(1311-03-15) A Taste for Porcelain
Summary: Cyriel Charlot at last makes up his mind to seek an assignation with the only Cereus courtesan in Marsilikos: though, of course, there are first certain courtesies, formalities, histories, before a contract may be written…
RL Date: 02/03/2019 - 28/03/2019
Related: Curious Twists, The Pleasures of Duty.
dorimene_npc cyriel 

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.

One must never call too early in the day upon a professed Servant of Naamah: a rule which Cyriel Charlot observes, presenting himself in the late afternoon at the gilt-touched gates of Dorimène nó Cereus de Shahrizai’s family home, the Maison Sanglante.

Nothing could be more Kusheline than the high stone wall and the bleak courtyard redolent of wormwood which together separate the house’s inner precincts from the city beyond; nothing, however, could be more Eisandine than those Mereliot guardsmen in their blue tabards blazoned with yellow fish, who do rather clash with all that plain grey stone. All that is necessary is to give his name and title, and then the gates are unlocked and he is shown very correctly across the courtyard, up the steps, and through the heavy ironbound front door which requires a separate key for its opening. The man with the keys bows the visitor inside.

Then Cyriel is left to his own devices in the windowless, beeswax-fragrant Kushiel chamber, for a handful of minutes before an iron-handled door amidst the frescoes is opened by a man of undoubted Shahrizai blood. He’s in his middle thirties, clad in black velvet and black silk, with long blue-black hair caught back in a tail rather than braided after the frequent fashion of the men of that house. He stands to one side, holding the door, in the attitude of a servant: through it comes the slight figure and the swaying bell-shaped skirts of the lady Dorimène.

She’s poised and willowy, fresh and clean. Her hair is in blue-black ringlets falling about the shoulders of a simple, long-sleeved, high-necked gown of winter-white wool, hardly paler than that fine complexion of hers which befits both the house into which she was born and the other which was glad to adopt her. Here at home her hands are bare, the nails long and finely shaped and lacquered a pale pink to match the natural hue of her lips; her only jewel is a large marquise-cut sapphire on the third finger of her left hand, though she wears also a few small blue early-spring flowers pinned to the slight swell of her bosom. A habit, perhaps?

Altogether she’s hardly the creature one would expect to meet in such a chamber as this… except that every severe or sensual Kushiel on the walls — at any rate the ones that aren’t depicted in profile! — could as easily be drawn from her, as Emmanuelle Shahrizai.

“My lord vicomte, how glad I am that you came,” this daughter of Mandrakes exclaims softly, gathering a handful of her skirts the better to lower herself into another of her flawless Cereus curtseys. Her other hand floats upward as she sinks down, forming with her wrist a frail and graceful curve. She straightens and looks smiling up into his eyes. “Just to see me, or did you intend to call upon my lady mother as well? I think she may be a little… occupied, today.”

She doesn’t introduce, she doesn’t even acknowledge the kinsman behind her.

A truth often acknowledged is that one must not enter the territory of another predator without a certain modicum of caution. In the case of La Maison Sanglante, it breathes more Shahrizai façon de vivre than the Mereliot half of Emmanuelle’s descendance might suggest. But then again, it was originally chosen and maintained by her father, the infamous consort of the previous Duchesse de Mereliot, founder of the one salon catering to sharper pleasures, so a certain Kusheline air is to be expected.

When Cyriel Charlot arrives in the hours of late afternoon already slowly progressing towards early evening, he requests indeed to be shown to Lady Dorimène. It had taken a few days longer for him than the delightful Cereus would have expected, to finally decide on a visit. Perhaps prompted by considerations, of whether some scheming had been in place to see him acquainted with such tempting bait. The Kusheline lord is clad in a fine ensemble of doublet and breeches, black and red colors of his house worn with pride but also adding some contrast to his pale, aquiline features, brown hair pulled back and tied with a strap of leather at the nape of his neck, perhaps drawing more focus to a certain driven quality in his expression today.

