(1310-12-25) When Mercy Seasons Justice
Summary: Laure Shahrizai seeks divine justice at the Temple of Kushiel; the former Dowayne of Mandrake House rides shotgun. (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 04/01/2019 -
Related: The Quality of Mercy is Not Strained.
emmanuelle laure 

Temple of Kushiel — City of Elua

Within a walled square in the heart of the temple quarter, lit at night by flaming brands in iron sconces disposed at intervals round the outer walls, there stands a vast building of honey-coloured travertine marble with its gates unlocked and unbarred. At any hour of the day or the night, those seeking penance, forgiveness, divine justice, are welcome within.

The dark jewel-box that is Emmanuelle Shahrizai’s carriage halts on the perimeter. The two women within, who have scarcely said a word to one another since their meeting minutes ago in House Shahrizai’s reserved quarters within Valerian House, sit face to face by the light of a single candle in a glass lantern, swaying above them, casting fitful shadows.

On the back seat, dressed as she was earlier in the evening but with the addition of a black tricorne hat set upon her head of intricately braided blue-black hair, and those dark red leather gloves which encase with a perfect fidelity her finely-shaped hands, Emmanuelle regards this cousin whom she has whisked away so efficiently from Mont Nuit. Indeed, Laure’s exit from the scene of her disgrace was made as smooth as possible: she hardly had occasion to set eyes upon anyone but her unexpected, self-appointed benefactress… “Have you submitted yourself to these rituals before?” she asks quietly, in this tense pause.

Laure Shahrizai, seated stiff-backed across from Emmanuelle, is dressed in the riding attire she arrived at Valerian in; an exquisitely tailored short-tailed coat, buttoning up the right breast, and matching skirt of subtly iridescent raven's-wing bombasin; the cuffs, high collar, and her fitted waistcoat share the same midnight blue velvet. An immaculate white cravat is pinned into place by means of a delicately rendered silver stickpin set with a single dark sapphire.

Her attention seems fixed on the oscillating light source, dancing shadows casting her already-severe features in high relief. Her pupils have been reduced to pinpricks, taking several moments to effectively focus her eyes upon Emmanuelle when she's addressed. She brings her attention back to her body by pushing downward through the wide-spread heels of her lovingly-tended paddock boots before confirming with curated diction, "Yes. About a year after Henri was born."

Emmanuelle answers with a small, crisp nod: “Then I need not tell you what to expect.”

She’s too discreet, of course, to inquire into what transgression in Laure’s family life must have brought her here before — or perhaps to one of the order’s most ancient houses, in Kusheth itself: but, unbending farther than she ever did when she wore the Dowayne’s seal of Mandrake House on that heavy dark chain about her neck, she does remark, “I am fond of your son. A personable child; and he thinks before he speaks. If he keeps to his present path I believe,” she says seriously, “he will complete the training, and debut in good time.”

With the same unyielding crispness, Laure returns the nod.

"I know we're not supposed to have favorites," she intones wryly, Shahrizai eyes going back to the shifting light, "but I relate to Henri in a way I don't with my others. Or did, anyhow. It's hard, isn't it, having them away?" Another piece of Emmanuelle's history from the habit of knowing things, relayed heedlessly. The woman's words manage to draw the hint of a smile and Laure's full attention again. "Your assessment is heartening." A weighty pause; there's already so much which she's divulged, it hardly seems a trespass of herself to admit, "While I fully trust the education he's receiving, I do regret there's no longer one of the family serving as Dowayne. It was to Mandrake I entrusted the gem of my heart, but the Mandrake with you at the helm."

For her sudden and dazzling retreat from high office Emmanuelle tenders no apologies; she only raises an eyebrow at Laure’s admission and then drawls, softly, “If it gives you any comfort, my dear, reflect that all the appointments are as I made them, and will I think remain so for some while yet. I’m confident my departure has had little effect upon the day to day affairs of the house.” Which might on the face of it seem an odd boast; but what greater legacy is there for a Dowayne, than a smooth transition and customs beyond her successor’s improvement? She left her house in order, and in the hands of those capable of keeping it so.

But the hour grows later. Holding Laure’s gaze with her own in what light the candle affords them Emmanuelle nods to the door on the side of the carriage nearest the temple. “Earlier in the evening I called and made it known that you intended to pay a visit of expiation tonight, and that in your present condition I would as far as possible accompany you in the capacity of a healer,” she explains. “Elsewhere it might be simpler to ask for forgiveness rather than permission — not, however,” she drawls, “of Lord Kushiel. Are you ready, my dear?”

