(1311-03-11) What We Owe To Others
Summary: Raphael makes the acquaintance of a recipient of his generosity; and has much to discuss with her grandmother.
RL Date: 10/03/2019
Related: Ducks For Sale, An End of Games, Wild Rose Reunion, Collecting Offenses, tons of things.
emmanuelle raphael dorimene_npc 

Library — La Maison Sanglante

From a rabbit-warren of passages and narrow stairs and antechambers lacking any window through which one might orient oneself to the outside world, and most of which seem to be kept locked, few and privileged visitors 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 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 all that 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, in 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 oak desk with comfortably-upholstered campaign-style chairs to left and right, turned so that one might sit in either and face toward someone working at the desk. Upon the latter a heavily-wrought silver inkwell constitutes a sculpture in itself.

Emmanuelle spends 1 luck points on A particularly good day for music.
<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Violoncello+20: Amazing Success. (8 6 3 1 2 1 8 5 5 4 8 5 4 5 1 3 4 8 8 7)

Gathered beneath the portrait of their forbidding ancestors, sit three generations of Shahrizai women: a little girl of three, dressed in a simple gown of pale blue wool with her blue-black hair in pigtails tied with white silk ribbons, holding in her lap a doll whom Raphael will recognise at a glance though she’s dressed now to match her diminutive mistress; her mother, holding her hand in turn, powerfully reminiscent to his eye of Emmanuelle nó Rose Sauvage in her early twenties, but incarnated now as a frail and feminine creature with a few white snowdrops pinned to the bosom of her deeper blue silk gown; and, opposite the sofa occupied by those two (three, counting the doll), the mother and grandmother who is their link to those beautiful painted people whose romance founded their line and created a Kusheline household in Eisande.

A red leather armchair moved back into the corner suggests where Emmanuelle might normally sit. But this afternoon she has chosen for herself a simpler, straight-backed, armless chair, the better to accommodate her own companion: a three-quarter violoncello held so safely and tenderly between her thighs that any Mandrake patron who happened to be admitted to her impromptu concert would swoon on the spot from the very thought of being such an instrument. The ebony and horsehair bow in her right hand is coaxing forth from that modest quartet of strings a mellow and fluid recitative which varies with her own whim, certain deep notes held till they fade away into whispers too delicate to ruffle a single page, others defying all expectation by their flowering into triumphal baroque ornamentation worthy of this house.

She too is wearing blue, customary for the setting off of Shahrizai eyes. A midnight blue silk shirt beneath one of her square-shouldered black velvet coats, with a comfy pair of black leather breeches and the flat black velvet slippers she favours at home.

When Raphael is shown in by Baltasar two sets of gems, Emmanuelle’s blue diamonds and her daughter’s sapphires, flick toward him in unison. The music never falters, nor the child’s narrow-eyed, head-tilted attention to her grandmother’s curious hobby.

Raphael does not wear blue. He wears black. The same as before; the new clothes have not come in just yet, but they must be due soon. Given the family involved, he has not come today to play a particular role or create a particular impression, but the mood set between the elegiac strains of the violoncello and the composition of this family portrait in three generations, with all its hints of the past and future, cause him to pause not far from where he is shown in. Has this all been curated and timed for his arrival, or would it be just the same scene with the maison closed to the outside world? There is no way of telling. Perhaps in response, Raphael’s expression, too, becomes supremely hard to read. While his eyes do move from point to point, from ‘cello to Emmanuelle to her double from twenty years past to the doll to the child gripping it, he is otherwise so still that he may even be holding his breath.

With the attentiveness of which any Thorn must be capable, he’ll see the younger woman’s gaze drift gradually back to her mother’s hands, the one clasping the bow and the other so deftly manipulating the violoncello’s strings with the aid of her gleaming black-lacquered manicure — and Emmanuelle’s gaze reverting likewise, to her grand-daughter’s face, without passing her old colleague any secret messages meanwhile. The music is her sole preoccupation, the sheer free flow of it unconstrained by bars or structure: the expression of some tide in her own soul, ebbing and flowing, passionate and plaintive by turns.

And then, a handful of minutes later, when the instrument in Emmanuelle’s embrace is sighing its melancholy last, when those final long, honeyed notes seem slowly to be dying, along with the fire burning now so low in the hearth… The bow leaps instead of gliding; and she plays a quick measure of something as near to a jig as one can manage on a violoncello. This is purely for the little girl, whose treble laughter rings out suddenly above the music.

