(1311-02-16) The D-Word
Summary: Public and private selves collide when the heir to Avignon invites the former Dowayne of Mandrake House on a date. In a public place. Together. There truly is a first time for everything.
RL Date: 16/02/2019 - 20/02/2019
Related: Takes place after Ducal Court.
emmanuelle jehan-pascal 

Wine Cellar — Noble District

Stairs lead down to the heavy oak door, above which the sign of the place, the likeness of a Hellene amphora spilling over with wine painted upon wood, swings lazily in the occasional breeze. Beyond that door the entrance hall comes into view, where various kegs and casks of differing sizes are arranged in oenological allure before the roughly hewn walls of ancient stone. There is a chill down here on hot summer days, that will be efficiently battled in the colder months through the heating of a giant hearth to the back. The place has a decidedly cavernous character, alcoves to the left and right offering seating at small tables for two or three. Lamps are dangling by chains from the ceiling, shades of milky glass work from La Serenissima offering sufficient lighting. There are no visible windows, which means lamps will be in use even during the day.

Further to the back there is a small hallway branching off from the main area, leading to a medium sized chamber where the bigger barrels are stored. Here, a larger group of up to eight people can sit about a round table of heavy oak, while they are being served the rarer vintages or even the heavier spirits that are stored in a wooden cabinet to the back. Staff is mostly male, clad in black breeches and white shirts with dark red vests, knowledgable sommeliers of superior training that will be glad to wait on guests in person and offer insight into the variety of wines, red and white, from Terre d'Ange and a variety of specialties from abroad, that are available here.

Here's Jehan-Pascal, fresh from the Ducal Court, with his polished satchel of gleaming dark brown leather, matching boots quite nearly to the knee, and dark wine-red trousers striped in two shades of gold at the utside of the thigh. A dove-tailed doublet of the same hue with dark leather buttons is crossed sideways by the strap of his satchel, and while he looks a little harried in the aftermath of court, he can't complain, because he's on his way to meet his… his… well, to meet Emmanuelle, after now quite near to a month and a half of separation. The hair growth he had attained on his journey, during which he hadn't bothered to shear it, is now trimmed down to the usual uniform fluff coating the elegant contours of his head, and he steps down one, two, three, four-five-six-seven steps with a jaunty hop, not quite whistling while issuing a greeting to the hostess at the door.

Regular patron that he is Jehan-Pascal is soon seated in his usual alcove: a fine spot for people-watching, boasting as it does a scarcely-obstructed view of the comings and goings and even several of the opposite nooks. Should he inquire he'll be told that the Lady Shahrizai has not yet arrived. Hardly a calamity for the heir to Avignon, when there are so many bottles present for him to make friends with in the meantime… And about ten minutes later, yes — perhaps a quarter of an hour at the most — a pair of thigh-high black leather boots enter into his line of sight, sauntering down the steps with easy confidence despite the height of their spiked heels, and shining mirror-bright. Around them, the full-cut tails of a long black leather coat just touched with gilded chains.

Reaching the ground Emmanuelle pauses to survey the unfamiliar precincts of the wine cellar. She removes her tricorne hat with a smooth gesture of a red-gloved hand and passes it back to Baltasar, who is lurking as usual in her shadow. She exchanges a few words with the hostess, more than simply the giving of a name; the hostess curtseys three times during their exchange. Then, being led toward the alcove where her lover awaits, her pace is steady, nonchalant, and her expression thoroughly opaque. Her gaze roams cold and very blue across the other alcoves and their occupants, never seeming to catch anywhere. She doesn't so much as look ahead of her to see Jehan-Pascal, until the hostess has taken a hurried step or two ahead and turned and paused, to present the correct niche: whereupon Emmanuelle halts and half-turns upon her heel, and rests the splayed fingertips of one hand upon the edge of the table, encased in fine red leather. She looks straight into his eyes: she purrs, "My lord Baphinol. Good evening."

