(1311-02-18) Not So Far To The Left
Summary: Jehan-Pascal comes to ‘visit’ Emmanuelle and meets her grand-daughter Hélène again, in the library, with the local bird life. (Warning: Tidbits of mature content, after the toddler's gone to bed.)
RL Date: 20/02/2019
Related: Sort of follows on from The D-Word.
emmanuelle jehan-pascal 

La Maison Sanglante — Place des Mains

Directly abutting the walled compounds of Marsilikos's Night Court, and running in fact for some distance behind the Salon de la Rose Sauvage, is a house which boasts a far more modest frontage upon the Place des Mains d'Eisheth. Its name derives from a violent incident in its past; previous owners tried to redub it in the public mind, but the present ones embrace the term. By their design its three-storey façade of grey stone is shielded at street level by a high and forbidding wall of darker stone, into which is set a pair of intricately-wrought iron gates taller than any man who may ring the bell at their side. Kept locked, their curlicues of black iron are enlivened by a pattern of gilded keys.

Between the outer wall and the house stands a small stone courtyard lined at either side with wormwood trees, which impart a bitter and aromatic fragrance to the air within it. From it half a dozen stone steps rise to heavy doors of dark and ancient oak, studded with black iron and hung upon baroque hinges of the same; these open into a large, square, windowless chamber, occupying the full width of the building and yet higher than it is wide. At each side of the doors is a console table of dark purple marble veined with black, bolted to the wall above a pair of elaborate gilded legs and beneath a matching and equally baroque gilded mirror. There are no other furnishings. Sparse lighting is provided by candles in iron sconces bolted to pillars of the same purple marble, which pass into shadow on their way to support the vaulted ceiling overhead.

The light is, however, sufficient to permit examination of the frescoes which cover walls and ceiling alike from a height of perhaps four feet off the gleaming black and purple marble floor. An artist of great skill and anatomical knowledge has limned a series of scenes of Kushiel chastising sinners. Those who come to him for succour are shown enduring remarkably detailed torments before being transfigured by the raptures of his love… or, possibly, hers. In some panels Kushiel is a man and in some a woman, in others an unmistakable hermaphrodite: in all these incarnations the Punisher is depicted with the lean figure, the austere profile, and the hooded blue eyes of a lady who resides beneath this roof.

On the back wall this unconventional masterpiece is interrupted by the outlines of two single doors, and the elaborate black iron handles attached to each. The door on the left leads to an intimate receiving-room wherein a pair of studded black leather sofas frame a low, well-polished mahogany table. In here the walls are covered in frescoes of the Kusheline countryside, from the same brush.

Once again Jehan-Pascal arrives at the Maison Sanglante to find Baltasar posted in the foyer, awaiting him: the Shahrizai is taking a holiday it would appear from his periodic antipathies to the Baphinol heir, and relieves him with great courtesy of his cloak before leading him by an unfamiliar route into a part of the house he hasn't been shown before. Its dimensions are as ever impossible to define: from a rabbit-warren of passages and narrow stairs and antechambers lacking any window through which one might orient oneself to the outside world, most of which seem to be kept locked, they emerge at length into the middle of what might be mistaken for an unusually well-read ruby.

Between a ceiling elaborately paneled in oak and something fine and dark red summoned from Khebbel-im-Akkad to fit the floor to a nicety, this chamber is lined to shoulder-height (on Emmanuelle: Jehan-Pascal's lanky frame will measure it differently) with glass-fronted oaken cabinets containing a monarch's ransom in books old and new. Different bindings, different tongues, different ages… Scrolls have their places too behind the protection of beveled glass, and bundles of manuscript pages, tied up with red ribbons. Higher up the walls are covered in silk in pigeon's blood hues, gorgeously woven, red upon red. Various bronzes, marbles, and articles of Eastern porcelain are lined up along the tops of the book-cabinets, in a strictly symmetrical arrangement, well-spaced and balancing one another in colour and theme as well as mere position.

