(1310-12-23) I Know Those Eyes
Summary: Leda and Étienne meet again over delicious tidbits at La Plume de Paon; gentleman that he is, he sees her home, and receives a small gift…
RL Date: 20/01/2019 - 25/01/2019
Related: Sequel to It Takes All Kinds.
leda etienne 

La Plume de Paon — City of Elua

The fabulous and famous La Plume de Paon! One simply cannot come to Elua without longing to step through the grandeur of its portals. The front entrance is flanked by large sculptures of alabaster peacocks; their eyes inset with cabochon stones of lapis lazuli, and their head and tail plumes gilded with gold and containing receptacles within which fresh flowers or other ornamentation might be arranged on a whim. Its floors are of indulgent white-veined marble that's inlaid with gold, and trompe l'oeil paintings framed by arches and pillars depict sweeping lawns upon which more of the famed royal birds can be seen. A large water feature is the focal point to the centre of the room, and features a fountain which is crowned by a maiden with peacocks at her feet, a high-necked gilded jug spilling water from her hands. It's about the fountain that the cherrywood furnishings of the restaurant radiate, with the upholstery of its furnishings worked in shades of lapis, turquoise and gold, and with exquisite marquetry detailing upon each chair and table in bands of pale pear and dark ebony woods.

Multiple stained-glass rondels are arrayed like the tail-feathers of the bird for which it's named across the south-facing front of the building; these allowing for a kaleidescope of blues and greens to bathe the interior during the hours of daylight. At night the many glittering chandeliers of the finest crystal which hang from the ceiling illuminate the windows from within, making the restaurant a striking sight for anyone viewing from the square upon which it stands.


There's no escape; Étienne d'Arguil essaying a luncheon alone in La Plume de Paon is accosted out of nowhere by a lady in flame-red satin who flings herself into the chair opposite his and exclaims aloud: "I know those eyes! Didn't we dance together at Cereus House…?"

Those other eyes blinking expectantly at him are a deep green, terribly large, wide with implied interest and affection: they belong to a skinny little woman of, shall we say, middle years, attired in the aforementioned satin over a petticoat of cloth of gold, and, heavens, it's all got so many bows. (Too many bows. Put some back.) Her forearms emerge from huge quantities of delicate lace; quite large rubies dangle from both her pierced earlobes but her long pale throat is perfectly bare. The dark red hair which was curled the other night is straight now and falling about her shoulders. She is beautiful, obviously: more because of the light in her eyes and her smile, than any other individual factor which might tend toward it.

And her hands are face-down on the empty half of his table, as though 'snapping' in some children’s card game. She bites her lower lip (very red) and regards him as though she's just scored a tremendous coup. (She’ll get heaps of points for this, surely.)

Étienne had been gazing at the decor with those striking eyes and the wonder of a bumpkin, in between bites of his venison pastry that might give one a pretty good idea of the faces he makes in bed or at prayer. It's a little hard to tell. He blinks at her with those long lashes, all confused innocence, and then he remembers, blushing to his ears and giving her a shy, but gratifyingly sincere smile. "You have lovely eyes." Nothing in his demeanor suggests he has noticed her age, as surely he must have, and he seems pleased rather than disappointed to be accosted so, "I fear I may have said some odd things to you." His head dips like a sunflower. He really would be of merely average handsomeness if it weren't for those thick black long curls and the startling eyes. Sitting still like this, the way he looks in motion isn't obvious. His tone is fond, "Leda… I fear that if you told me of the entertainments, the joie drove them from my head."

… Yes, it was probably those faces that got Leda's attention; and it was only then that she noticed, recollected, appreciated those eyes, via the fog of liquor and pleasure within which she has existed since the evening in question. "… Oh, I don't recollect anything odd," she says with gentle vagueness, smiling across the table. Her hand reaches toward his, ungloved at present, her nails lacquered red to match her painted lips, her gown, who knows what else. A helpful serving person brings across her gloves and her cloak and her half-empty plate of something sweet, judging that she has found herself a refuge for the time being; also that she has helpfully left that other table empty for the hopefuls thronging the entrance.

"Did you have a lovely evening?" she inquires of him earnestly, her fingertips pressing his. "I do hope so. You and… and… your friend," she says, vague again.

Étienne looks rather relieved that she does not. He rises to kiss her hand properly, with that cleanly elegant masculine grace with which he does most physical things, the sweep of hand like a crane's wing as he takes hers in his to brush respectful lips across her knuckles, eyes that might truly have been an angel’s gazing up at her. He is at an age when the adult face is half emerging from that of the boy. Those cheekbones show a promise that likely will take a few years before their keeping. He is a man, grown, certainly, but not entirely formed. His own nails are neat and well kept, but his hand is rough with swordsman's calluses.

