(1311-02-25) Generosity Has Nothing To Do With It
Summary: In continued pursuit of his old calling, Raphael pops next door again to the Maison Sanglante. (Warning: Some Mandragian bits.)
RL Date: 25/02/2019
Related: Ducks For Sale, An End of Games.
emmanuelle raphael 

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.

When Raphael nó Rose Sauvage presents himself at the Maison Sanglante for his second appointment with the lady of the house he is again admitted to courtyard and foyer with a speed and a courtesy which would astonish certain less favoured callers. Ahem.

The pet in greeting him bows low and seems under instruction to behave himself. Or perhaps he’s just unwilling to risk a second such humiliation as he endured during Raphael’s last visit. He conducts him then on a long walk, at first through the door by which he came in (Emmanuelle too, the other day) and along a corridor frescoed by the same hands as the foyer but somewhat better lit. Fantastical Kusheline landscapes, illustrating folk-tales all subtly perverted from their originals and given endings either unhappy or — well — happy only in the eye of a sadistic beholder. Nightmare visions, some of them, copied from the oldest and rarest manuscripts in the possession of this particular Shahrizai line. There’s no hurry. No reason the visiting Thorn can’t get a good look. By now, surely, he’s made the acquaintance of Séverine, the Second assigned to the care of the salon’s Red Roses: there’s an excellent likeness of her as a princess in chains, about to suffer(?) the ravishment of a dark knight with a Shahrizai look about him. She’s not the only beauteous Valerian neighbour thus immortalised.

The pet possesses a heavy ring of keys, one of which opens a door towards the end of that lengthy passageway. The chamber beyond proves to be a lock in itself, separating and insulating two sections of the house from anyone who hasn't both keys, and raising the possibility of some servants who might carry only one… It must be a difficult matter to depart from the Maison Sanglante without the permission of one or the other of the house's owners. A single candle sheds light here, tucked inside an elaborate iron cage that casts curious shadows upon walls inlaid with an intricate trompe l'œil representation of a dungeon such as one might find in the depths of Mandrake House, or indeed the Salon de la Rose Sauvage. The work of at least one true master craftsman over a period of years, Raphael of all people is qualified to discern. The console table where the candle-cage sits, and some shelving above it, were built to fit in their present places and to appear at first glance part of the illusion. But in front of intriguing instruments of pleasure and of pain, picked out in rare wood in a dozen hues, those shelves hold a few real objects deposited here to await the convenience of those passing through.

First of all Baltasar locks the door to the passage behind them.

Then, ceremoniously, he relieves Raphael of his cloak and hangs it up on one of a row of hooks placed for the purpose. The letters waiting upon a shelf, he gathers up in one hand; at last he unlocks the inner door and bows the Thorn through it, ahead of him.

Here the floor is tiled similarly in black and white, continuing on from the first passageway, but the walls are painted a plain and muted shade of burgundy above fine oak paneling. They might have stepped out of a nightmare and into a particularly refined gentlemen's club.

It’s another longish walk, but with less to look at. The quiet is absolute.

Courtyard — La Maison Sanglante

The labyrinthine dark and frescoed passageways of the Maison Sanglante debouche at length into a small sitting-room wherein each piece of distinctly upright furniture is black-lacquered and elaborately gilded with, at the farthest consent to comfort, a seat of woven cane. One wall of it consists entirely of a trio of double glass doors which open outwards, shadowed by black-lacquered shutters which open inwards, and shielded by draperies in a very deep purple velvet.

Beyond is a rectangular courtyard of centuries-old, weathered stone: surely one of the house's original features. To the left its longer side is formed by a high wall of stone, set into which a niche houses a stone statue of Eisheth. From her open hands water pours down into a half-circle basin where water-lilies grow. Along the opposite side to the right runs a corridor lined with black-lacquered shutters of the same make but half-length, that are often left open. At the courtyard's farther end the same arrangement of floor-to-ceiling windows and shutters gives onto a large bedchamber, into which the corridor also leads.

The courtyard has no permanent features of its own besides the fountain, several old stone planters growing earthy-scented mandrakes, and a solidly-built whipping-post set deep into the mossy flagstones just outside the bedchamber. But furniture may easily be carried out into it by servants.

