(1311-01-20) Chromatophoria
Summary: The former Dowayne of Mandrake House calls at the Dome of the Lady to dispense some materteral advice, and to eat a very late breakfast. (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 06/02/2019 - 12/02/2019
Related: None
emmanuelle ortolette 

Great Hall — Ducal Palace

High and light colored are the walls of the Great Hall, woods of golden tones used in the wainscoting that reaches till mid-level, with elaborate ornaments of fish chasing each other carved into them. A great hearth governs one end of the hall, with a large shield looming above, showing the coat of arms of House Mereliot. With six tall windows on one side framed by long dark blue curtains of heavy brocade, the wall opposite has a line of a couple of shields of Eisandine Houses, placed at regular intervals, and the pair of impressive double doors, through which courtiers usually will enter. The floor is of polished cream colored marble, enhanced with white inlay work depicting the ever repeating pattern of Mereliot fish. Lighting is provided through the lamps at the walls and three large chandeliers suspended from the arched ceiling, polished glass beads glittering where they catch and magnify the light of candles.

Posted just without the doors of the great hall stands the great-shouldered, kind-eyed bear of a Cassiline, a monument to his earlier labor in cradling the entire chair in which the Invalid Mereliot has been established in his arms and carrying the entirety of both down the grand stairwell. The doors stand open, the Cassiline watchful, even as the evening wanes to night.

Certainly there was supper, earlier, and the great hall was well-frequented with visitors of varying degrees of import and urgency of business. Now the only ones scurrying to and fro are the maids tending to clearing the table and sweeping the floors beneath, while over in a far corner of the hall Ortolette herself is minding her own business of an evening in the light and heat of a glowing brazier. Back straight and eyes assiduously lowered, she moves her needle with stern and even precision, drawing it through the weft of her embroidery to gleam in the light of the glowing coal, a minor twinkle in the midst of the gilt glory of the great hall, now fading dim in the eventide. The embroidery is kept aloft more by means of a pillow on her lap than her arm strength, and beside her on the pillow lies a small silken bag with a ribbon drawstring, the static charge generated by which moves the tiniest of the beads collected therein as though with a life of their own, allowing her to isolate their miniscule orifices with the tip of her needle and thread them onto her rather ornate piece.

Outside, Girard is patient as he must be, and good-natured of it, too, standing ready for his summons but not thinking for the world that any retreat must be at all hastened.

And then the good Girard becomes one-half of a pair of unsmiling bookends as a tall man of Kusheline aspect, garbed in black silk and velvet and with his hair a mass of long blue-black braids, takes up a stance rather like his own but on the opposite side of the doors to the Great Hall. Lord Baltasar Shahrizai, attending as always upon the duchesse's half-sister, the lady Emmanuelle.

Spiked bootheels strike marble in a regular and unhurried pattern as she stalks down the middle of that cavernous chamber, her full-skirted black leather coat worn open and the thumbs of her red-gloved hands hooked into the waistband of a pair of black breeches which clothe her lean and muscular thighs with a fidelity betrayed only by the telltale bulge in between. Her dark grey waistcoat has a very fine red pinstripe; nestled into the folds of her black silk neckcloth is a single article of jewellery, her very favourite: a pin in the shape of three golden keys, twined together in a delicate triumph of some Elua jeweler's art. Her blue diamond Shahrizai eyes have already discovered her niece, seated prudently close to a source of warmth; they rest steadily upon Ortolette, the hue of them brighter and brighter as she draws nearer, in a face pristinely black and white save for their cold brilliance and the pristine red line of her mouth.

In her wake the servants seem fluttery, disturbed, less efficient. She is not a frequent enough presence in the palace for them to have got used to her demeanour, her reputation, the faint and resinous waft of her cologne.

At last she halts before her niece. "Ortolette," she pronounces quietly.

<FS3> Ortolette rolls Needlework: Good Success. (1 4 4 8 5 6 2 6 1 3 8 6 7)

Ortolette hears the heels on approach from about a mile away, and yet does not let them shake her unphased industry. If, after all, some danger were approaching, Girard would have either stopped it in the doorway or died raising up a call to her defense— either way, she would be made aware, even if she might not be able to do much about it. As it stands, the heels could belong to any number of individuals, and the longer she keeps her head bowed to her work, the longer she can process what she knows about them. She counts the number of steps per draw of her dark rose-orange thread, making a fair guess at height and stride even from out in the hall, in accordance with the unhurried tone of the shoe against the floor. In closer quarters there is the matter of the skirts, the lack of any noise from which are a fair indication of their absence. But it's the subtle atmospheric change in the behavior of the maids that drives bronze through iron, and when her pale witch-hazel eyes rise from her work at the approximate split second before her name is pronounced, she is as prepared to spy her aunt's keen-eyed visage as if she had summoned her herself, and bears a fortitude of countenance which would make a lesser soul slip and wonder whether, indeed, Ortolette had been thoroughly expecting her. But her pale, thin lips draw into that big goofy smile that seems to be their only setting besides that prim little line she generally keeps them tucked into. "Emmadame," she answers. "Look— an octopus." In her embroidery, that is. Great rolling tendrils of orange and red and pink, shaded with gleaming crystal and golden beads to make the limbs shift to the human eye as if gliding underwater.