Jehan-Pascal has got company, indeed, by the time Emmanuelle arrives, though he's courteously waited to deflower any of the bottles he's selected until his date gets here. As far as that, he doesn't need to see her to know that she's coming. He's had… copious practice, now, picking out the cadence of her tread and letting it rouse the small hairs at the back of his neck into hopeful alarm. They do more, this time— he stands, not quite sliding out of his alcove, but absolutely beaming with joy to lay eyes upon and to be laid eyes upon in turn. "Oh, my gosh— HI," he bounces just a little bit in place, then, tentatively, he opens out his arms and tips his head to a questioning angle as he takes a half-step free of the table's edge. "Hug?" he asks.

Happily Jehan-Pascal has had practice also at reading, or trying to read, Emmanuelle's collection of near-identical facial expressions: this one is not as coolly forbidding to him, perhaps, as it would be to anyone else. (The hostess by now is curtseying again and slipping away — only Baltasar is watching — to alert the rest of the staff that the duchesse's sister is in the house.)

"Handshake," the former Dowayne of Mandrake House compromises in a low drawl, in which so practiced an ear as her lover's might reasonably discern quiet amusement. She lifts her hand from the table and claims one of his in a reassuring grip, her gloved fingertips pressing firmly into his palm. "I have seen an old friend I must greet, or there is every chance she'll come across to interrupt us," she prognosticates drily; "sit, and tell Baltasar which of these you've chosen so that he may pour." She releases his hand but holds his eyes with her own an instant longer, before stalking across the cavernous chamber to quite another alcove.

Handshake! One of Jehan-Pascal's arms finds his side again, then tucks around to his back, and he offers out the other for Emmanuelle's chosen method of greeting, which reminds him oddly of one of his very first dates when he was a little boy, and puts his eyes in a merry sort of dazzle in remembrance of such a practice of greeting. "Oh, OK," he agrees easily enough to her going to greet her friend. As to the wine, "Oh, I can— alright," he reminds himself to give up all those polite little conversational tics of his, settling down, instead, and looking up to Baltasar with a lift of his brows. What can be done? "Uhm, let's see, why don't we start with this twentieth Auvergnian?" he poses, as usual, he request as a question, more out of a general notion toward being polite than for any other reason.

"Very good, my lord," drawls Baltasar, who despite the exquisite courtesy of his ensuing service manages nonetheless to convey that he has Gone Off the heir to Avignon again. His antipathies are occasional, and inexplicable.

The present target of Emmanuelle's interest is a woman of about her own years, with threads of white in her red-golden hair. She is seated with three or four companions — or more, it's difficult to see round the edge of the alcove — all dressed finely, round a table cluttered with sufficient bottles and glasses to suggest they're making quite a night of it. At no moment since Emmanuelle came in has the redheaded lady's face turned toward her: but it appears she recognises the neck, the shoulder, perhaps the tone of the laughter, and as for the redheaded lady, when she hears those boots approaching from behind her she falls silent, she freezes, she begins to rise… Suddenly a red-gloved hand is there, not on her shoulder but wrapped round the back of her very white neck, pushing her back down into her seat and bowing her head with an imperious touch.

Obedience is absolute. The lady sits there with her head demurely bowed and her eyes in her lap whilst Emmanuelle talks over her, literally, to the rest of the company gathered in that alcove and with a single low remark sets off a gale of amusement. She leans her hip against the table and strokes that white throat, those impeccable red-golden curls, as she chats with the others. After a moment she takes up a glass from in front of her 'old friend', sips from it, tilts her head in consideration, and drawls something else that seems terribly amusing. She sets down the glass and addresses a comment to the woman beneath her hand; in that moment Jehan-Pascal across the way has a particularly good view of her hawklike, unsmiling profile. Indeed, they all seem quiet now. Emmanuelle straightens from her nonchalant lean and gives her 'old friend' a pat on her head, and with one last word to the group in general she takes her leave and saunters back to Jehan-Pascal's alcove, the wine and the man awaiting her therein.

Before she sits down she stands over him for a moment too, with her back to the room, unbuttoning her coat and giving him a quick, private quirk of eyebrows. The coat, she keeps on: it's always chilly here, underground.

