(1310-12-18) Patrons' Dilemma
Summary: Faisan offers Symon and Étienne a chance to compete for a token for the midwinter masque at Cereus House.
RL Date: 1/6/19-1/8/19
Related: http://marsilikos.wikidot.com/log:1310-12-18-nothing-ventured
faisan symon etienne 

Bryony House

The House of Bryony can already be spotted from afar, being three stories high and thus protruding from the other houses situated along the road that leads up to the top of Mont Nuit. Colorful lampions and sounds of laughter lure potential visitors inside, and indeed, an ever present ruckus of those gathered around the various diversions on display fills the reception hall that is slightly reminiscent of the Hall of Games in the palace.

Between tables of card and dice games stroll the adepts and courtesans of the house, assisting and even competing here and there, calling out wagers or just proving their skill at the kottabos stand. The contained luxury of the interior hints at the wealth of this house, and there are rumors about the immense security surrounding its treasury.

Faisan is dressed to entertain, that much is for certain. A pair of tanned hide trousers ride low on his hips, filigreed in gold leaf scrollwork and paired with a tall pair of gleaming brown leather riding boots with about a hundred golden buckles. Above, he's less sportily clad, which is to say— barely clad at all, his abdomen and chest gleaming with an application of oil and no doubt a few key exercises to make his musculature stand out just so. He does have a loose, dark purple velvet robe with flowing sleeves bordered in a gold key pattern, the front fully open, and even the back draping so far down from his shoulders that his fully inked marque can be viewed in its splendor. A long, thin chain of gold around his neck meets at his sternum and a single chain swings free from the juncture, dotted with gems of variously dark blue, purple, and reddish colors. His hair is in its usual state of comely bedheadedness, fastened with a few jeweled bodkins, and the last three fingers on each hand are decked with differently designed and embellished rings.

Here he stands by a podium to one side of the gaming room floor, speaking close to two other of his compatriots— each fully marqued in their own right— letting them know of their roles in his forthcoming plans. Nothing to trust to the hands of a novice.

Symon is shepherding Etienne into the Bryony house. "Anyway it's terribly exciting," he is saying. "One w…wants to have a totally new experience around Longest Night. It is w…what makes coming to the capital w-worthwhile. Don't you think?" He surrenders his new cloak at the door, and squints across the room.

Étienne is in his good clothes, which is not surprising given he really only has two sets on this trip. He is all green and black to his boots and hair ribbon. As is generally the case when a House such as this, he is sticking close to his more sophisticated friend like a burr. He flashes his most delighted grin at Symon, "It's so exciting! Thank you so much for bringing me here!" It is the marque that fascinates him enough to detach himself. Quietly he edges around to where he might better see Faisan's back to get a proper look at the design, his innate curiosity overcoming his discomfort in social situations he's not used to, "It's beautiful!"

"Hail, lads," Fai doesn't stand much on ceremony, even if just about every part of him — clad or not — is gleaming and glittering in the firelight that roars the gaming hall to life by night. His mirror-polished boots eat up the floor between them and he eases in close, offering Symon a cheek-kiss, first, and then one to Etienne, "I'm glad to see you both. Have you met Cardine," he makes introduction, the meanwhile, just in case, the courtesan emerging from having strolled behind Faisan to meet the Lords— she's a vivid-eyed, short-haired redhead with a comradely smile and steps out to his left, just as a taller beauty with long brown hair bundled at the top of her head and then again near to her waist to keep it in check, and just the biggest, darkest eyes you've seen in a while. "And Ense? They're going to help us in our game, tonight."

Symon looks in Faisan's direction and waves. "I b-barely could see you," he says, "You are reflecting the glow of the fire." He is comfortable with the gesture and pats Faisan's side. "Etienne w…was admiring your lovely m…marque." He looks to this Cardine. "P-Pleasure," he says. And then a nod to include Ense. "Goodness."