When he sits again, having made no objection to her invasion, he beams at her, releasing the full power of his dimples, "Oh! It was marvelous! There can surely be nothing so wonderful in the world as the grand procession and the dancing and… and the rest." Another blush, but this just warming his cheeks. "Did you? Enjoy your evening?"

For an instant as he holds her fingers in his Leda clings; then that's the end of it and he sits down and she wiggles into a comfier position in her own chair. "/Well," she breathes, leaning a wee bit forward across the table, her fingers curling round some glass or another — she’s got an instinct; "I did run across two lovely boys from Jasmine House… //Oh/," she says suddenly, green eyes widening: "Did you see her? The Winter Queen?" This seems so urgent that she downs whatever was in the said glass, then blinks at him all the more.

Étienne leans forward, "I did! I've never seen anything like it. I'd much rather have seen this Winter Queen than any other in Terre d’Ange!" Including the one at the palace, which he has too much sense to say. "Who was she? From the stir and the bets I'm guessing she must be someone famous. I wish I could dance like that. I wish I'd been taught that style of dancing, but all I learned were the usual figure dances and the like." He looks down, shy again, "The… thing I did for my token I thought of myself." He studies her, curious, "Are you a dancer?"

Leda squirms about in her chair, beaming beatifically. “Oh,” she gasps, abandoning her glass the better to clasp her hands together, “did you really admire her so much—? Héloïse nó Cereus,” she breathes excitedly, the happiest woman in the world: “My daughter.”

Étienne's eyes go wide and he really seems honestly delighted, "I've never seen anyone move like that! You must be so proud! But you must have been terribly young when you had her!"

Oh, yes, he’s struck the right note: “… Well, yes,” confesses Leda, happy to conspire in the illusion that Héloïse appeared that night as but an ingénue: “but all the same, she’s mine,” she says happily, “and the greatest beauty on Mont Nuit…” The proud maman preens herself, hands rising to her shoulders and descending in a caress as far as her elbows dripping with lace. “And, do you know, her baby — her little girl — my grand-daughter,” she smiles ingenuously, for what are the passing years thus implied when one holds them up against such delights as these, “her papa is a royal prince.”

The thing is that the young man is so terribly, transparently sincere. It is nearly as notable as those eyes. “I have seen no woman lovelier there,” he agrees without any hint at all of demure. He blinks, astonished, “I really never would have taken you for a grandmother! Oh! I hope she is blessed with all her mother’s talents and your own! And the daughter of a prince as well! She is born truly blessed.”

What a charming young man.

Clearly possessed also of the finest natural good taste — it happens that way, doesn’t it, sometimes, it’s just innate in some people and it requires only a little time spent in civilised circles, and a friendly guiding hand, to bring it into full flower…

“… Oh,” giggles Leda, “she’s so small yet, it’s too soon to talk of her talents. But the moment she began to toddle we knew she would be a dancer one day — they’re so awkward at that age, but not our Sido,” she says gaily. A flutter of her hand draws a waiter’s eye; she holds up the glass she emptied a minute ago — hers? Étienne’s? They look the same, how can she be expected to pay attention to these trivial details? — and taps it with a red-lacquered nail from her other hand, then holds up two fingers, then an instant later all five, her usual signal for when it would really be better just to bring the bottle, wouldn’t it. All this takes hardly more time than she requires to draw a breath. She puts down the empty glass and finds her fork, and digs again into what seems to be a sweet crêpe stuffed with joie-soaked cherries, whipped cream, and other delights. On the plate it’s a mess: but it seems to get into her mouth tidily enough.

Stabbing at it with her fork she wrinkles her nose at Étienne and confides, “I should like it if she were a Cereus like her maman, or even a Bryony like my maman — but an Eglantine would be marvelous too — it’s so exciting waiting to find out, don’t you think?” she inquires, as though his extreme inexperience in these matters has slipped her mind. What hasn’t slipped, though, is some recollection of… of… “Did you find your friend to dance with, darling?”

Étienne seems not at all to mind if his half empty glass is now an empty glass in her hand, anymore than he minds her happy talk about her descendants. He is in a very mellow mood, and exactly in the frame of mind to nod and make encouraging sounds, and generally enjoy her good cheer… He does take the last bite of his venson pastry as he watches her, utterly charmed, “I admit to a real fondness for Eglantine and Bryony, particularly. I don’t think I’ve met anyone from Cereus, though if you are an example of what Orchis has to offer, I’m sure I’ll have to talk Symon into going sometime…..” He blushes to his ears at her last question. “I fear we didn’t quite get around to dancing.”

