(1310-12-23) Ducks For Sale
Summary: A craftsman on his beam-ends is visited by an apparition from his past.
RL Date: 24/02/2019
Related: None
emmanuelle raphael 

A Shuttered Toyshop — The City of Elua

With the Longest Night past the days are lengthening again toward spring — but one can hardly expect to feel it in the air so soon, can one? And so the usual pall has come over the capital, revelry turning to hangovers, white snow to grey slush, anticipation to anticlimax.

In a mercantile district in the heart of the city there’s hardly anyone even out shopping, with so many purses emptied and gifts given earlier in the month. Half-empty streets offer no obstacle to a small, sporty, light-sprung black carriage, drawn by a quartet of matched black horses, drawing up directly in front of a certain toy shop. The equipage was a familiar sight in the streets of Elua till last summer, though then the doors were emblazoned with the seal of the Dowayne of Mandrake House: it has since been painted over, leaving the blackness unrelieved. It was attended in the past by the Dowayne’s Guard of that house: now, guardsmen in the blue and yellow fish-tabards of House Mereliot lend a note of garishness and menace both.

Dismounting from the box where his place is to sit beside the coachman, a lordly figure clad in black velvet and black silk, with a sword at his hip and his blue-black hair a mass of braids beneath a black fur cap, comes to inspect the darkened shop and squint through its shutters. The icicles clinging there suggest they have not been opened in some days; the curlicued sign over the door, which reads ‘Gaspard et Lily’, could use repainting. There is however a light on upstairs, dimly visible, in (one must assume) the quarters of the shopkeep. He steps up to the door of the carriage and conducts a brief conference with the passenger inside via the narrowest opening of a window. Then he holds the door and offers his hand, to aid her in stepping down onto the unswept pavement in her somewhat impractical boots.

In this weather her figure consists chiefly of spike heels, an enveloping black cloak, and a tricorne hat set upon a head held arrogantly high. The cloak’s black fur collar comes up close beneath the pale painted mask of her face: the wide and unsmiling red mouth, the bold dark brows, the kohl-shadowed eyes of Shahrizai blue. Her gloves are of very fine red leather; in one hand she holds an ebony cane tipped with a silver fish, with which she knocks imperiously upon the shop’s bolted and barred wooden door, producing a resonant echo.

The knock perhaps startles the occupant inside—and there sounds to be only one. “We’re closed,” is the first reply, in a voice that is somehow thickened, “Permanently.” But there is also the sound of footsteps across floorboards. Moving to the window, surely. A pause long enough that the owner of that voice might be looking down upon that carriage and its familiar appearance despite the erasure of the seal. More footsteps. A clinking sound. More footsteps. And finally they come to the door to pull it open.

The man who looks out, previously known as Raphael nó Rose Sauvage, has been changed as one might have expected over the fifteen years that have elapsed since these two have laid eyes on one another, and then more: grief has worn him down perceptibly over the past months. He has lost weight, face clinging closer to the bone than it once did, and lines more evident than in the past. His first look at Emmanuelle is suspicious, raking from boots to eyes and back again, but after that sweep the fire goes out and instead he stands back from the door to make space for her to enter. “Well, come in if you want to,” he says. “But if it’s an order, you’re out of luck.” He shows her his back while moving toward the furniture, settling on a second-hand couch between two tables. “I was having uisghe, I can offer you that,” he says. “I don’t suppose you’ve come about blackmail, but if you have it’s too late anyway.” He picks up his previously abandoned cup, then looks at Emmanuelle from his seated position. Surely in his earlier life he would never have made such concessions in posture, but it is obvious that he is cloaked in weariness this evening.

Subjected to that glance Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai remains impassive. It flows over her without touching her, let alone denting her arrogant aplomb.

Her own attention is reserved for the man’s face and above all his eyes, though as he turns away and yields so much ground to her in this, his own place, she takes her time studying his too-lean frame, the looseness of his simple craftsman’s attire, the defeat apparent in the line of his shoulders. She follows him in, her bootheels striking a measured tattoo upon the bare boards, the tap of her cane in counterpoint: a forbidding music. Her kinsman (he’s so obviously another Shahrizai, albeit oddly subservient) brings up the rear, draws the door shut and bolts it, and remains there out of her way with the air of a guard posted to secure her line of retreat… Not that she’s much given to retreat, when advancement is an option.

Standing amidst the wreckage of a once-prosperous livelihood Emmanuelle surveys the place with chilly blue eyes which wander slowly, taking in a great deal — the bare shelves, the meagre fuel remaining for the fire, the small untidinesses nobody has troubled to amend, the row of roughly-made wooden ducks on wheels disdained by the customers who seem to have made off with the rest of the stock — and then, dropping the pretense of being a stranger, which sustained their interaction the only other time she crossed the threshold of Gaspard et Lily, she remarks in a voice which seems already coloured by uisghe: “You look like shit. Where’s Sylvie?”

“Yes, probably,” this pretended Gaspard replies. “She’s dead; did she owe you something?” he replies frankly, eyeing Emmanuelle from under his eyebrows. He pushes a hand back through his hair. “We’ve ducks left,” he says, indicating them with a chin. “If you don’t want a duck, I can’t help.” He doesn’t really seem to think she probably wants a duck. “Sit if you like; the couch is next to go, so you may as well make the most of it.” He eyes the man guarding the door. “You’ve brought a pet, as well.” Eyes back on her. “To what do I owe the pleasure, then?”