Whatever trance there was between the women and their visitor, is broken. Emmanuelle lets out a low chuckle of her own as she sets down her bow upon the elaborately carven ebony music-stand placed just at the height of her eyes. Opposite her on the sofa there’s a smattering of applause from hands of different sizes. She’s already standing, holding the neck of the ‘cello in one hand, beckoning to Raphael with the other. “Come and let me make you known to my girls,” she invites easily. “Raphael nó Rose Sauvage, may I present the lady Dorimène nó Cereus de Shahrizai, and the lady Hélène Shahrizai? Monsieur Raphael is, as I have said, a colleague and friend of mine from before either of you ever entered my mind.”

The Cereus flower blossoming upon this Shahrizai branch aids her daughter in establishing her doll propped safe and comfortable against a cushion, and then flows gracefully to her feet with her own junior edition beside her. The succeeding pair of curtseys have each their own charms, childish dignity opposed to the flawless ease of Mont Nuit’s most ancient tradition.

Raphael comes closer when he is beckoned, making a straight-backed bow in return for the introduction, then without taking more time in introductions, drops to a knee to address the youngest of the company. “Do you get to hear music like that very often?” he asks the girl.

Dorimène has hardly murmured an exquisite phrase or two in the murmurous, beguiling inflections of the house wherein she was raised — an accent unlike any other, unmistakable when one has heard it even once before — when the attention of all three adults shifts downward, to the kneeling Thorn and his pigtailed interlocutrix.

“Yesterday and today,” little Lady Hélène informs Raphael, sounding slightly scornful, as though she can’t quite believe in the stupidity of the questions people ask.

Over her head Emmanuelle gives him a wry smile. She doesn’t intervene.

“Hélène, is there not something you would like to say to Monsieur Raphael?” the girl’s mother nudges, bending slightly, like a willow, to place a hand upon her shoulder.

Hélène looks up at her mother’s lovely face, turned down toward her own, and then looks back at Raphael and takes hold of her skirts in both hands to essay a second curtsey. She practiced her little speech with a curtsey — it just wouldn’t make sense to leave it out now.

“Thank you for bringing my doll, Master Raphael,” she intones in a small, piping voice, which contains already enough of her mother’s Cereus style to suggest she is rarely left to nurses. “She is very beautiful. Her name is Nathalie now, because we met on our natality. What was her name before? Emmadame said it was all right to change it,” and her gaze flickers sideways and up to Emmanuelle, who answers with a grave nod, “because everybody changes names when they join a new house.” By now Hélène has wandered slightly off script; and she regales Raphael with an extensive catalogue of what she feels to be Natalie’s habits and tastes, and several adventures they’ve had together so far around the house, which seems to be a more boundless and magical environment at three even than it appears at eight-and-forty, before Emmanuelle clears her throat and Dorimène’s hand tightens upon her daughter’s shoulder.

“… Hélène, I think Jeannie will be waiting for us, don’t you think?” is Dorimène’s delicate suggestion. “Perhaps you might tell Monsieur Raphael the rest of the story another day.”

“Ah, then you are very lucky,” Raphael observes. “It is rare for people to hear such things two days running.” He leans a forearm on his raised knee and patiently serves as audience for the young Hélène’s rehearsed thanks. He smiles at her, warm and genuine, all the more when the seam between her practiced speech and her genuine thoughts shows. “You are very welcome,” he returns. “And I quite agree. But do you know, I think in her case she did not have a name before she became Nathalie, because she was waiting to meet you.”

He does not seem to chafe at the ramblings of a child of three, but he does look up at Dorimène as she suggests moving on. He nods at Hélène. “Well, if someone is waiting, then you’ll have to be on your way now,” he says softly. “But it was my pleasure to meet you, Lady Hélène. I will look forward to hearing the conclusion. As for keeping people waiting, you can do plenty of that when you are grown.” That said, he gets to his feet again and inclines his head toward Dorimène in a small nod of acknowledgement for her kindness.

Raphael’s advice on the naming conventions of dolls, meets with general approval from the Shahrizai committee — not so his prediction of unpunctuality which, referring as it does to an old family joke, puts a faint blush of pink into Dorimène’s unpainted alabaster complexion. “You’re very kind. But I hope I may yet bring up my daughter to an appreciation of the courtesy we all owe to others,” she confesses modestly to the Thorn, meeting his eyes untroubled by his canon or its reputation, as is only to be expected of a daughter of this house. Then with a soft rustle of skirts she turns to her mother. “Emmadame, may we have your leave to go?” she inquires, not in jest but as naturally as if this were a familiar ritual of the Maison Sanglante.

