(1311-01-20) Manners Maketh the Man
Summary: Étienne returns from Elua and hurries to call at Claude’s shop, to renew their interrupted acquaintance.
RL Date: 01/03/2019
Related: Past things with these characters?
claude etienne 

Marquist Shop — Grand Plaza

The patinated bronze plaque over the front door of the marquist's shop in the Grand Plaza, has since the 1230s simply stated: LANTHENAY.

The narrow building which houses the shop dates back even further than the plaque, and was designed in keeping with the elegance of its surroundings. The first floor boasts a faceted bay window, set like a jewel into the white marble façade and curtained in ever-changing hues, in between tall pairs of windows protected by fanciful wrought-iron balustrades. The second floor is more modest, while the attic set back behind a low parapet gives from below the impression of a wall of glass gleaming ferociously in the southern sunshine.

Most visitors are concerned only with the shop proper. Shutters painted a deep teal-green are often folded back from its windows at odd hours; behind square panes of fine clear glass, paler teal-green silk curtains are embroidered with so many delicate flowers they might serve passersby as a guide to the flora of Eisande. A stout brass-studded front door to the right of the windows gives onto a square salon furnished in a style which wouldn't disgrace a prosperous merchant or a lady of the middling nobility, though such persons might not festoon their parlours so liberally with swagged velvet in jewel-box hues, or scatter patterned cushions across patterned upholstery with such an unerring confidence. At the back of the salon a small bright purple door opens into a passageway hung with a varying collection of the present marquist's own drawings and paintings (seascapes, flower studies, scenes of life in Marsilikos) and leading past several doors kept shut. Its terminus is a second, humbler foyer, home to a squat iron stove left cold most of the year; a cabinet containing an exhaustive collection of sea-shells and bits of coloured beach glass; a couple of stray chairs; and the entrances to a pair of small chambers which divide between them the width of the building. Most of the time these stand with their doors chocked open and heavy velvet drapes waiting to be let down to guard the privacy of clients disrobing therein: one emerald green curtain, one cerulean blue.

The marquist's shop in the Grand Plaza is redolent of dinnertime, when Étienne d'Arguil (fresh from Elua) sets the bell over the door a-tinkling to herald his arrival. There's a fish pie on the premises, his nose assures him of it.
[00:27:02] Nobody's in the salon at the front which serves as a waiting-room. The arrangement of its colours has changed with the season: more white, more cloth-of-gold, branches of evergreen and bright scarlet berries. The door which leads deeper into the shop used to be purple, but in his absence it has turned red. The fish pie is somewhere beyond. And so is Claude Lanthenay, whose voice calls out amidst a flurry of footsteps her familiar cri de guerre: "Be with you in a minute."

Étienne is wearing his fancy new winter tunic with the leaf patterns under a good green and black cloak. His cheeks are pink from the cold and he has a basket over his arm, with the neck of a bottle sticking out. "Claude? It's Étienne! I come bearing gifts to make up for my long absence!"

"Sorry, I can't hear you," is Claude's helpful next, which she calls at a higher volume than before, in case the visitor can't hear her either over the noises she's making. There do seem to be a lot of them. Then quiet — then another rush of footsteps — what sounds like the slam of a door, or the lid of a box… Her footsteps sound again, this time in the approach to that newly reddened door. She pushes it open: over layers of green and yellow-gold, with sleeves rolled up to show the bracelets inked into her skin, she's wearing a voluminous white apron. It is none too clean, though the grubbiness seems more of the kitchen than the workshop. Her brown hair is bound up in a cloth-of-gold kerchief, and from each earlobe there dangles a feathery beaded earring of Tsingano make and evanescent lifespan. She's just wiping her hands on her apron, to its further detriment.

Her eyes widen at seeing him: it's his face she looks at first, not his basket. "Lord d'Arguil! Did you come for your picture?" she asks at once.