Étienne returns the cheek kiss, "It was kind of you to invite us. Hello, Cardine and Ense. Well met." He blushes, "I've not much experience with courtesans and I think the design is lovely…. Um, what sort of competition is it?" he really does look happy to be here despite his embarrassment.

"I'm keeping you on your toes, Symon," Faisan purrs a little bit in answer to the overtures from the Lord. "And— the hardest part of the competition begins presently," Faisan informs the lads both, looking from Ense to Cardine with a laughing-eyed glance, which they return just as knowingly. "You're going to have to choose partners. I know it's hardly gentlemanly to draw names— only— choose your preferences, good fellows," he bids them, indicating the girls forward to present themselves more fully. "Don't worry," Cardine speaks up with a giggle threatening its way up underneath her words, "It's only a game, we won't cry not to be your first choice. Well, I won't. Ense might," she teases her taller companion. "Ense was always a sore loser," she teases. "Better a sore loser than a sore winner," Ense retorts, but gives her shorter companion a playful hip-bump, her dark eyes glittering to let the boys know it's all in fun.

Symon lifts an eyebrow at this challenge, and gives a glance to Etienne. Whatever information he gains from that glance, he smiles and steps toward Cardine without expending excessive thought on the matter. "M…may I choose you?" he requests, putting out a hand.

Étienne was already looking to Symon to choose. He gives him a sheepish smile, then turn s the full dazzle of his teeth and dimples on Ense, offering her his hands."

With the lads having taken to their respective companions for the evening, Faisan leans close to Etienne once more, giving him another brief press of lips across cheek and a supportive and manly clasp of his forearm, "Good luck to you, Lord Etienne," he smiles, and, clapping Symon firmly and good-heartedly upon the shoulder, he draws the latter closer, if let, for a warmer caress of lips, "And to you, Lord Symon. I will see you both upstairs when these fine mademoiselles have settled you in." And with only that guidance left to them, he steps back, disengaging himself from the group and drifting backward a few lazy-gliding steps before tuning back to the podium and taking up a quill to pen some notes in a book there. Cardine is quick at Symon's arm, a little spit-fire, ready, already, to go. "Follow me," she bids him with excitement brimming in her eyes, while Ense is a little more laid-back, and she beckons Etienne toward her with long, willowy arms extended toward his offered hands, drawing backward away from Symon and Cardine to coax Etienne away from them and to her. "Let's walk this way," she suggests, somewhat less forcefully than her companion, and, well, in the opposite direction.

Symon kisses Faisan and smiles at him, with no objection to closeness. then he looks curiously toward this Cardine. "As you w…wish," he replies, following her lead. "You've got me curious."

Étienne seems comfortable with the touch as he always does, and returns the cheek kiss, but gives Symon a rather wide eyed look over his shoulder at the talk of settling in upstairs, but he lets himself be drawn, all grace and shy smiles.

The two grand stairwells of Bryony house are bound to intersect somewhere in their winding ascent to the upper levels of the house. And so Ense ields to Cardine, allowing her to guide Symon up the right stairwell, bundling him along with her, "I hope you're hungry. Fai's put together quite a menu to go with your game," she teases ahead, while Ense draws Etienne on a slower meander of the gaming-room floor, pausing here and there to point out an interesting game happening, if he happens to be interested. "We're going to be playing upstairs, though," she lowers her voice confidentially. "It's exciting to play for a token, isn't it? A little intense, maybe?" her smile more subdued than Cardine's, but with no less enthusiasm behind it.

"Usually," Symon says cheerfully. "How thoughtful of him. And w…what is the game to b-be?" he can't help asking even though he suspects mystery may be maintained.

Étienne warms to the thought of food, "I am always hungry and the food here in the Capital is always interesting!" He lowers his voice and tries to hide his worry, "What sort of game is it?"

Étienne lowers his voice and tries to hide his worry, "What sort of game is it?" He keeps looking about him at he grandness of the place.