Emmanuelle with a crisp but not unkindly nod confirms, “You may both go. Hélène, I shall expect to see you tomorrow afternoon, as we arranged.” This last she says very seriously to the child, whilst receiving another round of curtseys, deeper than those granted Raphael.

Dorimène rises from her curtsey and gathers Nathalie in one arm, holding the doll sitting upon her arm as though she were another child, and with a reassurance to her mother, “We won’t forget, Emmadame,” and another soft word to Raphael, “And it was a pleasure for us to meet you, Monsieur,” she shepherds her little one before her out of the library. In the doorway she pauses and turns back, to leave one last demure Cereus smile behind her.

Raphael simply gazes back at Dorimène, in no attempt to intimidate or dominate, but neither does he look particularly embarrassed by her correction. He simply nods once and waits as the two receive their leave to depart. He imparts one more smile to Hélène at her pleasantry, watching them go, then looks to Emmanuelle. “So it is planned for the girl to follow her mother?” he wonders. “She is very charming. I am glad the doll has found such an ideal home.”

“Perhaps,” Emmanuelle grants coolly as, behind Raphael, she retracts her violoncello’s magnificent spike and lays it down in the open case lying next to her chair, where it may repose at least till the end of their meeting… Though, having played so well already, she’s less inclined to continue than if she’d made a sheaf-full of errors in need of redemption.

“The name Hélène, it belonged to my grandmother — Hélène nó Cereus, consort to the comte de Chartres,” she mentions. “Her blood is why we’re all so fucking short,” which observation she accompanies by a wry look up into Raphael’s eyes as she turns back to him.

“Though this Hélène may prove another of our Mandrakes, like her aunt and her uncle. She has an odd knack already,” and she bares her teeth at her visitor in a proud smile which it would yet be difficult to describe as ‘grandmotherly’, “for tying knots. Wine?” she inquires of him forthrightly. “Or would you prefer a proper drink? Are you working tonight?”

“What do you drink when you’re drinking properly?” Raphael asks. “Uisghe?” He does not sound opposed to the idea. “You’re not so especially short, are you?”

He shakes his head a little. “Not tonight,” he says. “I’ve reserved it for coming here. There is a woman, the Vicomtesse Regent de Ferrand, if you know her, who tells me that she is not interested in the least in our canon, yet who engaged me yesterday to… take her out to lunch,” Raphael says, opening his fingers in a gesture that indicates either a certain wonder in this or the ease with which it was done or… something. “She is interesting. At any rate, my fee being paid yesterday, today I am at ease.” He gestures to the room. “Do we stay here? Do you need your chair put back in its place?” That is said humorously.

<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Politics: Great Success. (7 1 2 8 8 6 7 4)

“Short compared with the Platonic ideal of a Mandrake,” Emmanuelle clarifies with a smirk — and then she places a hand flat upon the top of her head and carries it levelly across to meet Raphael’s chin. Barely. He has a good eight inches on her. Though that little trick has surprised people before, given the sheer amount of space a Scion of Kushiel is apt to occupy in the world. She doesn’t seem genuinely troubled by her stature, though. And why should she be, so many years after she not only attained her present height but proved it no drawback to the cultivation of an imposing persona—? “… Please,” she says next, with similar good humour, gesturing to the chair Raphael has so kindly offered to shift back into its proper place for her. His other question she answers by sauntering along the length of the library, from the circle of warmth about the fire to the chillier environs of the massive oaken desk at its farthest end.

The time, she spends considering the unusual title of Raphael’s new patron; the purpose, is to fetch a humble-looking bottle of Alban manufacture from a locked drawer in her desk, and a pair of small crystal glasses of the style more usually employed for drinking joie.

She returns to the fireside in a more contemplative mood. “‘Interesting’ is a fair term for a woman reputed to have secured her present position via quite such a number of convenient poisonings,” she drawls. “I suppose you’ve heard the stories? But I daresay no matter how much truth is to be found in them, one risks nothing in breaking bread with her provided one is careful not to stand between her and the fulfillment of her desires… Which do not tend toward our canon? Interesting,” she repeats, pouring out two careful measures of uisghe.