And Jehan-Pascal does have such a fucking pathological need to be liked. Maybe Baltasar is really the cruel one. He rests both elbows on the table and rests his chin on both his fists, watching Baltasar's passive-aggressively perfect service with a little bit of a mournful countenance, as though considering how to both ingratiate himself with Baltasar and not upset Emmanuelle at the same time. These sorts of considerations largely save him from having any sare attention for what's happening across the way, and by the time he does look over to catch a glimpse of that perfectly pristine profile, Emmanuelle is patting her friend (JP supposes?) on the head and leaving a quiet table behind. Jehan-Pascal himself brightens considerably when she makes her return, nudging himself over to invite her in beside him. "I hope your friend is doing well," he invites further elucidation, but neither does he really expect any. "And I hope the same of you, meanwhile," he adds with a big gawpish smile. "Gosh, it's been a little while, hasn't it?" he prattles on cheerfully, offering over his hand to her care, if she'll have it.

But at present Emmanuelle is taking off her gloves: that second skin of thin red leather which must be removed before any serious (as opposed to performative) drinking may take place, and which even then will hold the shape of her hands. Jehan-Pascal's thus remains bereft. "I am well, yes," she allows mildly, easing her fingers free one by one, revealing well-kept white skin and black-lacquered nails as pristine as her maquillage. It's Baltasar who does her nails, of course. Each morning there's a ritual search for chips. Once or twice in Elua Jehan-Pascal arrived for breakfast whilst this was still going on, and his Madame waiting with sphinxlike patience for her second coat of lacquer to dry… "How was your journey?" she inquires then, smoothing her gloves and setting them aside. "I hope you had weather for it more salubrious than ours in the city. What's this?" and she picks up her glass of wine and inhales the bouquet of it.

Jehan-Pascal will keep it there, for her consideration, no less. "It was great, really. I mean, the weather wasn't, no, but…" Jehan-Pascal shakes his head, those poet's eyes of his gleaming with a far-off dreaminess. "The people are really just… tops, and even when the weather was poor, there was just such a sense of community and belonging," his dreamlike smile wavers and his brows rise to another topic— wine. "Oh, it's from a vineyard on the eastern shores of the Lac de la Lionne. I saw it in the lists and thought I'd order a bottle— what do you think?"

Watching Jehan-Pascal's eyes, for the nonce, as recollected pleasures flit through them with a marvelous transparency, Emmanuelle appears still not to have noticed his hand where it rests on the inner curve of the table, unfurled towards her. She's sitting, by the way, in the other side of the horseshoe-shaped cushioned bench which lines the alcove, rather than next to her lover where it seems he intended her to settle, for she has chosen 'sight' over 'touch' as her sense to be delighted. She's close enough, nonetheless, he having moved further in to make a place for her at the edge next to him, that she could still change her mind: and her cologne, subtly applied in deference to the wine, has nonetheless had ample time to reach him and to caress his senses with those leathery, musky, resinous notes he hasn't known in five weeks or more.

She takes a cautious sip from the glass and tastes the wine for a long moment — nodding to him as she listens, her blue gaze intent and unwavering — at last she swallows and remarks, again with a courteous formal mildness, "I am glad you found such welcome in your home. It's not bad," she lifts the glass indicatively, "is it?" Another sip and she puts it down, not requiring as he does the constant drip-drip from Terre d'Ange's finest vineyards into his veins.

Jehan-Pascal's hand finally gets tired of being extended in such a state of expectation— his elbow bends, and then his wrist, and his fingers, first knuckle, second knuckle— the resultant fist is brought to his jaw so he can rest there and gaze across at Emman, instead, his other hand lifting his own glass of the red and lifting it to his lips almost in time with Emman herself— oh, but then his glass is empty, his notion of a sip somewhat more substantial than hers. But he's not crude about it, he doesn't slurp, or gulp; he almost somehow seems to merely absorb the wine through tongue and lips into his very being, or else pour it straight down his throat without bothering to swallow it. At any rate, when JP sets the glass down, it's empty, again, but for the purple stain which slides down the insides of the glass to pool at the bottom. If Baltasar is not almost immediately at hand to refill, he'll go ahead and do so, himself, not really in a hurry, just establishing his drinking rhythm. "I like it," he decides. "I've got a couple of others if you'd rather try something else." He can finish up this bottle, and hardly blink in the doing, more than likely.