Étienne looks her over, confused, "You cook? I suppose I'd assumed…." He starts again, "That pie smells amazing! I have come bearing gifts to make up for my long absence." He presents the basket, "I am told this is a very good vintage, and there are these little Marzipan animals they make in the capital that I thought you'd like and a small jar of brandy infused cherries, and more cheese my mother sent from home. I am at your service in whatever capacity you might wish."

This is all somewhat nonplussing: Claude lets her apron fall from her dry hands and just looks at him for a moment, her brown doe-eyes narrowed now in thought. What she says in the end is inconsequential. "Well… I just learnt how," she admits, "how to cook, I mean, my lord. I suppose, it's what I've been up to while you were away in Elua," and, finding her feet in the conversation, she smiles at last. She turns so much prettier when she smiles. "Eating all sorts of suppers fancier than mine, I shouldn't wonder. It was kind of you to send word to let me know you wouldn't be coming to call, thank you for thinking of that and not leaving me wondering… And for—" She gestures to the basket. "You're a very thoughtful young man," she informs him, "you just surprised me, turning up again so suddenly, that's all." She smoothes her apron with both hands, and brings them together in a clasp that's half a clap. Decisive, yes. "Would you like to come in, then? The pie's nearly ready — I'd better look at it again."

Étienne looks pained, "Please, call me Étienne. And there's nothing wrong with cooking. We'd all starve if people didn't do it and it's certainly an art. I often wish I were more useful…" He gives her a sheepish smile, "I only found out I was going at the last minute or I'd have paid a call to say goodbye in person. I did… wish you could have gone and seen it. So many beautiful buildings and the snow making everything a little dreamlike and the costumes. Oh Claude, it was wonderful and I never thought I would ever have a chance to see somewhere like that. I really did only get back yesterday and I needed to sleep and have my things moved again, and… really, I came as soon as I was fit company. I would love to come in. Is there any chance of seeing any new art you made later?"

Whilst Étienne babbles on in his usual starry-eyed style Claude leads him through her red door and along the passageway wherein the paintings and drawings, those hung up and those merely propped against the walls as Hazards to Navigation, have indeed rotated somewhat during his sojourn in the capital. Though that may not be obvious, given the half-illumination and their swiftness. "Étienne," she echoes, firmly, and flashes him another quick smile over her shoulder. "It's just… habit," she explains, skirts swirling as just beyond the workroom door she turns to open it for him. "Why don't you go up," she suggests, because the way's so simple he hardly need remember it, "and I'll be right there? I've got to look at my pie," she reminds him again, "or it'll be marzipan animals for supper, eh?"

Upstairs her sitting-room is in the essentials as he must recall it, though much of it has changed colour along with the salon below. The oriel window is curtained now in cloth of gold and swagged red silk; the books have of course all moved, umpteen times; the sketches covering an entire long wall are interspersed now with cookery receipts copied out in Claude's variably neat or flamboyant hand, some illustrated with sketches of the more amusing ingredients. There are also three sketches of one Lord Étienne d'Arguil, heir to Berck, done in charcoal with his eyes coloured in brilliant and costly ultramarine… But those are a layer down, half-covered by bouillabaisse and beef stew and fish pie and the best ways of stuffing a capon, and apparent only to an interested and searching eye.

Étienne gives her one of his dazzling smiles back, "I'm not offended, especially after so long an absence, but I really do want to be friends and that's hard with titles in the way." Another bright smile, "I am very much looking forward to trying it."

His curiosity overcomes his manners and soon he is peeking at her drawings, flipping one-handed to see what she's working on. He very nearly drops his basket when he sees the drawings there. Only his Azzallese grace saves her bottle of very good wine. He sets the basket down and studies them, amazed that someone would really make art of him, let alone someone he admires. He knows what ultramarine costs. To spend so much on his eyes…

"Bless you," is Claude's answer to that.