The furnishings are few and large, dark wood and red velvet. Several chairs, a sofa. Over the monumental oak-framed hearth there hangs a double portrait in oils of the late Lady of Marsilikos and her consort Lord Edouard Shahrizai; opposite it, anchoring the other end of the chamber, stands an equally gargantuan oaken desk with comfortably-upholstered campaign-style chairs to left and right, turned so that one might sit in either and face toward whomever might be working at the desk. In this case, Emmanuelle Shahrizai, who need only look up to see her parents. She already has company: a small blue-eyed girl rising three years old, who wears her blue-black hair in pigtails tied with white silk ribbons in great big bows. The lady Hélène Lucette Shahrizai. Jehan-Pascal met her once before, on the morning her grandmother whisked him away to Elua for the winter season: she made him on that occasion a pretty little curtsey. Emmanuelle is sitting forward in a wingbacked chair of dark red leather with the child in her lap: both facing the desk, both occupied with some project which is, initially, hidden behind a heavily-wrought silver inkwell which constitutes a sculpture in itself.

The doors open equidistantly between the hearth and the desk. Baltasar simply bows the visitor in and leaves him to find his own way across that great expanse of red carpet, from the warmest part of the chamber to the coolest.

At first nobody looks up. Hélène is holding a lit candle and a stick of shimmering golden wax, and with her grandmother's larger, older, black-manicured hands wrapped round her own small and chubby pair — guiding her with a delicate touch which can hardly astonish Jehan-Pascal — they are sealing a letter which lies before them upon the blotter. The child is focused wholly upon her task; Emmanuelle is focused wholly upon the child.

"… Now, we put the candle back first," she instructs, and they restore it to the empty place in the candelabra to their right; "and — like this." Whilst showing Hélène how to swirl the wax about with the end of the stick to make the right shape for the seal, Emmanuelle's gaze lifts briefly to her approaching lover and she gives him the ghost of a smile. Then it's time for the seal, and even the most beautiful young man in Marsilikos must wait his turn. "Remember, you must always breathe on it," Emmanuelle advises, holding it just so to receive a small determined huff, "so that it won't stick, and you may in the same moment look: is it the right way up? It is, isn't it?" And together they make a perfect mandrake flower and key imprint in the pool of golden wax. Emmanuelle affects to lean down over Hélène's shoulder to inspect her work. "You did that very well," she pronounces solemnly.

The two Shahrizais seem to have been hard at work for some time. The desk is covered in the detritus of their afternoon, a disorder highly unusual in this house: sheets of parchment profligately torn in half or screwed up, lengths of coloured ribbon, quills, a knife Jehan-Pascal probably recognises as a constant possession of Emmanuelle's, her ring of gilded keys, a tinderbox, a sandbox, a silver teapot and two cups, a plate of crumbs — and a flock of tiny colourful birds each of which seems to have created by folding (intricately, ingeniously) a thin sheet of paper in a different hue. The letter they've just sealed is wrapped round with a narrow purple silk ribbon, the trimmed ends of which are hidden under the wax. Two others stand ready, colour-coded respectively blue-black and sky-blue, for the convenience of one too young to know her letters.

Jehan-Pascal, finding Baltasar more amenable than often, does his very best to sour his mood by making small-talk while he completely loses track of where they are in the house. The likelihood stands that he would never be able to find his way out of here on his own, ant at least part of that is due to the comfort level that allows his guard to be down and his attention to be fixed on Baltasar and not at all which way they're going nor which way they've been.

And then the Amethyst is introduced to the Ruby, and for a moment he just stands in place, rather dazed, taking his feet in after him with a light stumble over the carpet or his own boots. But as much as his awe is inspired by the collection, the sight to make his heart melt — even though being on the polar opposite of the warm end of the room — is that of Emman, there, at her desk, showing Hélène how to seal a letter. He doesn't interrupt, just sort of stands there with his hand over his heart, puddling emotionally until Emman looks up to him and smiles. His own smile is grown slightly out of proportion to his features, wavering with the sheer adorableness of the vision, and, once he recovers himself, he does dawdle closer, and, should the young one be distracted from her toddler's industry, he issues her a bow. "My Lady Hélène," he greets her, formally, but with that cheekiness of formality so often reserved for the very young. And, then, lest Emman feel left out, another bow, for her, and a grin. "Madame. Good evening."

