(1311-02-26) A Turn Toward Domesticity
Summary: A new neighbour settling in at last, is the occasion for a delightful afternoon tea and talk of other domestic projects to come… Ah, how far removed from Mont Nuit—!
RL Date: 09/03/2019
Related: None particularly.
claude roxane 

Marquist Shop — Grand Plaza

The patinated bronze plaque over the front door of the marquist's shop in the Grand Plaza, has since the 1230s simply stated: LANTHENAY.

The narrow building which houses the shop dates back even further than the plaque, and was designed in keeping with the elegance of its surroundings. The first floor boasts a faceted bay window, set like a jewel into the white marble façade and curtained in ever-changing hues, in between tall pairs of windows protected by fanciful wrought-iron balustrades. The second floor is more modest, while the attic set back behind a low parapet gives from below the impression of a wall of glass gleaming ferociously in the southern sunshine.

Most visitors are concerned only with the shop proper. Shutters painted a deep teal-green are often folded back from its windows at odd hours; behind square panes of fine clear glass, paler teal-green silk curtains are embroidered with so many delicate flowers they might serve passersby as a guide to the flora of Eisande. A stout brass-studded front door to the right of the windows gives onto a square salon furnished in a style which wouldn't disgrace a prosperous merchant or a lady of the middling nobility, though such persons might not festoon their parlours so liberally with swagged velvet in jewel-box hues, or scatter patterned cushions across patterned upholstery with such an unerring confidence. At the back of the salon a small bright purple door opens into a passageway hung with a varying collection of the present marquist's own drawings and paintings (seascapes, flower studies, scenes of life in Marsilikos) and leading past several doors kept shut. Its terminus is a second, humbler foyer, home to a squat iron stove left cold most of the year; a cabinet containing an exhaustive collection of sea-shells and bits of coloured beach glass; a couple of stray chairs; and the entrances to a pair of small chambers which divide between them the width of the building. Most of the time these stand with their doors chocked open and heavy velvet drapes waiting to be let down to guard the privacy of clients disrobing therein: one emerald green curtain, one cerulean blue.


It was early yet in the afternoon, too late for the morning strollers, and too early for those who were looking to wile away the time wandering the shops and streets before the call of the evening meal. And so, the street outside is, while perhaps not entirely empty, but at least peaceful about that the sounds of the flow of the denizens through the street beyond the window is almost a hush. Most of those passing by seemed to be about their business, save for one. A diminutive woman, dressed well, but with a cream-coloured cloak masking all but the very edge of the hem of her dress, which was in a rich shade of indigo. The hint of colour was almost more engaging than perhaps seeing the dress in its entirety might have been. She carried a small basket, the sort that might be considered more appropriate for the warmth of spring and summer than the chill of winter, she she carried it none the less, pausing as she came to the front of the marquist's shop, a hand freeing itself from the handle to knock at the door.

The door, left on the latch, opens at Roxane's touch to beckon her into the shop, heralded by the tinkling of its brass bell. The colours of this salon which serves as a waiting-room for clientele accustomed to luxury, have changed with the season: more white, more cloth-of-gold, fresh and fragrant branches of evergreen and bright scarlet berries. The door which leads deeper inside used to be purple, but since last she was in the city it has turned a vivid and cheery red.

"Be with you in a minute," is Claudia Lanthenay's usual cri de guerre, uttered from the inner precincts beyond that red door: she's usually not long, unless she's so deeply engrossed in her work that her nephew and apprentice is deputed to receive callers instead, or even, under extremely busy circumstances, her maid Fanchon, who blushes to talk to the boy adepts. But it seems she's between patrons of her own, or near enough, because her swift footsteps bring her soon out into the salon, her skirts swaying green and gold and her sleeves folded back to bare forearms inked with bracelets of a richness beyond compare. "… Oh, lovely," she exclaims upon sighting Roxane, that being her usual term for so elegant an Eglantine: "Back again already?" And she reaches out with both hands, fresh-scrubbed but perpetually ink-stained, in warm and easy greeting.

Roxane had not been to the shop since the decor had changed with the seasons. She has simply been too busy, as her plans seemed finally to be coming to fruition. And so, she took the time while she waited to take in the changes that had been wrought since she had last stepped through Claude's door. The delight that brightened her face was both evident and genuine. Roxane was, as perhaps most artists were, of any stripe, with bright and beautiful things. And there was no lack of that here.

She was content enough to wait, until Claude made her appearance, her eyes drawing away from the interior to the woman herself as she approached, the handle of the basket nudged back into the crook of her arm, as she stepped forward, hands offered in kind. "Back for good, I should say. I have finally taken my foot off of the old road and am fully committed to the new. I hope I haven't come at a bad time, Claude?"