And Étienne is still perhaps entranced by his own visage, seen from three different angles if one holds the capon cartoons carefully aside, when Claude's light step sounds on the floorboards behind him and she catches him at it. She has come up without her apron, though accompanied by that delicious fragrance of pie. "Oh," she says, a little awkwardly, "I hope you don't mind those. I like drawing people…" Though plants are more in evidence upon her wall of recent follies, plants and vegetables and various birds for the pot. "I couldn't get your nose right," she apologises, as if that were the main point of note.

Étienne turns quickly, releasing the pages, blushing to his ears, "Sorry. I shouldn't have pried. Do I… really look like that? It doesn't feel that way somehow when I am shaving." He ducks his head and shyly suggests, "I could sit for you? If you wanted to draw me from life."

Claude comes closer, glancing at her sketches just before the capons fall to cover most of Étienne's face, all but those blue eyes the vivid hue of which must have been what pulled his attention that way— and then back to the real ones. She tilts her head, drawing comparisons. "What do you think you look like?"

Étienne blinks at her surprised, "Ordinary. I'm not striking like my sister Agnès, nor lovely like my sister,Claude, nor handsome and strong-featured like my father, nor… compelling like my mother. I'm just ordinary."

Still looking at him, Claude nods slowly. There's something on the tip of her tongue— but before she can speak it her maid Fanchon comes in with a tray.

Mistress and maid together busy themselves clearing books and papers and half-done sketches off the long table, to make room for two to dine instead of the more usual one alone. (Claude's apprentice is expected at home with his maman, her younger sister, for dinner every night. If he doesn't do his duty in this regard he gets a clout round the ear in one house, and a look of doe-eyed reproof in the other. What's a good-hearted lad to do?) The pie arrives on the table in its tin; crockery and cutlery for two; good but well-worn linen napkins; a basket of fresh rolls, and butter for them; and a dish of seasonal vegetables which will prove to have been done with just a soupçon of bacon, the better to please carnivores. Fanchon is implicitly giving up her own portion of her mistress's latest efforts, for the lordly visitor's sake. Not that she won't have plenty of fish pie later on in the kitchen. Of course she will. Her dresses have been fitting a wee bit more tightly since Claude took to cookery, no two ways about it.

The master marquist of Marsilikos takes up a nice big knife and cuts into the impeccably latticed pastry crust of her pie with the air of a little girl opening a present. The scent of it only grows more intoxicating. Her expectant look turns to a smile of pure pleasure; she visbly delights in cutting a slice for Étienne first and putting it on his plate and passing it across. "It's my first fish pie," she confesses then, bright-eyed: "I think it's all right, though. I do hope you'll like it. It takes us such a long while to eat a pie by ourselves."

Étienne nods to Fanchon and smiles his thanks as well as saying them.

To his hostess he says, "It all looks as good as it smells. You really are talented in every realm. Oh! It's perfect! I'm sure I will." He samples it and his open delight in her fine work is its own compliment, really. "Oh, Claude! It's amazing! Like home in texture, but with more flavours!"

Still on her feet, cutting a second slice for herself, Claude chuckles and deflects the compliment: "Oh, I don't know about that. There's a woman I grew up with," she explains, with a slight lowering of her voice as she sits and unfolds her napkin over her dark green skirts, "who's the head cook now for— one of the ducal houses that keep residences here in Marsilikos. She let me look at her book — which she never would do for anyone else in service, of course," she nods, fork now in hand, "but I promised not to tell anyone or write anything down… I've got a pretty good memory, though. So it's her pie, really." With her fork she nudges the slice on her plate, still giving off too much fragrant steam to suit her ideas of caution. "… Oh, I forgot the wine," she exclaims suddenly, her fork clattering down onto her plate. "I was only thinking about the pie." And by the time she's spoken she's up on her feet, napkin in one hand, turning to a bookcase where she's left out a bottle of white, open, to breathe.

Étienne is young and impatient and doesn't mind burning his mouth a little, but he waits for the wine before trying a second bite. "Well, it's very fine cooking and perfect for a winter's evening." He looks down, "The time away was educational for me as well, though I think what I learned was less useful than the making of fish pie."