"Oh, you're eager, aren't you?" This is Cardine, lifting a finger from her further hand to boop Symon on the nose with a playful press. "You'll find out soon enough. A game worthy of the reward— and with plenty of risk to match," her eyes flash eagerly, almost viciously. "But that just makes the game worth playing, doesn't it?"

Ense, below, draws close to the kottabos krater and only shakes her head, slow and solemn, "No hints! But there'll be dinner, first— oh, come this way," she coaxes Etienne along, "Fai says you're a natural at kottabos. Maybe you'll lie next to me one night and we can play," she hopes, while taking him to the leftmost stairwell, now that…

… Cardine is making the second-story landing with Symon and crossing it to take him up to the third floor.

"I like games," Symon answers, looking slightly uncertain but mostly amused by that gesture. "B-but what's the risk?" he asks, glancing over his shoulder. "I'm not going to b-be getting Etienne into any trouble, am I?" He glances down. "Lot of stairs, eh?"

Étienne gives her a quick smile, head still lowered, "I really liked kottabos, but my head does not like it quite as much the next day. I would be happy to play sometime though…. Oh! The food in the capital is excellent from what I've seen.

"Were you up here before? I thought I saw a contract with your name on it. It's so quiet up on the third floor. Are you worried for your friend?" Cardine goes on to ask, bringing Symon down the corridor in the opposite direction from the room he'd stayed in earlier. She heads down to the second door on the right and gives the door a couple quiet knocks. A few moments later three young novices exit the premises, each with a bow for the courtesan and her companion.

Meantime, Ense is dallying up the first flight of stairs, still, with Etienne, and she dips her chin with a smile, "Oh, gosh, yes, nothing will build up for tolerance for wine like really devoting yourself to becoming capable at the game. I hope you'll like dinner, Faisan put the menu together himself, just for you two. Oh, this way," she gets him to the second floor and takes a sudden turn to head down further away from the other stairwell, until she, too, comes to a door and knocks to warn those who are preparing it to vacate the premises.

Symon smiles at Cardine/ "Do you all go over the contracts?" he asks in return. Then he nods. "A b…bit. His first time in Elua, so I w…want him to have a good time." He follows her down the hall. "B-but I trust good courtesans not to p…press anyone into anything."

Étienne tries to hide another look of concern as Symon disappears from view, but then flashes Ense another boyish grin, "I doubt my Grand-Mère would approve of me building up a tolerance for wine, but that's never stopped me before."

"Not as such, only as far as to sort them by province and file them for review," presumably by the Dowayne or Second, "Well, the game is all up to you both," she begins, "But, come on, let's go in…"

And even whimsical and waifish Ense is brought under the sway of Etienne's playful talk: "Oh, perhaps we will displease Grand-Mère the further before we leave town, then," she, too, ushers him into his appointed chamber.

Symon's room is far larger than the cozy attic nook of some days earlier; both are well-appointed in luxury, with hearthfires stoked and a table set with another side table set by the hearth with cloche-covered items arranged in a row. There's no food at table, but the water-glass is filled with water and even shards of ice which indicate that they were filled only recently, and the wine glass is also filled with a rich, dark red that would be a spendy splurge out on the town. Stacked above the golden ware with which they are to eat, and just to the side of the plate, are a stack of large-denomination golden coins totally two thousand ducats.

"Heavens," Symon says, spying the spread. "W…what an attractive room. If the house is to stake m-me this m…much, w…what am /I/ risking?" he asks this with a tilted smile and a note of humor in his voice.

Étienne chuckles, warm and sweet as fresh pulled toffee, "Oh, I've no doubt of that, Ense…. Oh! Ice!" The expense of that is more immediately obvious to the northern bumpkin than that of the wine at first glance. His eye go very wide at the sight of all that gold in one place. he looks to Ebse, "Ae you sure this is the right room?" He is pretty sure at this point that not only his purse, but Symon's can't possibly stretch so far.