“That's an interesting taste,” giggles Leda as her desired bottle arrives on a pewter salver in company with two fresh glasses, “high art and sheer greed, darling, or is it the risk of the association you find such a thrill? Some do, of course. Bless you,” she says rather passionately to the waiter as he bends to tuck reinforcements into her hand, the picture of solicitude. She lifts her glass to him in salute and then turns back to Étienne as she drinks. With a mouthful of wine she hasn't even swallowed yet she manages to emit a happy, enthusiastic, wide-eyed: “Mmm!” Yes, she gets his drift. She was just drifting that way her own self.

“… But you did,” she assures him a moment later, all earnestness, green eyes enormous as she inclines nearer again over the wreckage of her crêpe. “It's only that the steps are different, and the music of the moment something very few can hear.”

He shakes his head no, “I do love the high art, but it’s not the greed that attracts me, it’s the fun. I like… experiencing things. The beauty of the dance speaks all the way to my bones. It’s like… when I watch really beautiful Eglantine dancing my whole body sings, like I resonate with the universe.” He sips his own wine, “Bryony…it’s just fun, you know? I like playing cards and…the time we played kottabos was really fun even if I’ve no clear idea how we got home. It’s a different thing, but the thread underneath is the same. I like being aboard a tall ship with a fresh wind cracking the sails and pressing salty kisses to my face. I like trying foods with strange spices. I want…” He closes his eyes and for a moment he might be a painting of a young man touching the foot of an angel in a shrine, “I want to feel everything, taste everything, see everything.” Then he is ducking his head, blushing, “I know I am foolish.”

In response to her last he says softly, “There was a magic, in it, I think. A special blessing.”

With a grace unimpaired by how many she's had already — after all, holding one’s wine is a vital part of the training of a Night-Blooming Flower — Leda refreshes Étienne’s glass and refills her own; and she happens to be taking another bite of her crêpe when her conscience looses a handful of irritating little misgivings to plague her, as sometimes it does.

She chews and chews and decides that she ought to say something — really, she ought — nice lad from nowhere in particular, running free in the big city and patronising courtesans for the first time in his life — it is the first, isn’t it? — she’s gathered that… Just as she’s swallowing a happier thought occurs. Of course! That’s what she’ll do instead. She’s got it now. Show, don’t tell. That’s always best. He’s been talking all the while in between looking so pretty and, somewhat distractedly, she reminds herself of what he was saying. It all makes perfect sense to Leda Lavecq and she can’t quite follow his swift, gazelle-like leap to his own foolishness. Well, yes, perhaps, perhaps, but he’s got the reasoning all wrong, hasn’t he?

Her wide green eyes blink twice at him. “But what else would you do,” she asks, “with your one wild and precious life?” And she extends her fork helpfully toward him across the table, with a scrap of sugared crêpe and two joie-soaked cherries impaled upon its silver tines.

Étienne gives her a winsome smile, all dimples and innocence and good healthy teeth. He opens his mouth and with an unconscious lasciviousness sucks the treat from the tines. The flavour startles him, being neither used to sweets nor expecting joie right here and now. Cornflower eyes widen, and then close as he savours the bite. He chews slowly experiencing it for the first time with a transparent immediacy that he hasn’t the skill nor wisdom to hide.

He is assuming that she remembers his whispered confession after she kissed him, and is imagining that an experienced Orchis would draw the correct conclusions from hints dropped. He is naturally trusting, despite the number of times his nose has been thwapped since leaving home and the heartache it’s caused him. In short, he likes her and she’s someone who is being nice to him on a day when he is terribly happy after a long series of disappointments.

Vulnerable.

His delight sparks Leda’s: “It’s so good, isn’t it?” she sighs, eyes a-twinkle, just awfully chuffed to be inviting him into the secret of this small sensual pleasure. “But they only stew the berries this way at this time of year,” she confides, dividing the remaining fragments of crêpe scrupulously into two parts (well, it’s an odd number of berries, so she takes the extra), “and till the eve of the new year, so I always come in and eat just as many as I can while I can. I do love midwinter in Elua; every year one has some treats the same and some utterly new.”

She beams across the table at him as though distinctly to imply that he’s been something in that line himself — he certainly could dance, couldn’t he? — and then she takes her own last bite and, still chewing, feeds him his. The silver fork falls spent onto her plate.

She leans her bare wrists against the edge of the table, lace falling away from them, and clasps her hands together and rests her chin upon them and just sighs at Étienne. A moment of mourning for her dessert in general and the cherries in particular.

Then she glances down at his plate and up into his eyes. Her head shifts to a different angle upon her hands, her expression becoming inquiring. “Darling, are you having anything else? Did I come in halfway through the play of dishes or do you suppose you’ve almost reached your final curtain? You ought at least to help me to finish this wine, you know.” Not that she seems in truly desperate need of assistance. Where is it all going? Hollow legs?