His booted steps cause a slightly hollow echo in the hallway, as he follows the servant to the chamber where he is to wait for Dorimène. As can be expected, the Vicomte de Chavagne feels hardly intimidated with the morbid beauty of the interior and those artful depictions at the walls, and Cyriel is granted some time to admire the frescoes with a bit of fascination — until a hidden door opens and the reason for his visit appears as if conjured by some secret spell.

The man that accompanies her is given a fleeting glance, presence acknowledged with a faint incline of his head, the face memorized with one brief assessing look. But it is to her, that Cyriel Charlot turns his attention then, the pleasant young Shahrizai lady that had mentioned to him she had returned to a service as holy and sacred as it is natural and commonly accepted by all d’Angelines. The curtsey is observed with a faint amused glitter in his pale blue eyes, the raised wrist taken and turned so that he might administer a gallant kiss of greeting to her knuckles.

“You must be jesting, or wishing to toy with me by misinterpreting my intentions,” Cyriel responds, as he straightens, meeting the deeper blue of her eyes with his own. “You issued the invitation for me to come and visit you, and here I am. To see you, Lady Dorimène. And perhaps to request something of you, depending on how easily you might be swayed in my favor.” His voice has a dark timbre and his speech is pronounced in the accent common to those of Kushiel’s province.

Dorimène’s hand is no trouble to catch. Her fingertips curl into Cyriel’s palm, gently, unresistingly, lingering in his grasp— And then, caught, she lowers her eyes and reclaims her hand, only to meet his gaze again with mirth in her own as she tucks her hand into his arm and begins with a subtle touch to lead him through the portal whence she came. The third party to their meeting follows, draws the door shut behind, then slips sideways past them and bows deep before leading the way along the corridor. In his hand, a ring of iron keys.

“Perhaps I teased you a little,” the lady grants to Cyriel, inclining her head toward him as they walk together behind her kinsman — who still seems invisible to her, “but only for a copy’s pleasure in being preferred to the original… I’m afraid I have workmen in my chambers today,” she confides, “a matter of some boiseries that no longer please my eye; and so I’ve ordered wine brought to us in the library.” Civilised and neutral territory, without a bedchamber attached: if it hadn’t been the inadequate boiseries she’d have found some other pretext, surely. “I hope you’ll like it as much as I do. I often think it’s one of my favourite rooms in the house.”

<FS3> Cyriel rolls Composure: Good Success. (8 4 3 2 8 8)

Who can tell, whether he enjoyed using that tease for a slight, subtle threat in his tone and manner? Cyriel accepts her clarification with a light incline of his head, and her hand slipping through his arm with a faint smoothing of his expression.

“It is a novelty for me to hear a Cereus referring to herself as a mere copy,” the vicomte observes, arching a brow. “All I can say, is that I have met your lady mother only once so far. And while she may have her certain charms—” Did his mouth just curl there at the corners in faint amusement? “It is the daughter that managed to tempt me into a visit to this manse.”

The information about Dorimène’s chambers being worked on is received with a bit of surprise, but Cyriel hides whatever hopes he might nurtured behind a façade of composed curiosity. “Your chambers are being worked on? Is this somewhat reflective of the change in your life, my lady? An inconvenience, no doubt, that certainly will not be of long duration?” he wonders in conversational tone, before they enter into the corridor.

Interstices — La Maison Sanglante

From the Kushiel chamber at the front of the house there opens a broad and long corridor from which visitors may receive their first intimation that the Maison Sanglante is rather more expansive a dwelling than it appears from the square outside. Its walls are frescoed with 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, drawn from the oldest and rarest manuscripts in the possession of the particular Shahrizai line residing here. Acquaintances of Séverine nó Rose Sauvage will discern her in the figure of a princess in chains, on the point of being ravished by a dark knight. Visitors with milder tastes may enjoy a dainty scene involving anthropomorphic rabbits having a tea party, though they are advised not to inquire too closely into what the rabbits do next.

