(1310-12-23) Just Seeing
Summary: Leda takes Étienne to see Orchis House. Or Étienne takes Leda. You never know your luck, after all, do you?
RL Date: 27/01/2019 - 29/01/2019
Related: It Takes All Kinds, I Know Those Eyes.
leda etienne 

Orchis House — Mont Nuit

Giggles and merry chatter can often be heard in the halls of Orchis House, and this impression is certainly enhanced by the interior of its salon. Colorful cushions with expressive patterns add to the comfort of seating, chairs and couches, the armrests of which have been carved with masks and laughing faces. High windows give the room a brightness during the day, while on evenings and nights there are lamps at the walls, each lampshade painted a different color, that add to a certain wild and festive atmosphere.

The floor sports parquetry of polished oak timber, but in fact, most of it is hidden beneath a variety of plush carpets that are scattered all through the salon. At the far sides of the hall, facing each other are two generously cushioned swings suspended from the ceiling, each offering space enough for three. It is not a rare thing for visitors to try them out, in the merry company of an Orchis or two.

There are several utensils lined up in shelves at the walls - some are even stowed away in bright colored chests - to provide diversion and amusement, such as animal masks, odd looking garments, small puppets and children's games. It all adds to a lightness and agility of mind, where harmless fun can easily shift into wry humor, and bawdy ambiguities can swiftly become part of intellectually challenging satire.

Étienne arrives when promised: on foot, alas, but in his new best tunic, the green one with the leaf patterned brocade. He is rosy cheeked and cheerful and very gentlemanly as he escorts her to her former home.

Orchis House is crowded with a merry throng tonight, patrons and adepts are just finding seats as they arrive, all merry chatter and murmured witticisms. Novices circulate with drinks, nibbles, and dainty frosted sweets for people to enjoy during the performance.

Of course Leda isn't ready when her escort arrives, though her particular hired carriage, driven by her particular strapping young coachman, is idling outside and half the windows of her townhouse are lit up. A lackadaisical maid gives Étienne a glass of something in the downstairs salon, wherein nobody currently appears to be passed out drunk; at length, very great length, Leda comes tripping downstairs in a red satin dress — not the one she'd still got on this morning, this one is quite different — the dangling ruby earrings are the same, though, yes, and her dark red hair is curled as it was when first they met at Cereus House. She looks enchanting, if one likes the type; she smells devastating, if one likes a good complex cologne that has just been daubed on liberally inside wrists and behind ears and who knows where else. She has had a stiff drink or two already; but how else was she supposed to get herself upright and as far as her dressing-table? Her usual pleasant alcoholic haze overtakes her from there; she's a flirtatious angel in the carriage (Naamah, specifically); from the moment they cross the threshold of Orchis House she glitters even more brightly, greeting friends and acquaintances by a wide variety of inexplicable nicknames, bestowing kisses upon cheeks and occasionally lips, then whispering to Étienne a sort of roman à clef about the persons in question which, if he could catch more of it, would no doubt scandalise him.

They have very good seats for the performance. Leda just leads Étienne thataway and plumps herself down and kicks off her shoes under her chair; and they are never questioned, only served infinite quantities of wine.

Étienne does not seem at all put out by her lateness, having rather expected as much. He greets her warmly with a kiss to each cheek, "You look and smell divine! They shall all be envious of me." On arrival, he lets the pleasant nonsense wash over him, happy enough to travel in her wake and see her happy and in her element. The young man has his one glass and a plate of assorted dainties which he expects he will be sharing, so gets two of everything and settles in to watch with real curiosity.

The curtain rises to show five cloth-covered lumps artfully arranged. A quartet starts to play something designed to convey exaggerated sneakiness. Several young girls mime creeping in, giggling and whispering. There is a trip and exaggerated alarm. Clearly they are naughty little things come somewhere they aren't supposed to be. There is a mimed whisper argument. Then the boldest pulls a cloth from on of the forms and it's a harlequin, with visible joints. They start back, then realise it's a life-sized doll. Soon all five are revealed, and the girls do mocking dances of the various characters. The boldest touches the dancer doll, who rises and does a comic dance. One by one, they are brought to life and set to doing silly puppet dances, until the last wolf headed one attempts to catch the girls and they all run away.