The fine folk in the capital are all very well, yes, but what's better than coming in out of the cold on a January evening and being regaled with piping hot pie and a glass of something just crisp enough to bring out its flavour—? Claude is generous with the wine, pouring for them both before she sits again and rearranges her napkin in her lap. "You'll have to tell me all about it," she suggests, and reclaims her fork to investigate once more her own portion. "If you like, I mean, I'm sure there's things went on you'd as soon not say," she chuckles. Then she takes her first bite and her eyes widen at the taste. Better than she thought it was going to be, especially with a quick sip of that wine to cool her tongue. She makes a noise suggesting astonishment at the result of her own efforts.

Étienne sips his wine and smiles at her reaction, "See? It's not flattery, but understatement. This pie is a success." He digs in with the gusto of an active young man presented a most excellent fish pie on a cold evening, "Some of it is easy to explain like learning to play kottabos or winning a token with this sword dance thing I do to entertain myself that Symon liked or the wager we won at Bryony House that bought my new tunic and cloak and your marzipan animals. Other things are more complicated." He blushes prettily, "I had a huge fight with Symon the night before we left and almost didn't go, but we understood each other better after and now I'm rooming with him."

For a young man who loves to talk, he certainly doesn't tell anecdotes with any flair: what he considers to be the gist of each of his holiday's highlights bubbles out in turn, all joined together, a summary which at one and the same time assumes knowledge Claude hasn't got and spoils the punchlines of any fuller recounting he might give. But she's eating her very fine pie and looking at his ultramarine eyes; and, bless him, he's so excited, and bashful, and hungry. It may be some latent maternal instinct in her, or something more; but she can't help looking kindly upon the young man and his appetite alike. He knocked her for a loop, coming round again just as friendly as if no time had passed; but here he is, and he means it, and it certainly suits her better than eating her pie all alone with nobody but Fanchon to admire it. "That's your— your friend the… Perigeux," her excellent memory supplies after a moment, whereupon she makes the same mistake others have made before her. "That's lovely, that you've got someone like that, already, in a place you haven't been living very long."

Étienne nods, "Symon de Perigeux. He's really kind and generous and we enjoy a lot of the same things." He must have caught the drift of her thoughts. He gives her a gentle smile and turns those beautiful long-lashed, angel-kissed eyes on her, "We are friends, Claude. I think he is fond of me as I am of him and I know what people will think of us sharing rooms. I warned him they would and of what other things they might say about it, but he doesn't mind. We just enjoy each other's company and neither of us have large allowances even if we are in funds just now, so it's a sensible measure. He's taking me to luncheon to meet one of my Baphinol cousins to see how she might suit for a future bride. I just really want to help him find a future wife who will suit him and who will like him for himself the way I do." He is so terribly earnest about it all.

"Oh!" And hearing Étienne's explanation Claude laughs, a little self-conscious but not bridge-burningly so, and has the bright idea of occupying herself with the dispensing of vegetables from the dish they came up in. "I'm sorry I thought the wrong thing," she apologises, standing up and leaning across the table to spoon the lion's share onto her hungry young visitor's plate, "only, it's natural for a young man to have someone, isn't it," she goes on without meeting his beauteous eyes, "and… well, I'm sorry. I ought to know better than to assume." With the rest of the vegetables confided to her own plate she resumes her seat, though there's no telling when she might pop up again. "And of course you're looking for a wife," she agrees, still not quite looking at him as she re-arranges her napkin and finds her fork again, "that makes sense, in your position."

Étienne gives her another one of those dimpled smiles, "It's all right. Everyone does. I really like being friends with him and he… would like me around even with the difference in status. I am realistic though, and someday I'll have to go home. I just want to see him happily wed and settled before I do." He slumps a little, "I am supposed to be looking and symon is hoping to help. I lack his charms and the polish southern ladies like. My father and grandfather courted and won women willing to go and live on the north coast for love, and I think they have the same hopes for me here, but I think I will disappoint everyone. Again."