"I adore ice," Ense whispers confidentially to Etienne when he enthuses over the luxury. "I love the way it melts away when I put it in my mouth," she sighs, obviously used to the life of luxury, here in the halls of the wealthiest house on the Mont. "I was the one who told Fai to make sure it was in your water," she brags quietly, coming to the single seat at such a fine table and drawing it out for Etienne to seat himself.

Cardine does likewise, for Symon, nudging him closer in toward the table with her hip and giggling at his jest. "It's the house's wager on the game. You'll have to match it, to play. Of course, we don't assume you've got it in your pocket— a note of good faith will do just as well. It's hardly a small-stakes affair."

That is…a lot of money being asked for. Symon's smile stays a bit still on his face as he approaches the table. "And…the same w…with Etienne?" he wants to know. "And p…presumably we're each p…playing individually, so if w…we b-both lost, we'd b…both have to p-pay it back?" He looks to Cardine. "Not to b…be crass, b-but one likes to know the terms."

Étienne flashes her another shy smile, "It reminds me of home. It'll all be under snow right now." He sits as gracefully as he does most things, smoothing his tunic against wrinkles, "But you didn't know which of us you would get…."

"Your… plural," Ense lets slip that Symon must be putting up with a similar treatment somewhere else in the house, sliding Etienne a sideways smile as she admits to as much. "Let me bring you your first course. I'll be your waitress, tonight, as well as your banker. The gold on the table— well, the coin, not the table set— is the house wager on your game. You may count it, if it suits you. To play is a statement of faith to match the wager," she explains rather airily while going to the side table and bringing the first course under its cloche.

"Individually, but, likewise, together," Cardine is happy to riddle. "But, yes, if the game should go quite badly, you would both lose your wager to the house." She, too, begins to move for the first course and bring it to tale, lest she fall behind in serving.

The first course, a small bowl of warm lentil pilaf, rice imbued with saffron and the touch of thyme, topped with a mussel cooked in the same herbs.

Symon nods once, maybe a bit stiffly, and takes his seat. "You don't m…mind if I drink?" he asks, reaching for the wine first as he eyes the stacks of gold.

Étienne nods ad makes a small "Ah," sound. He studies the coin, "I… can't cover it, if Symon will not, I fear. I'd not have money for lodgings if I did." He starts to stand, "I fear I have wasted your time, for which I am sorry."

"At your leisure," answers Cardine, "That's what the wine's there for. We also have several other vintages lined up for the meal as it progresses," she tips her glance to one side, "I've never been much of a sommelier, myself, but that's why I'm only serving the meal, not putting it together," she slips about behind Symon, "And if there's anything else you need, only say," she murmurs, glancing hands against the back of his neck in pursuit of his shoulders.

Ense, on the other hand, is a little perplexed by the nobleman come so ery— de-funded to the Capital, and then to Bryony, of all places. "Goodness, we would really clean you out?" she offers up, friendly enough, despite her bafflement. It's a charming little notion, and tickles all her Bryony petals. "Well, then… I would have to put you up, myself, wouldn't I? Least I could do if you've been so thoroughly fleeced. You wouldn't mind sharing up, would you?" she grins. "Come on, sit down, come play with me, and have some wine."

Symon glances back at Cardine as he reaches for the wine. "You're too kind," he says. "Tell me, w…what is your b-best game? Or are you one of the ones whose b…best game is m…managing real-life money?" Not that there is anything unreal about the ducats on the table.

Étienne hangs his head, "Not entirely, no, but I must make my coin stretch for the whole quarter and there is food and the like to consider…." His smile looks rather in need of a shepherd, "I travel to keep my friend entertained and I have not… ventured upstairs before." He sits warily, "Sharing up? I am not sure I follow." He does reach for the wine though, and once sipped looks delighted.