"The thought gives me great comfort and is why I can countenance it, cousin," Laure responses blithely, striping off one of her pure white leather gloves to more effectively rub the bare palm underneath. "I'd expect no less, of course. Everything just so." The thin leather placed aside on the lushly upholstered seat holds the impress of her joints, remaining delicate even in her current gravid condition.

The sublest of tells reveals her uneasiness to maintain the eye contact; imperceptible to almost anyone else but the very person who has temporarily taken her in hand — one of the few people capable of doing so.

Well, it's unlikely anyone will ever have from her Shahrizai lips how much of a blessed relief it is.

"Wise. The gesture is appreciated." An awkward and stilted expression of gratitude, from a woman unaccustomed to the obligation of offering it. Laure’s ankles cross and tuck into her skirts in a gesture of retreat at odds with self-assured squaring of her shoulders, the determined rise of her chin. With the faintest tinge of Kusheth’s sharp enunciation she owns, "There's little point to tarrying; readiness is moot."

Laure has spent an interesting portion of her few waking hours since that oddly fortuitous meeting of theirs at Valerian House, stroking her hand so — at least, Emmanuelle finds it interesting, though despite her acute awareness of that little tic, and the conjectures she revises and amends each time she witnesses it, her gaze remains serene upon her cousin’s face. She seems in no hurry to halt her consideration of Laure’s subtly drawn expression, the unease in sapphire eyes normally given to commanding all they see. At length she murmurs, in an undertone and as though across a greater distance than the satin-upholstered, onyx-studded interior of her carriage affords them: “It is not for you to countenance.”

But before the child’s mother can question, or riposte, or take issue with this mild pronouncement, Emmanuelle is pushing open the door of the carriage. In the torchlit square Baltasar awaits: he catches the door from his mistress’s grasp and opens it the rest of the way, one black-gloved hand holding it steady and the other extended with a slight bow of his dark braided head to whichever lady should be first to disembark.

A flick of Emmanuelle’s gaze directs Laure to precede her. Behind the younger woman’s back she makes a fractional adjustment to the angle of her tricorne hat; then she steps down beside her and claims Laure’s hand to tuck again through her arm. They’ve only a handful of paces to walk together to the temple courtyard and the black-robed acolyte who will receive them.

The correction, so mildly tendered, causes the skin on the back of Laure's neck to prickle. Her eyes widen a fraction as the gravity of her trespass settles upon her. Yet, somehow, questioning the former Dowayne's arrangements doesn't seem to gain her immediate enmity. There isn't time to question why.

Her curious hand is remanded to the custody of its glove in a practiced motion as the door swings open.

The silent command wills her to her feet and out of the carriage, the white of her glove seeming particular bright against the valet's austere black. Her fingers tense briefly on his as she's handed down, another expression of the thankfulness she's unused to conveying. Baltasar's steady presence is a balm, the acts of service for Emmanuelle performed in such intimate proximity providing a sense of solace to her grieving heart.

Her boots crunch solidly against the cobbles of the courtyard. Perhaps it needs to be, for the foreboding that strikes her when she sights the bronze-masked acolyte catches the breath in her throat. Only Emmanuelle's light-handed manipulation propels her forward, her fingertips pressed into the other woman's arm to draw strength as they close the gap.

This is another tender and severe Kusheline mercy: Emmanuelle’s red-gloved hand covering Laure’s in white kid, holding tight where she is held in turn, fingertips digging in; the steady pace of her spike-heeled boots over the cobbles, leaving no possibility of hesitation; the smooth deep evenness of her voice greeting the acolyte on gate duty, to spare Laure the effort of finding words. She keeps her cousin moving without pause through the gates and the courtyard and up the plain steps of pale stone at the farther side. She permits no outward show of reluctance or fear. Not that she expects it, to be sure, but still she sees that this other daughter of House Shahrizai is warded against even the chance of betraying her own true wishes.

“You may remember, my dear,” she counsels Laure in a murmur, “the Yeshuite scriptures tell us that Lord Kushiel’s own sin was his too-great love for the sinners in his care… a love infinite and all-encompassing, powerful enough to redeem any transgression. You will be well, cousin. You’ve come home to a father whose love for you withstands the flames of Hell.”