Emmanuelle returns for her niece's daft girlish smile only an unchanging expression, composed, not unkind but undoubtedly severe. However, she steps closer and half-turns, and rests a hand upon the back of Ortolette's chair and leans down over her like the Lord of Hell hovering above a cowering sinner. One can almost see the spread of night-black angel's wings, from the square shoulders of her studded and chained leather coat. She studies the octopus presented for her approval. "I commend your patience," she says at last, her voice a low, wry rumble from somewhere deep within. She touches Ortolette's shoulder, lightly, just once, and then turns away to find another chair and draw it up close. In fact she flips it, and sits down astride it with her arms folded across its back. Her full-skirted coat falls about her in sinuous leathery folds.

"I won't ask how you are," she drawls with a lift of her bold dark brows, "for I do receive regular reports on the subject. I am glad, my dear, that you've recovered fully from your cold, and I hope it shall be your last of the winter… I had some business with your maman this evening," she explains with her customary lack of detail when touching upon such grown-up matters, "and she mentioned I might find you here." The gloved fingertips of one hand tap out a delicate rhythm upon the opposing elbow. "I wonder how you have been occupying yourself, since last we met. A great deal of excellent embroidery, I imagine…?"

Since last they met… Emmanuelle has sent a number of small gifts to this niece and that, chiefly out of season flowers and fruits, or books she supposes might edify them. The specific books she promised Ortolette did arrive in time, bound by Raziel's to match the rest of her library. The classical sexual manuals from which novices are taught on Mont Nuit, marked in Emmanuelle's bold hand and midnight-violet ink with stars and marginalia indicating the positions most fortuitous for so delicate a young lady; and a slim volume innocuously entitled "Les Reglès du jeu", which proved to be a treatise on the theory more than the practice of the arts of dominance and submission, long out of print and forgotten, resurrected with a new preface by the then-Dowayne of Mandrake House: one Emmanuelle Shahrizai. Ortolette didn't even have to ask. It was simply given, and without a word of comment — though perhaps the comment is to come now.

Ortolette's smile may be quite without art, but when she draws her lips back into their settled place, there is nothing left of daftness about her, but that she tips her head at a minimal angle to allow Emmadame to observe the piece which has been occupying her hands while her mind worked elsewhere— it's easy for guests of the palace, lulled by good wine and good food and the pitiful visage of her chair to ignore the small girl plying her needle in the corner and carry on into their postprandial discussions as though nobody were there at all besides those for whom their discussions were meant. Ortolette is not by a mile bold enough to disabuse them of the notion that she either cannot hear or does not have a mind for the things about which they speak, and so they are left to continue as they will.

Of course, the commendation of her patience twists a wry little glance up and behind, meeting Emmadame's eye with a flash, as though to see whether she were being mocked in any wise. But when asked how she was keeping busy, she looks down to her present piece. "A good deal, perhaps, and not only embroidery. The cursed zither still haunts my fingertips; I have a new tutor, no better than the last. And the correspondence is so slow in the winter."

No, it wasn't mocking: though one would have to be very well-acquainted with Emmanuelle, perhaps more so than any of her nieces has ever had occasion to become, to be certain of that fact. Her face remains the same pale Kusheline mask, albeit with — hidden beneath the kohl — the hooded eyelids of the old Lady of Marsilikos, Ortolette's grandmother, who passed away when she was but seven years old. Emmanuelle wasn't present at the deathbed. Indeed, she was scarce seen in Eisande between Ortolette's fraught and uncertain infancy, and her own unexpected descent late last summer from the heights of Mont Nuit.

She answers this précis of her niece's activities with a slow, judicious nod. "I too," she offers after a moment: the rare personal disclosure, "have been taking music lessons lately.” Another pause. “My tutor in Elua gave me the name of a former pupil of his here in Marsilikos, but one meeting was enough to convince me the man's a fool.” A scathing note, there. Emmanuelle doesn’t suffer fools; let us draw a veil over what the fool suffered. “We must find better."

Naturally it's the tutors at fault. Naturally.

