(1311-02-17) Outlandish Affairs
Summary: Those perennial d’Angeline favourites, love and marriage, are always on the menu at teatime: though they may sometimes prove difficult to swallow.
RL Date: 13/02/2019 - 18/02/2019
Related: The previous day’s Ducal Court. There’s also a reference to The Passage of An Heirloom.
desarae dorimene_npc 

Solar — Dome of the Lady

Spacious enough to provide a meeting place of more familiar atmosphere to the residents of the Ducal Palace, the solar is of rectangular shape and generously lit during the day through a number of arched windows in the south wall. The opposite side is governed by a huge stone hearth, a fire crackling there during colder weather conditions. Above the hearth hangs a shield with the coat of arms of House Mereliot, flanked by a pair of exquisitely woven tapestries depicting naval scenes of ships on the sea, one in calm and tranquil weather conditions, the other one in a storm with heavy rain.

All furniture is made of oak, be it the long table in the middle of the room, or the number of high backed chairs arranged about it, flat cushions of blue brocade adding to the comfort of seating. The ceiling is a sophisticated rib vault, constructed of wood, the ribs painted in yellow. Depictions of a variety of sea animals have been added onto the light blue ceiling as well by an unknown artist. Several kinds of mediterranean fish adorn the spaces in between ribs, such as combers, groupers and flounders but also starfish and octopusses.

A door leads out onto a rooftop garden, and an archway opens into the upper hallway.

Falling snow has given the Dome of the Lady the appearance of a particularly refined Hellenic cake decoration. It has moreover discouraged those native Eisandine nobles for whom snow is a rare and calamitous occurrence, as well as those visitors who came here expressly to escape the rigours of a northern winter, from infesting the palace precincts in any great numbers.

The solar is almost empty when Desarae strays that way for an hour’s relief from her studies, or upon some other errand she will no doubt elucidate in her own pose. Just a couple of resident ladies-in-waiting playing a desultory hand of cards whilst waiting for the duchesse’s call — and, arranged in an armchair near the windows, where she can gaze out upon those fine powdery flurries and either monitor their progress or lose herself therein, another young lady dressed simply in ice-blue silk with silver ribbons to tie her sleeves to her bodice. Spread out across her chair is a white-in-white cloak of silk and ermine, doffed where she sits. She is quite idle, her pale hands with nails lacquered a delicate pink escaped from a pair of equally white kid gloves (draped now over the chair’s arm) to rest peacefully in her lap. It seems she’s paying no heed to comings, going, doings, who might be winning or who losing the game she has forborne to join: but after another moment or two lost in thought she does look round, revealing herself to be a relation by blood though not by name: Dorimène nó Cereus de Shahrizai.

They’ve met just once before, when she paid a brief, correct, but seemingly heartfelt call of condolence upon Desarae in the weeks after last year’s catastrophic Festival of Lights at Béziers. At that time, and in a summer gown of soft pleated white linen, Dorimène’s belly was just beginning to suggest a passenger within: she has had the child since and her frame is positively frail again, befitting a woman who will carry all her days the aura of Cereus House. In a sense Desarae has seen her face since then, three times or more, given the strong resemblance she bears to a certain former Dowayne of Mandrake House. Strip away twenty years from the lady Emmanuelle, reshape her in a purely feminine style and dress her in skirts, and: there’s Dorimène. If only because of the mother, the daughter is difficult to forget. Though from some other ancestor, perhaps on the branch of her family tree that has remained all these years unknown to the world, she has inherited a smaller, more ladylike nose than her mother’s handsome patrician beak. It seems more in keeping with her own spirit.

“I thought to wait here till the snow should cease,” she explains in the murmurous, lilting accents of that ancient house of Mont Nuit, so seldom heard in the far south; “cousin, it is good to see you again.” And a demure smile which has nothing at all to do with Emmanuelle Shahrizai, curves her unpainted pale pink lips as she rises and offers Desarae both her hands.

The months since Dorimène last saw Desarae have seen her blossom from young girl to womanhood: a change it might be noted that's not due merely to that intervening passage of time. Whilst her training as a novice of the esteemed Rose Sauvage salon had been both exemplary and faultless for the path ordained for her, it had lacked in a number of areas which would be considered a very necessary grounding for her to be able to step into her mother's shoes as the future Marquise of Chavaise. It's a point of fact that her aunt has been most rigorous and thorough in setting to rights, and the decision to fill Desarae's days with tutors and lessons has also, no doubt, been coloured by the belief that an occupied mind has little time left for melancholic thoughts. Thus it is that a quite different Desarae from the one that Dorimène might recall halts before her cousin, the ivory and gold brocade that she's selected to wear for the day doing much to enhance the warm undertones of her complexion as she takes her cousin's bare hands in her own gloved ones.