<FS3> Raphael rolls Politics: Failure. (1 6 6 5 6 3)

Raphael makes her a little bow, again intended in jest and picks up the chair to set it where it would seem to belong, at least for the purposes of their conversation and given the arrangement of what other furniture is there. “I fail to see anything she might gain in poisoning me,” Raphael says, “Especially now that we have sat down twice together over food or drink. But it may explain why she has to pay for her company,” he says, the hint of a chuckle in his voice. “Still, not necessarily why she might select me. We met by chance at the Wine Cellar when I was picking out a few things for the salon.”

He seats himself on the sofa, unconcerned about necessarily making a matched picture with Emmanuelle at this point in their relationship. “At any rate, I don’t know if enough people in Marsilikos read Plato that the ideal of Mandrake in this city should be much different from yourself,” he says, again intending humor in that. “Did I offend your daughter?” he wonders then. “Or is it only her House? I thought young Lady Hélène very charming, whatever path she may one day take.”

By the time Emmanuelle has retrieved the uisghe her furnishings are in order, her chair correctly oriented to the fire and her music stand set thoughtfully aside: an occasional table has retained its position throughout and it’s there that she pours that richly smoky amber-hued liquor from across the northern straits, and leaves the bottle, corked, against further need.

She sits forward on the edge of her chair to pass Raphael’s glass across to him, and to clink her own against it once it’s in his hand. “Your health,” she pronounces; and she takes a generous mouthful and holds it pleasantly burning upon her tongue before she swallows.

“… I fear Dorimène has been teased once too often for a tardiness which is not truly a habit of hers,” she drawls then, sitting back. “She presented me with my first grandchild one day after my fortieth natality — most of which I spent, thus, attending her in her confinement rather than as I’d intended — and so each year since we have had too many family jokes about her late gift to me and they are fresh in our minds at present from their third repetition. Hearing what she said to you I wondered whether perhaps we have had too many jokes, now. We’ll say less of it next year, I think,” though despite its mild expression her thought has a quality of definite decision about it, betrayed by the line of her mouth and the cool focus in her eyes.

She rests the base of her glass upon her leather-breeched thigh, pinched between thumb and forefinger. “Your Chalasse,” she admits, looking seriously into Raphael’s eyes, “I wouldn’t have in my house. But you did say — she wished you to take her out to lunch?”

Raphael leans enough to meet Emmanuelle’s toast, returning, “And yours,” before he sits back against his seat. “Ah, I see,” he replies. “Of course I meant only that like her mother and grandmother, the young Lady Hélène will surely be beautiful enough to keep men waiting.” He does not seem overly distressed at the potential for offense caused, however. Particularly since the reason seems to have had little to do with him.

He contemplates the color of the whiskey. “Yes, well. You are very choosy. As we know, I am sometimes obliged to be engaged by those whom you have not accepted. At any rate, she provided a very convenient excuse to leave the salon during a slow morning. She asked me to take her somewhere interesting — she has a habit of creating little tests and games. I don’t think Marielle or Perenelle were to her taste in that regard — so I took her back down the alleys behind the marketplace where there is a butcher’s guild that offers some very fine cuts, and will even serve them if it promises the right custom.” And by ‘right,’ he of course means ‘right amount of money’ rather than necessarily social quality. “At any rate, we passed a pleasant afternoon, though I doubt her guards were very happy.”

Hélas, Raphael’s compliment is doomed to miss its target a second time. “What a conventional remark,” drawls Emmanuelle, moderately withering but not punitively so; “I hope it is not a staple of your conversation, or perhaps we’ll have to practice that too.” She lifts her glass, still betwixt thumb and forefinger, for another quick sip — a satisfying one to judge by the slight succeeding sigh as she lowers it again. “I have never wanted men to wait for me because they would like to look at my face,” she goes on. “I prefer men, women, and those whose nature places them somewhere in between, to wait for me because they’re shitting themselves at the thought of causing me a moment’s displeasure.” And she lifts her small crystal glass in ironic salute to Raphael and then pours the second half of its contents straight down her throat. Then she slams it down empty on the table at her elbow and gives vent to a quiet chuckle.

“Taking her out is sensible,” she opines. “Her dark reputation will give a fillip to yours, as your relation becomes known — meanwhile you keep her away from the young people in the salon, upon whom she is unlikely to prove a suitable influence. I don’t insist upon the truth of what I have heard in Elua,” she is careful to say, “but whilst one such death might be a lucky chance, or two an unusual blessing, four of them does begin to suggest a pattern.”