Of course, the frescoes at the walls cause the steps of Cyriel Charlot to slow, for long enough to let those scenes impress upon him. Any d’Angeline has a weakness for grace and art in general. And most Kushelines are bound to be affected by the darker and more morbid sort of beauty. Thus, Cyriel’s eyes linger for a moment upon the motif of a pale maiden in chains below a dark knight, appreciative of the artistry as well as the thought-provoking darker connotations. “The library, my lady… has it similar style of interior?” he asks, turning his pale blue gaze towards his charming companion, a sort of non-committal way of expressing his approval of the general design. But while Cyriel appears all attentive to his young charming hostess, he seems to pay little attention to the man that goes ahead of them, leading the way.

As they progress behind the stalwart and broad-shouldered figure of Lord Baltasar Shahrizai, who is perhaps doomed never to be introduced, Dorimène laughs and squeezes Cyriel’s arm in her delicate hand. “You guessed quite correctly, my lord — I have it in mind to offer a chamber to Naamah and her arts, though despite the gifts of our craftsmen it is taking rather longer than I’d hoped… Or perhaps because of them?” she suggests lightly. “We’ve some still who have been working upon the house’s interiors since it began — and, like all masters, they had rather go slowly and carefully than rush to a conclusion… No, the library isn’t the same,” she explains, with a shake of her head which shifts her dark ringlets about her pale shoulders; “we have quite a lot of different styles, in different chambers, according to what is desired.”

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.

When they reach the library the Charlot takes it in with a sweeping glance. “I am impressed. Very much so. And I can see why you appreciate this chamber… Knowledge is power, is it not?” His gaze brushes the portrait over the hearth, giving it a brief and intense study. “Such as are good connections.”

“Oh,” and Dorimène appears genuinely to marvel at Cyriel’s first impression — but then she spoils her air of reverence by an impish smile and a tiny wrinkling of her nose. “And to think I’d just have said,” she laughs softly, returning to her natural self, “that I like it so much because most of the porcelain is mine.” She gives a little shrug and moves away at last, her hand lifting to indicate a pale glazed jar. “My lady mother prefers the blue and white patterned pottery we have from Ch’in’, but I’m very fond of—” She looks into his eyes and pronounces the word with care, an instant after Baltasar shuts the door behind their trio: “Baekja,” she confides. “It comes from a land to the south of Ch’in. I had a lady patron with trade interests there, whose gifts gave me a taste for it… The colours are so delicate, but the shapes so strong.”

Her bell-shaped white skirts move about her as she indicates a second piece, and then another with a greenish hue to it. She looks back at Cyriel, smiling. “I do try to contribute what I can to the house — my porcelain, where it fits, and of course I did pose for some of the Kushiel figures in the foyer,” she confesses, “because I was here and my lady mother wasn’t, and we are very like… After all, it will be mine one day,” she mentions with an air of seriousness.

Then her eyes widen, blue and clear: she’s appalled by her own words. “Though I hope not for a very long time,” she adds. “… But isn’t it natural to invest in the future, where one can?”

“Different styles, according to what is desired…?” This has Cyriel’s brows lift as he steps into the library. “Did I not know better, I could be led to assume that each of these pleasantly decorated chambers are to play backdrop and inspiration for encounters that are not strictly of a social nature… very much like the chambers of a salon… But then again… here I am, paying my visit just to hear your own chambers are to be redecorated for Naamah’s worship…” Pale blue eyes look towards Dorimène, all appreciation but also with that hint of something that could easily cause discomfort. Cyriel Charlot smiles, a smile both appreciative and signaling him being more at ease, in a Kusheline way.

