(1311-02-06) Fiscally Responsible Valkyrie
Summary: With her house full of Orchis courtesans Philomène insists upon regularising the arrangements; unexpectedly, her heartstrings are plucked.
RL Date: 05/02/2019
Related: Carpetbombed!
leda philomene 

A Small House in Marsilikos

It is with great trepidation and more than a few misgivings that Philomène heads out once again that morning for her customary ride before breakfast.

Of course, these guests have completely thrown off her schedule, which would be enough to put a scowl on her face as she urges her mare into a canter down the tree-lined streets towards the open fields and small woods of the nearby countryside if it weren’t for the fact that she has been provided with both tea and pastries already, and when she’d returned from bathing, the house had been put into some semblance of order. There’s the matter of the candles and the firewood still to consider, of course, but the fact that her house has been invaded by well-meaning courtesans seems now to have been accepted. It’s Leda Lavecq, after all. She can’t help her nature, and she did look so wounded when Philomène called her on it.

The whole business, though, has her riding out longer and harder than she might otherwise have done, choosing the more difficult jumps and stretching her poor horse to the limit, in some sort of effort to prove that no, she has complete control, and by the time she returns to her home, she’s flushed, windswept, and smells quite comfortingly of horse.

And, of course, Brigitte is there with tea and the quiet observation that her guests are still asleep in Philomène’s bed, leaving the unwitting hostess the option to either sit in the unfamiliar surroundings of her downstairs reception rooms, which still bear the unmistakable marks here and there of last night’s excesses, or to join the miracle domestic in the kitchen.

The kitchen it is, papers spread out over the table to examine columns of tiny numbers, maps, neatly drawn up agreements and scraps of paper with hundreds of calculations scrawled on them, while Brigitte soothes her with constant supplies of beverages when she’s not out finding another sticky mess to remove.

No less than the doyennes of Orchis House, Brigitte seems to be taking it as read that Philomène’s habitat is her own. She has Geraldine out the door in double-quick time (not that anybody else, at that stage, is paying attention) and after that the kitchen belongs to her and nobody else. There seems to be a scullion at work, scrubbing every article of crockery Leda and her friends dirtied, departing occasionally and coming back with paired buckets of well-water suspended from the yoke across her shoulders, but nobody has asked Philomène to interview her, hire her, or pay her, so it’s probably best to leave that too to Brigitte. Anybody with so starched an apron is obviously competent to handle these trifling details.

Tea appears at regular intervals, hot and fresh and strong, turning as dusk settles upon the city to a decent red wine. Is there wine that wasn’t swilled last night? Or has Brigitte got in new wine? Again, best not to ask: best just to be grateful that somebody, here, is in charge.

At great length footsteps sound upon the uncarpeted boards of the public rooms at the front of the house. Somebody is wandering about, vaguely enough, a few footfalls and then a few more. Philomène must guess who it is even before the servants’ passageway is breached and the door to the kitchen pushed open by Leda Lavecq, who has never yet been known to stand on ceremony. Oddly, it’s a thing they have in common. One of the very, very few…

The plague of Camlach has attired herself in a full-skirted mantua of velvet dyed duck egg blue, complete with panniers and a petticoat of cloth-of-silver and silvery bows perfectly arrayed all the way up her neatly tapering bodice. She has a girlish figure still; she doesn’t see why she should deny this information to the world at large. She has taken the time to curl her dark red hair, some curls pinned up and others falling artfully about her shoulders. Her face is painted to a nicety, with more kohl than rouge: her complexion is never short of a few roses. It’s a good bet that one or more of Brigitte’s discreet withdrawals from the kitchen have been in her mistress’s service; certainly, a while ago, she was seen with a copper can of hot water.

Leda sights Philomène and comes straight up to her. “Oh, darling,” she sighs, flinging an arm and its velvet and its lace about those plain brownish shoulders, “there you are. I did,” another sigh, and she leans her cheek against a shoulder, “sleep so awfully well.”

Philomène’s hand automatically goes up to rest on the back of the lacy wrist and she turns her head just enough to be able to eye Leda sideways. “I have no doubt,” she responds drily, setting down her pen and leaning away so she can look at the woman properly. “It must have been a tiring night, drinking everything I own and dragging my furniture around. Why on earth did the… no, no, I don’t want to know, do I?” She shakes her head, taking up her wine (the wine she just claimed was all drunk, no less) for a fortifying sip. “How long do you intend to stay?”

