(1311-03-02) Wild Rose Reunion
Summary: Raphael pays another visit to the Maison Sanglante and meets not one old colleague, but two. (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 02/03/2019 - 05/03/2019
Related: Ducks For Sale, An End of Games, Generosity Has Nothing To Do With It.
emmanuelle raphael 

Jewel-Box — La Maison Sanglante

This palatial chamber is designed to stifle sound. The walls are padded with cork and covered in quilted dark purple satin, and the floor is layered with thick, priceless Akkadian carpets in warm hues of orange and violet, red and gold. The copper-gilded ceiling above serves as a distorted mirror, reflecting the flicker of candle-flames and whatever alarming games may be played herein.

In the middle of the room stands a massive high bed lavishly layered with jewel-coloured silks and satins and velvets: its four posts are not carved from wood but intricately wrought of black iron, of a piece with shackles and chains and an interesting pulley system inside the canopy, against all of which the strongest man might struggle in vain. The latter is silhouetted against the flames of Lord Kushiel's hell, painted red-orange but violet at their very core. None of this is Mandrake House's standard issue, but an invention of the lady of that house and this one; likewise the cross hewn from rare and costly purple heartwood, attached to a wheel presently chocked but quite capable of spinning.

To the left of the doors by which one enters from the corridor, are three pairs of wide glass doors which open upon the courtyard and are customarily hidden behind floor-length drapes of soft black velvet edged in gold-embroidered Shahrizai keys. Arranged across the farther wall, on ebony shelves against purple satin, is a display of every possible aid to love or incitement to pain, precisely arranged and immaculately dusted. Some would be familiar to any patron of the Night Court, and others bewildering to anyone unaccustomed to the practices of Mandrakes and Valerians. One might wonder why any single person requires quite so many whips, straps, canes, tawses, and flails, organised by size and by colour: but each has its own particular gifts to bestow upon its fortunate victims. To the left of this joyous array, between it and the courtyard doors, stands a locked, glass-fronted cabinet which contains various Akkadian trinkets, designed in the main to inflict extraordinary pains upon masculine anatomy — though there are also one or two pieces of interest to ladies. They obviously comprise a set.

The back wall is anchored by a massive fireplace of dark marble. At either side of it, dividing the wall into symmetrical sections, stand finely-carven screens of purple heartwood shielding arched openings into smaller chambers. Beyond the left-hand screen is a miniature infirmary, furnished with a lowish, padded, sheet-draped table of the kind one might see in a marquist's shop, or in certain Balm or Coquelicot patron rooms. Shelves above and behind that table hold an extraordinary variety of vials, flasks, jars, and boxes: all the equipage, in fact, of an Eisandine chirurgeon conversant with the very latest theories in medicine. Of course there is also an unusually well-appointed washstand.

When next Raphael nó Rose Sauvage calls at the Maison Sanglante his hostess's pet (considerately toting his trunk) conveys him past the doors of the black and golden sitting-room he saw last time. A dog-leg in the corridor skirts that chamber and the bleak stone courtyard beyond it; at the far end, Baltasar opens double doors to admit him to a bedchamber of an opulence beyond anything he has known before. What happens when the highly born and highly fastidious Dowayne of Mandrake House creates her own ideal playground, in which to receive only the wealthiest and most precious initiates of her art—? This.

By courtesy of a fire that has been burning some while already in the massive black marble hearth set into the back wall, the chamber is pleasantly warm. Sitting near to it in a wingbacked armchair of dark leather Emmanuelle is in fact in her shirtsleeves: slate blue silk tucked into snug-fitting black breeches worn with magnificently polished, spike-heeled boots. The table at her elbow holds a chilled carafe of pomegranate juice and a pair of silver goblets. And the promised breathing woman is kneeling at her feet, bare-armed and bare-shouldered in a chemise of lavender silk that flows smoothly over a narrow waist and rounded hips to pool about her on the carpet. Her face can't yet be seen; she's resting a cheek against the inside of Emmanuelle's thigh, whilst she submits to having an elaborately braided hairstyle taken apart and all the pins torn out of her white-streaked, red-golden hair by Emmanuelle's ungentle fingers.