Ortolette remains wary of that sly, dark Kusheline jest, like a knife between the ribs you didn't know was there until you began to die— wary, too, of — yet worse — condescension. And, not equipped as yet to establish the truth of matters, she only lets the matter fall with the aforementioned glance as the end of it. The somewhat amusing notion of her aunt taking up lessons again is a decent lubricant to ease her attention along with the conversation, after all, and it must not pass without remark, if only she or her typist might be quick-witted enough to craft an appropriate one. Here goes. "A new instrument, Emmadame? Toward whose torment is it collected? My zither is a scourge only upon myself— and those scarce few who have felt themselves somehow or other obligated to lend ear." This all, while settling her needle away in the fabric of her embroidery and setting everything to order upon her lap-pillow— tugging closed the ribbon-draw of her little satchel of beads, lest any spill.

As she watches the gathering-in of those ladylike accoutrements which have never formed a prop of her own evenings Emmanuelle steeples her red-gloved fingers before her, upon the back of her chosen chair. "We shall see," she suggests, with a lift of one eyebrow; "or then again, perhaps in the absence of a patron with the most refined taste for tedium and despair, we shall not… I'm shit at it," she drawls, this time quirking both her brows as though to invite or to dare a riposte. "As I recall, the last time I played I was younger than you are now," she muses. She narrows her cold blue eyes at Ortolette, this doll-like creature she suspects of sharing rather much of her own blood. "The violoncello is proving an imperious mistress, who responds poorly to such neglect."

Ortolette need not suspect, knowing well in her heart how she would be as her aunt. And the space given for a reply, despite being rather occupied by the rising aloft of both eyebrows in the wake of such foul language as is seldom heard in the palace's Great Hall, is as good a time as any for an admission of same, even if presented in the guise of another topic. "How like we are… in the matter of instruments," she lifts her girlish voice with an airy indolence threaded with a delicate refinement, gleaming counter-point to the dark implications lurking beneath the innocent veneer of her words. "But are you staying a while, yet, Emmadame? It has been so quiet here with all the household gone to Elua. I hope that you enjoyed your holiday."

When Ortolette draws that comparison she herself recognises as being thoroughly apt, at least in potentia, Emmanuelle drawls, "I daresay we are."

Then, as though in natural answer to her niece's own shift of their uppermost topic, she pursues the thread running beneath, sub rosa: "I did enjoy Elua, though of course you know it was my home for many years, and during my late visit I was working a great deal of the time. Assignations arranged," she explains coolly, "before my departure from Mandrake House last year. I am however quite settled in Marsilikos again, save for the occasional sojourn at my parents' house by the sea …" To her, it remains a place where Lorianne Mereliot and Edouard Shahrizai stole precious days away together from the city and the court. "… I might," she ventures, her hooded eyelids slightly lowered in contemplation of Ortolette's face, "have called upon you sooner, save that I brought back with me from the capital not only a cousin and a companion and a composition to learn, but a cold in the head, which I hoped to spare you and your maman both." A beat. "But have you been so very quiet, my dear?" And her habitual drawl turns more deeply ironic. "Have you not had particular visitors of your own?"

"Very quiet, Emmadame," Ortolette intones with the gravitas of one pledging herself to have been on her very best behavior, along with a glancing flit of a gaze through pale, thin eyelashes. "Though perhaps you are speaking of the pretty little dancer from the Gilt Lily, the one who came to give a performance in a sort of impromptu salon upstairs? Yes, she came to dance for me in my chamber, when I was too tired to be from my bed, but wished some company and entertainment. She has a remarkable stamina, as it happens," she lets stand there for a moment, re-lacing her fingers together and tucking them under her pillow as sort of a muff. "For spinning about. I tested her on it quite thoroughly. For the rest, with the correspondence being mired in its winter sloth, I have largely kept to my books and my needle."

Of course Emmanuelle doesn't for a moment credit such protestations of innocence, not from any creature capable so calculatedly of making them… And, ah, yes, there it comes. A little tidbit well worth her dallying in this hall. Another stitch in a tapestry Ortolette must surely be aware she's crafting. Emmanuelle knows, you see, what very few can yet know about Sarielle mac Caolan nò Lis d'Or, but which she assumes her precociously instinctive niece may have likewise discerned. "A little dancer…" she murmurs, as if from a glacial distance rather than a mere leather-sleeved arm's length. "Do you refer to Sarielle?"

"I believe that was her name," Ortolette answers, an affectation of careless forgetfulness so gracefully lifted up, not, presumably, to display forgetfulness (though it has long been her custom to affect this, as well, among those from whom a certain underestimation is beneficial to her), but rather carelessness— a certain cool-hearted dearth of connexion even to those courtesans who have been summoned to her chamber— now two in number, which is not a bad score for such a sickling. "Her dancing was much lauded by those who had seen her dance. I wanted to see for myself."