A fleeting look up; and Claude, seeing Étienne's dimples (almost as tricky to capture as his nose), smiles despite herself as she looks down at her plate again and gets on with the business of savouring the fruits of her labours.

She offers, tentatively, because the dynastic arrangements of the high and mighty don't on the whole tend to come into her dinner table talk: "… Well, I don't know about southern ladies and what they might want in a husband, besides your being your father's heir, which certainly isn't nothing — there are all sorts of lordlings in this city who'll never amount to that much, younger sons and the like, and they don't seem to have any trouble getting along, do they? But your shaving mirror's been lying to you, I know that much. There's nothing anyone could wish missing from your face," she tells him bluntly; "I've spent I don't know how much time looking at every adept who's earned a marque in this city since I was a little girl, and you've got something most of them will never have." Though, in acknowledging it, she can't look at it. She's too busy with her pie. And with her glass of wine, which is already almost empty — and doing some of the talking for her.

Étienne cocks his head, thinking, even as he chews another bite of her fine pie, "I do everything wrong when I meet important people and no matter how hard I try to please, I just don't. I am happier breaking bread in little eateries with working folk. Once I get them talking, everything is fine." He looks really curious, "What do I have, despite awkward manners that adepts do not?"

Again Claude is quiet for a space; then she admits, "I don't know how to say it. I tried to draw it but that didn't work out either. Not just," she flashes him another quick smile, "the trouble with the nose. But it's there, and maybe there's more of it still coming. I've drawn— one or two," she says vaguely, "people who were angelic scions, and I think it's that kind of thing. Isn't it?" she asks, and in her curiosity she meets his eyes. "Are you… Might you be one of those?"

Étienne blushes to his ears and looks down, "On my father's side, yes. The angel Azza. We're only a cadet branch, but the blood outs sometimes. I am told my father was handsome like something out of stories, and he is still impressive. I have his eyes, though little else, I think.”

The fact he doesn't know he's got it, is almost as charming as the it in itself. Claude becomes absorbed in her plate, giving her young visitor a nod he can't even see, being likewise occupied. Pathetic, really.

"Well, that's that, then," she states, and puts down her fork to stand up and refill their wine glasses. If 'glasses' is the right word for fine blue crystal from La Serenissima, with a swirl of gold dust glittering perpetually suspended in the bowl of each. Her best: they came out of a cabinet whilst she and Fanchon were setting the table. "You're a scion and an heir. Isn't that just what folk like yours look for, for their daughters?" she points out reasonably.

Étienne has meanwhile been gazing at his glass in hopes of hiding his embarrassment. "These glasses are amazing. Where did you get them?" He takes a breath, "So I was raised to think, but my house is not particularly rich and cheese and pickled herring are not the sort of inducements that incline most women to travel so far and brave our winters, for all the beauty of our coast and orchards. And I have not Symon's way with words. I watched him charm an adept on the Longest Night with clever wordplay about stags and hunters and I just… don't have that kind of skill."

For a change, Claude glances down into the glass in her hand rather than the pie-plate in front of her. "Oh, they were…" She's still thinking about it as Étienne finishes speaking; she gives him a wistful, crooked smile across the table. "My cousin made them for me," she explains, "in La Serenissima. I watched him do it. It's funny you should ask, just now. They were a wedding present."

Étienne says, "They are some of the loveliest I've seen and from La Serenissima too!" Then the rest hits him and he studies her as he asks carefully, "You were married?" He lets it hang, an invitation to elaborate but not a demand if the subject is sore.

<FS3> Claude rolls Composure: Success. (2 4 2 6 4 5 8 5 3 1)

At that Claude colours a little. She has recourse to her fine Serenissiman crystal goblet and glances into it once more, eyeing the play of white wine over embedded gold dust, before putting it down and resting her hand upon (but not yet taking up) her fork. "Oh, well," she says, "I was and I wasn't. That's how it is with an annulment, you're married for a while and then you weren't after all. But it was a long time ago, long enough it feels like it all happened to someone else. Very friendly, of course," she insists, straightening her back as if to affirm her assertion, "we still see each other sometimes. He owns a dyeworks here in Marsilikos, and I advise him on new colours and whatnot. I'm sure you don't want to hear about all that," she chuckles, "it just popped into my head, when you asked about the glasses, since you'd been talking of marriage before."