The young Azallese has clearly never seen anything like it and laughs and claps and is generally charmed.

Leda has seen things like it before and perhaps better done; but she has been eating and drinking steadily, from Étienne's plate and her own glass and sometimes Étienne's glass and whatever else strays within her reach as the antics proceed on stage, dance and mime intertwining with a lightheartedness that's pure Orchis. She laughs as eagerly as anyone else, determined to enjoy herself tonight and finding it easy to do: that girl who does the Aragonian dance has the most delicious wiggle, and that alone would be all it took to delight her, even absent whatever and whomever else might catch her roving dark-green eye.

When it's over she hastily stuffs a last petit-four between her red-painted lips and claps so enthusiastically that the hands of her gloves begin to unfurl themselves again from when they've been tucked up inside her sleeves. Her eyes are shining; she's at home.

Étienne watches her as he claps, as delighted by her expressions as he was with the performance itself. Once the bows and the clapping are over, he gives her one of his dazzling smiles, "Thank you for bringing me. I wouldn't have wanted to miss that for the world."

"… Oh, darling," giggles Leda, wiggling in her chair the better to face towards her guest, "did you really like it so much—? Oh, I'm so glad," she sighs with a sudden access of earnestness, and presses a hand to his knee for a fleeting instant before it alights in the direction of another tray of sweets being passed to and fro by a scantily-clad adept; "what a shame if you hadn't, really. D'you want to find a game to play?" she asks with great animation and another wiggle. "Or shall I introduce you to some of the adepts? They might not come up to you otherwise, if they see you're with me," and this seems to concern her, though not so much as it might if she hadn't got a tasty little cake in her paw, topped with seashells in chocolate ganache and about twenty different colours of sprinkles. She can't resist taking a good big bite.

The young Northerner gently squeezes her thigh in response, "I'd just as soon spend the evening doing whatever you like to do. What soort of games are there? Surely you aren't in a hurry to abandon me when we are having such fun?"

Doing whatever Leda likes to do. Her thigh lifts into his hand; she giggles; she can't resist her own merriment either, and so she ends up swallowing her bite of cake rather quickly and having immediate recourse to the nearest glass of wine to chase it down the inside of her elegant long throat. "Oh," she gasps then, and has another mouthful just to be sure, "well, of course not… I only wondered what you might like, darling. After all, they can't stop being strangers at least till you've met them, can they? There's dice, of course," she goes on without pause for breath, "kottabos, charades, forfeits, whatever card games you like — whist, ombre, piquet — whatever amuses you, darling, we could get up a group for it, I don't doubt." She beams encouragement.

Étienne leaves his hand there, companionable, "Cards or maybe charades. I bet you are brilliant at charades. I can get to know people that way as well as any other and I like… seeing you shine."

Leda's face lights up; she bursts into guilty giggles and leans in toward Étienne. "Well, they don't let me play charades here anymore…" she confides in a none-too-covert whisper. "Everybody says it isn't fair." Red curls shift about her shoulders as she tilts her head this way and that, equivocating, though her rueful painted mouth concedes the justice of it.

The young man smiles at her, "It is a shame I can't see you perform. I don't suppose there is anything like you are allowed to do, Leda?"