Emmanuelle releases one of her granddaughter's hands to place the sealed letter aside; Hélène meanwhile reaches for the next one, sky-blue, and lines it up in front of them and nudges it straight. Both sets of Shahrizai eyes inspect Jehan-Pascal, one pair suspiciously and the other merely, habitually cool. "The heart," the owner of the latter remarks in an undertone across the desk, "is not located so far to the left of the chest cavity as many people suppose. Say good evening to Lord Baphinol," she prompts, and a moment later the child's reedy young soprano voice pipes with a formality befitting his own: "Good evening, Lord Baphinol."

And they take up candle and wax and repeat the procedure, Emmanuelle's hands perhaps now following rather than leading, but ready to take over in a trice if anything should catch fire that oughtn't to do. As far as she can be seen around the small girl in her lap she's dressed casually, in a slate blue silk shirt beneath a black velvet coat with epauletted shoulders; her hair is only her own, pulled straight back into a short tail. Her favourite golden Shahrizai key pin fixes in place a neckcloth of a darker blue. To her visitor, she explains in the same mild low tones, "The lady Hélène and I are giving a small dinner for our birthdays next week. We have been writing out invitations to our guests."

"Oh, is it?" Not that Jehan-Pascal at all doubts the anatomical prowess of Madame, it's only a thing to say to recognize that one has been corrected. At any rate, he makes no particular effort to locate the organ further, only coming close to the desk. "And a very good-day to you," he answers the Lady Hélène, just charmed out of his mind by the little girl. In response to Emman's information about the activity, he glances to her, back to the child, does a quick double take and then affects a gasp. "Your birthdays! What day is your birthday, Lady Hélène?" he asks the toddler, and then, after giving her time to answer — should she answer, "How many years old will you be?" The sort of thing you ask a little girl with impunity. Meanwhile, in the back burner of his brain, that poem he's been working on suddenly gains a sense of real urgency.

Hélène looks up at her interlocutor as though he were a witless fool to be humoured — doesn't everybody know these important things? Certainly everybody else she meets knows all about her and her life here — and explains, "Thursday." She's distracted by Emmanuelle declaring, "That's enough of the wax," and requiring the candle once more to be put away smartly before it can drip on anything; shaping the little golden puddle, then, she adds, "I'm turning three." Enough of a fuss has been made about this already that she knows it to be a significant fact, worthy of great emphasis. Emmanuelle supplies the seal for her to huff upon and press into the wax, and elucidates quietly over her head, "On the twenty-eighth. I'll be three-and-forty one day earlier." She smiles drily. "It is unlike Dorimène to be late with a gift; but there we have it." They have also the second letter sealed and they place it with the first and move onto the third, the one bound up with a ribbon in so dark a blue it's almost black.

Jehan-Pascal does not in the least disabuse the Lady Hélène of any of the importance she attaches to her natality. No, he does not. "Three. WOW," he doesn't at all shout, but he definitely speaks in the all-caps of amazement, duly awed by her progression per annos. Their progress with the invitations is looked upon with great merriment, but his eyes return to Emman when she tells the actual dates in question, even if he had already gotten from 'next Thursday' to the 28th in his head, somewhat more ept with calendars than directions. "Oh?" he doesn't know quite what to make of the lattermost comment, looking between the ladies both, "What does my lady have on her birthday wish-list, hm?" he asks— Hélène. Of course, if Emman would care to give him guidance— he will ever take it. Gift-giving was never his top sport. And even if he was already working on his poem, all unawares of a looming potential deadline, if he doesn't finish it in time he will surely need to find something else.

This appears to be a question to which the lady Hélène Lucette Shahrizai has devoted as much thought already as Jehan-Pascal to his poetic ventures. Her recitation of interesting possibilities — interspersed by discreet nods and shakes of Emmanuelle's head behind her, and one or two eye-rolls: a secret key to plans and purchases already made — lasts easily till the third pristine golden seal is accomplished with grandmotherly guidance. Measured praise is duly given: Emmanuelle is never effusive, but one word from her plainly means the world to the child in her lap. And then she pronounces to Jehan-Pascal, "It's high time I returned this one to her nurse's care." She nudges Hélène up out of her lap and stands after her, resting a hand upon their neat pile of three ribbon-bound invitations. "Shall we deliver these together tomorrow?" she asks the child. "I am not free any longer this afternoon; I have business to discuss with Lord Baphinol." Another dainty euphemism: the 'business' of his 'visit'.