Which offer Emmanuelle declines with a slight shift of her head. (Tonight she's wearing the smooth blue-black chignon which is the simplest of her hairpieces.) "It is very well," she agrees. Still calmly pinning him in his seat with the intensity of her regard she essays another snippet of small talk, so oddly mild and inconsequential between two people who have shared such intimacies of body and thought. "Is this somewhere you come often, when you are in Marsilikos? I have not seen it before; but then, I was absent many years before last summer."

Baltasar is standing a couple of paces away to ward off any attempt the staff might make to serve his mistress: he is pretending not to listen, though no doubt he can't help hearing. He steps up smartly to replenish Jehan-Pascal's glass. Emmanuelle doesn't twitch an eyelid at his movement. She never pays the slightest attention to Baltasar unless and until she wants something.

Well… they'll get to the other two bottles, sooner than later, at the rate the man can drink. "Eh-heh," he grins bashfully at the question of whether he comes here a lot, not, in the least, minding the aimless small talk— it's the sort of thing one does with a girlfriend, after all. It feels almost… normal, as though she weren't drilling holes into him with her eyes. "More than I should, probably. Their stores are magnificent, but also quite pricey. I could have a gross imported from Avignon, stored in Les Tanières, and save quite a lot. But I like the atmosphere here, and I like trying new things off of their lists. And there are people here, and all. Down the hall there's a room with tables if you want to get up a game of cards or something," he continues to chatter just as happily as can be, and somewhere in the middle of it all, he'll take a pause enough to breathe and to empty his glass again. Baltasar may as well just keep the bottle in hand.

"My father began laying down a cellar here some forty-odd years ago," offers Emmanuelle, who is not coincidentally some forty-odd years of age; "it's under the new house now and I must confess we delight in adding to it." She tastes her wine again: almost halfway, now, through her first half-a-glass, which Baltasar from habit poured abstemiously — and yes, he's still got the bottle ready, to continue the lubrication of perhaps the least consequential conversation he's ever overheard in Emmanuelle's service. In that respect it's remarkable.

"… It is more your milieu than mine," she concedes mildly, and indulges in another sip from her glass. Then, setting it down, she steeples her hands before her upon the table and proves that her focus upon her lover can grow still deeper, that even here amidst the echoes of other people's footsteps and other people's laughter, she's capable of looking benevolently but unyieldingly down into him till her eyes seem twin scalpels, blue diamond-tipped, opening up his soul layer by layer. He might as well be laid out upon the table for her dissection.

"My love," she inquires after a time devoted to silent contemplation of the most beautiful man in Marsilikos — she wouldn't utter such an endearment before the hostess, but Baltasar doesn't count; "what is this, tonight? I accepted your invitation because it pleases me to give you what you asked me for upon your return to the city, but I remain uncertain what you desire of such a meeting.”

Jehan-Pascal does, rather, enjoy it, the amiable sound of conversation drifting to and fro, of no major import, just whatever pops into his head, of hers. Maybe it provides a sort of stream-of-consciousness route through the other person's mind, letting their souls tangle together even when they're sitting out of reach of one another. "Oh, wow," he smiles, such an easy smile, "I'd love to see it, one day," he goes on. She calls him 'my love,' and his heart wants to melt, but then her question makes him blink, uncertain what she means. "I— uh." That's going to take a moment to get his thoughts in order for a suddenly rather more substantial topic. "I just thought we could… sit… together. Drink some wine. Talk about… whatever. I don't … desire… anything more of it than… what we're doing right now. I like being here with you. That's all." Another glass of wine is emptied on top of any further words that might try to emerge.