Baltasar deposits Raphael's small trunk just inside. Then, having failed to receive any signal from his mistress above and beyond the orders he's already had, he withdraws and shuts the doors discreetly behind him. The three pairs of glass-paned doors which open into the courtyard from this end of it, are likewise shut and hidden behind floor-length velvet drapes: three people, now, are utterly shut off from the world in this enclosed and candlelit retreat.

“… Raphael," Emmanuelle pronounces, her conversational tone sounding particularly low and pleasant in this place, at this distance. "Come in."

Raphael is still in his simple, dark clothes that are new and yet inexpensive. After all, the clothes he has ordered could not be made overnight, particularly by a craftswoman whose business is already booming with people thinking ahead to their spring wardrobes. His pace is, as ever, even and unhurried, though today he makes no pauses in the corridors. "At your kind invitation," he replies smoothly, stepping in. /Here/ he does pause, to consider the second guest: posture, clothing, the white in the hair, the many pins. And then he approaches a few steps closer, footsteps deliberately audible. "What fine appointments," he says, probably referring to the room itself, and the specialized objects within.

At her ease here, in this chamber so indicative of her wealth, her tastes, her place in the world and in certain fast-beating submissive hearts, Emmanuelle simply watches Raphael approach into a more conversational range — and she gets on with what she's doing. Another pin joins its fellows on the table, next to those silver goblets misted with condensation. The juice has already been poured, a ritual libation to welcome her visitor into this underworld she's made.

And then her fingers are combing briskly, roughly through those long strands of pale silk, washed just last night and aglow in the firelight. No pins left: only a few fragments of braids, which she dismembers with deft black-lacquered nails. "The goblet by the edge is yours," she informs Raphael nonchalantly. "Do sit down. Tell me, what news from next door? How do your studies progress?"

Raphael picks up a goblet and helps himself to a chair. A glance at their playmate, since she herself will not see it, indicates that she is a factor in how he will choose to reply. "Our Red Roses are extremely popular," he says. "So frequently engaged that I see them only from time to time. The White, true to form, guard their favors more closely. The danger in that being that their modesties must contend with me.” He drinks from the cup. It's possible that fruit juice may not be most to his taste—he did not accept it the last time it was offered — but as a Thorn he makes as careful use of props as any actor on the stage. And perhaps he shares Emmanuelle's preference for sobriety when there is work to be done. "My own training proceeds as it should," he reports. "Whips in the courtyard, cat-o-nine down in the Dark Room, and the knives…I hone in my own bedchamber. Have you passed your own week in pleasure?"

Emmanuelle answers that glance with a shallow, discreet nod. Of course their pleasantries are performative, here and now, before a kneeling beauty… which she certainly is, in her hostess's eyes. "Assuredly," she drawls; "I had a visit from a birthday bunny, you understand," she confides with a faint and ironic smile, knowing Raphael must know just what she means by that remark, "and one or two other callers who entertained me in their own fashion." Her little smile persists as she defeats the last of the braids and combs her fingers through long silky tresses, luxuriating in the pull she knows the other woman can feel, the slight answering pressure of cheek against thigh. She knows something Raphael doesn't know and she's enjoying that too, while it lasts. "As I'm sure the two of you shall, this afternoon. You both know how I appreciate… entertainments."

Raphael chuckles thickly at this news of festive rabbits. "An especially favorable week, then," he says. "We must try to extend that." He watches a bead of perspiration slip down the side of his goblet, then looks at the redhead's back, eyes slightly narrowed. "I myself look forward to playing a more refined instrument." Is the instrument his own powers or the tools of the trade, or this redhead with the streaks of white? It is a matter for guessing.

Oh, surely it will prove to be all three, in the most refined but shattering of chamber music…? Emmanuelle meanwhile gathers a thick handful of that beautiful hair and twines it round her fingers until her knuckles are pressed against the woman's scalp. "I wonder," she teases, looking into Raphael's eyes with her own inscrutable and blue, "whether you will recognise this face?" And she pulls her head back, suddenly, with roughness enough to elicit a breathy gasp.