“Oh! Will they have them at dinner too? I should very much like to share them with Symon, if he doesn’t know about them already!” Étienne sees her dividing the dessert and touches her hand lightly with one of his, “Oh! You can’t! You’ve waited all year specially!” Still, she is pressing another bite on his and he takes this one fiercely. Then he is blinking at her, those long, long black lashes, not entirely sure why she is looking at him like that, with just a hint of concern dawning. His wine is barely sipped, though he seems to enjoy it when he does, “Oh! I think they were going to bring in a small selection of cheeses to nibble for afters. I’m interested in what sort of varieties they have locally. If you wanted to share we could?”

When he touches her hand Leda clasps his, quickly, tightly; but his concerns fail to deter her and the division is carried out just as she planned, though with a bit more shaking of her henna-red head. “Oh, well,” she says easily, “I was going to ask you if you’d see me home, because it isn’t far, and then you’d know where it is, but you wouldn’t want to miss the cheeses here, you really wouldn’t,” she assures him, entering entirely into the spirit of his gustatory affairs. “The goat cheeses especially, I don’t think I had anything finer even in Hellas. Different, but not finer. You mustn’t worry about a few bites of my crêpe, though, lately I’ve been coming in every morning before I go home to eat one for my breakfast — except last night I had a party myself, nothing grand, just to cheer up a few friends after the Longest Night,” she elucidates with a parenthetical fluttering wave of one hand, “one feels so listless and drab sometimes the day after — so I had to come out for my breakfast.” This she explains beaming, as though she considers herself pretty jolly clever to have thought of doing it the other way round.

“They do have the berries at dinner, too, not these crêpes but in other kinds of sweets… You see, I thought p’raps the next time I had a little party you and your friend might like to come, but you can’t come if you don’t know where to come, and I can’t remember in the least whether or not I told you, when we were dancing.” Again that ingenuous double-blink of sooty lashes over eyes green as the northern sea at high summer. “… Did I, darling?”

“Oh! But you must tell me all about the cheeses if you know them. We make camembert, back home, but that’s cows’ milk and I really like the goat cheeses I’ve tried so far. Surely I could see you home after we’ve had our cheese?”

It is at this juncture that the tasting selection of cheese arrives with fruit for a palate cleanser.

From his expression he is impressed by her stamina, “Oh, however could you manage to do anything so vigorous the day after. W— I stayed in bed past dark, had a little bit to eat, and climbed right back in under the covers.” He blushes prettily and hides his confusion by carefully cutting all the selections in half so they might both have a bite of each. There are little warm rolls one can spread the softer selections upon.

He offers her her share of the bounty with a flourish. Another fine blush pinks his cheeks, “You did tell me, I remember, but I was so full of joie the words ran together rather, and so I was terribly afraid we shouldn’t be able to call on you before riding back to Marsilikos where our lodgings are.”

“… Goodness, you must have a long gallop home after parties if your lodgings are in Marsilikos,” giggles Leda who, so close to the bottom of this additional bottle of wine, over and atop whatever it was she downed during the course of her duties as hostess at an all-night card party, is more fourteen than four-and-fifty. “No wonder you’re too tired to do much else, darling. I should be too, after that — I’ve never really got on marvelously well with horses.” She makes a face, then catches hold of his beauteous eyes with her own and rapidly perks up again. “But a day in bed is a marvelous restorative, isn’t it, after overindulging? Of course I try not to, too often — I try always to indulge just enough,” she explains, “so that the trouble doesn’t arise — and, you know, I like parties, and I seem always able to do anything I really like.”

With the central point agreed upon — that she shall have company for the refreshing little post-prandial stroll to which she looks forward after her sojourns among the peacocks, not to mention an opportunity to bestow a small but telling gift upon this babe in the woods — and with cheese to eat — she becomes even cheerier and more voluble. She introduces Étienne to each scrupulously-divided morsel by name, correcting herself only once or twice; she appends anecdotes of each variety’s previous career upon other plates she has known and cleared; she acts out, she can’t help herself, some of her initial reactions to them, with much fluttering of eyelashes and a great many claspings of her hands to her slight but perceptible bosom.

She’s stumped just the once, but with another bold wave she flags down the manager to elucidate the matter. He’s friendly to start, when their conference touches only upon cheese, and what happy lives Leda supposes the goats must live in order to produce such delights, romping about in fields she’s sure in her heart must be full of buttercups and daisies; then, when she breezily instructs him to put all this on her account, he emits a small cough and ventures, as though it pains him more than her, as though word by word he’s a man at war with his own sense of honour: “Madame Lavecq, on the subject of your account…”

Whereupon Leda’s charm blooms exclusively in his direction, her soft pale hand upon his arm and her sea-green eyes gazing in earnest fascination up into his, er, baby browns.