His sincerity shines so bright even in this atmospheric lighting, that in answer to it Emmanuelle lets out a soft sigh tinged with almost maternal exasperation, and sits back against the wall behind her with her hands resting more casually now in her lap. She looks him over with amusement lurking beneath her severity: there to be glimpsed if his studies should approach to the intensity of her own.

"If anyone else who had frequented my bedchamber absented himself from it for so many weeks," she drawls at last, with a dry little smile, "and then requested of me so public and noncommittal a rendezvous, in a place where our relations must needs be so formal and every button fastened tight against the underground chill, I'd come assuming that as has sometimes happened I was about to receive — for whatever sound romantic or financial reasons, and perhaps not without regrets — my congé." She pauses, just long enough to permit his consideration of her point of view. "But the tone of your recent correspondence did militate against such a conclusion, my love," she goes on; "and so I have wondered… If it was a goal of yours to intrigue me, you must consider it well-met."

"Your w— no— of course not. I'm sorry I made you worry," he expresses, first, a real regret in his eyes, already glistening with damp at the thought of her having been subject to such thoughts due to his behavior. "I just thought it might be nice… to be out… I didn't think it would need to be so, um— formal," he shrugs a shoulder, looking hopefully to his glass to see whether it has been filled again. Three glasses have not yet begun to moisten him. "We could sit, like… closer together. Hold hands?" he offers up quite mildly, but with the deep romanticism held for the gesture still fast, deep in his gaze. "But we don't have to, of course. We don't have to do… anything like that," which, after all, may well have been part of his point in asking for a public date. He knows about how long they can go in private without falling into bed. An average, yet, of about seven seconds.

Ah, yes, but seven seconds of the most exquisite and tormented anticipation a mature, sensitive, highly experienced Mandrake courtesan can inflict upon her favourite, when she really wants to show that she cares.

Meanwhile his eyes are a-glimmer and Emmanuelle unconsciously sits up straight again to improve her vantage upon this moment of maidenly distress, which she didn't spark in him on purpose — she was careful to mention the reassurance she found in his letters, how brief and how trivial a worry it truly was for her — but which she isn't above enjoying as the gift from Naamah it is. She clasps her hands together upon her side of the table, each paw responsible for controlling the impulses of the other. They've their work cut out.

Letting him further into her private thoughts, which she knows always pleases him as reliably as those delicately welling tears please her, her voice lowers phrase by phrase till he needs almost read her lips. The language of her body remains steady and ideally clear: oriented toward him at the decorous distance she has chosen for tonight, reserved, dignified, tutelary and kind. "You know how much of my life I prefer to live behind locked doors… Whenever you go out in public you represent House Baphinol and Avignon," she explains gently, "and you do so with a deal of charm, my love. I, though I no longer wear the Dowayne's seal on that fifty-pound iron choke-chain round my neck," thus her most confidential and sardonic view of the burdens of that high office as well as the ancient paraphernalia which symbolises it, "I still in the eyes of the world represent Mandrake House and its severe pleasures — and the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers — and, especially in Marsilikos, my sister and her daylight court as well. The moment I step outside my own house I must assume I am observed and known; I cannot be mistaken for any other. And so I am always performing, just a little, these rôles of mine." She purses her lips and admits, "Once upon a time it amused me to see how far I might take it — I did all kinds of shit when I was younger, and there are people here now," the faintest inclination of her head toward the redhead and her companions, "who remember it, and must even now half be expecting it… But the hour at which I lose patience with being watched and discussed by a roomful of patrons or courtiers or strangers in a tavern, comes earlier now than it did. You understand, don't you, why I didn't take your hand?" she pursues. "I have not decided whether I trust myself to touch you here, before so many eyes — whether my self-control would be equal to the demands of my desires or whether you," she teases, and her flawlessly painted red smile broadens for an instant to something feral and hungry before she smoothes that Mandragian impulse into a dispassionate courtesy befitting the daughter and sister of sovereign duchesses, "would find yourself an unwitting part of my performance."