Twenty years have passed, and left their marks discreetly about her mouth and her wide green eyes: but this is Samanthe nó Rose Sauvage, once the most celebrated Red Rose in Marsilikos, a creature whom all the Thorns in the house were perpetually panting to get their paws upon, if only they could. She always was a friend of Emmanuelle's. The two of them were wont to go about town together, the duchesse's swaggering daughter leading her scantily-clad pet on a leash to scandalise and enthrall the populace and ensure the name of their salon remained upon everybody's lips. How much they shared a bed or they didn't was never quite clear: how much was performance and how much passion.

But of all the women who might be kneeling in their lingerie at Emmanuelle Shahrizai's feet… there's a poetry in this, a full circle through which all three of these wild roses have made their differing ways, to arrive together in one another's company, again, at last.

Raphael could hardly help, in his curiosity, allowing his neck to crane just perceptibly in his anticipation, but at the revelation of his face, his spine straightens again. Of course he remembers. "How could I forget?" he replies, looking to Emmanuelle. "Still on her knees after all this time." He looks down at Samanthe once more. "And more desperate for a firm hand than ever, I shouldn't wonder."

"On her knees, or on her back," drawls Emmanuelle, keeping Samanthe in the same position with her pale throat uncomfortably elongated: those grey eyes are by now half-closed. "You see the hospitality I offer to my friends," she goes on, amiably teasing. "The finest wines, the finest roses. Under the arrangement I've entered into with Samanthe's husband she is mine absolutely when she is under my roof; and so, this afternoon, she is yours absolutely," she explains to Raphael. "Provided," and this is the caveat, though not an unreasonable or unduly restrictive one, "I remain present, to ensure her wellbeing. I am after all responsible for giving her back in the same number of pieces I received her in. But I can't imagine there'll really be any call for me to intervene," she concludes lazily, releasing Samanthe's hair at last and cupping her cheek in a fond palm. "She remains an uncannily resilient creature, you may be assured of that."

Raphael shows that he follows the transitive property of this arrangement by nodding once. "Well," he says, setting aside his cup to lean forward, straight-backed, elbows resting on knees, as his eyes trace the line of the bared throat. "Even if there is no true need for safety's sake, you might enjoy yourself in your attendance," he suggests warm and cold intertwining in his voice.

Emmanuelle's painted lips curve into a cool smile. "I don't doubt it. I feel one always has something to learn from another artist's technique, don't you? … Samanthe," she adds, in a gentle tone at odds with the roughness of her touch, "when Master Raphael addresses you, you have my leave to answer him." She looks up from the Red Rose to the Thorn: "She recalls her training so well, I find — having her in the house for the last several days has been a pleasure. A quiet pleasure, which I find more and more is my favourite kind."

The game is always improvisational with a new partner, but that is part of its pleasure. Raphael helps himself to one more sip from the goblet, then sets it on a table and gets to his feet. He steps forward to stand over Samanthe, looking down at the red-gold hair spilling over lavender. "Do you remember me?" he asks, adding, "No lies when you speak to me." Naturally.

The tip of Samanthe's tongue flicks over her lower lip, not a deliberate attempt to entice but a furtive, instinctive acknowledgment of the atmosphere in which she finds herself and which is so conducive to anticipation. "Master Raphael, I… I remembered you once Madame had reminded me," she confesses.

Presiding over her, Emmanuelle is still smiling faintly. Her pet's success is her own; her pet's honest heart, likewise… At least this week.

Later in the day, when the games are at an end, the first order of business is to see Samanthe properly tended and fed with tidbits, and tuck her up in that magnificent iron bed, with a Mandrake sitting at either side of her to hold her hands till she drifts away smiling into her well-earned beauty rest. What value has severity, without commensurate tenderness—?

Outside in the corridor lined on one side with black shutters Emmanuelle, with a favoured dark velvet coat shrugged on now over her shirtsleeves, turns to Raphael and puts a hand on his arm. It isn't only Valerians who are vulnerable to such intensities — and then the quelling aftermath… "Are you all right?" she asks him forthrightly, squeezing. "Supper, or would you rather rest first? It would take very little time to see a bath drawn for you, if you prefer."