“Oh, Jean-Antoine,” she sighs, wistful in her regret, “I’m sure you’re right and it must be getting to be tremendous again — no, don’t tell me, I can’t bear it! — but, you know, at the end of the year… Of course I’ll give you something on account just as soon as I have my remittance,” she swears faithfully, “but until then there’s nothing I can do.” This is almost in a low wail. “You know I wish I could. You know you’re always first on my list when my remittance comes. But the lawyers simply don’t feel as I do about the Plume; it doesn’t seem to matter to them how long I’ve been coming to eat here, or how much I feel at home bringing my friends here, or how much I should miss Lu-lu and Plon-plon if I didn’t see them every day… And, oh, in winter!” She draws in an impassioned breath; within the square neckline of her red satin gown her bosom rises visibly. “What a pleasure it is to come in from the cold and see you at your desk, almost as though you’ve been waiting for me, relying on me to come just as I rely on you…”

And so on, and so forth, until she has bamboozled him once more into the belief that really she’s doing him a favour by running up great swingeing bills in this establishment for which he is, at least on some days, financially responsible — and until, moreover, he has helped her into her cloak and done up the buttons on her gloves for her. All signs point to strategic retreat.

The young man laughs at the image of them riding home to Marsilikos and back every day. “Oh, we’ve temporary rooms here, but we’re leaving soon, and Symon would definitely agree with you about the horses. I had never ridden so long at a stretch as I did coming here for festival and we were sore for days after, but we missed our coach so we had to come as best we could…” He returns her smile with one almost as beauteous as his eyes. He may not have quite grown into his face yet, but there are signs of what he might be in a few years time if one knows where to look. “It really is lovely sleeping in after an indulgence, yes. I’m not much used to it yet, but…” An embarrassed smile, “I suppose I am developing habits to go with my reputation.”

And the northerner really does seem interested in her chatter and her stories, and very much amused by her dramatic retellings. He pretends to be so terribly interested in sipping his wine during the embarrasing discussion of bills and remittances. Once the bustle of departing has distracted her, he quietly slips poor Antoine payment for both their lunches out of his share of the Bryony winnings with a sheepish apology for not being in a position to do more.

Once cloaked, the swordsman offers her his arm, as correct as if she were a duchess, and ushers her out as if she were every bit the fresh young flower she must once have been.

No doubt Jean-Antoine is suitably grateful for any contribution towards the repayment of the vast sums racked up herein by Leda Lavecq nó Orchis — but then, yes, she does usually come through, after a while — it’s just so irregular — he ushers her out, his hands wrapping her cloak tenderly about her, the rest of him well alive to the offering made by her young companion and gathered in quite behind her back. It’s hardly the first time a man has paid for her with such discreretion: usually more generously, but he supposes they all do what they can…

Encloaked and gloved and light-stepping, Leda sets a course through these streets which are always the most carefully maintained in the city, and the best-swept in case of snow. Where every passerby is likely to be of rank or title or wealth or all three, such things happen as a matter of course!

Bobbing along next to Étienne she asks: “But who's this…? Darling, your lover, Symon… You do keep saying and I do keep wondering; it's all rather obvious from the way you look when you say his name," she darts a very cheeky smile at him, sideways, "but, you know, I'm agog to know."

Étienne corrects gently, "Friend. Symon and I are friends." A faint blush touches his cheeks, "Symon de Perigeux. We enjoy each other's company and have a similar taste in entertainment and he doesn't seem to mind the difference in station."

"… Oh, yes, friends," agrees Leda, without adjusting one iota her mental schema of their relationship: one does after all infer certain things from the look in a young man's eye when he's half-dying to dance with his 'friend', or when he goes all rosy-cheeked just mentioning such a person.

"… Oh!" she gasps an instant later and, clutching at his arm with her own gloved hand, she thinks through the connexion which has just out of nowhere occurred to her. "De Perigeux? The— the— that is, the marquisate de Perigeux? In Siovale? Symon," she gasps happily, steering Étienne round a corner without even appearing to look; "I rather think I knew him when he was a little boy! Oh," she gasps then, her hand squeezing his arm, "do I seem so terribly old—? The thing is," she laughs, "unless I'm awfully mistaken, his maman was a Montchapetre." On which note she hurtles in between the oncoming carriage traffic, dragging Étienne with her, confident that he must be fleet enough of foot to keep pace with her to the far side of the street.

Étienne looks rather alarmed at her reaction to Symon's name, then his expression hardens, misunderstanding her drift. He says firmly and a touch angrily, "Symon is heir and he will do just fine, whatever you've heard, especially from his family."