"Oh, are you," Claude exclaims again, gathering her visitor into a quick hug; as ever, she smells of about six different peculiar ingredients in her colours, and the fresh-scented herbal soap with which she's been attempting to eradicate them. "Oh, that's lovely," and she leans away, beaming, her hands resting lightly upon Roxane's arms. "It's not a bad time at all. I've just sent off a nice little Coquelicot," she informs her, "I'n surprised you didn't meet on the doorstep! Come in, come in. Are you hungry? I've been learning to cook, just lately — the winter's so slow here, I like to have something else to do with myself."

"I am. Unless this venture all comes to tears. But I must hope for the best, I should think." Her smile was warm and bright and did not betray any sense of trepidation at the venture. Roxane, herself, wore a soft scene, something rich and woody, but which lay so lightly on the skin, one would need to be close to scent it. "I think I must have just missed your precious visitor, but perhaps I was too caught up in taking in the scenery to notice." Which was said with humour, as Roxane was too attentive to details to miss much of anything. "I am, in point of fact, but, I think perhaps you might not need to try you hand at anything more than tea." She shook her arm, causing the basket to sway, "I thought you might have afternoon tea with me. But I didn't dare try to bring tea already on the boil."

Unless this venture all comes to tears… "It won't do that, lovely," insists Claude, with a pat for Roxane's arm to encourage her both to have confidence in herself, and to follow along behind her hostess through the red door. "You've put so much thought and care into your plans, you'll do well here as you did in Elua. All you need now's an apprentice to make you tea. Felix—!" she calls along the corridor, raising her voice according to her rights as the mistress of the concern. "Put the kettle on — two cups, upstairs, quick as you can!"

The chamber above is a long rectangle covering salon and workroom alike, with the oriel window at the front overlooking the plaza and a closed door at the back. The larger pieces of furniture are all of the first quality and would disgrace no noble household; the occasional pieces, the little chairs and tables and stools, the draperies and the fancies, are all in Claude's own polychromatic style, unmistakably so, whether their cost was great or little. Her eye makes order of chaos; there isn't a corner where she hasn't worked her particular magic. One wall has umpteen sketches pinned upon it, haphazardly so, parchment layered over parchment even as her skirts are layered over her coloured petticoats. A study of a building here; a nude there; a flowering plant half-covering the nude, taking precedence by its rarity. The top layer consists at present mostly of cookery receipts copied out in Claude's neat or else her flamboyant hand (she has several), and illustrated with sketches of the more interesting ingredients. And by now there are perhaps half a dozen studies of a striking young man, done in charcoal with his eyes coloured in brilliant and costly ultramarine… They'd be hard to reckon up, though, given that some of them are lost by now underneath bouillabaisse and beef stew and fish pie and the best ways of stuffing a capon, and would thus be apparent only to an interested and searching eye.

Claude follows her guest up a curving wrought-iron staircase and into this sanctum where so few courtesans have ever been invited: "Sit down," she says enthusiastically to Roxane, "and tell me all about it, eh?"

Roxane lead the way up along the stairs, shifting the basket from the crook of her arm to the front, so that she did not risk banging it against the railing and disrupting the contents within. "Thank you for having me, Claude. It's been so terribly hectic," she offered, as she reached the top of the stair and allowed the other woman to lead the way into her personal quarters, "I feel as though I have not had a chance to breath." Again, Roxane's eyes were curious, though, she did try to keep her curiosity to herself, for this was another woman's private chambers. The basket she set down on a table, lifting her hands to remove her cloak, folding it over her arm. The state of her dress might catch Claude's attention. Her marque was covered, but the marquist would have none that Roxane had no current assignations.

"… I like that indigo," is Claude's next thought, as she relieves Roxane of her cloak and hangs it up on a hook on top of several layers of her own colourful outer garments, lighter now for the approach of spring. Her covetous look is for the gown's colour and its fashionable cut straight from the capital, not for the woman inside it: a courtesan can naturally tell the difference. "Sit down," she urges again, "and take a breath. Or take two," she chuckles; "whatever else you've got on, it'll wait till after you've had a cup of tea. I've got a new blend came in on a Rousse ship from Ch'in not long ago — let's see if you like it." And she bustles across to a gorgeously enameled cabinet and unlocks it with a key extracted from a pocket somewhere amongst her green and golden skirts.