Such a day it has been! Raphael perhaps did not expect to be given such rein and such an abundance of time for his first meeting with Samanthe, whose endurance is indeed prodigious compared with dilettante nobles whose limits must be so carefully planned for. The heights to which one can climb in such an atmosphere with such an experienced subject are surely at once exhilarating and exhausting, and Raphael has worked up no small amount of sweat during the course of the day's activities. He touches Emmanuelle's hand in gratitude, and as expected his palm is quite warm. "I'm famished," he says, "Let's have a meal, if you can eat."

He rolls his right shoulder back, but any bodily soreness is apparently superseded by hunger in the moment. Or else he is looking forward to conversation with his host, who has been so conscientiously quiet during the day's long encounter.

That keen blue gaze focuses on Raphael's shoulder, gauging the range of its motion with a chirurgeon’s skill — but Emmanuelle takes her colleague’s word for what he needs, and nods to him crisply. "I ordered only cold dishes," she informs him, opening a door and ushering him before her into a half-lit stairwell, "because I wasn't certain when we'd wish to eat. But we were long enough I daresay we'll find it waiting upstairs." She is coolly confident in her arrangements, in the quality of the service she’s accustomed to relying upon here.

Dressing-Room — La Maison Sanglante

Emmanuelle's dressing-room is a long rectangular chamber above the last leg of the downstairs corridor, but more than twice its width. Black-lacquered shutters along the outer wall open onto her private courtyard, from a higher vantage; a bench both broad and long is built in underneath, dark wood well-cushioned in that shade of purple she so admires, with sections which lift up to reveal storage.

The inner wall meanwhile is lined with a spectacular array of built-in floor-to-ceiling cabinets. Each door features its own scene of courtly or Night Courtly dalliance, inlaid in intricate many-coloured intarsia, and not all Mandragian in nature: a sharp eye that lingered upon them might note that, amongst all those various arrangements, there isn’t a single instance of a man and a woman alone together in the ordinary garments of their genders.

When entering from the stone stairwell the full length of the carpet (a specially woven Akkadian piece, geometrical, in hues of black and gold and purple) must be traversed, with cabinets to the left and windows to the right, in order to reach the porphyry hearth with its mantel supported by scantily-clad caryatids.

The portable furnishings vary according to the needs of the moment: a square table or a round one, chairs straight-backed or luxuriously leather-upholstered, a pair of screens depicting summer and winter gardens in black and gold lacquer.

The steps under their feet are of old stone, worn away by the footfalls of centuries: surely one of the building's original features, preserved amidst its new elegancies.

Up one flight Emmanuelle opens a door into yet another chamber of wonders. Servants' hands have kept the fire in its porphyry hearth stoked in their mistress's absence, and arranged near it a pair of comfy leather armchairs framing a table set for two with fine crystal and porcelain and silver — and laden with covered dishes… Emmanuelle saunters toward it slightly ahead of her guest, and pours red wine into silver goblets in advance of his undoubted thirst.

"Very wise," Raphael pronounces, nodding once and preceding her up the stairs. This maison of Emmanuelle's is always yielding new spaces with dazzling new detail, but since they are going to stop and dine here, it need not all be taken in at once.

"And very good of you to have all this ready." He takes the offered goblet, inclining his head in thanks. "You are a better host than half of the nobles in the city." He has a swallow of the wine. "Oh, and don't worry," he adds belatedly, with a small and quite genuine smile. "I didn't hurt myself, I'm only a bit sore from practice in recent days. The white swan came back while I was at whip practice, so I had to make a show of it before I sent him away again. And all the rest of it, as well." Mandrakes do often have to be prepared, after all, for heavier lifting — quite literally — than their counterparts in some of the other houses.

Whereupon Emmanuelle, who has today kept so intimate although detached an eye upon the extension of her hospitality via Samanthe's pliant and rounded form, turns from the table to Raphael and lifts one dark eyebrow. "Only half?" A beat. "Which half?"

"The half we haven't taught their manners to, of course," Raphael responds promptly. Though it is certainly an exaggeration to imply that half the city's nobles would be served by Mandrakes and Thorns, or even the Rose Sauvage. Raphael takes his cup in hand and sinks himself into one of the armchairs. He has, after all, spent certain stretches of the day on his feet. "But truly, I can't thank you enough for such a productive day. I feel I've shaken off some sleep."