And then with her own fist she knocks briskly upon the simple dark wooden door at the head of those steps, behind which lies an ancient and hallowed ordeal that might be many a woman’s nightmare — but, undoubtedly, this one’s blessed cleansing.

Some while later the single candle in Emmanuelle’s carriage has burned low — but it is the same taper, illuminating now the same two women in the same two seats, with a different atmosphere between them deepened in its layerings by each hour they spend together.

The wheels turn and they turn, the candle flickering with each revolution. The streets are empty and the carriage makes its way swiftly through the freezing cold Elua night.

“You might consider a sojourn in Marsilikos,” Emmanuelle ventures in an undertone, after a time. “Eisandine midwives are the most gifted in the world — and, an absence from your usual haunts would render less apparent the alteration of your usual habits.” For a private penance need not after all be a public humiliation, an item of high society gossip.

The penitent Shahrizai has sunk deep into the velvet flocked seat of the carriage. Boots have been discarded on the floor so that she might place her stockinged feet beside her on the bench and drape the cloak materialized by Baltasar as they were leaving atop her legs as proof against the chill.

For all the bone-weary exhaustion evidenced in the time it takes for Laure to process her appointed keeper's words, the tension in her body has eased. A slow nod of — perhaps assent, perhaps sheer acquiescence. After too long a pause, she breaks from the silence maintained since departing the confidence of the priesthood, "That would be wise on many counts, yes. Immediately, if possible, but I fear it shall take longer to mobilize my household."

The smallest shiver runs through her upright shoulders and she curls her legs in closer towards herself, surrendering this night and in this company to an unaccustomed, inevitable, downright wanton vulnerability.

Emmanuelle regards her with perfect charity and perfect calm, an absence of judgment which in itself constitutes a license for Laure to go on with her as they’ve begun.

“I intend to return to Marsilikos myself in a week or two,” she offers quietly; “I have not yet settled the date. If you have not by then made other arrangements your carriage would be welcome to follow mine, provided you bring no great retinue. The public inns are too crowded in this season with travelers to and from the capital,” she explains — this prosaic talk of travel arrangements has a quality of the bizarre about it, in the middle of a night devoted otherwise to such great matters as sin and penance and redemption, “and so I stay in private houses, but it would hardly be fair to my hosts to present them with too many extra mouths to feed. I might find,” she bears her teeth in a sudden grin, ferally amused, teeth flashing white in the candlelight, “that I was not invited to break my journey with them again.”

The humour completely lost to her, Laure is too weary to hide her shock at the suggestion that they might travel together, harsh, dark brows drawing closer. "You'd consider that?" she questions tremulously, drawing the cloak tighter about her, before quickly adding in a self-deprecating tone, "I scarce think you'd say it if you didn't mean it. It's only…"

Her sapphire gaze shifts to the window, thrown open at her behest despite the weather, "I am not accustomed to kindness, especially in the face of such grievous sin. I've been too long at court to take it unquestioning. Forgive me if I seem uneasy, cousin."

“I would indeed,” Emmanuelle reassures her quietly, her blue diamond eyes a steady weight upon Laure’s countenance, “never speak insincerely to you.” She smiles again, her humour turning dry. “I have that luxury; I need not be a politician, anymore.”

Then she sits forward with her gloved hands resting on her thighs, an unconsciously masculine stance; she says in all seriousness, “If, still, you can doubt me so, I judge you to be in need of less time in the world and more time with family. My dear — when you are most afraid of being cast out, is that not the very hour in which you most need to be drawn inward?”

The house is in a quiet side street of the noble quarter, behind a high stone wall topped with black iron spikes. The concierge who admits the carriage to the courtyard is an iron spike herself: an elderly woman of forbidding aspect, gowned and shawled in black, her iron-grey hair rising in a widow's peak above a face carved unsmiling from a block of white marble.

The lower floors, Emmanuelle explains in an undertone as she steps down to the flagstones with her hand in Baltasar’s and waits while he offers the same courtesy to Laure, she lets out to friends. She retains her own private entrance — high ironbound double doors the concierge unlocks — beyond which with Laure’s hand once more tucked into her elbow she climbs two flights of half-lit stairs gleaming from a recent polishing, to a warm and tranquil foyer where Baltasar relieves them of their coats. Emmanuelle deposits her tricorne hat and her red leather gloves upon a console table, next to one of many blue and white Ch'in porcelain vases filled with a rainbow of fragrant roses. The double doors at either side of the foyer remain closed. The lady of the house leads her cousin instead up another, narrower flight, softened by a runner of dark purple velvet which continues along the corridor above, past other, singular closed doors. There are flowers here too, in a profusion almost equal to Valerian House. The variety of their hues, from dark reds to soft blushing pinks and lilacs, might raise the eyebrows of one who has every reason to suppose that the tastes of the former Dowayne of Mandrake House run to black, black, dark blue, and black.