"Oh, I do impressions all the time at parties," his companion blurts out happily, "and that sort of thing — only — not when it's a game with patrons of the house, darling, not when it's— showing people up," she confesses, letting out a long and penitent breath and making a face with it, "which I know I oughtn't to do, only it's hard not to get carried away sometimes, isn't it? When one is enjoying oneself so much," on which note she eats the second half of her sprinkly little seashell cake. It's really more like two-thirds. Feeling the ganache on her lips, she fumbles in her sleeve and produces a handkerchief so lacy as to be ridiculous. Her eyes focus upon the middle distance over Étienne's shoulder as she dabs carefully at her mouth, brushing inward, exorcising the chocolate whilst doing commendably little damage to her red paint. Her long sooty eyelashes flutter once or twice. She crumples the handkerchief and drops it on the empty plate that once held Étienne's petit-fours, most of which she herself et.

"… P'raps we should play cards, darling," she decides, "or just chat for a little while and see what games other people start," and she casts a mock-conniving glance about Orchis House's miniature theatre, whence courtesans and patrons are streaming in dribs and drabs, mostly laughing and talking animatedly, bent upon all kinds of pleasure. "You might tell me how it was you were at Cereus House — I've been wondering, darling," she confesses, "and I think you must have told me, only I don't think I heard." She blinks again, this time inquiringly, and sips her wine.

Étienne takes a sip of his drink, then shyly, looking at her more through his lashes than directly, "Would you like to see it? I mean, if we could get someone to play a contredanse and if there is a prop sword about." He glances at the small stage and back, "If it's allowed, I mean."

If it's allowed? In Orchis House—? Wherever does the boy think he is? "Well, of course," says Leda first of all, with blithe certitude; then, "but darling, I don't follow, did somebody give you a token for performing something? Is that what happened? Heavens, how sweet of them." And she means it; because, fond as she has grown of him already, he must as a matter of course be a pure amateur by the standards of Mont Nuit. And yet! What a good choice he was. Perhaps it was really for a little more than his dance. Though, au fond, that makes her more rather than less eager to see it.

Étienne nods, "I sort of… danced for the Eglantine adepts and they did seem to like it, even though it was just something I do for fun. I'd only ever shown Symon, but he seemed to like it. It was a sort of contest…. Anything will do as long as it can carry a melody one could dance to. A lute or the like, maybe?"

"Oh, darling, I'm longing to see," confesses Leda in perfect verity, resting her own hand upon his hand upon her red satin thigh; "you know, they're not easy to impress, over at Eglantine House, they've seen it all before. Let me just think who—" Her gaze lifts to review the theatre's dwindling population; an instant later, so does the rest of her. She bursts up out of her chair, leaving her shoes and her escort behind, and rushes along the aisle to accost a tall man of about twenty whose impossible beauty marks him as just another denizen of Mont Nuit. Looks like those are normal enough, here.

His smile, though, as he turns back toward the familiar trilling voice of an excited Leda and yields to the touch of her hand upon his arm, is nothing short of dazzling: Étienne too comes in for a flash of it when he looks past her to see this interesting boy she's burbling on about… They come to an agreement; Leda flounces happily stockingfooted back to her chair.

"Alexandre's gone to fetch his lute," she announces to Étienne, "he says he won't be a moment. He's awfully good, though… I can't play at all myself so I'm always especially impressed by people who can," she sighs.

"I think it was Jérémie nó Eglantine. He's the handsome one who dances, right? They were terribly bored and I at least did something they hadn't seen before, so I think that was worth extra consideration. They gave a token to a foreign woman who sang like someone was bathing cats, so I think it was as much for not being boring as any skill of mine." Étienne blushes prettily, "Still they did say kind things, all three of them."

He blushes again seeing the beauty of the man thus accosted and her interest in his performance, "So am I. I'm not musical at all, really." He stands and starts stretching with that unconscious Azzallese grace he has, not thinking of how he might look as he bends and stretches his legs.

"Darling, they're all handsome and lots of them dance," Leda points out with a giggle; "tell me what his bottom looked like in those hose they dance in and I might remember him a little better, mmm?" she says encouragingly, and takes a sip from the glass of wine that has somehow reappeared in her hand. "Bathing cats, though, really? I wonder where she was from?" she wonders, though most of her mind is currently occupied by— well— hose, and the contents thereof. It's no use pretending she's looking at Étienne's face.