“Porcelain… Why doesn’t it surprise me to hear you are fond of porcelain? It is so very Cereus, is it not?”, the vicomte wonders, directing his gaze for once away from beautiful features and an alluring slender neck to regard the indicated pieces of rare pottery work from south of Ch’in. “Baekja,” he tries to repeat the foreign word, but from his lips, with his Kusheline tone and accent it sounds kind of odd. “It looks lovely. Strong shapes, hmm?” Cyriel turns to regard her fully now, hands clasped at the small of his back, head slightly angled with his chin turned down a little to facilitate him catching her gaze. “So you posed as Kushiel. How curious.”, the words come in a slow drawl. “But perhaps not, considering the calling of your mother. But I am dying to know… How did you feel when posing as the Companion of Punishment? Misplaced? Thrilled? Hollow?”

Her obvious regret at some of her wording, the Kushline notes with a faint lift of a brow. “Nothing and no one will be here for eternity. A principle you, with your Cereus training, will understand in a way that is beyond us others. Perhaps we should put more focus upon the present and the immediate future, instead of burdening our mood and our spirits with the inevitability of life and its end…?”

Strong shapes. The fragile Lady Dorimène nods at that and sparkles with delight, and reserving an eye and an ear still for her guest she drifts across the chamber (almost as wide as it’s long) to point out another piece she’d like him to see. Her pale figure seems particularly bright, set against so much dark red and dark brown; her hand rises, delicately indicative.

This next jar of hers is squat but not ungraceful, its shape close to circular save for the narrowing of base and throat. Its whitish glaze is, on close examination, slightly mottled — and if one looks very closely indeed, it isn’t quite symmetrical. “It’s called a moon jar,” explains Dorimène, smiling as she lowers her hand. “They are made, usually, in two halves that are joined together at the middle — so the shape of each is subtly different, though they might look the same at a distance. They’re made to catch the moon, or at least the moonlight — very appealing, of course,” she acknowledges, “to the sensibilities of the Night Court… But now, let me think, how did I feel when I was pretending to be Lord Kushiel?”

And, addressing at last one of Cyriel’s own remarks to her, she considers — just long enough to turn her hesitation into another harmless tease for him — those evocative memories.

“… A little chilly,” she confesses at last, and her studiously contemplative mien melts into an impish smile, “and a little cross with the artist for keeping me standing so long. I missed my mother and at the same time I felt very close to her, as though I could sense in the chamber with me a presence I was yearning for…” She speaks with perfect honesty, lucid and lucent and sincere. “And of course I was pleased, too, to please my grandfather by helping to perfect works of art in which he took such an interest. I worried, just now, that you might suppose me to be too eager to inherit all this, when the truth is— I am eager to pass it on,” she explains seriously, “to my own children in turn… Have you ever spent a Longest Night at Cereus House?” she inquires then. “For six centuries our Winter Queen entered the hall with her face hidden behind the mask that was the masterwork of Olivier the Oblique… That, too, crumbled to dust, a century past — but long after the mask the tradition persists, and so does the house that gave it birth. Fragments of the old mask were employed to make the new one. I feel privileged to have had my place in such a tradition,” and her blue gaze suddenly blazes with her pride and her hope, “and I like to dream to myself that perhaps this house, in this city, will be a place where we form long traditions of our own… Our books will crumble and our carpets fray, and even my baekja will fall from its shelves piece by piece, at too rough a touch with a duster, or in a fit of my great-grandchild’s temper — but perhaps in some way, the essence will persist… I can’t deny the idea is alluring; in the meantime,” she favours him with a gentler smile, already gliding toward the red-upholstered sofa by the fire at one end of the library, “yes, my lord, like any Cereus, I consider life’s pleasures all the more precious for their ephemerality.”

On which note she turns and sits, smoothing her skirts with frail white hands. “… And all the worthier,” she adds to Cyriel, her gaze lifting now to meet his, “of being caught for a time in one’s hand, or in a moon jar,” a whimsical smile, “before they slip away with the dawn.”

It is apparent from the arrangements that she expects him to sit next to her: two highly polished silver goblets are waiting on the same side of the table, with a crystal decanter between. Her oddly subservient kinsman moves that way as well and pours with perfect decorum.