It isn’t quite that Emmanuelle is taken aback by the news — but for a long moment she just stands there, her feet and her ebony cane solidly planted, in that squared-off, masculine stance he saw becoming her habit many years ago in the Salon de la Rose Sauvage. She unfastens the collar of her cloak, which opens slightly to reveal a black silk neckcloth fastened with a golden pin in the shape of the Shahrizai keys — she had that, too, all those years ago: an eternal favourite — and a suggestion of a striped waistcoat, and snug-fitting black breeches tucked into her thigh-high boots of soft black leather. Her free hand, red-gloved, sweeps back the rich folds of her cloak and comes to rest on her hip, betraying a leanness of figure unaltered by the bearing of her children, and a bulge in her breeches which certainly was not the gift of Nature. A far cry from the heavily pregnant lady in the blue silk gown and flat slippers who came shopping here in 1295, whose mild speech and highborn courtesies nonetheless unsettled.

She is not distracted from him by the offer of ducks, or of a couch likewise for sale. “Raphael,” she says, more gently now, “I am very sorry to hear that. One of the loveliest women I ever saw, down into her bones.” A pause. “I take it you have decided to give up the shop?”

“Yes, yes,” the once and future Raphael replies, meaninglessly. He has heard many condolences and not yet determined the proper reply. “It’s no choice. I can’t possibly go on with it on my own. Most everything of hers is sold, the clerks dismissed, collectors yet to be paid. In two months I will be…” He makes a vague, open gesture at the stripped room with one and a half hands, still holding his cup with thumb and forefinger, “At any rate, not here.”

Another sweep of the eyes of Emmanuelle now that more of her can be seen. “It’s trousers again, is it? And are you still called Emmanuelle, or is it something different now?” He rubs fingers of his free hand against the side of his nose. “Anyway, it suits you.” And one more glance is spared for that kinsman of hers—Raphael evidently does not care for the fellow’s presence, though he says nothing.

The fellow doesn’t seem all that impressed to find himself here, either. He has that sardonic Kusheline attitude about his face and his stance, that gift for disdain even in silence.

“I think you’ll find,” the lady drawls meanwhile, “I am called Lady Shahrizai… Though I begin to understand I am no longer addressing Raphael nó Rose Sauvage.” She steps forward — the scent of her is the same, that cologne first sharply spicy and then resinous and warm — and without warning relieves her host of his cup. Well, he did offer. She sniffs it, thoughtfully, but neither drinks from it nor restores it to his grasp. “I regret having come too late: I’ve a new grandchild, and I hoped to find for her a small gift. She has already,” she eyes the man seated before her, “a set of Sylvie’s excellent ducks, passed down from my own children.” She pauses. “If not this, what are your intentions for the future?” she asks him quietly.

“No, of course,” this man admits. He must have known as much. His admission is soft in tone—he never had any softness in his voice at the Rose Sauvage, and yet as the shop owner acting as clerk, his manner was as gentle as one could want in a shop welcoming to mothers and children alike. He yields the cup. The contents are cheap, judging by the smell. “Those are my ducks,” he says of the ones remaining in the room. “They don’t move like hers; they aren’t painted like hers. You can take one away for free if you like, but they don’t seem your style.” He rubs a palm over his face and then shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he admits. “I can’t picture the path.”

The odour of inadequately aged uisghe has then the opportunity to permeate the entire shop, as Emmanuelle calmly turns over the cup and pours out onto the bare floorboards what she rather suspects is most of her host’s remaining supply of booze. She tosses down the empty cup on the sofa next to where he sits. “Get your cloak,” she orders him softly.

The man hasn’t shown as much spirit as he once had thus far, although he does show signs of being insulted by this move of Emmanuelle’s. Or perhaps he is worried about the financial impact of even such a small gesture. He’s on his feet more quickly than one might have predicted he could be from his previous weary movement. “Here, you may be the Lady of Whatever-you-like, but what do you mean by all this?” The embers rekindle behind his eyes even as they are dying in the fireplace.

That abrupt and spirited protest certainly doesn't offend Emmanuelle: nor does she yield an inch of the ground she’s claimed for herself when this man she scarcely knows is suddenly confronting her face to face. Looking him up and down, upright again, in that familiar old stance into which he settled without thought when so challenged, she bares her teeth in a broad and satisfied smile which has yet a feral edge to it. There’s no warmth in her eyes — but then, there never was. She holds his gaze with that absolute confidence which was her inalienable possession even in girlhood. “You were a servant of Naamah once,” she explains, gently still, as one might address a child — or a drunkard, “and honoured and treasured for your service by an angel who does not forget you as in your grief you forget yourself. We are going now to her temple, to pray for her to light your way and lend you her guidance… since you’ve been doing such a marvelous fucking job by yourself,” she drawls. One corner of her mouth lifts, into a smile sardonic but not without a severe, unyielding, Mandragian sympathy.

Raphael stands, his eyes never leaving her face. There is much to consider. Her rudeness. Her status. Her motives. His pain. His history. His identity. This he does in utter stillness. But it is true that his rounded shoulders have opened and squared, that his spine is erect, that his weight is balanced as he gazes down the few inches to Emmanuelle’s eyes.

When he decides, he moves. He goes and takes his cloak off the hook by the door. His only words are for the lady’s kinsman: “Unbolt my door.”

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