicator — and who might have to pay what penalty in this particular game.

Beyond the curve of the swollen stage on the northern wall a short passage with three stairs leads down into a more dimly lit chamber. The floor is rugged, rusticated stone rather than the polished mahogany and soft carpets of the antechamber. The couches are of the same buttery leather, arranged around a wide but shallow squared pit, around which velveteen cords have been strung from a series of posts. A massive chalkboard on the southern wall lists upcoming fight nights and events, turtle races, greased pig wrangling, mud wrestling, sparring with swords between members of the nobility. Odds are posted for wins, as well as other myriad possibilities for each event. The books are tended and the odds adjusted twenty four hours a day by one of Bryony's courtesans, so the fun here is not limited to events themselves.

… “And how do you bid, Lady Chimène?”

The question, teasingly pitched, reaches Étienne’s ears through the general hubbub and takes another moment to insinuate itself into his mind as an item worthier of his attention than the rest of the chat here, in the gaming hall at La Glycine, where he has come to squander that tiny portion of his allowance he can spare. That’s the name of Symon’s friend, surely…?

It belongs, he might deduce from the angle of various well-dressed patrons’ gazes, to a lady in her late twenties who is sitting bolt upright upon a chaise-longue drawn near to one particular table, with the skirts of her plain mazarine-blue silk gown spilling over its soft dark leather and more than hinting at layer upon layer of pristine and lacy white petticoats beneath. She may at first be glimpsed only through gaps in the circle of interested onlookers surrounding her table: a regal ivory profile, a swanlike throat rising above shoulders left bare by her simple gown, a long-fingered hand extending itself at the farthest extreme of a white-gloved arm to push a rich pot of coins and hand-written notes and one or two surrendered jewels into the appropriate position upon the landscape of green velvet spread out before her. As far as Étienne can see she does this coolly, inexorably, inevitably: the risk of it all means nothing to her.

The cards fall where they may. The more susceptible gasp and cry out and draw back: visions of astonishment well-lubricated by the Glycine’s superb wine. The lady in blue has won.

Her dignified expression is unchanging from one glimpse to the next, as she gathers her winnings close… The first thing she does is to delve with gloved fingertips into the pile and extract a single diamond earring. She restores it to the hitherto-bare earlobe on Étienne’s side of things, and one or two ladies in her audience applaud: it’s a pair, and she has been missing one for… how many hours? For the inveterate gamblers gathered here, it’s difficult to tell. For the tourists, it’s far too long. And now the way round the table is yielded by all to an absurdly beautiful young woman of nineteen or twenty whose backless pale blue silken gown reveals her completed Glycine marque, and who kneels at the side of Lady Chimène’s chaise-longue to press a kiss of the most temporary fealty to the back of her gloved hand.

Étienne is in his best clothes and very aware he does not really belong here. In fact, he is strongly considering slinking away quietly and trying again another night, when Symon de Perigeux has a free evening to take him. Everything here is so much busier and more chaotic than he’d imagined. Even more importantly, it is also much more expensive. For all he’s been doing well in the big city up to this moment — underneath, he’s still a small town boy.

It is at this juncture, when he is on the verge of flight, that he hears the magical syllables, “Lady Chimène,” which prompt him to look around with real interest, despite his profound sense of being well out of his depth. He may not know her house name, and can only guess at her station, but the first name in itself has an excitement for him. He has heard of her. He has heard interesting things about her. He has reason to want to meet her without delay, given his recent sudden invitation from Symon de Perigeux.

Her beauty and obvious fine taste are such that in any less chaotic place, his eyes would have even drawn to her instantly. Even here, when he is as off-balance mentally as he has ever been — even more, perhaps than that time when faced with a certain alarming acquaintance in the book store, when everything shifted for him mentally — even here, though his feet carry him towards her without him having consciously willed, it, some measure of his natural grace does not desert him. He moves towards her slowly, as if in a dream, and yet he somehow finds his way to her table through the crowd without offending those through whom he must walk. Swordsman’s or dancer’s skill, he finds himself there in time to see her retrieve her earring and receive homage from that flower of the Night Court.

He bows with the efficient grace of the sweep of a crane’s wing, and his eyes the colour of the southern sea watch her from beneath long dark lashes. He has certainly noticed the beauty of her companion — but the intensity of his gaze is only for the lady herself.

That lady, occupied with gathering together and rolling up her harvest of promissory notes — a rare treat to see such billets written in hands not her own! — misses Étienne's bow entirely. She tucks the bundle of parchments down inside her bodice and addresses herself next to the jewels. A pearl bracelet, she passes to the Glycine courtesan at her side even as she presents her gloved wrist to have it fastened in place by those skillful fingers. A ring, makes its way also into her bodice for safekeeping. A brooch, she tosses back to the woman who lately lost it, with a fleeting wrinkle of her aristocratic nose. Not her taste, it would appear. That only leaves the silver and the gold. She begs a handkerchief from a young lord who has been endeavouring to recommend himself to her attention, and spreads it out upon the green velvet table. She and the Glycine together make a bundle of the coins, whilst all around them the crowd is shifting and attention is drifting, the salon's patrons seeking other amusements when it becomes clear that Lady Chimène, for once and for a wonder, is stepping away from the table so early.