Still, he is fleet of foot and gentlemanly, and so he does his best to keep them both from harm’s way, lifting her by the waist at one point over a puddle of icing over liquid of an indeterminate sort and not coincidentally out of the way of a carriage horse. He looks wildly relieved once they are safely on the cobbles of the far side.

It's not difficult to manhandle Leda, who keeps her weight down by sheer frenetic activity: she gasps 'oh, oh' a couple of times (rather girlishly) when matters are taken out of her hands (or, indeed, her fleet-footed feet)…

But then, breathing hard, her bosom managing to heave despite how little of it there is, she curls an arm round Étienne’s waist beneath his cloak and hers and leans into him venturing: “Do you mean that stupid rumour about him, darling? I never gave it any credence,” she swears, looking up into his eyes with her own as earnest as they are sea-green. “He was a perfectly normal boy, at that age, I mean, when I knew him best during that summer, and if he was normal then it stands to reason he must be normal now, and I don’t know why people say what they say — there’s not always any sense in it — I’ve heard it but I never thought it,” she promises, her warm lithe body pressing hard up against his as she rises onto tip-toes in her silk-ribboned boots; “and anyway it would hardly be to my credit, would it, darling, to think anything like that—?”

Étienne searches her face for a long moment, and then he relaxes into a somewhat sheepish smile, "Sometimes people are cruel, because he has a small stutter."

He hastens to explain, "He has a much better way with people than eye and is terribly clever with words and is kind and sweet and generous, but people Think Things when they first hear him talk sometimes that don't happen to be true. I get so angry when people are unkind to him."

“Oh, heavens, I was never in much of a hurry,” says Leda amiably, “and anyway, his grandpapa was” She inhales, smiles crookedly, sighs. “Oh, I suppose, the love of my life?” she says casually, making a question of it. After all, there’s still time! Maybe he’ll be superseded. She doesn’t look hopeful, though, only anxious. “… Darling, your Symon does sound lovely, and he always was a sweet boy, and he did stutter less if only one gave him time, and if one weren’t his bloody father he never showed to advantage when… Oh, gosh, his name’s Étienne, isn’t it?” she blurts. “How unfortunate. And what a beast he was. He did try to corner me once,” she says, sniffing, “but I didn’t live all those years in Camlach for nothing… Oh, darling, do let’s get indoors before I freeze.” She tugs hopefully at his arm.

Étienne says with a quiet fury, "I've never met the man, but he deserves to be horsewhipped." He winces, "The father, not his grandpapa, obviously."

He takes a deep breath and carries on in a normal tone as they walk at whatever pace she chooses to set, "I hardly notice the stutter most of the time, unless someone else brings it to my attention by being rude about it, or… a few other times when circumstances make it worse. He's worth waiting for… Oh!" He looks at her rather wide eyed, "We have the same name? He hadn't mentioned and I don't know Siovalese nobility much at all outside of some family connections and Symon of course…. I am sorry he was beastly to you too."

Leda's pace is a wee bit swift, because just now she wants to get Étienne inside and give him a glass of something warming and soothing. “Oh, no worse than anybody else," she explains equably, "mistaking me for a mere adept— He wasn't such a beast, only irritating, as men can be, sometimes, in their cups — and anyway, darling, this is it."

But he hardly gets a glimpse of the outside wall before Leda (with the assistance of a large key held till now warm within her red satin bodice) ushers him inside via a courtyard almost overgrown with botanical specimens attempting to escape their planters, and up a couple of steps into a very fashionable townhouse. … Except, if it were truly fashionable, perhaps there'd be some more candles lit amongst this elegant gilded gloom?

As it is Leda is doomed to following what light there is into a salon full of guttering candles, to the left of the vestibule, where a couple of round tables host the debris of a long hard night: umpteen empty glasses, umpteen cards, a few dice, and what can only be described as an aide d'amour sticking up out of a bowl of fruit. From beneath one table there emanates the sound of snoring, which only makes Leda look back and roll her eyes at Étienne.

"I think he must be out for good," she breathes sympathetically, "the poor fish! Do let's go up, I've got a small present I want to give you if only I can remember where it is it is."

Étienne says with real sympathy, "Adepts should still get choice. A blessing should be bestowed, not… taken without asking." He is used to the economy of candles from home. He knows what it means, but is far too polite to mention it. Oddly, the aide d'amour only earns an amused smile and not a blush. He nods and follows her up, careful of his feet on stairs, andhardly worried at all she might have forgotten his confession. Almost not at all.

What this means in Leda's house is less a lack of candles, than a lack of competent and responsible hands to replace them: she can never herself be bothered till she's actually sitting in the dark, and her servant problems are so continual that she just takes a certain degree of squinting for granted… The fixtures are handsome and the furnishings are all of the first quality; it's all just beginning to run to seed, lighting first and foremost, and the various remnants of last night's party (snore, snore) aren't quite helping.