Étienne sips too, averting her eyes while she composes herself. He listens though, with kind eyes, but no pity. "Friendly is good. I'd… be interested to hear about it. If you wanted to talk about it, that is. Your life is so interesting and I would like to better know you."

There is no innuendo in his tone, just a sympathetic interest. He is watching her with those cornflower eyes as if the subject of her marriage and annulment is the most important thing they could be talking about.

"Oh, it's not that interesting," and Claude laughs in earnest, because he's surprised her. "Anyway I don't know that there's much to tell," she admits, hesitantly at first, but then responding more and more to the genuine and kind-hearted interest she can read in those ultramarine eyes. It's flattering, to be a fascination to the one who fascinates you. "I suppose you could say we were— childhood sweethearts, or something along those lines. But time went on, and," she hesitates, and sips her wine, "we just didn't want the same things. So it just didn't work out. Love isn't a panacea," she says honestly. "I know what you said, wanting to find love like your father and your grandfather before you, but it might be you'd be better off looking for a woman who wants what you want out of life, and then going to look for it together. Love might come, like that. Of course, that's just my opinion, and I didn't do so well at marriage, did I? Do you want another slice of pie?" she offers, getting up again.

Étienne says, "I would as long as it won't take Fanchon's dinner from her." He is still thinking, "Do you think it's possible for someone to not be able to love romantically the way some people are less ardent for bed sport?"

<FS3> Claude rolls Composure: Failure. (5 1 5 3 5 4 5 4 2 6)

Is this Claude's second glass of wine or her third? The bottle does seem to have given its better part if not its all, whilst she and her guest addressed themself to generous slices of that pie crafted from the freshest fish the markets of Marsilikos could provide… She sits down in a hurry, without having cut a second slice for Étienne, which was the reason she got up, wasn't it? She's clutching her napkin between her fingers; her cheeks all of a sudden approximate the colour she painted that door of hers downstairs, as she looks about herself for something safer to think, to say, to do.

"… Well, I don't know about that," she says again, which is her usual prelude to an intelligent and/or perspicacious remark: and she doesn't fail to provide, even whilst taking up her glass in a hasty hand and draining it. As if that'll help. Well, maybe: it could be counted an excuse for that flush which has even touched her earlobes. "I think people probably do have— different ideas, to start with, don't they, about the nature of… romantic love. One person's love might not be another one's. So that'd complicate the question, right from the beginning, wouldn't it? I don't know if it's really— I don't know if it's the right question," she apologises. "We always repeat Blessed Elua's precept, love as thou wilt — doesn't that mean each person has their own love to give, in their own way? It may not match somebody else's, it may not provide an exact and mutual correspondence, but that doesn't mean it doesn't count."

Étienne is still only about halfway through his first glass. He's not much of a drinker without Symon around. He looks at her a little wide-eyed and with obvious concern at her distress, "Did I say the wrong thing? I am sorry. I did warn you how terrible I am at… nearly everything conversationally." But she is trying to answer, and so he listens carefully, trying to follow. He nods, finally, "I think it counts too, regardless of… form. Should I fetch you water? Or more wine?"

Distressed is too strong a word: flustered, though, to be sure. "Oh," Claude chuckles, "you just surprised me, that's all. It seemed like a funny question to ask, all of a sudden." Not that it was so sudden, but let's leave the woman her fig-leaf. "And I daresay I've been too thirsty already," she admits, "after working in a hot kitchen as long as I did… Here, let me give you that pie," she says, getting up again to cut another slice as broad and as tasty as the first, since he is after all a young man with healthy appetites… some of them. Who knows about the rest? He's given her a lot to think about already.