Hélène shakes her head. "I'll deliver them," she declares, a tad pompously, dark pigtails and white ribbons swinging with her motion.

"Very well," concedes Emmanuelle, whose terms of apparent equality with her grandchild would no doubt surprise those acquainted with her only in other connexions. "Up you get," she orders, and turns away; and Hélène scrambles up into her grandmother's chair and then onto her grandmother's very back, for a piggyback ride to her own rooms. With small chubby arms locked round her neck and disarranging her very neckcloth, and one strong arm (as Jehan-Pascal knows oh so well) supporting one short leg, she picks up the invitations from the desk and remarks drily to her lover as she tucks them inside her coat, "She's getting too heavy for this." She curls her other arm around Hélène's other leg and comes out from behind the desk, revealing shirt-tails hanging loose over a comfy pair of black leather pants, and flat black velvet slippers lined with fur.

"I shall not be long," she adds quietly, meeting her lover's eyes for longer than she has done hitherto; "would you prefer to wait here, or…?"

Jehan-Pascal keeps his own reactions to the gift list muted, as these things go, only widening his eyes for some of the more outlandish proposals and appending an admiring 'ooh' to some of the ones she is sure, if he is reading Emman's key correctly, to get, whetting her appetite further for those, if poss. Look at this grown man trying to manipulate a toddler's birthday expectations. Get back in your lane, JP.

When Emman announces the end of the day's visit with the little one, he rights himself from the easy lean from which he had been conversing with the small one and gives her another bow. "How good it was to see you again, Lady Helene," he bids her, and then grins big to watch Emman be loaded up with grandchild. So sweet. "I'll wait here," he pledges. He couldn't find his way anywhere else if he tried.

And then, hip against desk, his fingers idly find a little paper bird to toy with while Emmanuelle goes to deliver the little bundle elsewhere. Somewhere in the midst of all of it that remark about late birthday presents, which had been gnawing like a canker at the back of his brain — how could Emman know the gift will be late if the birthdays aren't until next week? — finally clicks into place and, "Oh, my god, I'm an idiot," he remarks mildly to himself in the middle of the empty room. Whilst playing with two paper birds in front of him, as though they were talking to one another.

In departing Emmanuelle reaches over the inkwell to scoop up her seal and her keys in the same gesture, and shoves them together into another pocket. A last crooked smile for Jehan-Pascal; and the ladies abandon him to the books and the birds… With which, it seems, he's still occupied when very shortly (she hurried) and very discreetly (all the hinges in this house are so well-oiled) Emmanuelle comes up behind him again. First her scent; then her teasing voice. "If you're a good girl," she suggests, "you may take some of those home to play with."

Jehan-Pascal is! He's just sort of fascinated by them, by this point. He doesn't look up at the smell, but nor is he surprised by the voice, only looking up at that point with a big grin and a welcome laugh. "They are quite inventive and ingenious little dolls," he notes, by way of appreciation, or else of clearing his own name for having been engaged with them for so long. "Are they each only one piece of paper? How did you tell how to fold them to get them into these shapes? Are they your own designs?" he wonders, rather mystified by what art can come of the simple folding of paper.

Emmanuelle comes closer and leans her hip against the desk, and picks up the nearest bird to examine with her fingertips. Absent the distraction of the child — Hélène tends to come first with her grandmother — her gaze is riveted upon her lover. Studying him. Enjoying him. Calculating how swiftly and in how few movements she could bend him over her desk and have at him, had she only the necessary equipment in her breeches today. Alas, there's nothing tenting her untucked shirt-tails: no immediate solution to the problem of her desire.

"One piece each for those birds," she confirms, "though some things are a little more complicated. I learned a long while ago, when my children were small enough to be entertained by them." A wry lift of her brows. "It's good exercise for the hands, too, of course." Her eyes wander down over his lilacs and his greys, his well-tailored elegance, his amethyst pendant… And up again to hold his, quietly intent. "I regret to say that my jewel-box is at present tenanted," she confides. "Yesterday's visitor has not yet departed, though I understand she's finally in her bath and won't be too much longer." This in a sardonic drawl.