Away from the debris and up the dimly-lit staircase — and then up another such murky but exquisitely paneled stair, past a gigantic ballroom left with its doors thrown open — Leda draws her sweet country boy up after her into a salon where the fire is still flickering fitfully, it only requires some encouragement. She darts toward it and then darts away; the next thing he knows her hands are at her back and fussing about for ties and clasps…

"Oh, blast; darling, give me a taper, will you?" she begs Étienne, and then her hands reappear to close behind him the doors to the staircase they just ascended. Whatever windows there are, are shrouded in teal-green velvet.

Étienne immediately goes to tend the fire and it so busy restocking the grate and resettling things with the poker that he does not realise what exactly she is doing until she asks for his help and a taper. Which he fetches because he was raised right, but he says gently, "It occurs to me you may not exactly remember a thing I mentioned the other night and that it might have gotten as blurred for you as your address was for me. So though I hesitate to ask anything so indelicate, what… might you be planning to show me?"

… Well, yes, two chambers along — there's another in between but then, yes, there it is, there's an enormous firelit tester bed lurking in the distance — but Leda, flitting about with that taper gratefully claimed from Étienne's hand, is unaware of any impending menace, because she intends none. She just dashes about, red satin flashing all over the place. Lighting candelabra — mostly, granted, in the outermost chamber where they are, but darting inward a time or two — she listens with one ear and makes a couple of small interrogatory noises, and then… Framed between open double doors she turn and regards him with her mouth just as open and a light burning in her hand.

"Darling," she breathes, "do you mean…? That is… you're not… avid with strangers?" She can't help but wiggle her eyebrows. But then she purses her lips and comes closer again, huffing out the taper so she can just cast it away somewhere or another. "That sort of fun isn't quite what I had in mind, you know," she says, a wee bit sadly, because it would've been in the very forefront of her mind if he hadn't ruled it out from his point of view and in doing so crossed it off her menu as well; "but I did want to give you something you might think valuable, later on… You know, there's such a difference between Bryony and Orchis," she explains soulfully, drawing near enough to lay a gentle hand on his arm.

Only his arm. No funny business.

Étienne blushes to his ears and looks down, utterly shamed, "I was terribly tipsy…." He does peer up at her, "Well, your company in that particular way is valuable and surely beyond my ability to repay." He gives every indication of telling the truth in this. It is as if he has somehow not noticed the difference in age or that it simply doesn't matter to him. "Although that gift would not be counted small, given your charms so I should have realised."

Still he relaxes as she reassures him that nothing will be asked beyond his particular strength. He lays one of his rough palms on hers, "We really did wonder what Orchis is like and neither of us have met anyone from there, though Symon is far more experienced than I. I never met a courtesan since I came to Marsilikos in autumn and I've really only….I've only been inside Bryony and Eglantine Houses." He blinks, "Please accept my apology if I have offended you."

“Off… Oh, darling,” and suddenly both his hands are caught up in Leda’s and she leans in terribly close: “I think you’re beautiful,” she confides in her softest, sweetest, most helplessly yearning sort of voice, such as only a Scion of Naamah can produce; “but that’s hardly all you are.” And she beams at him and lets go his hands, and bounces away again to make a circuit of this chamber and the next one inwards, turning out cabinets and cupboards and drawers, and sorts of stockings and garters and jewels and ribbons and dog-eared letters and other ribbons and pretty seashells and small objects wrapped up in hand-writ notes, and another terribly bold aide d’amour, and earrings, and brooches, and smoked-glass goggles, and delicately-wrought silver hip-flasks, and everything. She doesn’t seem to care what sort of mess she makes, or who might or might not clean up after it… When at last her search is crowned with success she jumps high up in her finely-made red leather boots and rushes back those few feet to Étienne’s side.

“Darling…” she breathes, looking up into his face as she clings with unconscious intimacy to his arm. She catches herself; still holding on, she straightens the rest of her slight body away from him. She’s licking her red-painted lips; at the same time, hesitating over her words and yet determined to speak them. “D’you know how we boast of our canons, on Mont Nuit, and we have all our stories?” … She yearns upward to him, in her red satin, redolent of peaches, exquisitely and yieldingly feminine though at present her desire is to give rather than, passively, to receive. “… Well, at Bryony House,” she breathes, “what they say is that when Naamah laid down with the King of Persis, she did it for the money and she made a very good bargain. And so since then— well, they make a front of gaming, of course, but at Bryony House the house always wins, even if you don’t always know precisely what the house is playing for — and half the officials in the Royal Treasury are Bryony-trained, only they say the Royal Treasury is less secure even than the Bryony treasury.” Cue great fluttering of sooty eyelashes afore sea-green eyes. “And if they don’t go there they become bankers, or stewards for noble houses, or… Well, that’s how it is at Bryony, darling, and, you know, I grew up there till I was twelve or thirteen years old, and most of my family are Bryonys, but they traded my marque away because I didn’t love coin enough and they knew I’d never be a credit to them— that’s how I’m an Orchis,” Leda explains, her voice softer and softer as she goes on.