She's not too tipsy to wield her knife with a certain flair, or to convey the spoils to her guest's plate. "There's plenty for Fanchon, too, and our lunch tomorrow, so that's all right." She's still quite pink: not an unappealing contribution to her personal colour scheme of green and gold and yellow-gold. One might almost consider that she's anticipating the coming of spring.

The young man is blushing again as well, "It is a thing I've been thinking much on these two months while I was away. It is hard to find someone one can talk about such things with. I find my religious edication was lacking in certain less well discussed particulars." He smiles as the second helping arives on his plate, "Oh good. I shouldn't want to rob her of her dinner.

"I always end up making plenty," Claude admits, "it's hard to cook for one or two, so I try to give away what Fanchon and I can't eat ourselves… My nephew's here for breakfast and lunch, but he does go to his mother for dinner every day, she expects it." She nods briskly to that. Then, glancing down and up again: "I'm afraid some of the neighbours must be getting tired of my experiments by now," she adds with another embarrassed chuckle, "though I'm getting better at it. I can't deny it with the proof right here on the table." Another nod, this one to the pie into which they've made such enjoyable inroads. "I'll have to do this pie again, though I wish I could write it down. Maybe I'll make up a code," she chuckles. She hasn't asked about his religious education. Pie is so much easier.

From his nod Étienne seems to approve of these arrangements for her nephew, and the results of her experimentation, "This is definitely impressive proof." He has another mouthful. "Maybe you could draw the ingredients into a still life?" He looks away, "I did learn some things while I was away, but not nearly enough. I did see some lovely marques though."

The idea of the still life draws a smile from Claude. "Maybe," she agrees; and then the spark of professional interest catches, and she lifts her eyebrows at him. "Oh," she asks, imbuing that syllable with significance: "Did you?" And a beat later she chuckles again, because of course a young lord does have opportunities to see pretty marques, doesn't he. It's only natural. "I don't know if I should ask which or just— say I'm glad you had such a nice time, eh?" She smiles again, on purpose. "They're very fine, in Elua. I worked on a few each of most of the different patterns when I went up there once to help out my cousins, when they were having a bad year… bad luck," she clarifies, shaking her head. Another sip from her glass; she's making an effort to slow down now, despite the hot kitchen and— er— the hot young lord. She did mention her sojourn in Elua once before but only in the vaguest terms, now somewhat elucidated.

Étienne leans forward, "Oh yes, we got to go to the Cereus fête and the costumes were amazing and some of them were low in the back and while I was in Elua, I also got to examine one from Bryony and one from Orchis close up. I do wish you could have gone as I've not the skill to describe them properly and also I was rather full of of joie at the fête, and there were all these people dressed as peacocks and a man with constellations painted all over his body so I couldn't see his marque very well, but the rest of him was very artistic and two of the houses had costumes a little too alike and that caused some trouble, and oh, you would have loved the dancing!" He blushes, "The adept who helped Symon teach me kottabos let me have a very good look at his while the three of us were sharing the couch." He drains the rest of his glass for courage and says very, very quietly, "I am not… ardent with people I don't know well generally, and even then…. I can, but… in most situations I am happier staying downstairs." He can't look at her, he is so embarrassed. He sits there, hand still clutching the stem of the glass. "I am still… figuring things out, but I am closer after my trip. Symon's been very kind and helpful."

<FS3> Claude rolls Composure: Great Success. (5 2 8 5 8 2 1 8 8 3)

Claude's plate is clean and her attention is arrested by the magical name of Cereus House: "You mean," she murmurs, "on… the Longest Night…" But these words she exhales so softly get lost amidst the flow of Étienne's confidences, which are perhaps lubricated more by youthful earnestness and goodwill than her fairly decent wine. The trust granted her is such a curious gift in itself that in marveling at it she forgets to filter his words through a personal lens, to blush and to equivocate and to drink and to look away as he does himself: she just listens, and makes a small encouraging sound, once, when he falters… When she's quite sure he's finished, when the silence has gone on long enough, she's equally frank: "I think that must make it harder, mustn't it, looking for a wife."