When Philo moves Leda’s head lifts, and she shifts from one foot onto the other to stay nicely close and keep her hold on the shoulder upon which her own hand is so kindly held. She hasn’t had a thing to drink since last time she cleaned her teeth; her breath is witness of that degree of restraint, at least. “Well, it’s only, I thought it might look better with the bureau against…” Her other hand lifts and waves descriptively. But then she deflates. “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter, does it? If you don’t like it I expect you can just change it back again,” she says vaguely. She is not committed to the arrangements. They are no hill for her to die upon.

But then Philomène’s next question floors her. “Oh… Darling,” she murmurs, knitting her customarily smooth and unsullied brow, frankly prevaricating. “Well… I don’t know,” she admits, in a much smaller voice. “We never said, how long for.”

Philomène releases the lacy wrist in order to rub at the bridge of her nose, half smile appearing on her face. “Of course you didn’t. Leda, plans are just something that happen to other people, for you, aren’t they?” She takes a steadying breath, setting down her wine, and lifts her other hand to touch Leda’s chin. “Yes, you may stay,” she begins, looking seriously into the other woman’s eyes. “But you’ll have to contribute towards the wine. My line of credit is awfully thin already, and it’s February. And Brigitte stays here with you, on your payroll.”

Leda’s chin lifts obediently at the touch of her friend’s hand, without going so far as to break contact… She looks into Philomène’s eyes, her own wide and green and so very well-meaning. But then she can’t help it, because she’s giggling and clasping a hand to that small bosom raised aloft and generally made the most of by her stays. “Oh!” she gasps. “I haven’t got any money,” she disclaims ingenuously, “if I’d had any I’d probably’ve stayed in Elua, darling. But Geneviève’s got some money, you ought to ask her about it.”

Various things must surely in that moment become clear.

Also, behind Leda’s back Brigitte is shaking her head and pointing at her apron pocket.

A glance over Leda’s shoulder to the domestic and Philomène closes her eyes for a moment before dragging them back up to the flighty Orchis. “If you want to sponge off poor Genevieve, that’s up to you, of course. But there will be no wine without some contribution.” She lifts a hand to stall any argument. “I cannot afford it, don’t give me that look. Leda, my dear… do you have any idea what it’s like when you rely on farming?”

She takes a breath, then rolls her eyes. “Well, of course you haven’t. You rely on your looks and your… well. People like you. I can’t just trust to that, and that means I need money. And February is a very, very tight month.”

She can hope to impress upon Leda how frugal her life must by necessity be, but it’s likely to go in one ear and out the other. She knows it. Another long breath and she shakes her head.

Yes, yes, her… well. And well-regarded it is, too, by connoisseurs.

But Leda herself is looking bewildered and crestfallen. “Darling… darling, if it really is that bad for you, of course I’ll try to find something. But till my remittance arrives it’s all rather up to Naamah, isn’t it—?” she says. “P’raps I can get into a good card game tonight.” This being her idea of the height of fiscal responsibility; she was raised by Bryonys, after all.

Meanwhile Brigitte is hanging her head but still shaking it. ‘No,’ she mouths to Philomène; ‘no, milady, please.’ Then she turns away to get on with… supper, is it?

“No,” Philomène finds herself repeating on behalf of the Camaeline servant, then straightens and says it again. “No. No cards. Just… will you at least try to stay out of trouble for me?” It’s not an unreasonable request, until one realises that this is Leda Lavecq who’s being asked to do it.

She takes a moment to gather her assorted papers, carefully ordering them and tapping them together until they’re square, then, with a hand flat on the table to steady herself, rises to her feet. Even here, in her own home, she schools her expression as she stands, carefully avoiding any sort of indication of pain or weakness. “Brigitte, may I have a moment of your time?” she asks, granting Leda a faint smile and gesturing to the door. “I shan’t be a moment, Leda, then we shall have supper and figure out how this will work.”

<FS3> Philomene rolls Economics: Good Success. (4 8 1 7 3 2 6 3 1 3 6 5 1) (just throwing that up for later reference)

“… Oh, but darling, I really can’t,” sighs Leda, all green-eyed regret; “I’ve got to go and get Geneviève up. She still doesn’t seem to have had enough of Chrétien, but we did promise to go out and have a few drinks with Coco at the Glycine. You know we couldn’t break a promise, could we? But we shan’t be so very late,” she promises with mendacious optimism, and rises onto tip-toes and curls in against Philomène to press a soft kiss to her cheek. “If I can find any money I’ll bring it, I promise.” And that at least is utterly sincere and delivered with a blindingly bright smile, as Leda scampers forth from the kitchen and upstairs to her other friend, leaving only a red smudge behind her.

Brigitte meanwhile is turning away from whatever it was she was doing to those poor defenseless vegetables, laying down a large and serviceable knife, and wiping her hands upon her apron. Which still, against all logic, appears clean and fresh.