"Lady Cousin. I had no idea you were currently in Marsilikos." Her fingers lightly press her cousin's as she greets her, and eyes — as eyes are wont to do — drift naturally towards Dorimène's midriff. Pain flares briefly in her expression, but whatever bleak thoughts had entered her head are quickly schooled away beneath heavily lidded eyes, and her face is composed when she brings her focus back to Dorimène's face. "You were safely delivered of your child, I hope? And though it's a delight to see you again, I cannot imagine what brings you to the palace on such a cold day."

It isn’t that Dorimène is insensible to that pain in Desarae’e eyes: but, here and now, she chooses not to acknowledge it: to leave it be, for the sake of the congenial conversation they might hope yet to have. “I came to call upon our lady aunt,” she explains simply; “I had made up my mind that I should, before the days slipped any farther away… The weather provoked me, till I dared it to stop me; but now I fear it has the upper hand and I’m lingering in the hope just of more tranquil skies for my journey home… It is good of you to recall,” she murmurs, evanescently, her sapphire eyes lowering and then raising again. It’s almost apologetically that she explains, “I was delivered some four months past of another baby girl, my second: Léonie Emmanuelle Shahrizai, or so she is for now.” A little shift of her shoulders under pale blue sllk, acknowledging that — for a girl, especially — these things are likely to alter in time. “I wonder who she shall yet become,” she admits honestly, giving her cousin’s hands a gentle answering squeeze before she releases them. Drawing in her next breath she catches her lower lip between her teeth and slowly lets it go. “And who I might be, by then — and you too, my lady cousin. All of us, gathering toward ourselves new guises and new truths…”

The pain that Dorimène notes in Desarae’s expression is a pain that is likely to linger for years; the sort that will lie dormant for swathes of time before resurfacing to catch her unawares when faced with the fact that whilst her own family has been utterly dismantled, others around her are not quite so cursed. "How wonderful.” she brightly commends. “Another daughter for you. Is Lord Delaunay acting the besotted father?" Her hands slip from her cousin's as Dorimène reclaims her own, and despite the fact that Desarae's dressed in a manner that suggests she has someplace else to be, she seems in no real hurry to make her excuses and leave. "As to our own futures, well yes,” she notes with quiet resolve. “Even if my own future self does seem to be one of the very few things of which I'm quite certain.”.

Her cousin's vacated seat is indicated with a fractional tilt of her head. "Let's sit," she decides for them both, "and talk some more. I understand from Adèle that we're delivered of some delightful new teas from Ch'in, and one of our aunt's carriages can take you home to save sending for your own. Have you spoken with her yet, or are you still waiting?"

“I’d like that,” the erstwhile Cereus says gently; “I sent already for tea, and I shouldn’t be surprised if our aunt’s staff had the wit to bring more than one cup, to such a gathering-place as the solar…” Another light touch, her fingertips hardly grazing Desarae’s arm as she encourages the younger woman to precede her by half a step to the place where her belongings are disposed with such casual elegance, her cloak spread out to make a blanket of white fur and her gloves already removed in the imminent anticipation of refreshments.

She perches at the edge of her own fur-draped chair, sitting quite upright now and absolutely attentive to her cousin, without a thought for the flurries of snow that were so engrossing her only moments ago. (Of course it may not have been the snow, as such.) “Her Grace kindly gave me several minutes,” she goes on, “and I feel much reassured, as always… I carried her a letter from my lady mother, of all peculiar things,” and she lifts pink-manicured fingertips as if to cover a soft, girlish laugh, but lowers her hand instead to press over her heart; she leans forward over a low table still bare to remark more confidentially, “I’m sure you’ve noticed Emmadame never sets quill to parchment unless the house is on fire, or some similar exigency arises.”

(In this very chamber, some months ago, yes, Emmanuelle Shahrizai did explain to the only living child of her estranged sister Monique: “I’m shit at writing letters.”)

Two footmen materialise, one to hold the tray of tea things and the other to dispose its contents upon the table between the two young ladies: there are three cups, that having been the number of persons in the solar when Dorimène issued her request — that is, her order, couched in Cereus delicacy — and by the most perfectly timed glance to the footman when he touches the third cup, and the slightest and most subtle gesture of fingertips in her lap, she conveys the suggestion that that third cup will absolutely not be required, and ought to be taken away at once. Having come into an intriguing tête-à-tête, she has no use for gooseberries.

Her gaze travels straight to Desarae’s face in turn; “May I?” Another silky laugh, this one tinged with apology. “It is your home, now, cousin, but I am older. And I so like to make tea.” She sounds as though nothing would give her more pleasure than to dispose of sugar-lumps.