Jehan-Pascal was assured, not to worry— he just has a heart of silk, easily snagged and torn on a passing nail. He takes up a rather full glass once more and… manages not to swallow it all at once, actually, he rather drinks from it at near to a human pace, listening with eyes intent and ears presumably no less so to the concerns of image which Emmanuelle brings up to him, and to which, as she has pointed out, he can certainly relate. When she asks him about her refusal to take his hand, he takes in a breath, perhaps ready to take a guess, but her own answer gives him pause in answering, himself, and, after a moment or two to let the implications settle, he asks, "Are you worried— that you might hurt me, in providing them the show they're expecting? Or are you worried— you might not, and cause a stir in upsetting their expectations?" he wonders, no judgement, nor any sort of indignance in his own role in this navigation between public life and public performance— he's only interested to see whether the latter explanation might hold as much weight as the former.

Emmanuelle answers him after a moment's pause, and towards the bottom of her own abstemious measure from the bottle Baltasar just upended to provide Jehan-Pascal with his last full glass. With one hand holding her glass, swirling its contents, the other wraps a thumb round the table's edge almost as though hanging on.

"What I mean," she elucidates very softly, her eyes steady upon his and each word pronounced with an absolute and unshakeable sincerity, "is that if I put a hand on you tonight, when I haven't had you in so long — if once I opened the door to it — I suspect that little time would pass before I bound your wrists and dragged you out to my carriage." She pauses; she continues in a more everyday, common-or-garden kind of quietness. "Later on I should abhor my lapse in control — but that would be later on, you understand. Meanwhile it would be the end of your wish to drink wine in a public tavern rather than make love in a private house; and you would no longer have the choice before you, as it yet remains in this moment no matter the implicit consent I found folded into your letter to me, whether you truly desire to be known as the favourite of a Mandrake Dowayne, and to have certain qualities and predilections supposed of you by all Eisande." Again she pauses. "We spoke of that once before but I think you have now a better idea of what it means. You lived so discreetly at my house in Elua that I began to wonder whether, after all, you might feel that you'd find it easier, or more practical as the heir to Avignon, not to court such a reputation… There are infinite varieties of hurt and of harm, my love," she reminds him, "and you must take my professional opinion that the pains of the body are the least enduring. Whatever my reputation I don't wish to make your life difficult, or to cause you any discomfort in my company beyond that which is pleasurable to us both. And so I remind you, you are not yet attached to that alarming Dowayne, only to… Emmanuelle." A wry smile: he hasn't yet been granted permission to use that name. "I would think no less of you for demurring; it is usual for me, after all, and I do dislike conducting these intimate conversations in public places. I had much rather sit you in my lap by my own fireside," and her tone now grows low and caressing, for his ears alone giving the lie to her cool and unyielding painted Shahrizai mask, "and drink from the same glass, and tease out the tales of your travels one by one, very slowly, as you know well that I could."

Jehan-Pascal tips Baltasar a smile of acknowledgement when he finishes pouring that first bottle— whether there is an implicit request there for a second is unclear… probably not, since he hasn't yet indicated which of the final two bottles is his next intended victim. All the same he maintains, now, an easy and convivial pace of drinking, even if his brows worry themselves together at the notion of an Emman so close to losing all control. But his features regain their customary cheersome carelessness, and he maintains a warm-hearted eye contact throughout, neither does he seem particularly alarmed. "I commend your self-control, Madame, and am grateful for your consideration. You well know it has been a bane to me — the true 'curse,' if ever there was one — to have the speculation of my bedroom activities rather foremost on the tongues of all and sundry about the countryside of Avignon. But I do hope that I am comporting myself as heir and will continue to comport myself as Comte in such a manner which will occupy their minds and mouths with talk of my performance in that sphere, rather than any other. If anyone were to ask me of my preferences, if t'were a friend or lover, I would never shy from listing the acts to which you have opened my eyes among them. It doesn't shame me— you know that much. But, yes, I think that that sort of activity in a public space would be entirely inappropriate. I hardly thought that I would be such a temptation to you— but that is my own thoughtlessness, for which I apologize, of course. If you would prefer to leave, I do understand… although there are yet more offerings for the table of which to taste. Would you like to hear some of the tales of my travels while we finish? Or should we be away?"