Étienne laughs, "Leda, darling, I wish I could, for he really was lovely as twilight, but I only ever saw him sitting behind a high table. He talked like a dancer and I'm pretty sure he was called Jeremie…. Chi'in maybe? It was… very strange." The view is indeed excellent, his legs as muscular as a professional dancer’s from all that sword and dance practice, and his bottom is like a peach. He fills out a tunic well, being wide of shoulder and muscular for his height.

"Oh, Ch'in," says Leda respectfully, "such lovely porcelain… What a pity about that table, then," but she forbears to comment further upon Eglantine men, seated or in flight, being already so well-entertained by Étienne's performance. He really is a sweetheart, too, apart from everything else.

And then Alexandre returns, holding a handsome ten-course rosewood lute already free of its case. He puts it into tune whilst sitting on the edge of the stage and flirting outrageously with Leda, who admires the way he handles his instrument and can't help but subtly imply that it would be a pleasure to take its place in his arms — but the two Orchises scarcely look at one another, being as one in their appreciation of peaches. It's just their way, both of them, to banter so, to bat compliments and innuendo back and forth in a conversational game fit to make a listener laugh aloud.

Soon enough, the mellow but discordant sounds of a very particular musician making his arrangements, melt into the strains of the lively contredanse Leda requested with her eyes so wide and her heart on her sleeve.

Étienne collects a play sword from the decorative props along the wall which he sets on the floor in absence of a sheath. He addresses Alexandre, "Thank you for playing for us." He smiles one of those angel-kissed smiles in response to their banter, the expression transforming him in a way that suggests the beauty that will ripen in a few years when he grows into his adult face.

He takes up the correct position for the figure, back straight, legs poised. He starts out dancing the figure. It's impressive for a noble, though not as good as it likely would have been if Eglantine house had gotten their hands on him young. He mimes in such a way that one can easily picture the other dancers filling out the figure. He goes through the whole figure once, but then he starts to change steps, a little here, a little there.

As he dances down the imaginary line, the pattern of the dance shifts so that he moves back and forth and circles, but the steps retain the perfect balance and poise of the original simple dance. Gradually he shifts the way his arms move from the stylized attitudes this sort of dancing requires to the more forward attitude of attack and parry. His expressiveness somehow conveys the usually hidden similarity in both forms, and an underlying discipline. In one fluid movement he scoops up his blade, and duels invisible opponents, only in the beauty of it, it is hard to tell which steps came originally from the dance and which from the practice yard. There is something between joy and serenity in his face and that particular expression is transformative. He really is a excellent swordsman, and one can easily imagine the other dancers as invisible opponents whom he fights. In this moment, perhaps, he displays a smidgen of the divine ancestry that still lives in his blood. Étienne d'Arguil was made to move and move this way, and he is ecstatic with the delight of dancing, of fighting, of moving as his body was meant to move.

At first Leda just watches, with a concentration that would appear flatteringly attentive to anyone well-acquainted with her quicksilver temperament. By degrees she forgets even to finish the wine in her glass. And once Étienne commences to face off against his invisible opponents, as adorably ferocious as any kitten, she claps so loudly it's a wonder she doesn't throw off his rhythm.

"… D'you know," she declares to nobody and to everybody, thinking out loud and earnestly, "I think I could do that." She sounds surprised.

The next thing anybody knows she's out of her chair again and catching up another of the prop swords from the decorative display of such, and marching up onto the stage via the steps at the side, still in her stockinged feet. Her eyes are avid upon Étienne's dancing figure — and sparking with mischief.