Étienne looks at her with such extreme gratitude. She understands, "I have no way of.. being sure things will go well if they just… arrange something. No matter how lovely or suitable in every other way, there is a chance I won't… And mostly my taste in women is not…" Deep breath. Talk less and smile more. Right. "Thank you." He eyes the bottle, deciding if he should chance another glass.

"Oh," says Claude, in a slightly higher voice, "oh, I see." She picks up her napkin, seeming faintly surprised to have found such a thing in her lap, and dabs at the corners of her mouth before slipping it onto the edge of the table in a soft and crumpled linen heap. "Yes, that would… Yes." Silence falls between them whilst she reflects, a trifle muzzily, upon what she's just been told. "… I'm not sure what to say," she admits; "that must be… And worrying about it can't help at all," it occurs to her, and in that very moment the wine makes her say it aloud.

Étienne nods emphatically, wide-eyed, "The more aware I got of how… not like everyone else I am the more worried I've been. I think it will be all right if I can pick for myself, but I seem to annoy every woman of the right status I meet who isn't too silly to notice the roughness of my manners, and a woman not clever enough to…" He shrugs and opens his hands, at a loss.

“Well… well, manners can be mended, can’t they?” Claude attempts. “If they’re such a problem as that. Though— I daresay some girls, like you say, want to hear a clever play on words, but there might be others who can see through to your sincerity, and your good intentions. That’s how you’d know they’d be clever enough, maybe,” she suggests, and on that note she gets up and pours what’s left of the bottle of wine into Étienne’s glass and then her own.

Étienne smiles sadly, "I think they hoped my coming here would polish my manners, but all it's done is eat at my confidence. Everything seemed so much simpler back home."

By now Claude has, alas, run out of things to say about Étienne's manners: they seem all right to her, well-intentioned if a bit naïve and boyish still round the edges, and without understanding the problem, how can she even think about presuming to begin to advise him—? Noble problems, that's what it is. Too far removed from her cosy round of merchants and courtesans and kinsmen. So she changes the subject, and asks: "What about that basket, then?"

Étienne rises quickly to fetch it and display the contents, "Symon said this was a very good wine and I brought a bottle for you all the way from the capital." It is in fact what his friend thought fit for a member of the royal family, but he has sense not to say that. "I couldn't get you any of the joie infused cherries as they turned out to be a specialty of the restaurant, but I searched the markets and found this jar of pear brandy infused ones, which I hope will be almost as nice, and this box has little animals shaped out of coloured marzipan. They may be slightly out of shape from the travel, but they were really cute."

The shift in their talk is surely by now a welcome one to them both; and Claude exclaims over these tasty offerings from the City of Elua just as they deserve, laughs and makes an intrigued face at the idea of cherries infused with joie, and soon has a row of marzipan animals lined up down the middle of the table, nose to tail, making tracks toward a stack of her books. "… They're very sweet," she observes, nudging a wee elephant back into the queue. "Étienne, thank you. It was very kind of you to keep thinking of me even with so much else to do."

Étienne leans forward, large aquamarine eyes so terribly sincere, "Of course I thought of you, Claude. I really like you. I would like to keep visiting if you wanted me to." In a teasing tone, "I promise it's not just for the pie." More seriously, "I really would like for us to be good friends."

<FS3> Claude rolls Empathy: Good Success. (2 6 5 5 6 7 4 7 4 8 2)

And that, of course, must be the other trouble with Étienne's manners. Not the countrified roughness which has him fretting so over its ill-effects, but the sincerity he pours out in too great an abundance. If he doesn't offend the ladies he's bound to fluster them. What can one say, to those words and those eyes combined? Claude chuckles and picks up a marzipan frog, and turns it over in clever fingers stained about the cuticles with red dye and a touch of green.

"… Well, all right, then," she agrees, feeling a sudden pang as she yields to an unaccustomed sentiment. She looks up from the frog, and into the southern sea. "Come round again if you like. The company's nice," she admits, "sometimes."

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