“Now, that is very rude,” Raphael returns, evenly in tone. “Perhaps you speak more unconventionally than I to a child of three, but I will not be your pupil in conversation lessons, thank you.” He sips from his glass and pauses to savor the uisghe, then says, “This is very good, thank you.” Apparently no grudge held to the extent that he does not appreciate the hospitality. He does not finish it off as quickly as she, but of course he does not have an entire bottle of it waiting for him.

“I think she is not terribly interested in the salon in general. I don’t know if there are other canons that appeal to her more.” He smiles. “Four is quite a lot,” is the acknowledgement he makes. “But as far as I can tell, she has not yet thought of what she would want next.”

Likewise being told that she’s just been rude to her guest inspires in Emmanuelle no ire. She was rude, a little (by her standards): in the service of making her point. “I’d never tell a child of any age,” she explains forthrightly, “to rely on her beauty, still less a child destined to be offered to Mont Nuit, where beauty is so commonplace. At three, at four, at five, they are learning from us the rules that govern the world — the principles that will become instinct, that will guide them as they continue to grow, that may become set into their hearts so deeply and for so long that they prove inalterable. I may be unconventional,” she allows, “but I do not tell Hélène that she is beautiful. I have however in recent weeks taught her how to sign her name; how to seal a letter neatly; how to tie eight different knots; how to eat an ortolan; and her first few words of Tiberian. I praise her quickness, her cleverness, her ingenuity — but never her beauty. Everyone’s beautiful,” she drawls, “from butchers’ boys to princesses,” and she sweetens that sharp touch by sitting forward and gesturing for Raphael’s glass, with the intention of replenishing it. “Beauty is merely the starting point,” she says seriously; “beauty is merely what we build upon.”

She uncorks the bottle and pours another round for them both, and stretches again to restore Raphael’s glass to him. “But I have wandered far,” she concedes with a crooked smile. “You see how quickly this,” and she salutes him again with her own glass, “reaches my head… As for your Chalasse, perhaps it is simply you who appeal,” she suggests. “It is sometimes so.”

“I never told her to rely on anything,” Raphael points out, lifting his eyebrows slightly at Emmanuelle. “I’m sure your education of the girl is exemplary, and she will have every advantage toward success. But as you say, I did not come here to discuss the place of beauty in our world or what your granddaughter ought to think of it.”

He nods and takes the glass she has offered him. “In fact I have had a conversation with Séverine, the Second of Red Roses. And that, I think, you will be more interested to hear from me than my opinions on the charms of your family.” Some of his earlier warmth has perhaps receded in the face of Emmanuelle’s lecture, but this much is offered openly, not as a tease but as a proposal for a new topic of concern to them both.

Matters concerning her progeny are apt to bring out the mother bear in Emmanuelle, with or without the aid of uisghe — but, slowly sipping from her second glass, which she intends to nurse and she will, for however long they talk here together, she accepts that shift in subject from one she has just about exhausted to another which offers umpteen fruitful possibilities. “Yes, Séverine… one of my father’s girls,” she drawls softly, “though I do not know her well.” That is, she has not had the pleasure. “Please, tell me your thoughts,” she invites.

Raphael lets the space of a few breaths pass while he considers exactly what his thoughts are. “It is my impression that she approaches her work with seriousness and devotion,” he says. “In fact I was relieved to find that in her. From a distance, these things are rarely obvious.”

He pauses for a sip of uisghe, though he too keeps his pace on drinking slow for now. “She knew the incident I had heard about, and had an idea of who was involved. It is her point of view that the woman in question, being a foreigner, does not comprehend d’Angeline ways and was therefore upset by what Séverine says was a rather moderate performance. And it was done as a Showing, not in public view. The possibility was also advanced that the woman in question exaggerated her distress in order to appeal to… no other than your dear rabbit friend.” That detail seems to amuse him, judging by the turn of one corner of his mouth. “That was all encouraging to hear from someone who seems to have a sense of practicality and a concern for the service that we do. Perhaps thing are not as worrisome as they might have been at their worst, though conditions are not necessarily perfect.” Another sip.