Desarae subsides into the seat as indicated, the ivory fabric of her skirts settling in sumptuous folds that threaten to entirely loose themselves against the cream of the damask silk upholstery. "Please do," she encourages brightly of the offer to serve and pour once footman places the tea on the table between them. "I prefer mine served black and without any sweetening. If, however, they've been overly generous with the amount of leaf in the pot, then only pour me half a cup. I like it served weak so will dilute it with further hot water. I recently took tea at the Rousse residence, and goodness, you'd think it grew on trees the amount that was used." A smile of mischief alights upon her lips at the cleverness of her own humour, and she diligently set herself to arranging the pillows on her couch to her liking; stacking them to her left so that when she leans into them to press her elbow to the arm of the seat, she's fully supported in a semi-recumbent incline.

"Would it be entirely too indelicate of me to ask what it is that Emmadame wrote about?" She finds that perfect angle of her palm into which to rest the edge of her jaw and cheek, the tips of her fingers losing themselves in the gentle upswept lengths of her hair. "I should really call on her again myself at some point, and I feel quite terrible that I haven't. We didn't get a chance to speak other than in passing whilst in Elua, and she attended the Longest Night celebrations at Cereus House, whilst I attended the Midwinter Ball. I did so wish to tell her that I wore the black pearls, and that they were a triumph."

That little jest finds favour with Dorimène, who looks up bright-eyed from the tea things arranged before her and fleetingly mirrors Desarae with a more reserved smile of her own.

Then she lifts the lid of the pot and inspects the contents. Extracting the wrought-silver infuser and placing it in the waiting china dish with nary a drip upon the table she glances again to Desarae. “I see that Her Grace’s kitchen staff believes in an elegant sufficiency of leaves. How relieving.” And she pours; and the exquisite lines of her hands and her wrists, the assuredness and economy of each movement she makes, turns this quotidian task into a kind of dance. The supernal grace of Cereus House, inculcated into her muscles and perhaps her very bones — and visible especially, perhaps, in the way she holds back the fall of fine lace from a pale fitted sleeve when it might otherwise trail across the infuser as she reaches out, and in her dainty seizure via silver tongs of a single sugar-lump to dispose splashlessly in her own cup. Nothing she does appears calculated, or even conscious; it flows out from her quite naturally as she chats with her cousin and laughs aloud, a sound so smooth and silky and polished that it almost fails to sound genuine: a deficiency which her lively gaze is quick to correct.

“I, break Emmadame’s seal? If I did such a thing I’d go straight up after and fling myself off the roof,” and she nods to the stair to the roof garden, “it would be so much swifter and less painful an end…” She catches her lower lip between her teeth, still amused. Then: “If you really wish to know you might ask when you call on her — I hope you shall do, I know she’d be so pleased to see you,” and she extends to her cousin a gentle look and a perfect cup of weak black tea. Taking up her own cup and saucer and holding both together rock-steady in her left hand until Desarae has taken the first taste of her own, she sits back just a little upon her fur-draped chair: back straight, effortlessly poised, a courtesan in one of her most natural habitats.

“… Of course I’m not surprised to hear that Emmadame was elusive in Elua,” and she lowers her voice, for while it’s perfectly in order for Desarae to hear this tidbit, the ladies-in-waiting need not; “she took her lover with her, for the holiday. I stayed in Marsilikos because, well, I didn’t like to leave my baby,” she admits, “but, too, I didn’t like to make a third in that carriage.”

And she serves Desarae next a small impish smile.

Desarae slides her feet from her slippers and brings both up to the comfort of the couch's cushions. Not for her the perfection of her Cereus cousin's ingrained posture, and toes that gleam where gilded with a dusting of gold are neatly covered with a flick of her skirts. Once Dorimène's dispensed the tea, and that first important taste of it has been had, she balances the saucer on the edge of her knees, allowing it time to cool a little so that the flavours have time to develop.

"I did not mean for you to break any of Emmadame's confidences," she notes, quick to reassure her cousin on that point of their conversation. "I assumed," she muses on, "… that since the letter was not entrusted to the hand of a servant, that you might have known the purpose of your visit." Her laughter echoes Dorimène's as her eyes are drawn to the roof garden stairs. "…But knowing Emmadame's aversion to letter writing, perhaps the whole thing was simply a vehicle by which to force you into visiting our aunt since you were absent from court last night." A flicker of annoyance is evident in her eyes. "You missed the betrothal announcements of princesses to both the Rousse family and mine own, though I shall never refer to them by such ridiculous titles." A glance is given to where Nicolas stands, and a slow exhale escapes her lips, as if she draws strength from the mere fact of his presence. She lowers her voice. "One is a Bhodistani…" Fingers tighten about her cup as she adjusts its placement on the saucer, though she doesn't lift it from it, merely rotates it a quarter-turn to the right. It serves as a distraction for her from her darker thoughts, and her teeth work at her lower lip before her eyes lift back to Dorimène's.