"Be assured, my love," Emmanuelle drawls to her earnest boy, "you are always such a temptation to me." Her glass contains now only the dregs of that first wine; she pushes it away from her and addresses the subject of the other two victims lined up for her more innocent delectation. "This," she taps a bottle, "is too sweet for my taste, but I should be pleased to try half a glass of the other." She's speaking to Jehan-Pascal but Baltasar of course interprets these as his marching orders, and quickly and gracefully pours for them both whilst his mistress explains to her lover with a mildness at odds with her unwavering gaze and her admitted thirst: "I haven't finished looking at you yet."

Aww. No— no, mental 'aww'ing is not sufficient for the mild sweetness Jehan-Pacal is attaining from Emmanuelle. He has to come out with it aloud, and so he does— "Aww," lifting the hand not toying with the stem of his glass to half-hide a bashful smile that spreads into something rather more joyful as he proves such a delight to her. "Oh, thank you—" he can't stop himself from saying to Baltasar as he opens the next bottle, dutifully swigging down the remnants of his last glass of the first bottle and leaving his glass upside-down for a while longer than else he might to try to mitigate the contamination of the vintages. He would ask Baltasar to see about securing another set of glasses, but he wouldn't be a hassle, at all, so he makes do with a bit of boorishness in the draught. And, subsequently, it's clear whence his slackening of manners has been achieved. The tales that he tells Emmanuelle of his journeys, the places that he stayed, the people whom he met, wearing the clothes of the common and accompanied only by three guards similarly attired. The sort of people who work with their hands and have dirt below their fingernails and urinate in a common ravine by the village's edge. Their hablitudes, habillements, and habitations, each narrated with a faint widening of the eye to mark what regard and fascination the Lord holds for each detail. The things he learned, the notes he took home with him, the hopes that by this mission he will be able to better understand their needs and provide a betterment of life in the county. As full stops, raised stops and the occasional very interesting comma he will make use of that second bottle of wine, the length of sip indicating the mark required.

He need not have troubled over emptying his glass — Baltasar who serves so fastidious a mistress is swift to provide a second pair of vessels, clean and suitable. We are not ravine people, you know.

For all her professed dislike of conversing in public places Emmanuelle seems prepared to listen with infinite patience to her lover's chatter about everything he's seen and done and eaten and drunk, and all the fine people he's made friends with (or so he naturally believes, bless him) in the lands he shall someday rule over as comte d'Avignon. At least, she interjects no more than an occasional "Mmm" (deep, purring, softer than his "Aww"), or, once or twice, an encouraging, "I see." It would be uncharitable to inquire into how much of her attention is focused upon his wine-reddened lips instead of the speech they're shaping; at any rate, he has time enough to unburden himself. Her second half-glass, carefully nursed, lasts almost to the end of that second bottle: then, after one anecdote and before the next, she slips in a few words of her own suggestive of an end to their evening's rendezvous. "And you return to Avignon on… Wednesday, I believe you said?" She nods. "I hope you'll find a few hours before then to call on me," she says simply. "Not tomorrow," she adds; "I've an assignation tomorrow which promises to be particularly grueling for all concerned." A quick heavenwards roll of her blue diamond eyes. "But when you will, my love."

"Mhm!" Jehan-Pascal is bright and attentive in answering when Emman poses him a query, then, leaning in attentively to her schedule, "Alright, uh— what about Monday? I'm going to go visit my brother— I'll probably do that tomorrow or Monday morning," he scratches his cheek in the telling. He has barely stepped foot in the House of the Wild Roses since his summons from the dowayne thereof, despite having been invited back. Perhaps he was still galled for having been banned in the first place— or else he simply felt less at home there than he had previously. Probably the latter. JP is hardly a one to hold a grudge. At any rate, the prospect of going back, even for the needful business of discussing events with Dior, makes him look a little jittery, though he consoles himself thus: "Maybe I'll be able to see Mari, too. See how she's doing." Emman might well know he had a long-term contract with her over the course of some six months, let lapse at the end of the year, for whatsoever reason, emotional or financial. "Would you like it if I came over on Monday night?" he smiles, considering that Tuesday night might set him ill for an early departure on Wednesday morning.