Emmanuelle isn't falling for that one either. A girl who insists repeatedly upon the quietness of her winter — who was for some while laid up with a bad cold — and yet who recollects seeing someone dance twice in her own home, once in her own chamber, and who enjoys such a clear memory of the girl's stamina (always an attractive quality in a courtesan) that she amuses herself by dropping hints about it in front of stray aunts, is hardly going to misremember or be indifferent to her name. Sarielle is a bagatelle to she herself; but to a girl the same age, just beginning to find the strength to act upon her will, to sate her nascent sensuality…? A girl whose artistic interests are all that most people even know of her…? She has never ceased to watch Ortolette's eyes; she bestows upon her now the full weight and aridity of her mature scepticism.

"You believe." There follows a faint loft of bold dark brows. "You, my dear child, have written of her at length by name in your diary and you're counting the days till you summon her again. And I don't wonder at it, for when she's dancing and not dropping plates of tidbits on my feet," Emmanuelle enunciates with her customary precision and a faint frisson of amusement, "she might almost be mistaken for an Eglantine. I have been considering," she allows, "calling her to dance in my own house, at a small dinner I intend to give in a few weeks' time. The 25th," she drawls, "unless that disarranges your plans…?"

"Heavens, Emmadame— to hear you speak, I were smitten of the girl," Ortolette lifts her chin even as she rests her head back against the blanket lain over the top of her invalid's chair, looking as though perfectly indignant that such girlishly tittering behavior would be ascribed to one as mature as she is about these things, with all of her months of experience. "Of course she has great charm, and her skill is more than merely commendable. I would adore to see her in a production of En Dépaysement, if I can convince the recent Lady Delaunay to engage her for same," she muses airily, as though to herself, though certainly for Emmadame's benefit.

A faint shake of Emmanuelle's dark head, upon which a jeweled key pin lurks amidt coiled blue-black braids. "… It is unnecessary," she drawls, appearing — to judge by the slight widening of her mouth, and the inclination of her head — somewhat amused, "to be smitten, my dear, in order to take an interest. I own to that myself, you understand," and she lets out a soft huff which is the precursor to laughter, "though of course I happened to take heed of her simply because she was present on a certain afternoon in her mother's chambers, and her mother is an old acquaintance who has for many years been in love with me."

This the former Dowayne of Mandrake House utters with an easy nonchalance. "I imagine Sarielle would do well in the piece you suggest," she agrees idly. "We shall all have a performance to look forward to, if your suggestion meets with success… Louison," she utters, that low-voiced name securing the full and sudden attention of a maid who has been cleaning tables closer and closer toward Emmanuelle, her heart in her throat, daring almost but not quite to presume: it seems that she has been noticed. The maid drops her cloth and catches it up again and curtseys to Emmanuelle's back and, well, some portion of her side. Emmanuelle never looks away from Ortolette. In that same quiet, definitive voice, she commands: "My usual bacon and eggs, my dear, and I think I should like a glass of milk. You will see that all is to my liking; or perhaps I shall beat you again tonight." A deeper curtsey from the maid Louison, who more or less melts into the cream-coloured marble underfoot, cringing away in delicious expectation that has her then fleeing the hall to do Emmanuelle's bidding. The lady herself hasn't lifted a finger, or her voice: she only utters her wish, and it is done.

“I should think my voice carries some weight at l'Opera after the resounding success of Les Travailleurs, which production I suggested— and likewise funded, to substantial extent," Ortolette will take pride where her pride is well-founded— Les Travailleurs was tremendous, and Ortolette still has the most vivid dreams about that octopus in the fourth act, which she demanded in particular be portrayed with all vividness of effect on stage. She's not sure how much of her involvement as a patron of the arts is known to her aunt, and so she'll let the extent be known, here, while Louison edges closer, then falls silent, watching Emmadame toy with the servant, well-known to her, but never once in her presence such a quivering, wanting creature. For her part, Ortolette maintains a cool-eyed demeanor and a flat affect of feature, supplying no succour should Louison shed a momentary glance in her direction. It is only when she is gone that Ortolette allows her pale lips to turn upward in the center, a pensive sort of frown. "How tremendous, Emmadame."

Meanwhile her aunt simply faces her with that expressionless painted visage, red lips perfectly composed above red leather gloves she has yet to take off. She seems immune to any imputation that she has treated her sister's menials with a whit less courtesy than they deserve: her thoughts remain upon the feathers in her niece's cap. "Les Travailleurs? I don't believe I know it," she says gently, the sophisticate from Mont Nuit itself owning to a lapse in her own acquaintance with the finest of the arts. "Was it performed here in Marsilikos?"

"Oh, yes, in l'Opera, with a travelling cast from out of la Pointe des Soeurs, Emmadame, and with Agenet d'Ahele brought onto the cast from the Company d'Eciennet to take the role of Gilliad," Ortolette bibbers slightly over it all, her hands rising from her lap to clasp over her heart again, in the thrall of remembrance for the production. "When he saw his name written in the snow I believed that I would die straightaway," she breathes out a sigh the size of which no one would believe capable of being housed in her frail little chest.