Ropes run overhead, along which a white oiled-silk awning may be drawn in wet weather, or lanterns of coloured glass on dark evenings.

Double doors open at Baltasar’s touch, into a small sitting-room at that second corridor’s farthest end: similarly silent and similarly dark in its character.

The farther wall consists entirely of three pairs of broad glass doors looking out upon a stone courtyard of considerable antiquity, wherein a fountain with a statue of Eisheth might be glimpsed, and a whipping post beyond. The air is warmed by a fire in a small dark marble hearth; with the aid of a handful of candles it augments what soft and meagre light has got into the high-walled courtyard on this winter afternoon, glinting upon the black lacquer, the gilding, the delicate details of furnishings antique and exotic in equal measure. Chairs and tables are arranged conversationally save for what will surely suggest itself to Raphael’s eye as the best piece: a (closed) secrétaire set against one wall which, with its own high-backed chair, forms a grouping aside. Crafted in the main from ebony-veneered oak and the finest Eastern lacquerwork, its surfaces of gleaming black are enlivened by the likenesses of golden peonies and chrysanthemums, pairs of mandarin ducks, tableaux set in the gardens of houses eerily foreign to the d’Angeline eye… On smaller panels framing them floral wreaths in gilded bronze are of an unexampled intricacy, the work of a different master but every bit as gifted as the one who surely superintended the creation of that trompe l'œil dungeon.

Baltasar pulls out one support and then another, and then unlatches the top half. The writing surface comes down, revealing shelves and drawers, a mahogany writing surface, and the dark iron lid of a strongbox buried in the middle. He deposits the letters he’s carrying and then he stands to one side, hands clasped behind his back, simply awaiting his mistress.

A low table in the middle of the room is laid much as the one in the small sitting-room at the front of the house the other day: a huge shallow copper dish of fruit, plates, napkins… nothing intoxicating, but a carafe of what must be fruit juice. Nobody would chill red wine in ice.

None of the chairs look remotely comfortable.

“Hello, Baltasar.” Raphael greets with a certain warmth at the bottom of his voice. Not too much. And yet it is a new tone for the pet to receive from him. This is natural; the dynamic has quite changed. The Thorn has turned up with his case once again, but it is weighted differently today. And he is still in his plain dark clothes, not enough time having elapsed for a fastidious craftswoman to create a new wardrobe for him.

Raphael sets his own pace for their journey, not imagining that Emmanuelle would ever create a situation that would allow her to be kept waiting in her own home. And so he takes his time to absorb the many beautiful things he passes. He has an appreciation for art — must have, to have chosen and won an Eglantine those many years ago. Not to mention having lived and worked beside her.

He touches nothing, but takes an additional moment to note the now-familiar faces from next door. The trompe l’oeil dungeon, too, is of great interest. He takes note of the instruments, their handles. The sound of a lock behind him does not seem to concern him, but is that because of trust in Emmanuelle, confidence in himself, or the knowledge that there would be no advantage to anyone particularly to imprison a man with no wealth and only the neglected foundation of reputation in this city? He surrenders his cloak without a word.

In the inner chamber, he does not make the mistake of sitting down, but instead takes his time to admire the furnishings, secrétaire first. Since they have stopped making forward progress, he sets his case down. He expects to wait for his host.

And wait he does; though not for too long before the doors open upon an Emmanuelle Shahrizai he has not known before — ever. Not in her youth in the Rose Sauvage, or when she called at his shop visibly expectant in a high-waisted silk gown, or in the sharply elegant masculine garb which seems her favourite style in the present day. In fact, she’s casual today: in a long, full-skirted and epauletted black velvet coat over a slate-blue silk shirt with the tails hanging loose, and a pair of comfortable old black leather breeches. At her throat a black silken neckcloth is fastened by the golden Shahrizai pin which is her only jewel. Her thick blue-black hair is brushed straight back and bound with a leather thong into a tail no more than three inches long, thus revealing the mendacity of the complex braided hairpieces she usually affects. On her feet are a pair of black velvet slippers, fur-lined and with curled-up toes, which do nothing to disguise her modest height of five feet and five inches. Her maquillage is the same, of course, and her manicure, and the sheer boldness and intensity of her demeanour.