Her voice when he hears it is a light, airy soprano; her accent, not native Eisandine but redolent of the capital's highest echelons. "Oh, there, that will do for now… Perhaps I ought to bring a purse, but it would feel too much like tempting fate, my dear. Will you order a bottle of the '93? You know the one I like," she reminds her Glycine attendant in gently cajoling tones. The courtesan murmurs something agreeable and glides off so to do; and Lady Chimène uncurls her long legs and rises with ineffable grace from her chaise-longue. In one hand she holds the bundle of cash; in the other, an ebony fan. She takes two small rustling steps and finds herself face to face with Étienne d'Arguil. She is just his height, even in her present flat silk slippers dyed to match her gown. Her wide hazel eyes look confidently into his, and grow wider: her sculpted brows rise in question.

Étienne straightens just in time to catch her eyes this way. His own accent is very Azzallese: noble, but rather rustic, compared to the elevated tones of the Trevalions in residence in Marsilikos. "Étienne d'Arguil at your service. I… understand from Lord Symon we will be traveling together on the morrow." He looks a tad deer-in-the-headlights to be face to face with someone so naturally graceful.

<FS3> Chimène rolls Composure+1: Good Success. (3 8 4 6 2 3 2 5 4 6 2 4 7)

Chimène's eyebrows remain a moment longer in the upright position before her expression melts into a studied and regal condescension. "I fear, my lord… d'Arguil?" She echoes his name with a tentative, questioning note which implies it has never before touched her ears. Still, she pronounces it correctly. "I fear you have mistaken me for someone else," she explains kindly, unfurling her fan and setting its painted panels aflutter in between the two of them.

Étienne takes several steps back, alarmed, "Oh! It is is such a lovely and unusual name that it did not occur to me there could be two such here." He is slowly backing towards the door and blushing profusely.

"Oh," Chimène inquires coolly, "what name was it, my lord?" She doesn't seem inclined to let him melt away just yet, or tunnel out through the floor.

Étienne is never good at these sort of examinations, and continues inching exitwards, "Lord Symon de Perigeux had mentioned a Lady Chimène and her sister Fleur. Clearly I was entirely mistaken. Please may I beg your pardon for intruding."

The lady stands just where she is, with her feet unconsciously turned out; but she pitches her voice higher to arrest Étienne in his retreat. If he keeps getting farther away the whole salon will hear their business with one another, and any attendant faux pas…

"I am Chimène Rousse de la Courcel," she confirms easily, scattering those storied names as though they were counters in some game of her own, "and of course my sister is the lady Fleur Valais de la Courcel. I understood," she goes on, placing the emphasis delicately and with care and underlining it with a faux-helpless shrug of white shoulders, "that Lord Symon was to travel to the capital with me tomorrow for the winter season and the Longest Night; but perhaps his plans have altered since last we spoke…? Perhaps there," she suggests, "we might find the root of our muddle, my lord d'Arguil."

Étienne freezes in his flight, horrified. He has addressed a Courcel! He would very much like to sink into the floor. He may be a fool, but he is not the sort of fool to go bothering swans, metaphorical or not. "I fear… he has not. Changed his plans, that is."

Indeed. The metaphorical kind can be even more dangerous than the real birds, who only have their beaks with which to peck a man half to death…

This graceful and swan-throated exemplar of the genus meanwhile favours Étienne with a droll little triangular smile as she advances upon his position and turns deceptively dovelike. "I'm not at all a prude," she coos in a lower voice, "but you might suggest to Lord Symon that if he so desires to travel with his lover, the two of you might find it more convenient to make your own arrangements…?" An inquiring tilt of her smooth dark head. "Or perhaps he would like to call upon me in the morning to discuss his intentions in their present state."

The terrified northerner has some grit in him after all. He straightens and looks her in the eyes. With a quiet dignity he says, "We are not lovers, and I see now that he was playing a cruel joke on me when I had thought we were friends. I apologize for not realising in time to…. I apologize for having taken him seriously. Please forgive me for having troubled you."

On that note Chimène snaps shut her fan and shrugs her white shoulders. She's naturally less concerned than he — and just piqued enough by Symon taking her for granted that she'd like to send a little manure rolling downhill to him. "Lord Symon may have beautiful intentions, but how often does he follow through?" she wonders aloud, still cooing. "One is fond of him, of course…"

The Glycine courtesan in the pale blue gown returns, and curtseys to Chimène before drifting exquisitely closer to her side. "The wine awaits you upstairs, my lady; you will find all to your liking," she assures her. And Chimène's arm twines about the other and completes, with a tilt of her closed fan, the encircling of her lissom waist: for this beauty's favours also lay lately upon green velvet. A peculiarity of the Bryony canon, that sometimes they wager themselves.

"… You will pardon me for leaving you, my lord," the swan suggests to Étienne, with gentle confidence that he shall. She dips her chin in a slight nod.

Étienne is pale with the shock of what Symon has done to him and shaking a little with reaction to it — and so this bow, though deeper, has not the grace of the first.

When at length the lad from Berck judges it safe to stand straight again, he sees the two women in the vivid blue and the pale fleetingly framed in the salon's open doorway, on their way together to some far more delicious game.

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