While Cyriel Charlot had listened with that polite sort of curiosity to Dorimène’s explanation about moon jars — with his pale gaze lingering on the piece of pottery she presents with vague interest — her admission that follows manages the feat of drawing a low rumble of a chuckle from the Kusheline vicomte. “A little chilly. Hmm, that seems an adequate impression, albeit perhaps not what I had meant…”, he counters, head still in that faint sideways tilt, with eyes crinkling at the corners in faintly dark amusement. “But I understand that posing for such elaborate frescoes must have been a lengthy and tiring process. Your mother and your grandfather must feel in your debt for this feat of tenacity.”

And more history is ahead, when the Cereus-flavoured Shahrizai elects to share tales of the Longest Night upon Mont Nuit. “I have never attended the Cereus Ball,” Cyriel confesses with the lift of a brow, hands from behind his back unclasping to join before him, his own delicate and yet masculine fingers catching his gaze momentarily. “I never gained a token, nor did I actually seek one. To be honest… I have preferred to keep my rare visits to Mont Nuit to the few assignations I had there. Mostly at Valerian House. It might explain, why our paths haven’t crossed before, my lady.”, he says, pale blue eyes meeting her gaze of deeper hue.

The reflecting light on polished silver goblets catch his attention, and so Cyriel moves towards the seating area. The man pouring wine to them receives another fleeting glance, but then the vicomte’s attention is all on Dorimène, and her beautiful pallor against the darker red tones of the library, as she takes her seat.

“You might ask, what I have done on Longest Nights of the past years. Well. Truth be told, I usually attended the Kusheline Ball held by House Morhban. A pity, the last one was more or less called off…” One of his shoulders lifts in a half-shrug as he seats himself across from Dorimène and reaches for one of the goblets. “But let us not speak of past missed opportunities of meeting. When right now, we now have the chance to deepen our acquaintance in a much more intriguing context.”, Cyriel remarks as he lifts his gaze of observant pale eyes to regard and admire the lady courtesan of dark hair before him.

“Of course,” Dorimène murmurs, hardly surprised to hear of a Kusheline lord’s visits to Valerian House, where her own Shahrizai relations maintain an extensive suite of private chambers; “I’m sure that must be why we’ve not met before… You followed the paths suggested by your deepest desires, my lord — and is that not what Naamah would have of us all?”

When Cyriel chooses to sit across from her rather than close beside she slips her small silk-stockinged feet out of her slippers and tucks them up beneath herself, twitching the hem of her gown to cover them. On the floor between the sofa and the table her slippers rest neatly side by side, blue silk much like the colour of her eyes and her sapphire ring, floral-embroidered in lighter blue and thread-of-silver, as elaborately made as her gown is pale and plain.

Having restored the prism-shaped stopper to the crystal decanter and presented Dorimène with her goblet — red wine and a white dress: such is the fearless grace instilled by Cereus teachings — her kinsman stands with his hands clasped behind his back and, during a lull in the talk, he clears his throat with apologetic softness. "My lady Dorimène," he murmurs, in a Kusheline accent almost as pronounced as Cyriel's own, "may I have your leave to go?"

The lady sips her wine and considers, without looking at him. "No," she decides, gentle but firm, confident in herself; "you may wait outside, in case I should require further service of you."

“My lady.” And the Shahrizai lord bows. He takes three steps backward from her presence, and only then does he turn away. His progress out of the library is discreet and nigh silent: a nobleman by his blood and his bearing and his attire, he is yet the ideal servant.

Dorimène meanwhile is drinking a little more of her wine and mulling Cyriel’s words, content to wait until they have true privacy together. She seems at her ease: to be penned alone with a predator is, after all, a perfectly usual circumstance in her family life, and what has any woman to fear when protected by Elua’s precept and Naamah’s own hand—? A show of nervousness might be part of a Valerian’s stock in trade, but it’s beneath the dignity of a Cereus.