She’s carrying under one arm a stack of books which she slams down on the open surface of the secrétaire with the air of one shedding a great burden and glad so to do. Then she turns; she smiles. “Raphael. Sit down, and tell me of your progress. Baltasar,” she looks to her pet, who is occupied now in pouring chilled pomegranate juice from the carafe that has been resting in the dish of ice, “fuck off, won’t you, and see to the mess I’ve left in the library.”

Two glasses thus poured Baltasar restores the carafe to the ice, bows, and withdraws.

Raphael turns from his contemplation of the secretaire to a contemplation of his host, though he makes no big show of that. He does stand still a moment to look at her with an unreadable neutral expression. And then he helps himself to one of the seats. “My progress in my calling, or my progress through your home?” he asks, and that is undoubtedly meant to be humorous despite the deadpan delivery. “It is beautiful,” he says, in a tone that acknowledges he knows that she knows it is. But it must be said. “May I ask who paints your frescoes?” he says. “I saw some of those faces yesterday.”

“You’d have to ask my father that,” drawls Emmanuelle; “he superintended most of the renovations and the extensions, whilst I was still in Elua reigning over a houseful of lust-maddened adolescents armed with knives and flails… I am given to understand,” she explains in a deadpan tone as practiced as his own or more so, “that, considering the proclivities of the painter in question, I had the better part of that bargain.”

She picks up the chair from before the secrétaire, flips it around, and sits down astride it backwards. “You know I mean your calling,” she nudges; and though she gestures to the low table of refreshments she then folds her own arms upon the back of the chair, devoting her attention and her blue diamond Shahrizai gaze fully to Raphael himself.

The mention of Edouard makes Raphael smile. Because of course he is the one who oversaw the work. It all makes perfect sense. He nods his thanks at the invitation to refreshment, but does not partake. At least not for now.

“The truth is that I have been hard at my training,” he says, “Although of course I do not let that be known to everyone. And then yesterday was a celebration masque for the elevation of a new Second of White Roses — chit of a girl, but I have hope that her ways are all performance.” Not excessive hope, judging by the tone. “They never had such things when I was there.” Seconds of White Roses, that is. “I meant to observe and learn the identities of the Roses and the regulars,” he continues, “But more Thorn was needed for balance and so I ended up wading in. Still, I retired before it was too late to practice the finer blade work.” He has allowed his gaze to wander the well-appointed room as he talks, but now it comes back to Emmanuelle. “There is one patron I am certain will return to see me, others I am sure will come back to the house, though at least one has been frightened off in the past.”

Of course he’s hard at it. Emmanuelle acknowledges the truth and the wisdom of this with an inclination of her head of unexpectedly short and plainly-dressed hair; then she reaches out and takes up the glass of pomegranate juice Baltasar left within her reach. The cool glass, the condensation upon it, is pleasant to the touch in a warm chamber. “Marielle nó Rose Sauvage,” she murmurs — softly, neutrally, “is not quite twenty years of age.” A beat. “I was three-and-twenty when I became the Second of Thorns, and you may recall how I worked for it.” Whilst also studying chirurgeonry in Eisheth’s infirmary, and bearing her first child: it was proverbial in the Rose Sauvage, once upon a time, that Emmanuelle Shahrizai never slept. From the moment she arrived in Marsilikos, the duchesse’s own Mandrake-marqued daughter, she had more to prove than any of the rest and so she did, again and again.

“You will be an asset to the house,” she goes on, sampling the fresh red juice; “you’re seasoned, and you understand what it means to serve.” She pauses. “What were your impressions? What of the patrons present — this one who was frightened away…?”

“Even as an infant, I doubt that anyone would have thought of you as a chit of a girl,” Raphael suspects aloud. “If there is nothing more to her than meets the eye, then I take it she is a symbol of purity. Otherwise I cannot understand it yet.” His eyebrows lift a little at this pronouncement. “Most were regulars of one kind or another. A few came with their own match; one at least had come along with a courtesan. Some were kin to Marielle.” His gaze rises to the ceiling like smoke as he recalls. “One fancied herself the Red Rose type, she would’ve been noble. Rather young. Surely a regular. One styled himself a swan, he will be back to see me. The one who was frightened before, she came late and dressed as a golden huntress. Foreign accent. She described her first visit to the salon…it was too extreme, she was repelled. Fortunately, a drunken pink rabbit — of all things — appeared to reassure her of the pleasures of the house.” He smiles at the recollection of that. “He was just the right person to intervene, quite ordinary and friendly in his manners, not askew the way some of them are. I suggested she return and try the white or red. She won a prize and chose the wolf mask, twice styling as the predator.”