"You mean writing odds and keeping books? Yes, I keep a tidy book, if I say it myself," Cardine beams, resting her chin against the top of Symon's head while offering an artless backrub of support. "My game is dominoes, though. Or games, really. They each take a separate strategy," she grins, invisibly, of course, but perhaps palpable where her jaw rests against him.

Ense, for her part, comes to rest her hip against the arm of Etienne's seat, perching bird-like beside him, head angled down to watch him try the wine. "You know. Bunkies," she grins. "It used to be a tradition that anyone completely fleeced on the gaming floor got to stay with one of us until back in his or her pockets. But you know how it is with the gaming lot, all manner of people took advantage. Your friend must help with your expenses, too, though, what with taking you about with him, isn't it right? Try the lentils, hm? There's plenty more if you want."

"Mm," Symon responds while swallowing a mouthful of wine. "I really ought to ask you how b…books are kept," he says, obviously as a joke. "Or get you to teach whoever I m…marry." That said, he tucks into that pilaf.

Étienne looks up at her, all eyes the colour of the sea South of Marsilikos and long dark lashes from that angle, "I wish I knew more about wine. I know I'm meant to say beautiful and poetic things about it, but I just know I like this." He does try the food, distracted from the thought of coin and concern about what's expected of him by his real love of good food, "Oh! Is this saffron? I've had it once before and it's all just perfect with the mussels. It is amazing to get something so fresh far inland…. I wonder if they ship them live in barrels? Symon is very kind, but I do not like too… lean to hard on that.

Cardine laughs aloud, quite unable to hold it in. "You would have your wife turn bookie?" she lowers the pich of her voice humorously over the notion, "Well, there are worse ways to manage a property, I suppose," she goes on, pleased by the jest well enough.

"If you like it, that's enough," Ense smiles, letting one long arm loop around his shoulders and her head come to rest with her temple near the crown of his head. "If your friend brought you gambling at Bryony, he can't much mind if you gamble, can he? And anyhow, you act as if your cash is already gone. What if you should win?" she looks on the other side.

Symon shrugs his shoulders. "Well, someone's got to keep /some/ kind of books," he answers, smile tilted. "Anyway, p…people love gambling." He reaches for her hand but goes on eating.

Étienne says, "I did discover my purse a bit heavier the morning after my last visit here, but I've no memory at all of collecting the money I'd wagered let alone winnings. This place rather does go to a man's head." he leans in companionably and offers her a particularly choice looking muscle, "I feels strange to eat when you do not…. I do like it here…. I suppose if I win, I would share with Symon as he shares with me when he is in funds.""

The genial conversation over wine and amuse-bouche is variously interrupted by a brisk and cheerful patern of knocks on the door, a suitable pause after which Faisan enters, beaming grandly at his guest and his guest's chosen companion as they fawn over one another— well, more one over the other, to be fair. "I hope you're finding everything to your liking? There's more to come, of course, but I thought you might care to begin your game."

"Of course," Symon says. "Everything is agreeable, b-but I don't even know w…what the game's to be." He sips his wine and eyes Faisan.

Étienne gives Faisan a gentle smile, "Everything is wonderful here, but I admit, curiosity has been killing me slowly."

"It's a simple enough game," Faisan, light-heartedly, will indicate to anyone listening with any acuity that it will be nothing close to simple. "You came here to compete for a token— all you have to do, over the course of tonight's dinner, is decide whether you want, after all, to claim it. A simple yes or no, presented as your final answer, to your companion, will do. Unfortunately, as I only have one token on offer, only one of you can claim it. If neither of you claim the token, your wager is returned to you with only a nominal fee for an evening's entertainment with your fine companion taken of it. If you claim the token, the token is yours— and your companion, in turn, wins the whole pot, both of your wagers, and the house's, to match. But if both of you claim the token— ties go to the house, I'm afraid," he curls a pretty sort of gamer's smile. "Is it clear? You can have until the second night's watch to consider your answer and enjoy the food, wine, and company as you will."