Then: "It’s the invariable habit of my house that was to— look down the mountain," she suggests, smiling faintly, "especially to those canons which cater to the sharper passions… My brothers and sisters of Cereus House consider such games too indelicate to be spoken of directly. But it would not be filial in me to follow such a style, would it? When I owe the very first spark of my life to a Mandrake assignation?" she inquires rhetorically — betraying, at least, that her unnamed father was a gentleman with the rank and the wherewithal to cultivate expensive tastes. "I do know a little. I know enough, yes,” she admits with a slight lowering of her eyes, “to wonder whether perhaps one of your tastes would not be content with the gifts that are mine to give… To leave you in want," and though her tone is tentative and rueful, her gaze lifts to hold her visitor’s steadily and without shame for the partiality she’s confessing, "is a failing I should very much regret, my lord. You see,” that puckish smile of hers returns, “I do rather like you.”

That curious kinsman of hers, as he begs to takes his leave, earns another glance from Cyriel, pale eyes narrowing as he notes the traces of Shahrizai blood and subservience in that so very rare mixture. Whatever questions this forthcoming ‘servant’ may inspire, the Charlot leaves them unspoken, a detail filed away for later contemplation — and perhaps investigation. The way his delicate host refuses the man has the hawkish-looking Kusheline smiling with approval, as if her firmness and the way the other man takes it were just another confirmation of a very old preference that sings in Cyriel’s blood.

His gaze follows the attendant briefly, flicking right back to regard Dorimène as she addresses him now, in the possibly deceiving circumstance of being left to their conversation. “You, my lady, are a delight to the eye,” is Cyriel Charlot’s response to her musings. “And your considerate hospitality leaves nothing to wish for. As for my tastes…” Here, his eyes brighten slightly, while his face are cast into a slightly sharper smile. “You should be too familiar with Kusheline preferences through your blood relations, as to be in doubt about a particular taste.” The words are spoken in a soft drawl, the dark timbre of his voice carrying some darker connotations.

“Don’t be alarmed. I would never wish to break such a delicate creature. I understand that the canon of House Cereus has its own charms, and in regards to that, you don’t leave me wanting.”, Cyriel adds then, leaning forward as her final statement prompts him to reach for her hand. Pleased as he is, by her confession, the smile is more visible in the flash of his eyes as he aims to bring knuckles of a perfectly shaped hand close enough for his lips to brush against. “You are too kind, Lady Dorimène. I decided after all to pay you this call, as you too have not failed to make an impression.”

The restraint of these negative compliments doesn’t fail (ahem) to deepen the curve of Dorimène’s smile, for she’s accustomed to regarding the faint praise of Kushelines as but the tip of a mighty oncoming iceberg of approval. One could be quite sunk by it, truth to tell.

To collect her hand from her lap is as easy here and now in the library, as to pluck it from the air in the Kushiel chamber at the front of the house. But now her fingers don’t simply rest in Cyriel’s grasp: they dare to press into his palm in warm reassurance of her regard. “If you are certain, then, of your desire to venture outside the Valerian canon — shall I send you a contract, my lord?” she inquires of him simply. “Or would you prefer to make certain of your own stipulations? There is pen and parchment, if you like,” and without looking away from his gaze, she raises her free hand in a languorous gesture toward the mighty oaken desk at the far end of the chamber, and the silver inkwell upon it. “… Another Cereus custom,” she explains, bringing that wandering hand inward to rest upon her bosom with her fingertips amidst the petals of her little blue flowers: too delicately to bruise a single bloom. “We write down the details instead of speaking them, to save our blushes.” But this seems more a tease than a confidence — she catches her lower lip momentarily between her teeth and then just smiles at him, merry-eyed.

Negative compliments? Cyriel Charlot’s honesty could be taken as such. But his appreciative gaze conveys his interest, a pair of eyes, pale blue and focused on the Cereus grace of Dorimène Shahrizai. That he is Kusheline does not mean he is oblivious to certain details as the encouraging press of her fingers in his grasp. Amusement flickers for a moment in the look the vicomte gives her, when she directs attention towards the desk with writing utensils only waiting to be used.