The justice of Raphael’s initial remark, Emmanuelle concedes with an easy shrug. She remembers her childhood — so do a few of the eldest servants in the ducal palace, though when they do most assuredly they have recourse to strong drink. She meanwhile sips her juice, listening intently to Raphael’s talk and nodding once in a while to encourage him to go on.

And then she raises an eyebrow. "A drunken pink rabbit? … In his middle twenties, about six feet tall, with eyes like a stormy sky, heels on his shoes, and breeches cut to show off an unusually beautiful arse? And he never parts his pink-stained lips but to down another glass of wine or to utter some gentle and generous remark? Mmh," she observes drily — though perhaps to an attentive eye she appears pleased; "I rather think that was my bunny."

This draws Raphael’s attention right back to Emmanuelle. “No,” he says, and then tips back his head to let out an open-throated laugh. “Of course he is. He’s perfect. And, as it turns out, the best defender of our canon one could hope.” He shakes his head a little in wonder at the smallness of this world and its wealth of the most excellent creatures. “I can imagine… Well. I can imagine.” And that is enough said between two of their type.

Yes, it is. Still, perhaps one can forgive Emmanuelle for smiling faintly into her glass of pomegranate juice and then murmuring, as she sets it down, “He is perfect,” she remarks then, finding again the eyes of her amused interlocutor. “How often,” she drawls, “does one meet with a natural submissive possessed of unusual beauty, considerable intellectual gifts, wit, charm, vivacity, elegant taste, and a surpassingly tender heart — and who has yet no idea that he is a submissive? Who is untouched, in fact, by any of our kind before?”

She hardly needs say it: Sylvie.

Raphael meets the gaze and, as she poses these rhetorical questions, he lifts his chin just a fraction… But his eyes are soft instead of stone. Is the meaning of what she says now a fresh guess, or something she has suspected for a long time? He cannot know. But there is more of interest in what she says, in all those adjectives. “Then…he is not ‘work?’” he suggests, the question mark only hinted at in his voice.

More than suspecting, Emmanuelle assumes: how else could a Thorn remain happy in his marriage for all those years? And so she regards Raphael in a manner deeply knowing and oddly gentle; she adds in that same quiet drawl, “He’s not paying, if that’s what you mean.” A beat. “The first ever,” she allows, “who hasn’t paid… And are you working yet?” she wonders. “Or are you waiting to unleash yourself upon the patrons when you’ve regained the full deftness of your youth? Not that it’s required of us,” she reflects, “as often as some might suppose.”

Raphael smiles again as she makes that distinction. Perhaps she doesn’t say that he is not work because he is a handful whether he pays or not. Or perhaps another reason. He does seem rather impressed to hear that Emmanuelle, of all people, has at last bestowed this honor on anyone. “I have not been, yet. But I think I will be soon.” His mouth firms up again into a line as he considers the work with all seriousness. “I will not be at my peak as quickly as I would like, but I will soon be fit enough for the cases that are not particularly special or dangerous. There is only so much skill that can be built in the rehearsal hall, after all.” He nods once to himself, “Especially if there are Thorns in the house frightening off prospective patrons. The salon will need some balance.”

Emmanuelle regards this returned colleague of hers impassively. It’s true, she isn’t playing games with him anymore — but nor, perhaps, is she uttering all her thoughts aloud without giving them due consideration first. “Let me assure you right now,” she drawls, “that in some respects you will never again be at your peak. Don’t compete with the twenty-year-olds, because you can’t — guard your strength, take fewer assignations and charge more for them,” she advises frankly. “Whatever my schedule I require a day off in between assignations. It’s been my custom for many years now. It’s necessary to leaven that intensity with periods of rest and tranquillity — the more so when one has matured past the effortless resilience of youth.” She pauses. “I may be in a position to offer you… an opportunity,” she allows scrupulously, “to practice upon a live and breathing woman, whose discretion you need not doubt. I have not spoken with her yet but I expect to see her briefly tomorrow. Would that be of interest to you?”