Approaching his position upon those seasoned boards that have seen so many good jests before now, she slows: all it takes is three more steps for her posture, her stance, her stride, the angle of her chin and the set of her shoulders and the swing of her arms all to alter, into the image of this young Azzallese lord. She looks taller, of a sudden. Her hips give up their sashaying and scarcely shift at all with her movement. Her feet turn out… And then she's joining in the dance, at first purely as a reflection, imitating Étienne's every motion at a slight and prudent distance. To be fair, she's not as clever with the sword forms as a young man who has put hours into them every day — she downright flubs a few, and finishes others a bit behind the music, and once or twice she goes the wrong way and has to hasten to correct herself and to keep up — but it clearly isn't the first time she's held such in her hand, and she has an uncanny instinct for what he might be going to do next… Either that or she's just reading his intentions straight out of his own mind, via those wide green eyes which leave him only of a necessity when she must twirl.

Then, as Alexandre obligingly circles back again to an earlier point in this lively tune she knows perhaps even better than Étienne, she drifts closer, her silks rustling beneath the strains of the lute, and she finds the negative space Étienne's proper partner ought by rights to occupy. Following, lithe and fleet-footed, buoyed up by wine and candlelight and a native enthusiasm that has her gasping out the occasional giggle when she can spare the breath, she dances backward more than forward, yielding in each mimed pass of their pretend-swords, making a virtue of her own comparative lack of skill.

Étienne simply includes her, without missing a step or a parry. He spins with her and takes her up as if she's a sparring partner and in the way of the best dance partners, manages to help her shine. When she makes a mistake, he contrives to make it look like part of the form. He improvises with her playfully, really delighted to have partner who can manage so well, and her dancing truly does delight him as it did the night they met.

Several novices who had come to clean up after the performance stand transfixed in a little clump by the door, having never seen anything like this new sort of sword dance, let alone performed so well.

It's never easy to get Leda Lavecq to concentrate for five minutes upon anything intellectual: but give her a physical pursuit, particularly one involving a beautiful young man and music besides, and she can focus something fierce, engaging all her senses in the ebb and the flow of pure movement. Her joy in Étienne's receptivity is at least equal to his, in hers; the music speeds, building to a climax, and they join together in the rush to match it, Leda never the least bit discouraged but always breathless with mirth whenever she makes a dog's breakfast out of a sword form, always essaying the next with renewed vigour. She actually gets better at it with a few minutes' practice, a few minutes' just following Étienne and learning with the eyes of an expert mime all that his body has to teach… And then Alexandre plays a few last dizzying chords and his lute falls silent; and Leda casts her sword away and just stands there laughing, in the middle of the stage, her bosom lifting half out of her stays with each giddy breath. Her meticulously curled hair is all awry, falling down, the pins scattered across the stage underfoot. She's glowing, rather like a woman who has just… been doing something quite else.

Étienne thrusts in a way that looks like running her through to the audience, but actually strikes safely upstage. His hard, muscular body presses dramatically against her, his free arm wrapping around her to support her 'death faint'. Those beautiful eyes that show his descent from Azza as surely as his grace and his smile do, look into hers serious and determined, still caught up in their performance. He is not a tall man, but compared to her he might as well be. They are well proportioned for each other, his fourish inches extra making them look particularly dramatic together.

From the instant in which she intuits the final pose Étienne has in mind there's a glitter in Leda's lively green eyes — not just a nice young man with a nice young backside, but possessed of such a theatrical temperament! He's after her own heart. She's quite infatuated already, inasmuch as ever she is. If he's out of sight he'll be out of mind, as they always are, but right now her sight is so very full of him. And so, thus impaled, her skinny little self slumps genuinely against his waiting strength, heedless of whether he really expects to catch her to such an extent. She trusts in Naamah; she's rewarded. Her head falls back, stretching out a pale throat already absurdly long — her reddened lips part — her eyelids flutter — after a faltering clasp at one manly bicep, her arms and legs alike go utterly limp. At the last she breathes out a low, sensual, fading moan rather more suggestive of lovemaking than of death.

“… Really, Leda," purrs Alexandre from his perch on the edge of the stage. He looks enormously amused. Not surprised, mind you.