"… Before I came to Eisande, I imagine," is Emmanuelle's kind though not wholly accurate (did she but know it) conclusion. "Who was that whose name," she inquires, "you caused to be written in the snow, and why did you? I must confess, my dear, I am not familiar with that particular seasonal mode of honouring thespians. You must tell me," she suggests, quietly and steadily, as though she's interested — what she doesn't know is that each word she speaks aloud sounds inevitably ominous, "whilst I wait for my very late breakfast, the rationale behind the gesture, and how it is a young lady might die of it."

"Or as just you were settling in, perhaps," Ortolette goes to the effort of righting the timeline a little bit, before she shakes her head, "No, Emmadame, I wrote nobody's name in the snow. In the first act of the opera, Gilliad discovers that his lady-love has written his name in the snow for him to discover as a signal of her favor. It's very romantic," she sighs again, and then, finished her sighing, "This is the octopus from the fourth act, which I am embroidering, here. I think I will make a pillow of it for my bed to remind me." A pause, and she turns with a slow, pained wriggle halfway to one hip, facing Emmadame's chair more directly. "Do you imagine Louison means to provoke you?" she wonders.

When she was settling in. Yes.

This seems fair enough; or so Emmanuelle stipulates with a lift of her uppermost red-gloved hand, a slight wave indicating that she forbears to dispute that point. As for the opera, she says gravely, "I see. Perhaps, as you say, I was only just re=establishing myself in the city… I do not recall hearing of such a production; if you take such a hand again, I hope you'll invite me to witness the fruits of your labour," she suggests, very politely, without going so far as to remark that last time, she wasn't invited.

A pause. "Louison? Certainly not; some do seek to provoke in the wanton hope of retribution, but that is not her taste. She desires more to be alarmed by the thought of me," she chuckles softly, "than harrowed by the reality thereof. But I have beaten her before; and that does give her feet wings, when I oblige her to attend to these little tasks for me… I don't know whether you recall, my dear," she reminds Ortolette gravely, "that I lived here a long while ago. I met you when you were just a few days old, swaddled in linen in your nurse's arms. Eighteen years ago," she teases — or is that a tease? She might be formidably serious. It's so hard to be truly sure. "Almost to the day, isn't it?"

"There is generally something very fine on offer at l'Opera Marsilikos— have you been at all since your return? It was only built some five years ago, but has already a sterling reputation. I have a box there of my own, beside mother's, although I can seldom go to it myself. Only let me know when you fancy an evening there and my box is yours," Ortolette pledges, as if in atonement for earlier sins toward the Auntie. "Yes— quite nearly," Ortolette sets her lips back into their straight nigh-smile. If she were still languishing in her virginity, she might be shamed to be so close to reaching her majority. But as things stand, she has made few but significant strides in that department this year, up to and inclusive of her defloration, and so she is instead content to claim her majority on her laurels, as it were. It will not be nearly as grim as was her seventeeenth, where she felt as though she'd done nothing but languish in bed all the year long. "When you say that I feel as though I have memory of it, Emmadame, as ridiculous a thing as that is to think. I feel as though you looked into my eyes and said nothing at all, and I looked back and said nothing at all in return."

"How kind of you," Emmanuelle concedes gently, in answer to that offer of a box at the opera, though she doesn't precisely accept it: the point remains to be settled between them, as so many others, during the course of this quiet fireside chat she has inaugurated. "My dear, I regret that you enjoy such pleasures so seldom, when you are unusually well-suited to appreciate their nuances."

Whereupon the red-gloved fingertips begin to beat a tattoo upon the back of the chair: one hand still rests idle but the other is in constant, rhythmic motion, underlying Emmanuelle's voice as she drawls, "I cannot argue that it was not so; and, to be sure, you and I have said nothing at all since." Still tapping out the pattern, something intricate and musical and swift, she regards Ortolette with a look of tender reproach, as though to share the culpability for it.

The pair of them do certainly know how to make conversation over, under and around anything they actually mean to be saying to one another. But does that preclude the fact of their communication? Ortolette finds her aunt's eyes. "What would you say to me, then, when I was days old in my nurse's arms, knowing as you know now how things have been for me?" she asks, looking for some solid advice after the fact.