“But generally people think there must be Bryony coin coming to me some day or another, and so they let me get away with all sorts of things. That’s how it is, with Bryony, it’s all about coin. And,” all of a sudden her eyes are a liquid green, “coin is awfully nice, and I always wish I had more of it, only //not/…” Her words are just a wee bit too fast to permit of interjections; and suddenly she’s pressing a slender ivory disc into his palm.

“Darling, it’s a token for Orchis House, so you must go and make up your own mind what’s the most fun,” she insists, sniffing; “with this you may have amusing time and choose whom you like, or just save it, if you don’t like.” Leda’s eyes are drying; her playful smile has returned to her red mouth. “At Orchis, we say that Naamah lay down with the KIng of Persis simply for the fun of it — and what better reason is there than that?” she giggles delightedly.

Étienne blinks at her, taking all this in without pulling away. With simple sincerity he replies, "I think that you are beautiful too, and terribly fun to talk to and dance with."

Then he is watching her flit about her chambers like a particularly graceful butterfly, with much the same expression he would have in that situation. He is all citrus musk and spice over his own natural musky scent of healthy and active young man. Even sober, he doesn't seem to mind her tendency to hold onto him or her physical closeness. Cheeks warming he says, "I think in this case I know want the house was wanting." He leans close and says in a whisper as if they might be overheard even though that is terribly unlikely, "Don't worry, I am careful not to wager what I can't afford to lose, and I'll keep an eye out for Symon."

He confides earnestly, "My house is not rich and my allowance is small, so I have to be particularly careful… Oh! This really is kind and I should like to go!"

And then he is producing a cleanly laundered handkerchief with a simple lace edging likely done by a girl who is making progress, but still a tad uneven at it, which he offers her. His smile is encouraging, "There is no better reason at all to lie down with anyone. Would you… like to accompany me this evening? To the… downstairs and show me around?"

With very wide eyes Leda nods and nods again, and the tension seems to go out of her thin shoulders as Étienne makes her those gently murmured reassurances.

“As long as you know, darling,” she says simply, squeezing his arm and then letting go of it to take the handkerchief when he presents it to her, “I just wasn’t sure that you did. After all, you’ve not been in Elua before, and— well, if you know, if you’re careful, then that’s all right.” Somehow she doesn’t seem quite to know what to do with his hanky; she’s just turning it this way and that in her hands, fiddling with the lace border.

“Darling, I always like to go home,” she agrees, “and if you’d rather not go alone of course I’d be delighted to keep you company — but I should have to sleep first, I think.” She smiles charmingly up at him. “Why don’t you call for me tonight, then? Not too early,” she cautions, having some sort of conscience in these matters, “or I might not be dressed yet.”

Étienne gives her a sweet smile, "I'm foolish, but not quite so foolish as that, and I do promise to be careful." He encourages, looking towards the hankie, "For your eyes…. Of course you shall need a nap and I will need to freshen up and change. I'll come to collect you when you like? I really would like to see it, you know, and it wouldn't be nearly as fun without someone to share it with.”

"Oh!" And, obligingly, Leda touches the hanky to her eyes, with all the caution of a woman preserving the integrity of her maquillage… Dab, dab. Yes. Inevitably the square of linen is now marked by kohl; she looks down at it dismayed, as though she can't imagine how that happened, as though indeed it's never happened before. "Oh," she says again, "I'll have it washed for you, darling." She crumples it up in one careless paw, and slips the other into his arm again. "I'll show you out, shall I?" she volunteers. "Since I expect the candles are going out by now. I can't think what happened to Marthe; I suppose she's gone to sleep," she says vaguely, beginning to pilot her young visitor back toward the stairs. "And tonight, why…" She beams sideways up at him, that moment of emotion well past by now. "We'll have such a time, darling; we'll see what's going on and then we'll play kottabos if you like."

Étienne tries to gently extract his sister made hankie from her clutches, "It's fine. Don't worry about it." He allows himself to be piloted, "I don't think kottabos is a good idea. I've not the head for it and there is a good chance I'll forget where I'm staying."

Leda gives up the hanky unresistingly; she was trying to be polite, but if he really wants it back, she's hardly going to argue with having one more small problem removed from her life. "Oh," she giggles, "I thought you said you liked it… Oh, well, we'll just do something else instead, won't we?" And with this happy, breezy thought, she shows him out again and into the crisp noonday light, a world away from her own ill-lit extravagances.

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