Symon blinks a few times. "And I can't ask him w…what he will do?" Symon says, possibly missing the /entire/ point. He looks mystified. "So if I say yes and he says no, I have to p-pay as m…much money as is on the table right now and then he takes that?"

Étienne listens carefully to the directions. He studies Faisan, "So it's a test of both logic and character rather than skill? And a test of how well we know each other so as to best guess what the other will do. That's really clever and not at all what I expected." He is visibly relieved hat any number of his guesses about the contest were wrong. He sips his wine, thinking about Symon and how he thinks, "Might I tell you my answer now? I think Symon knows me well enough to guess how I'd choose."

To Symon: "The whole of the collected pot goes to him, yes— whether he chooses to hold you to your promissory note is entirely up to him," Faisan smiles sideways. "And, no, you'll decide on your own," he lets the implications work themselves out for Symon on their own. "Of course, you can feel free to talk it through with Cardine, as long as you answer the challenge to her before second watch," he repeats the deadline, and waits a beat to see if there are further questions.

To Etienne: "Precisely so. You can give your answer to Ense after I go— at any time you want. You're still free to spend the evening, of course. I put together the menu myself, I think you'll enjoy it."

Symon sits back a little in his chair. "I think I understand," he tells Faisan. Then he looks to Cardine. "So you're to help m…me through this, eh?" He sips his wine and finishes off his first course. "Now, Cardine. I m…must tell you. I am not known for m-my skill at p-p-puzzling through p…problems. B-but. The idea is to understand w…what the other w…would do. And I know that Etienne is too nice to take m…more than his share. I think he w…would be the sort to give away his chance so someone else could take it."

Étienne says without a moment's hesitation, "I give up my token. Symon surely knows me well enough to know I would and the downside risk is smaller. Better we get nothing, than lose so much."

Cardine is surely here to help— or else to ply him with food and wine and comely attentions until he can hardly think straight. Either way! She brings the wine to top off his drink and leans over him from behind to do so, bringing her cheek close to his. "So he would have you take the token and leave the coin to him?" she checks.

Ense, meanwhile, finds herself in the face of a player resolute upon his answer, already, though, with a half-shy fingering of her long brown ponytail down over a shoulder, she does look to him with a tip of a smile. "What, nothing at all?" she asks him, playing at hurt.

"Yes," Symon says, nodding once without turning, though he touches her arm when she reaches over his shoulder. "Unless…he thinks b-better of me than he ought to," he hesitates, eyeing the stacks of coins. "If he feared I w…would refuse, that could change his decision."

Étienne's eyes go wide, "Oh! Not nothing. Memories? And good food and excellent wine and the charming company of course. I meant…" He blushes, "I meant no offense, Ense!"

Cardine, in Symon's ear, while he caresses her hand: "I'm sure he thinks the world of you, either way. He could think your generosity of spirit would lead you to yield to him in the game. Or he could consider that you might think so, and counter that inclination with his own decision," she murmurs quite circularly. Is Symon confused, yet?

And Ense, though playing alooof for a moment or several of Etienne's apology, is finally coaxed into a softer, warmer smile, and she slithers down into his seat with him, winding her arms about his neck in a tender embrace. "And the company," she whispers.

Étienne curls an arm around her waist companionably. He does seem to lean into touch, but he says softly, "I…won't, um… I like talk and food and the like, but I can't…just… I'm not sure what might be expected."

Symon spends a few minutes dithering about his decision, but eventually reaches certainty: "M…my final decision is to take the token," he announces to Cardine. "B-but hopefully I get to eat the rest of the dinner. Although m…maybe not in suspense." Hard to enjoy a big meal with thousands of ducats on the line.

Étienne really savours the meal. Food this good is rare and expensive. he wants to talk about the wine and what the various dishes are. He is so confident in Symon's knowledge of him that he simply puts it out of his mind. He's far more worried about being asked to do something he can't.

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