“Milady…?” she ventures apologetically.

“She’s absolutely impossible, of course,” Philomène admits to the servant frankly, arching a brow at her. “I’ll accept any aid you can give to try to keep her from bankrupting us entirely. I’m really very fond of Leda, but one has to set limits.”

“How long has she been relying on Geneviève, do you know?” comes the next query, that being something that can be calculated and an approximate idea of when the goodwill will run out hypothesised.

A strong and slightly workworn hand, with its nails short-clipped and clean, lifts to cover a cough: Brigitte’s big blue eyes, as bright and clear as the Camaeline sky, regard Philomène with a continuing attitude of apology. “… I wouldn’t know about that, milady,” she confesses. A pause. And then she reveals herself to be that absolute unicorn: an efficient servant who is also honest. “His lordship,” she suggests, delicately, lowering her chin and naming no names, “he paid me my wages six months ahead, and he gave me another sum in trust to spend on Madame Lavecq’s… necessities, milady. Clean linen and wine and whatnot.”

Because this is, after all, Leda Lavecq they’re discussing.

And Philomène, who had thought nothing could possibly improve on this sturdy Camaeline woman, is proven wrong. If she was prone to emotional outbursts there might have even been a little gasp of astonished delight. She’s not, of course, and merely watches the woman, wordlessly for a few long seconds, then offers her both hands. “Bless you, Brigitte. I’m not entirely certain where you sprang from, but I don’t think I know exactly what I’d do without you.” This, within a day of meeting her.

“And is there anything you will need, for yourself?” Philomène presses earnestly. “Please, if we can make your life more comfortable, do let me know?”

Good humble country girl that she is Brigitte is not at first certain what to do, when a vicomtesse of d’Aiglemort lineage extends paws toward her. But she rallies; she puts her own hands tentatively into Philomène’s, and, looking slightly down upon her from what is even in flat shoes a magnificent and queenly height, she ventures: “If, milady, if you’d be willing to keep on the scullion I hired this morning…? She’s cheaper by the week than the girl you let go,” and she quotes the figures without hesitation, “and she came well-recommended by the cook two doors down who had to let her go when their masters’ children had all grown up, and with her for the heavy work I’d have more time to look after Madame Lavecq…?” She hesitates.

“Oh, of course,” Philomène agrees without really even thinking, so enamoured is she of this fiscally responsible Valkyrie that she’d probably have agreed to anything right now. “I’m well aware what a handful she can be. But you should have your mornings free, at least? Unless she’s suddenly changed her sleeping habits, that is, but somehow I doubt it.” She clears her throat, adding casually, “I ride every morning. You’re welcome to join me if you like. It’s good to get out in the fresh air, even if it’s more fish-scented than mountain here.”

Before this onslaught of Camaeline flirtation Brigitte essays a tactical retreat, slowly withdrawing her hands from Philomène’s and bobbing another semi-curtsey as she turns back to her preparations for… supper, or whatever it is Leda is next intended to eat. Perhaps Philomène will be granted a portion of her own earlier on, with the rest kept hot for Leda?

“Thank you kindly, milady,” she says as she takes up the knife again in her strong, capable hand, “but Madame Lavecq was just saying yesterday how much she missed going out riding with you, milady, and I shouldn’t like to deprive her of such a pleasure.”

It’s a masterful deflection, and one has to appreciate that sort of skill. Philomène gives a small nod, accepting this defeat for now, straightens to her full height (still not quite the towering mass that is Brigitte) and carefully makes her way out of the kitchen, doing her level best not to make her limp overly apparent.

Whether Leda and Genevieve, fussing about on their way to head out to a night on the town, notice the pretence is uncertain, but they can’t help but see the small smile that drifts across the Chalasse’s face.

Oh, dear, Philomène is in love.

By now Brigitte is well aware of this blossoming of tender sentiments — let’s be fair, it happens to her a lot — but it’s lost on the other two, who crash out of the place shortly thereafter laughing and pulling on their gloves and dabbing on just a bit more scent. The Glycine awaits and their new friend Coco therein and, oh, yes, they’ve still got the boy in tow, whatsisface. He is privileged to carry Geneviève’s cloak and Leda’s white fur muff. His duties do not seem to be sitting upon him too onerously, to judge by that dazed look in his eye.

“We shan’t be too late!” cries Leda, toward the silhouette in the kitchen doorway that is gradually resolving itself into a smiling Philomène: “Darling, what fun it is to be all here together! Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

“Perhaps another time,” Philomène lies smoothly, granting the threesome a placid smile and a wave of her hand. No, she’s going to make sure she’s in bed by the time they get back. So she gets her bed to herself. She can hope.

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