Once again Emmanuelle — holding her niece's eyes without evasion or hesitation — yes, Emmanuelle casually affronts the Great Hall in the Dome of the Lady with the kind of language she took a different and altogether more burning kind of pride in uttering herein when she was a small child. "I don't discuss hypothetical questions, my dear, nor do I deal in the kind of flimsy and ill-informed well-wishing shit I've no doubt you get a bellyful of from your maman's courtiers whenever they're allowed to address you," she drawls. "You've already had the best-informed and most thoughtful guesses I or any other chirurgeon can give you — and you already know how to live as you are better than anyone else can teach you. In that respect," again she steeples her fingers on the back of the chair, red-gloved digits coming into perfect order, "in living within your skin and judging its limits, you are the authority whom we all must consult when issuing our recommendations. Don't you agree that it's so?" she suggests; but then, without waiting for an answer: "I sit here not to treat of your infancy, Ortolette, but of your majority. I am minded to choose a gift for you." But the erstwhile Dowayne of Mandrake House presents this possibility with solemnity rather than delight, as though a gift were a grave business indeed.

"I certainly expected nothing from you either ill-informed nor needlessly optimistic," Ortolette answers back, the second round of profanity garnering less of a reaction than it had its first appearance of the evening. "But if you will not render an hypothesis, that is as well as not, I suppose. In fact, the only advice I can suppose I might have followed, had it come from some trustworthy source, would have been to die at an earlier age, and spare the city its tenterhooks for so long. But as things stand, I reckon a net benefit in my persistence," as if she were keeping a book of her worth and had just recently come into the black, "And would advise myself to do the same— or better, if poss," that latter with a discreet flutter at the corner of her mouth. "In the first year of my majority, my ambitions are to double my personal coffers between the opening of the February tradeways and the November accounting," she begins to enumerate, as clearly as one may, "To propose and fund the production of two shows at l'Opera, and to bring from out of town four more to perform at that venue or others in the city," her second, "And to select for myself a courtesan from among the Red Roses, and become prepared for his proper handling."

Ah; now they're conversing. Emmanuelle treats her forthright and ambitious and greedy and willful niece to a slight but genuine smile.

"My dear, I should not presume to advise you upon your finances — that, every woman with a taste for independence must settle for herself," she suggests with a lift of her dark brows, "according to her own willingness to engender risk. But I have for some while now been considering that, depending upon whether you were as I supposed I should find you after a long winter's germination, I might commission for you a Showing of a kind," she explains, without making either more or less of it, than by its very nature it is.

"We might arrange it in an empty chamber here, where the preparations could be made and the customary equipment disposed out of your way, so that you would still have your own private quarters to repair to if you should wish it — you might, thus, see for yourself, as I think you have not done before — and in the flesh it is different from what you have read in books — some of the means by which a young woman with a Thorn's training might subject a young man of the Red Roses to her own will without undertaking any labours too strenuous. Brute strength," she drawls lazily, "forms the the smallest part of a sadist's art… But I know you understand that, my dear, just as you know that I know that what you seek is less congress, than command. Ah, my dear Louison," and scenting the bacon and eggs in the air Emmanuelle turns slightly in her chair toward the tray which her persecuted pet-maid is even now setting down upon the long refectory table at her back. She inhales deeply and rises from the chair she's been straddling, thus vouchsafing Ortolette a glimpse of the braided black leather whip at her belt as well as the thoroughly blatant bulge in her breeches. She swings her booted leg over the bench which runs along the side of that table where Louison's trembling, well-scrubbed hands are laying out her repast and sits down again, side-on to her plate one way and her niece the other.

“A delicious scent," she pronounces. "Do you know," this to Ortolette, "how it is that your maman's bacon is prepared? They use only the middle part of the pig's belly, which has the least fat, and they rub it with nine different spices and then smoke it over apple wood. I always," a lingering, arid kind of drawl, "eat a few rashers of bacon, when I come up the hill."

Ortolette did not particularly expect help on either of her first two goals from her aunt, and she cordially inclines her head upon its resting place to indicate as much when Emmadame makes her excuses. The third, however— she supposed that there would be aid available from that quarter. "Such commission would be a great boon to me, Emmadame," she speaks quietly but with a forthright earnestness of spirit. "I have found myself, even with my White Rose first… and with the lovely Ballerina… drawn, as though by something innate in my spirit, toward acts of control and also of cruelty which I have as yet held back in enacting, out of respect for their respective cana. And while I will look forward to exploring those impulses on my own, in the company of one experienced in suffering, I would very much appreciate a demonstration."

In re: the bacon, of course, "Yes?" she takes in the information as attentively as though it were… quite possibly more metaphorical than not. "I would taste of it, but I fear I lack in appetite just now."

Regarding plate rather than niece Emmanuelle drawls, "I didn't offer you any."

But a beat later, chewing, she quirks a slight smile at her to suggest that she isn't so very displeased by her presumption. It is not a fatal misstep. She swallows; she drinks thirstily from the tall, pale glass of milk set next to her plate by Louison, who is standing two steps away and struggling with an impulse to wring her hands behind her back.