Jehan-Pascal keeps his gaze half-lowered, an affectation of girlish shyness calculated to delight along with a subtle shift of his shoulder up toward his chin. "Well, I think they're clever, and I don't mind who knows, even if I should be too old to be delighted by them," he affirms gently, his eyes rising when forced to do so by her own, as they hold him, unflinching, in their gaze. "Oh— let her rest," he is hardly troubled by the occupancy. "I know well enough how ill prepared one may feel to be up and about again after your attentions. And, beside which, it is not as though we are lacking for space," he points out, a merry glean in his eye. "Do you want to go to my chamber? I've been curious about the gift — even if it turns out I should be home working on your gift," he brings up the matter of her birthday again.

It does delight, it really does. "My jewel-box does offer," Emmanuelle reminds him, not quite rejecting the possibility thus presented to her, "certain conveniences… I am a degree more tolerant than I used to be," she adds, drawling again, "of these exercises in patience." But there's a suggestion of vexation in the way she tosses her paper bird down amongst its fellows, and tucks both hands into the pockets of her long velvet coat just to keep them off her maiden for another two or three minutes, if possible. Three may be a stretch. "You certainly shouldn't be anywhere but here with me, my love. I don't want presents," she informs him firmly. "Do you know how many I've had already this year, with a week still to go? Patrons, former patrons — even prospective patrons? Nineteen," she pronounces, giving the numeral the flavour of an expletive. "Nineteen," she says again and pauses for effect, "fucking thank-you notes."

Jehan-Pascal goes to set down the twin birds, now held by matched tails between two delicate finger, more carefully and with a great deal more loving spirit upon the desk next to their discarded comrade. In doing so, he only sweeps them slowly to and fro over the desk's surface for a little bit. "Well, then I won't go anywhere… and the only convenience I require is you beside me," he issues sweetly from between lips bearing a slight stain — a purplish hue, now that she is close enough to spy it's not quite his usual berry color — it definitely blends better with his garb, and in some lights it may even give his lips a bluish cast, as though he were just fished from the water. "On the present, though, you'll have to be disappointed. I've been working on it for a while now, and it may not be done in time for your natality, but it will… one day… be ready for you. And you may thank me in person, to cut down on your correspondence," he appends with a cheeky little expression.

Veteran courtesan that she is — as well as reluctant letter-writer — Emmanuelle hardly reacts to the prospect of a present. Just a fractional lift of her eyebrows, as if perhaps she is devoting a moment's consideration to: what could he possibly be working on, as a gift? Does he secretly crochet? Let us hope not. "Well, my love," she drawls, "I'll admit I have one or two thoughts on giving such thanks." Then, inevitably, now they've both put down their birds — hers blue, his such a pretty pink — her paws escape her pockets.

She takes her lover's hand into her own — skin touching skin and warmth meeting warmth for the first time since before his sojourn in the comté — and lifts it slowly to her lips. Her kiss upon his knuckles becomes, in her present mood, a bite. Her teeth sink in and her hold on him tightens: not enough to pain her maiden, only enough to remind him that she very well could hurt him so, and yet for love's sake she deliberately refrains. Lowering his hand again she rubs away the faint red residue of her lips with a reassuring thumb.

"Come on," she says then, still holding his hand and his eyes with equal firmness; "I want to change my clothes. I thought I'd have time," she explains, fishing out her keys and leading him behind her like the shorn lamb he is, "before you came; but then we required a bird made from every colour I had in my desk."

She knows, doesn't she? That subtle downturn of the left edge of his lips, the little flare of his nostrils right before he's about to complain that he's hurting her also marks the moment that she lets go of her dentine grip on his hand and soothes away the mark. One of these days he will complain, but for now, his hand is safe, and held in her hand, and that simple act of hand-holding is so sweet and so dear and draws his smile out once more like a beam of moonlight from between the clouds. Led along like the tender little lamb he is, he moves his fingers softly to try to tangle up with hers from beside her, "OK," he agrees. "Do you want me to help you change, or should I go change, too?" he wonders.

Leaving the library unlocked, and drawing her trusting companion after her through this labyrinth of antechambers and corridors which protects such family secrets as — well — short hair, paper birds, and piggyback rides for small Shahrizai girls, Emmanuelle spares a glance over her shoulder and a kind of promise with it. "Do you truly suppose I intend to let you out of my sight again tonight?" Her eyes gleam at him, cold and clear and blue.

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