That, Emmanuelle definitely enjoys: when he conjures her beauteous bunny her lips twist into a crooked smile and she takes another sip from her glass of uisghe. “That,” she pronounces, “does make sense. One could not expect a foreigner to enter fully into our ways — I did, once or twice, allow a foreigner to be received at Mandrake House,” she concedes, “but only under the most careful circumstances, and certainly not at a Showing. It is possible to give some idea of the richness of our customs without,” she makes a slight face at Raphael, “granting such persons access to an inner sanctum for which they are naturally unprepared… As for Lord Baphinol, I can’t imagine your foreign friend got very far with him like that,” and she chuckles softly, thinking one or two of her own thoughts about that gentleman. “No, if that’s Séverine’s word on the subject,” she agrees, “I believe we must take it as what it is.”

Raphael nods. “Having seen the two of them in the garden on that day, it was not my impression that she had,” he agrees. “And yes, I am inclined to trust Séverine on the matter. I have asked one or two other Roses in quiet moments how they are treated by Thorns and I did not hear any particular complaints. Although I also noticed that some of the Roses inappropriately apply titles to Thorns as a matter of course. I do not find it quite right to be called ‘my lord’ unless there were… very specific circumstances.” He sips again. “I’m glad if this eases at least some of your concerns about the house, but I intend to continue to keep a certain watch on how things are conducted.”

And then Emmanuelle’s ice-cold blue gaze fixes upon him more intently.

“… ‘My lord’,” she drawls. “For fuck’s sake.” She laughs softly, and has recourse to her uisghe. “You’re a fine specimen, Raphael, and if you were a patron I wouldn’t hesitate — I quite comprehend the inclination to pay you compliments — but they do go too far,” she agrees. “Is that not what I said the other day? Servants preening themselves as princes,” she reminds him. “Madame or Monsieur, Mistress or Master — these are our titles. I was only ‘Lady Shahrizai’ to those who received an especial pleasure from submitting to one of my lineage. But such terms are chiefly for the use of patrons, or adepts speaking to the fully marqued. Between canons — it isn’t suitable,” she states flatly. “All of us are equal in Naamah’s service.”

Raphael inclines his head. “I don’t think it is appropriate as a compliment, even, though I would not correct a patron, particularly if they wished to indulge a particular imagination. I am not ashamed of where I come from. Perhaps it is the latest fashion,” he says, his glance toward the ceiling suggesting his thoughts on that, “But I cannot say I understand it. Nor do I wish to be presumed a jumped-up courtesan attempting to pass himself off as a pantomime lord.”

He takes a breath and settles back against the upholstery to savor another mouthful of uisghe. “Not a matter for immediate alarm, however.”

“What you are by your own right,” Emmanuelle agrees with him sincerely, “is enough to carry weight under any circumstance. You and I understand that — perhaps the young ones do not, and so that is why such a bizarre fashion is taking hold next door.” A wry tilt of her head, in the correct direction: she’s one of the few who know it for sure. “One hopes they will learn to take pride where it is so amply to be found, in their service to our Bright Lady, rather than supposing it to repose chiefly in the forms of address shared by a nobility far more numerous than they themselves… Would you care for another drop of uisghe?” and this is as serious as her questions usually are. “I drink little enough, but I should not wish to stint a guest.”

“No, I think this is as much as I will have,” Raphael answers, though a nod marks his gratitude at the offer. “I have not generally been one to overindulge, but a certain temptation to that may still be lingering,” he goes so far as to acknowledge, “Since that time when we became reacquainted. At any rate, among those I have spoken to, most seem to be genuine in their service if not always what I would desire in form. Though I have not spoken to many of the adept and marqued Thorns.”

The time of their meeting in Elua, Emmanuelle dismisses with a small gesture. “Your circumstances are so different, I’m not troubled to offer you now what I’d have taken from your hands then,” she says honestly. “Naamah has brought you home since, to where you are in a position to do a great deal of good in her name. I hadn’t this in mind when we spoke that day in your shop — but I am,” she holds his eyes steadily as she admits it, “humbled to suppose that I may have been in some degree her instrument, for the gradual betterment of a house to which we have both such indissoluble ties… I use you; you use me; the children taught to grow up trusting in Naamah, are the ones whose benefit we both desire of such usage.”

Raphael is quiet and still long enough that he must be thinking of something. “Different in some ways,” he concedes, but no further. That said, he does drain the last from his small glass and sets it on a table. “I am glad that we met again when we did, and that there may be good to come of it for the salon. I hope there will, even if it comes only from my own service, rendered in keeping with the standards of the house.”

“I don’t doubt that,” drawls Emmanuelle, lifting her own glass to him once more.

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