Étienne angles his blade to maintain the illusion. He does support her, having expected something so theatrical, and pressing his lips to that neck he lowers her gently to the floor, doing his amateur best at playing the grieving lover who has accidentally killed his beloved by mistake. It is credible for home charades, but alas, not in keeping with the quality of the rest of the performance. But the novices clap excitedly from the back of the room.

Well, look, Leda enjoys it. The scent of Étienne fresh from his exertions, the touch of his lips, the carefulness of his hands, the smattering of applause from elsewhere in the little Orchis theatre… And she's half-drunk, too. All the necessary conditions for happiness have been met in plenitude.

But there's only so long she can just lie there, especially when she's feeling so pleased with herself. Kohl-darkened eyelids snap open. "… Darling, wasn't that fun," she breathes out, in an exaggerated whisper easily audible to Étienne and Alexandre and anybody else standing within twenty feet.

Étienne beams at her, all delight, "Oh yes! Terribly fun, Leda!" He offers her his hand to help her up, "I do love dancing with you."

Leda's fingers curl trustingly into Étienne's; she sits up, her red curls swaying upward with her, and then tucks her stockinged feet underneath herself and relies without shame upon his youthful strength to ease her upward scramble. "No wonder they loved you," she says caressingly, upright again, standing naturally and easily very close; "they don't usually have so much fun, over at Eglantine House." She giggles, obviously and visibly conscious of her own wickedness. She doesn't let go his hand. "I loved dancing with you too, darling," she confesses, "you're awfully good, you know, for an amateur. I thought so the other night, too. We did have fun, didn't we?" This last in a more intimate register: Alexandre, knowing himself de trop, has taken up his lute and retreated backstage. He'll get the details later.

Étienne keeps his back straight as he stands from his kneeling position, drawing her up with him. A natural instinct for performance keeps any effort he might be exerting from showing in his face and body language. Another dazzling smile, "And I got to see you perform! You truly are marvelous. I knew you would be." Even sober, he does not seem to mind her standing closer than correct forms would suggest. He lifts her hand to his lips, watching her face as he kisses it slowly. It is not the polite delicate brush of the lips from the restaurant — but not some boorish slobber either. It is a kiss that nudges the door of opportunity open on his side without intruding on hers. "We did have fun, yes." He lowers the hand, but still watches her.

The novices are suddenly very, very busy and not looking at the stage at all.

"Oh!" Leda giggles softly. "Oh, bless you, darling. You were quite sure…?" she teases, and catches her red lower lip between her teeth. She lets it go and breathes out: "Darling, I'm so glad I could reward what faith you may've had," and as her fingertips press into his she inches just a little bit nearer, till her red satin skirts brush his legs, "especially given that… we're hardly more than strangers to one another…?" Not that she means it. It's only another Orchis tease, underlined by the lift of a well-drawn eyebrow… Or is it? Her voice is awfully gentle, verging upon hesitant. She's using his words. He's the one, after all, who takes time to make up his mind.

Étienne looks into her eyes with those big blue guileless angel-touched eyes, and drops his sword so that he might take one of her curls and twine them between his fingers. "Are you… sober enough for this, Leda?"

The thoroughly experienced courtesan of Mont Nuit currently easing imperceptibly across the remaining distance between them, till her body comes to rest against Étienne's and her hand to discover his bottom almost before he knows it's going to happen, purrs: "For what exactly, darling?" And she looks up at him with a big mischievous red grin, inviting specifics.

Étienne simply bends his own lovely neck to kiss her soft and slow, watching her eyes the whole time as those strong arms wrap around her.

From within her own personal heaven — a place wherein all the young men are so shapely and so quick, and possessed of such fine taste in dancing partners — Leda reaches out to twine her own arms about Étienne, about his waist and then his shoulders, luxurious lacy cuffs falling away from her wrists as she buries a hand in his hair and holds him close. Her lips part readily and she kisses him as she did so impulsively at Cereus House, skillful and sweet, her eyes wide open and all her heart reaching out— just to see.

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