It's agreed; Emmanuelle seals their plan with a firm nod. "On Monday, then, whenever you've finished your business next door." For the Maison Sanglante — from its location Jehan-Pascal must suspect this, difficult as is to calculate its farther bounds — shares even a back wall with the Rose Sauvage.

In a gentler tone she reminds him: "You know you don't need an invitation to come to me, my love. If I'm not at home you've your own chamber to repair to — I've left you a gift in your armoire," she mentions by the bye, "and of course my servants have been instructed to accommodate you in every way. You know it's a pleasure to me to have you safe under my roof." One last sip from her nigh-empty glass and she pushes it away too, in a gesture of finality. "You'll excuse me now; I must sleep tonight. But as I am being obscenely well paid for tomorrow's work, why don't I see to our wine?" This is for Baltasar's eavesdropping ears: he leaves his post, fishing out a purse of his mistress's coin.

Jehan-Pascal nods his head in eager and merry agreement when the date is set. "Oh— I mean, of course, and yet, this way I know you'll be home and free to visit," 'Visit,' that sweet little disyllabic euphemism. A small noise like an elongated squeak arises from the back of his throat with the talk of something waiting for him there, but he tames his excitement, otherwise, "I'll have to see it on Monday," he sets himself a set time for anticipation and the enjoyment thereof. "And model it for you, as well?" he is about to bubble over with titters, over there. "Oh, now that's too kind of you. Let me see to the wine— it was my suggestion for a date, after all," he pleds his case to treat her, this once. And, yes, he did call it the d-word.

The d-word is the occasion for a slight lowering of Emmanuelle's chin and a corresponding lift of her eyebrows; but she doesn't argue the point, not when there's important teasing to be done. "But how can you be so certain," she inquires, deadpan, "that your present is something to be worn?"

It's too late for Jehan-Pascal's chivalrous offer: Baltasar in conference with the hostess has settled the bill and tipped amply for no service whatsoever. (The third bottle too is paid for, should the bibulous Baphinol seek in its depths some consolation for his lover's departure at so early an hour.) By the time her valet returns to her side Emmanuelle has her gloves on and fastened at her wrists with the golden keys which serve her for buttons — and she's taken advantage of his brief absence to murmur a promise about Monday night which must put paid to any ambition Jehan-Pascal might have had to farewell her standing upright.

Of course she can't leave without a small detour, a small performance for the benefit of onlookers as well as her own sense of humour. Her boots sound another slow tattoo upon the wine cellar's flagstoned floor as, once again, she approaches her 'old friend' seated at the edge of that opposite alcove. In expectation of another possessive touch the lady tenses but remains as she is, without turning: the bootheels, the faces of her friends, the silence that falls upon them at Emmanuelle's approach, provides her ample and delicious warning.

Then red-gloved fingers sink boldly and ungently into red-golden curls, pulling her head back and disarranging her coiffure. She gasps aloud, eyes widening as she looks up into Emmanuelle's face; and Emmanuelle, looking down, smiles with a cruel and mocking curve to her mouth, savouring the discomfiture she's caused. When her hand comes away the lady's jeweled hair ornament is clasped between her fingertips, trailing red-golden strands from which she detaches it with an impatient tug that surely must hurt. "If you want this," she informs her 'friend' coolly, the stone walls amplifying her quiet words for the entertainment of neighbouring alcoves, "you'll have to come and get it, won't you?"

The trinket describes a glittering passage through the air as she tosses it aloft; she catches it and confides it to an inner pocket of her coat as she steps away, departing now in earnest, the weight of her gaze resting just once more upon Jehan-Pascal as in passing she grants him a reserved nod of farewell.

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