Roxane did indeed notice the look, her expression merry as she glanced down at the dress, fingers twitching the layers of the gown, "It was a gift to myself. I put so much into the building and supplying of the shop over the last few years, I'm afraid some of my things were beginning to look positively…threadbare." There was a humour in that. A light joke, "And so, I thought, now that all was settled, I could spend a bit on outfitting myself properly, else I look a shambles when anyone came int to see me. But as for the shop, all is well, and nearly everything is set to rights. I have a few shipments still to receive, but those are for materials which I have not yet received from Ephesium and Alba. But, I am as prepared to open as I will ever be." With a word of thanks for the retrieval of the cloak from her hands, Roxane did indeed settle, casting her eyes towards the room, "You've really done a trick with this room, I am afraid my own is too much like a monk's cell."

"Oh, I don't know about that," says Claude, looking about her as she utters her usual prelude to some thoughtful and sensible piece of advice, which arrives as scheduled upon her next breath. "I've lived here all my life and you've hardly been in yours at all, yet," she points out reasonably, as she moves a couple of books out of the way on the long table — marking her place in one book with another book, an expert move — and then finds herself with a sketching book in her hand and glances about this way and that before just… stacking it on the books. There, that'll do. It's not that her sitting-room is messy, exactly, it's just that she's got a thing or two in progress up here, out of the way of the thousand and one esoteric substances kept in her workroom below. "Live in it a while," she advises, "and it's bound to shape itself to you…" She sits, just across from Roxane, with a bit of bare table in between in advance of their tea. "Maybe some of those old gowns you don't want to wear any more, you could cut up for curtains and the like. I do that sometimes with mine. No sense wasting good cloth; and sometimes in a different place they look pretty again."

"Perhaps you're right. I suppose I just feel as though…I am so accustomed to having a room appointed to me, and having to follow such precepts as are demanded in the salon, where even an individual's room must reflect the salon as a whole, I find myself at odd ends trying to focus on anything that is wholly mine." Roxane had only recently left the Salon, in point of fact, having remained there to be better able to take very contract that she could. "It is, on the one hand, freeing to do for oneself, I suppose. But on the other, you are reminded of how much, in many ways, is done for you, when you are not completely and solely your own mistress." Roxane shifted in her seat, as she watched Claude set aside her things, and settle across from her, "I noticed a few of your paintings. A new muse for your art?" The slightest wrinkle of her nose, at the mention of curtains, her expression rueful, "I am afraid that I lack entirely any skill at sewing or at decorating. But perhaps I could find someone who could repurpose them. I would prefer not to waste what is still serviceable."

"A n— oh," and Claude chuckles and looks away, unnecessarily lining up the canisters of tea and sugar she brought out of her enameled cabinet. They were in a line before. They're in a different line now. Huge improvement. "The lad with the eyes," she agrees, her gaze lifting again. "He's got a funny kind of face to draw — I couldn't get the nose right from memory, and he very kindly sat down for a while so I could try it again with the real nose in front of me. Not bad, now," she concedes, glancing quickly over her shoulder at those smudges of ultramarine standing out so brightly amidst the haphazardly coloured charcoal sketches all over her wall. She looks back to Roxane. "I'm not bad at plain sewing either," she admits, "but I've not got the time, these days, or else I'd be glad to help. But there are plenty of women down by the port who take in piecework, I'm sure you could find someone who'd be glad of a little extra coin. Maybe go for a walk and see if you spot any windows with pretty curtains, and ask there, eh?"

Roxane laughed, the sound low and musical, as she lifted a hand to wave away the topic, which seemed, suddenly a bit personal, "I will not ask for more clarification. But he does have a striking look. And if his eyes are as you have painted them, I have do not have to wonder why he would have interested you as a subject for your painting." As to the sewing, that also brought a shake of her head, "Oh, I would never seek to impose on you in that fashion. And I will be glad to take your advice. I have a few shipments which I need to check on at the docks," ships were ever a tricky thing to pin down, "And I would be glad to offer coin where it is needed."

At first Claude appears uncertain what Roxane is getting at, when her studies of Étienne d'Argil seem to her to speak so well for themselves… Her eyebrows lift and she emits a soft, "Wh—?" Then, quickly enough, it becomes another chuckle. "Oh, don't be silly," she insists, "there's nothing to clarify."

Whereupon they hear Felix's measured tread upon the iron staircase, and seconds later he appears carrying a tray laden with the accoutrements — not to mention, the distractions — of teatime. A small kettle, the twin of one standing cold on the brick apron of the upstairs hearth; a pretty porcelain pot of many colours; two cups and two saucers, and a few other bits and pieces to match. The second-best set. He and Claude busy themselves, she measuring out the correct quantity of fragrant golden-brown leaves from the canister, he pouring water from kettle into pot, she setting out the cups and saucers, he hovering on the edge of his nerves. He's a shy lad, at least around lovely blondes. He'll have to grow out of that.