"… A lover, you say? How extraordinary. They must be very special to have captured Emmadame's attention and to be so honoured by her."

The conjuring of semi-royal foreign phantoms is no more pleasing to this Cereus-trained Shahrizai — this flower of Kusheth and Eisande, transplanted to the hothouses of Mont Nuit — than to any Mereliot under siege by interlopers: she closes her eyes and gives a little shake of her head, neat blue-black ringlets shifting about her white shoulders as her right hand lifts her cup from the saucer held securely in her left. Sapphire eyes open; she sips.

“It’s inconceivable,” she sighs, very softly, beneath anybody’s hearing but Desarae’s own. Her cup clinks just as softly back into its saucer. “So much so that an old friend of mine came and sat on the end of my bed this morning and ate half my breakfast whilst she was telling me all about it — she couldn’t contain herself until a more civilised hour — I meant to be at court yesterday, you understand,” an apologetic note enters her voice, “I was meant to go because Emmadame had other plans, and there’d be no sense in both of us attending — but the baby was so fractious,” another shake of her head, accompanied by the slightest pursing of her lips, “and I wasn’t ready to set out until it was really too late for it to have done any good… I can believe it of House Rousse, of course, in all their sailing to and fro they’ve always been the first to forge links with foreign powers — but House Mereliot? To think,” a faint silken laugh, “that once upon a time, there were some who considered my grandpapa an outlandish choice for a Mereliot’s consort, and he with angelic blood running so powerfully through his veins… Perhaps,” and she looks up from the raised cup from which she has just taken a second decorous sip, “we have arrived at the subject of Emmadame’s letter.”

But that way lies only the most dangerous speculation, beyond mere gossip; and so Dorimène falls silent as she drinks a drop more tea and restores cup to saucer and saucer to table. Her hands curl together in her lap, in an elegant clasp practiced since her infancy till it’s just her nature. The only ring she wears is a large marquise-cut sapphire on the third finger of her left hand, set in silver. No obvious token of consortship, only of Shahrizai wealth.

“You may well know him,” she volunteers, pivoting. “That is to say, Emmadame’s young man whom she took to Elua. He is Jehan-Pascal de Baphinol, the heir to the comte d’Avignon…?” she murmurs, dangling the name before Desarae to see whether she bites. “How extraordinary I don’t know, save in her eyes. It seems it was quite the coup de foudre.”

"I can't say that I see the need for another political alliance between House Mereliot and Khebbel-im-Akkad," Desarae notes to Dorimène, her cup subjected to another half-rotation with the tips of her fingers. "Aunt Séraphine was, after all, shipped off to the purgatory of that place herself, and her daughter — our lady cousin Anahita — has become one of the wives to one of the Khalif's many… many sons." Her eyes lid heavily with her thoughts given voice, and in the silence that follows she traces the intricate gilded pattern that decorates the circumference of her saucer.

Apparently too depressed to continue, she lifts her cup to console herself with a further soupçon of her tea, though the frown that had started to furrow her brow is banished with the name that Dorimène dangles. "The heir to Avignon?" She conceals her blossoming surprise with a dip of her chin. "That certainly is news to brighten my day, and you couldn't have surprised me more if you'd tried. Though he was a frequent patron of the Rose Sauvage, it was to the upper floors that he mostly confined himself."

Taking her note from Desarae’s own solemnity — and from the fate of women so near to them both by blood — Dorimène murmurs, “Whatever futures may even now be unfurling ahead of us, at least neither you nor I need fear being bartered away from our homeland.”

She is however as willing as her cousin to be diverted from these murky international waters, and what could be more tempting to a pair of d’Angeline ladies seated across a teapot from one another than the latest and least probable love affair in their family circle—? Desarae’s pleasure in the news, the tidbit she offers in return from her own privy knowledge of the Baphinol heir’s excursions to the Rose Sauvage, prompts Dorimène to lower her chin as well the better to hide — from the ladies-in-waiting whose card game has suffered from their attempts to eavesdrop, and from Nicolas too standing stalwart at his post — the puckish little smile which curves her pink lips as she dwells upon her lady mother’s new romantic arrangements.

“… Do you know,” she ventures in a silky-soft purr, punctuated by the merest fluttering of dark lashes before her clear blue eyes, “I think it may have surprised him too?”

And so the cousins draw strength from their tea and their shared amusement; and together they finish off the pot (and one or two mutual acquaintances’ reputations) before they go their separate ways in a Marsilikos blanketed gently with snow.

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