“I daresay it isn’t what you’re used to,” drawls Emmanuelle as she pushes open a door to a smallish chamber immediately warmer and brighter than the corridor; “but the sheets are fresh for you, you’ve plenty of hot water, and you will find what else you require.”

There are two single beds, pushed into the corners of the room at either side of the fire, each made up with fine linen sheets discreetly hemstitched. At the foot of one bed, a washstand; mirroring its position, a writing-table set under a window with its curtains drawn shut; an armoire, a couple of simple straight-backed chairs, a quartet of seascapes and harbour views, done rather well and arranged symmetrically on walls paneled in pale wood. It’s rather a fresh, bright chamber: white linen, golden wood, a touch of sea-blue here and there picking up the artist’s palette. A bowl of red tulips next to one bed, the covers of which are turned down in anticipation of Laure’s impending slumbers, is a cheerful note and a striking one.

Laure has just stepped inside when another door opens, further along the corridor, and Emmanuelle still holding open this one turns toward the other. From that direction a voice — low, but with a girlish note in it — calls out softly, tentatively: “Madame?”

With maternal firmness Emmanuelle instructs the owner of the voice to, “Go back to bed, my love, and I shall come in and see you very soon.” Laure might suppose that she is to be left to her own devices. Instead Emmanuelle follows her and draws shut the door behind them and serves as she did before, coaxing Laure through the motions of getting ready for bed, helping with her buttons and braiding her long blue-black tresses still damp from the temple baths, keeping her closely under her protection.

“… When my children lived in this house,” she offers after a time, as with infinite patience she repeats the work of braiding and beribboning Laure’s hair, “this was the night nursery. I haven’t altered it a great deal since, for to tell you the truth it is rarely used now.”

Stepping across the threshold of one of the many townhouses in the capital which belong, one way or another, to House Shahrizai, Laure lets out a breath and relaxes, just a little. If she cannot be at home here, then where—? It is exquisitely clear to her that she remains in Emmanuelle’s personal charge, escorted up the final flight of stairs as well by her hostess rather than by any menial (not even Baltasar!), invited intimately behind the scenes of an establishment which in some respects defies what the ignorant multitude might expect of a Shahrizai. The colourful blooms; the ordinary arrangements; the natural, logical fixtures.; the sheer kindness.

"Thank you." The words come easier this time as she steps into the chamber as she is bidden. A mother herself, she hardly need be told that this was a nursery: she puts two and two together, and runs her fingertips lovingly along the white linen bedclothes. Perhaps her ears do prick up at that maidenly mew from another chamber — Jehan-Pascal de Baphinol cannot help but strike the ears of their kind as a sweet baby kitten to be coddled — with a maternal fondness of her own she smiles, the first time Emmanuelle has seen such an expression cross her features during their brief but intense isolated hours in one another’s company.

The unfailing, unbroken thread of Emmanuelle’s tenderness towards her, comes as a relief. The burden of acting as a matriarch within her own sphere falls slowly away from her; she murmurs something, as one does, about how fast they grow up, how empty a house can feel in their absence; and she yields herself piece by the piece to a Mandrake who is swiftly, effortlessly turning her to a Valerian, a creature to be tended and cosseted and tucked at last between clean sheets, in a nightgown of fresh white pintucked cotton just as soft as a cloud.

Emmanuelle smoothes the bedclothes over Laure’s comfy and quiescent figure. One hand with immaculate black-lacquered nails draws away — but the other lingers, a slight but comforting weight upon her cousin’s arm. “My dear,” she says softly, “before I collected you tonight, I saw Cecile for a moment. She is well, and she sends you her fond regards.”

Nothing else she might have said, would have sent such a paroxysm of astonished pain through Laure’s slender form: a long moment passes, whilst the sinner draws in her breath and seeks within herself the strength to indicate her understanding by a slow nod of her head.

Emmanuelle, who waits with perfect patience through each phase of her cousin’s reaction, nods at last and squeezes her arm gently, and rises to huff out the candles.

There are tears in the night; no one hears but Laure herself.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License