“So was your design, I presume… Or merely just pointing out a possible arrangement?”, Cyriel wonders, his voice calm and yet not quite detached. “The risk in writing things down without prior discussion holds the risk of required corrections.”, he opines. “But if you’d prefer to retain that comely pallor to your cheeks, I can very well oblige the request, and point out the ramifications I see as reasonable, in the hopes that they will be agreeable to you.”

Holding her gaze for a moment, as if to reassure himself of the deep blue of her eyes, an obvious trait of her Shahrizai heritage, Cyriel moves to stand then without any hurry, and in finally breaking that eye contact, turns to walk over to the desk. It takes only a brief moment of gathering his thoughts on the matter, before the Charlot lord begins to write, quill scratching lightly over the parchment in determined strokes. This is obviously not the first contract he sets up — or perhaps he has practice and experience from previous assignations.

“Please do, my lord,” Dorimène invites, simply and steadily; “you’ve so reassured me that I imagine we shall agree more than otherwise upon what might serve to please us both.”

After their hands part and then their eyes the lady lingers upon her sofa; as Cyriel prowls toward the desk she admires his figure with a frankness in her gaze that would no doubt amuse him tremendously could he but see it. Then she takes another mouthful of her wine, slips her feet back into her flat blue slippers, and glides gracefully deskward in his wake.

The heavy parchment laid out, the words inscribed upon it, don’t draw her eye even for a moment: she looks only at her prospective patron, standing by him and studying his face, with a light hand resting upon the small of his back as he bends slightly to write.

“… You know so well what you intend,” she murmurs, and that too is admiring. “… I was used to seeing my contracts prepared for me by the Chancellor of the House,” she admits, after another of those little Cereus hesitations, “or one of his clerks. I am learning how, now, for my new life here. Though I will not write ours today — I cannot offer you your choice between dates until I know when my chambers will be in order again,” a practical consideration voiced with a tinge of regret, “and there is some other language I should like to make certain of before I set pen to parchment… Or perhaps your bountiful memory might supply that as well?” she teases. “The traditional contractual phrases,” she suggests delicately, “for naming a signale—?”

Whether he is admired or not — Cyriel Charlot seems to pay it no mind. Dorimène is the bait in this case, and he the one wishing to contract her. To feel the light touch of her hand to the lower part of his back has his lips curl in a faint smile. Or was it the words she murmured to him that inspired this rare display of lightness in his bearing? “I do intend,” he counters, not taking his gaze from the parchment, “not to scare you off by feigning ignorance of differences in your canon to others. This contract here looks like only few things need to be added…”

And here Cyriel pauses, to give Dorimène a glance from pale blue eyes that crinkle a little at the corners. “As for the time and day of this assignation, we shall have to leave it open, until your chambers are ready. But. Truly? A signale? I always thought, the signale of a Cereus would be ‘no’ or ‘stop’, and no special other word would be needed, to tell apart delightful game from true discomfort.” There is the slight dip of his gaze, as he takes in more of her in this minimal adjustment of his peripheral vision. “But if you feel more at ease, name a word and write it down, so that both of us can be certain of the pursuits of that evening remaining within the boundaries of what is agreeable to you.”

Beneath the weight of Cyriel Charlot’s gaze — inevitably heavier than her own hand even when it arrives sidelong — Dorimène shifts her weight from one foot to the other, leaning not away from his scrutiny but nearer, catching his eye if it’s inclined to be caught. The scent of her is subtle and fresh with a hint of Eisandine lavender; her fingertips curl gently against his back.

“And perhaps that’s what I shall write,” she agrees, in a voice rippling with amusement; “‘no’ or ‘stop’. The words I’d usually speak to a man who might in his enthusiasm disoblige me — though that has been rare enough in my experience… But, as I understand it, the purpose of a signale is as a failsafe, a final protection against misunderstandings in the midst of passion — and that seems wise, doesn’t it? When you and I know one another so little, yet?” she suggests, faintly smiling. “Though I trust we shall remedy that, my lord, very soon.”

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