"Of course that sharp-edged passion is innate in you," she says next. Half-watching Ortolette, half-tucking into her (as she put it) very late breakfast. "It is an intense strain, unfolding within each generation of the women of House Mereliot — your grandmother Lorianne, your aunt Monique, your cousin Desarae — I have one or two questions I’d have asked of my own Mereliot grandmother, had I known her. You and I, we are the necessary reverse of the coin. Yes, a natural part of your heritage…" Silence ensues whilst she savours her bacon, her eggs, and her fresh chilled milk. The bacon is not a metaphor. Sometimes, the bacon is just the bacon. But it may constitute a curiously modest repast for a woman devoted to plover's eggs, the finest snails sautéed in their shells, the livers of specially fattened Camaeline geese… Perhaps that’s why Ortolette has mistaken it for a gesture to be parsed and interpreted.

Ortolette has had yet many a mis-step, and none of them as yet fatal. Perhaps she is immune to them by now. The smell of such repast at close quarters makes her stomach begin to turn, her cheek to take on a certain greenish pallor, but she only takes up the frame of her embroidery and fans her face gently with same before setting it back to rights upon her lap-pillow. "If I am sent as counter-balance to my dear cous, I had better strive in earnest to make weight. She has had the benefit of great training, to which my own studies will have to match pace." The words are quiet, reserved, almost tired in cadence, but no less built upon a foundation of determination.

Though Emmanuelle gives no sign of having noticed that her niece shares the colour-shifting properties of her favourite sea creature, she is in a sense offering aid, by putting her fine bacon and her cheesy eggs away where they can do no further harm to Ortolette's delicate senses. Before she speaks again she finishes eating, and lays down her knife and fork together crosswise upon her plate and her napkin next to it as neatly folded as it arrived. A gesture to Louison suffices to see the tray reloaded and removed; what scent remains from it will soon dissipate in a chamber as airy and as cavernous as the great hall.

Emmanuelle retains only her napkin half-empty glass of milk. Condensation beading upon the latter suggests it's still pleasantly cool. Holding it she lifts her sleek black-breeched, black-booted leg back over the bench and sits now facing her niece again, legs stretched out toward her, ankles crossed. A sip of milk; and then, lowering the base of the glass to rest upon the folded napkin laid upon her thigh, she addresses the futility of any such ambition.

"Unless your cousin chooses to remain perfectly still where she is," a possibility their aunt hasn't yet ruled out, mind you, "you won't make up any equivalent of the ten years of especially intense training we give to novices of her canon," she states drily, "in their most formative years. I would say the same to anyone, regardless of her state of health. It is not your own special impediment but a function of the laws of nature. Time advances; it cannot be turned back." She pauses. "But, my dear, there is no reason why you need set yourself so impossible a task. You are not a servant of Naamah; you are a patron. You need serve no desires but your own, and only as it pleases you. No decade's labour is required for that — though certainly a degree of training, of practice, will aid you as any other patron of the Rose Sauvage in fulfilling those desires." Another pause; another sip. "It's time," she opines with an easy frankness.

"Yes— it's true," Ortolette concedes, as though with graciousness and generosity, her wide hazel eyes still enchanted beyond the fire. "Still, I would not for the world give anyone, much less someone I— had contracted with— the notion that I am less than competent in any endeavor I might undertake." Cruelty from a perfectionist— or perhaps simply an egotist? A tendency equally worthy of praise and of blame. And then it is time. Her eyes' attention drifts once more onto Emmadame, catching there and staying.

The erstwhile Dowayne of Mandrake House is just sitting casually there drinking milk, in all her leather and her few but costly ornaments: her golden spurs, her keys of hell, the red leather gloves tucked into her belt next to the neat dark coil of her whip. Her expression beneath Ortolette's renewed scrutiny is simply, unchangingly cool. The red curve of her upper lip is however marred for the nonce by a hint of white froth. "Let me assure you, my dear, in case it affords a measure of reassurance at this hour of your life, that an adept of the Valerian canon will always know his patron's business as well as she herself or better, and will invariably be deft in directing the encounter without seeming so to do." A faint smile. "A remarkable training, altogether. I found it always a particular pleasure to instruct my Valerian neighbours in such… subtle graces."

She lifts her glass to Ortolette in ironic salute and drinks down the last of her milk; and reaches behind herself to put down the empty glass on the table.

Then she presses her folded napkin to her lips, quite scientifically, to remove the froth without marring the paint. "Did you read that little book I sent you some months past?" she asks at last, forthright in inquiry now that she's concluded her niece won't volunteer the answer.

It doesn't much seem to lend assurance, that her shoddy performance might be upheld as though a farce. It overruns her customary pallor with a sudden heat about the ears and throat— nor a pleasant one, but one of somewhat shamed indignation, stoked in no small part by her own rather fumbled encounter with one White Rose upon the eve of her defloration, of which she now wonders how much of the salvage was due to his subtle manoeuvering. Still, "Yes, Emmadame… it is a tremendous talent, and, as I have but little, myself, I should not take umbrage to be taught by one better versed," she schools her blush, curbs her natural tendencies. "I have read several," as to the books, "But the one you mean, I think I know. "The edition to which you wrote the opening remarks?"