As he sits down, as he drinks, Emmanuelle watches her guest with the steady and appraising blue gaze he has seen so much of already today. “It was latent inside you; all that was required, was to wake it again,” she says seriously, as she sinks into her own chair opposite his. “I don’t for a moment intend to belittle your success in your other profession, at Sylvie’s side — but this is the art you were born for and then formed for, and to which you have returned at, perhaps, an hour more fortuitous than you can yet know.” She takes up her own goblet and tastes the fine Draguignan red within, regarding Raphael impassively across the rim of it.

Raphael is quiet for a space. For one thing, he needs a moment for another mouthful of that wine. For another, perhaps he is considering the implications of this last remark from Emmanuelle. Surely, at least in the back of his mind during this period of their re-acquaintance, he has considered the question of why Emmanuelle has been so generous time and again, and whether the cost of that generosity might not be announced after the fact. “What do you mean by that?” is what he asks in the end.

His hostess’s gaze returns, in answer to his curiosity, nothing but blueness.

But after a moment’s contemplation and another slow sip, she sets down her goblet and folds her hands in her lap and ventures — quite as though posing a philosophical rather than an actual problem: “Will you tell me again what it is you heard said, the other day, about possible patrons being frightened away from the salon by the behaviour of certain Thorns…?”

There is enough of a pause to suggest that Raphael might be considering refusing that request, but if he is, that is not the path he ultimately chooses. “A woman at the celebration for the new Second of White Roses,” he replies, “said that she had visited our house at the time that an exhibition had been performed, and that the cruelty she saw displayed by the Thorn made her nervous of the salon and made her doubt how there could possibly be pleasure in it.”

He drinks. “As it happens, it sounded as if your Rabbit had been in attendance on the same night. It was the woman’s first visit to the house and it sounded as though what she saw had been extreme for such a patron.”

Emmanuelle encourages this disclosure with a soft ‘mm’ and listens with her eyes steady upon Raphael’s face. Then when he falls silent she nods once, and uncrosses and recrosses her legs as she sits forward to pour a little more wine into each of their goblets.

“I wonder whether that was a certain occasion of which I have already heard tell,” she murmurs distantly, “or another of the same ilk, forming even more intricate a pattern.”

Raphael nods in turn, slowly. “I was, admittedly, concerned to hear it. Of course there will be patrons who understand the most extreme tastes, but…in my opinion such displays aren’t meant for the front parlor.” He has been looking into the depths of his refreshed goblet, but now he looks to Emmanuelle. “Do you know who it was?” he wants to know. “I have met few of the newer Thorns closely, since it hardly pays to spend time chatting with other Thorns while patrons are present. They much prefer to see the interaction among the canons.”

But Emmanuelle satisfies her visitor’s curiosity only in her own measured fashion, painting a picture cautious, evocative, bereft as yet of the most telling details.

“Who it was or was not — whether it was in the front parlour, or at a debut, or during a masque to which a wide variety of guests were invited, patrons of the innocent roses as well as the sharper variety — is, I think, less relevant than the growing corruption of the ethos of the Rose Sauvage… I have been concerned for some time now but, you understand, I have not spoken— it is no longer my place to speak; and of course if Jacques Verreuil,” she drawls, “had ever come to Elua and tried me how to run my house, I’d have cut off his balls and shoved them so far down his throat they’d return to their original latitude.” A pause.

“I wonder,” she suggests more delicately, “whether perhaps it is the result of keeping Thorns under the same roof as the Red Roses and the White — they become so accustomed to the contrast, and to acting in their own house the role of masters rather than that of equals, that they end by forgetting we are all but Naamah’s servants, devoted to our patrons in her name. Of course I speak not only of Thorns. There was an incident not long ago, two Red Roses gossiping in public about the amorous proclivities of a patron who had, then, a long-term contract with the house… One appreciates their natural desire to court punishment,” a quirk of her dark eyebrows, “but not when it leads them to transgress so sacred a principle as the privacy of assignations. Naamah is not served by such careless and foolish talk.”

Whilst she speaks she’s uncovering dishes to reveal a lavish repast of cold meats, salads and sliced fruits, umpteen cheeses and pickles, and thick crusty bread and butter.

“… Try the lamb,” she advises Raphael, “they roast it slowly overnight, with fresh rosemary.”

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