"I'm glad you came when you did," Claude offers to Roxane; "this'll hit the spot nicely, with it so chilly out again today… Still, I daresay it's a bit warmer than Elua at this time of year, isn't it?" she inquires sympathetically.

"No, no, Claude, that is not what I meant. Only that seeing such striking features, and hearing your explanation, I did not need to know anything else to understand why you felt him such an interesting subject. I do not paint myself, but I well understand the appeal of finding some small detail that fascinates you and drives you to create art. It is how I feel myself, when I choose one piece of music to practice over another. Some small trick in the melody that begs to be played." As Felix arrived with the tea, Roxane offered the lad a kind word of thanks, leaving him, along with Claude to see o the tea, while she began to unpack the basket that she had set on the table close to hand. With the chill in the air, all was well preserved. A small selection of sandwiches, pies and other sundry, as well as fresh hothouse berries and new clotted cream. "It is quite a bit warmer than in Elua. I feel as though I could soon do without the cloak, where I would be bundled up wishing only for a warm fire or at least looking for a place to escape the cold and allow myself to thaw."

"… Don't I feel silly," says Claude offhandedly to the teapot, because Roxane's own clarification does deserve some answer, even if she'd just as soon shrug off the entirety of that exquisitely embarrassing misapprehension. The sandwiches and the pastries and the rich hue of the crimson berries, fortunately provide her with something else to talk about, at considerable length, ending in Felix being told off to fetch plates from another cabinet, glass-fronted, containing the best sets of crockery, whilst Claude herself extracts the leaves from the teapot and absent-mindedly dribbles a bit of tea across the tray because she forgets to move the dish to the infuser rather than the infuser to the dish. Oh, well, the actual pouring of the tea proceeds without incident; and Felix lays out delicate blue and white porcelain plates without breaking any. Very nice.

"You're spoiling me, lovely," Claude concludes, nudging Roxane's cup and saucer across the table toward her; "and when you're the one who's just arrived, too." She tsks. "I should be the one giving you tea — well, maybe next time?"

"Thank you, Felix," Roxane offered as soon as she saw the young man move to set out the plates for her use, and she was careful in how she arranged everything. Another manifestation of her desire to have everything in precisely the place where it should be. She seemed wholly content to handle the serving of the meal, "There is no need to. I do not doubt that in most conversations there always exists the possibility of innuendo. And I was not clear myself." Once she had set out a bit of everything, she reclaimed her seat, offering another word of thanks as she laid claim to the teacup that was offered to her, "Should you not be spoiled, Claude?" Roxane's tone was a thing full of affection for the marquist, "And you are the one who has made me the most welcome here over the years since I have been working to make a place for myself. You deserve more than one meal as recompense for that. Next time…perhaps we will try our hand at cooking together."

For her part Claude pats her nephew's arm to show her approval, and then issues a token protest or two against Roxane lifting a hand whilst a guest in her home — but's all so well in train already, and the elegant service of a Mont-trained courtesan a thing of beauty in its own right, that she doesn't protest too hard. She just says, "Thank you, lovely," to Roxane, and "Why don't you run along to your mother's?" to Felix. "It's early but there's nothing else tonight I can't manage, is there? Take the other half of that rhubarb pie," which she's glad to pass along now that she's being given such a luxurious little late-afternoon refreshment at someone else's courtesy, "and see what your sisters think, eh?" Another pat for his arm; and he takes his leave of the women with a "Yes, Tante Claude," for one and a, "Nice to see you, Madame," for the other.

Claude watches him go and then shakes her head vaguely as she picks up her cup. "He goes home every day for his supper," she explains to Roxane over the rim of it; "my sister likes to see his face, and after all day together I like to see his back. Oh, but he's a good lad, though," she chuckles, and takes a tentative sip of tea, "I don't mean he's not. Never complains about the hours, which most young people of his age do, I know that for a fact… And I'd like that, though I must say it's a queer idea — a courtesan from Mont Nuit cooking, of all things!" She shakes her head and tsks at Roxane, with that light-hearted little smile which during its brief appearances makes her so much prettier than she is without it.

Roxane smiled, as she watched the interplay between aunt and nephew, dipping her head in the politest of nods to the young man, "And you, my little Monsieur. Thank you kindly for your service, and for the care you have given your aunt and myself." She watched the boy leave, before she returned to the table, "I am happy to serve, Claude, especially such a friend as you have been to me over the years since we met." Laughter warmed Roxane's expression as they settled into the meal, "I am of one of the Houses which is considered of the gentlest. And also the most curious. And there is art in a well-turned meal. Now…you must tell me all of the news of the city, and I will share with you my own."

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