Raphael interlaces his fingers, maintaining eye contact through this advice with his neutral face on. He does not indicate whether he will follow this advice or not, but he is listening. At last he says, “You have a certain amount of confidence that I can command a high rate,” he says, though he doesn’t sound completely incredulous at the idea. It is an acknowledgement of the possibility that he will not be as popular as he would like to imagine. But this offer of an opportunity is of much more interest than consideration of what-if. He considers in stillness, then nods once. “If you think it is in her interest as well as mine,” he says. “I would endeavor to make it so.”

“Assuredly it’s in her interest,” offers Emmanuelle frankly; “she can’t afford me as often as she would like, and so we are…” With her elbows resting upon the chair’s low back she steeples her fingers together, black-lacquered nails glinting in the light à la the black lacquerwork of her secrétaire. “We are negotiating a new arrangement,” she states with a certain delicacy, “in which she will offer me services I require in exchange for the meeting of her own needs. I think she will find that you also suit her taste — if not she’ll still do as I order, for love of me.”

She pauses. Then: “My dear Raphael,” she drawls, and sighs. “You cannot imagine what an asset it will be to you, the savour of mature authority. As a young man you were one of many — now you’re one of two, just you and I. And I could work twice as much as I do,” she confides seriously, “had I the time and the inclination. When you’re ready I’ll have Baltasar go through my files and look up the ones I’ve turned away since I came to Marsilikos. The young gentry of this city are crying out for the discipline their parents have never provided.”

Raphael bends his arms at the elbow, extending one index finger among those interlaced to press to closed lips as he considers what Emmanuelle has to say. “I accept,” he says. “You have been generous with me.” A pause.

“Yes,” he says, when that pause has reached its end. “I have thought about how to play my role in these different circumstances. And there was interest, yesterday. I did not have to work hard to generate it. But it is good that you have been here ahead of me.” Another moment as his eyes flick aside, then back. “I may be interested to know the names of those you have not had the time for,” he admits. “Those who are worthy of Naamah’s grace should, after all, be able to receive it.” He flashes teeth in an unexpected smile. “I look forward to meeting your breathing woman.”

Emmanuelle seems to take it for granted that there was interest: she nods briskly, and takes up her glass of juice again for another sip. Her other hand lifts and describes an equivocating gesture in the air. “… Not always breathing,” she remarks, cryptically. (Or not.)

“Generosity has nothing to do it,” she informs him then, setting down her glass; “I believe you will add to the prestige of my canon in this city, and so it is entirely in my interest to see you succeed here as you have the potential to do… When I’m satisfied with you I’ll give you what introductions I can; I daresay some of those who took an interest in me, weren’t really looking for a woman anyway,” she drawls. “Now. What have you in your box today?”

Raphael does not take it as a cryptic remark at all, apparently, since he replies, “Oh, good.” An opening for a skill he can’t practice on oranges or candles.

Emmanuelle’s justification for her generosity seems to set him at ease. “Good,” he says. “That is exactly what I intend,” he says. “You have done so much toward the same, judging by the praises of your bunny.” A certain flicker of the eyelids as she sets a condition for him to satisfy her expectations, but no objection is voiced. Instead he makes an open-handed gesture at the box, dropping his free hand to his lap. “You suggested I bring knives,” he answers.

One cannot conjure the celestial rabbit — at least not in such congenial company, wherein she can be herself — without Emmanuelle shrugging one shoulder and smiling a faint and secretive smile. Oh, yes, she’s had praise from that bunny. She intends to receive more.

“Don’t fret,” she advises drily. “For many years I taught the most advanced classes at Mandrake House — I taught Valerians too,” her smile turns whimsical, “always an especial pleasure… Shall we?” she suggests, gesturing to the bowl of soft fruit. Peaches. Apricots. Nectarines. Grapes. The finest and sweetest, from the ducal succession-houses of Eisande. “I am interested to see how far you’ve recovered the skill your hands once had — those ducks,” she pierces him with a sharper gaze, “did not inspire confidence. You won’t take a blade to my submissive till you do rather better than that… but here, today, whatever you mutilate we can simply eat.”

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