The blush is to Emmanuelle tangible proof that her pinprick has deflated, at least for tonight, the bladder of youthful arrogance and ambition. She affects however to be coolly oblivious to her little octopus's late change in hue.

"Good," she remarks mildly. "The 'Rules' is my favourite theoretical text — a discovery of mine in the archives of Mandrake House," she explains, though that of course was an anecdote retold in her preface, "and there are one or two others I shall send you as well; but you will learn best and most swiftly in a bedchamber, with the right companion to study with your eyes, your ears, your hands… For that there is no substitute. Your dignity may take the occasional bruise," thus, nonchalantly, speaks the Mandrake who was a minute ago wearing a milk moustache as though it were of no account to her, "but of course within the sanctified secrecy of an assignation your concern will be less for your own amour propre, than for your adept's safety." She pauses discreetly, to let her little lesson sink in through those pinkened ears. "It is valuable to remember how to say, 'I don't know'. The men of our kind," she drawls, implicitly including Ortolette, "are frequently incapable of it; and so at one time or another in their lives they reach a plateau beyond which they can rise no further."

It is something of a to and fro amid the continued remarks for the chair-bound young lady, but she quiets her mind from chasing each lead— down paths of hope, pride, shame, joy, anticipation— and takes in that which is most important, namely: aside from the harrowing and simultaneously exhilarating notion that she might actually hurt someone, the thrill of that thought must be constantly subdued by the thought that she must not.

The difference between men and women of their stripe— that's a gem, as well, a message to be open wrapped in a gem of superiority to those who are not. Something to set in a necklace at her throat and touch from time to time, as she does, now, glancing over a glittering jewel dangling from a velvet ribbon with thoughtful fingers, the tell-tale splotches of dark red rising up along her snow-white throat to announce the sorts of thoughts which have invaded her mind.

"I will be very grateful for a demonstration, Emmadame. Who better to guide my hesitation or rule my first steps?" Of the metaphorical variety, of course.

Emmanuelle accepts this with a casual nod: well, it's why she's here. "I'll choose for you, and send you word when the arrangements have been settled," she states, with reassuring finality; and then she extracts her gloves from her belt and begins to ease her sleek white fingers back into that soft, exquisitely fitted red leather. "Have I your leave to discuss your health in general terms with your Thorn? It will be as well to discern for you between acts you cannot perform," she points out frankly, "those which carry a high likelihood of hurting you, and those I feel confident you may essay in safety… though, of course," she rises, attending to her second glove, "some patrons do simply prefer to watch, to issue directions, to use a Thorn as an instrument of their own will. In which case," she smiles crookedly down at the baby octopus tucked up in that cosy chair, "working via a skilled intermediary, the only limit is one's imagination."

"Of course," Ortolette isn't hesitant with that permission— it's sound good sense, after all, and, then, Ortolette's health has never been much of a state secret. She is not infrequently the subject of talk not just in the palace, but without, as well, and she's used to it, to the extent that she's aware— and she's aware of a great extent of it, for someone so thoroughly confined in the scope of her motions. The notion of working through an able body is immediately arresting, emboldening, making her heart rise into her throat with an off-kilter thudding. The hand kept in remembrance at her throat, fingers toying with the jewel int which she had set Emmadame's lesson on asking… it keeps whatever hue now rises there just in the shade of the simmering brazier-light. "Yes…" she whispers, then, clearing her throat, "Yes— although in such a demonstration, I would not presume. Will it be here or should I have Girard prepare transportation?"

It's a little bit of a thing even leaving the palace, for her, but for such an event she is glad to have Girard work extra hours.

Yes: once again Ortolette swallowed her medicine without choking upon it, and so here is her reward, a trifle somewhat more arresting than a paper flower.

"You're learning," her aunt remarks, deft fingertips fastening her second glove: Ortolette, if watchful, might notice a golden key at the inside of each of her wrists, in place of any ordinary buttons. "In such weather as this you must remain at home, my dear; it will be no difficulty to bring your amusements to you. I'll send word," she repeats, "and a day or two after your birthday I shall call again," she smiles crookedly, "should you have any questions." A neat, precise nod of her head; then she reveals, in departing, even as she turns on her heel, just how close an eye she's kept upon her niece. "Goodnight, little octopus."

Her boots sound her retreat in the same measured order as before; she pauses in the doorway not only to collect her own Baltasar, but to confide to Girard that his charge is growing tired and would best be returned to her chamber. Chirurgeon's orders: an early night for Ortolette Mereliot.

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