(1311-03-26) Five Interested Parties
Summary: A collegial colloquy over supper at the Maison Sanglante, with anecdotes of the life of the Rose Sauvage present and past. (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 24/03/2019 - 25/03/2019
Related: Wild Rose Reunion.
emmanuelle raphael 

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.

“—And I hope you understand my decision to intervene,” Emmanuelle goes on seriously; “a woman of our friend’s stature rarely carries more than seven and a half, perhaps eight pints of blood in her veins. She can afford to spill commensurately less of it than a taller person might — or,” she drawls, “a younger one. You and I know too well that in one’s fifth decade mental stamina vastly exceeds the physical — and she is trained to an enduring submission beyond anything you are likely to meet with in a patron. Her body would betray her will far sooner than the other way round, hence my particular caution on her behalf… Besides,” she points out with a broad, lazy red smile, “when they pass out they stop screaming, don’t they?”

She and Raphael sit facing one another across a table once again laid with a cold supper for two, most of which has already been apportioned and coolly savaged à la the woman asleep downstairs — for an afternoon with Mme Samanthe Louvet (once the most fragrant of Red Roses) is apt to inspire appetites of a different kind, though no less hearty.

“That said, speaking simply as an observer,” she adds softly — though today she was not quite so simple as before, presuming upon their growing friendship to offer from her thronelike chair certain suggestions gleaned from her intimate knowledge of this favoured flower’s growth through the years and the innate susceptibilities of her petals, suggestions which kept her delightfully aquiver with the uncertainty of whose word would next twist her fate — but that’s another story; “I should no longer suppose there to have been any lacuna in your professional life. I had young Mandrakes under me in Elua with marques fresh on their backs who could not have exceeded your skill today, and who certainly lacked your sophisticated touch. I’ll look in on her through the night — you must not worry. And I have something here for your dessert.”

And Emmanuelle touches her napkin fastidiously to her lips and places it folded next to her plate, and produces from an inner pocket of her dark purple velvet coat a square of her usual fine parchment folded in half and folded again. She extends it, held between two manicured fingers, across the table to her guest. It’s warm and ever-so-slightly dogeared. The evidence suggests she’s been carrying it around all day, in expectation of this moment.

“It is your right and responsibility to do so,” Raphael replies, without any sign of ire, but with some sign of wanting another slice of cold sausage, to which he helps himself. “You know her, and her limits, far better than I.” That is a fact, and stated as such. While his confidence has grown along with his return to more frequent work and with the benefit of their master classes at the maison, he has welcomed rather than bristled at Emmanuelle’s participation in the day’s sport, especially since it served so well to heighten the pleasure of their subject which, in turn, must heighten the pleasure of any true servant of Naamah.

Raphael inclines his head at the compliment. “I appreciate your judgment on that score,” he says. “I do feel that I have brought back those things I had allowed to fade in my time away. I was not certain of reattaining everything, but I feel no shame in offering my services now to even challenging patrons.” He looks quite curious about this parchment, reaching out to grasp it so that he can see just what it may be.

…which, in turn, must heighten the pleasure of any true servant of Naamah.

Yes, they’re just happy to be doing good works for others.

Emmanuelle indicates her appreciation of such words of respect from one colleague to another, with a quick nod between two sips of Draguignan red; setting down her silver goblet she reiterates, “Of course I intended no slight to your prowess or your care — but Samanthe is a particular case. The only difficulty is to keep her from giving too much of herself,” she drawls, “after such a drought as she has lived through in this city for love’s sake…”

Then she nods to the paper Raphael is unfolding. Her eyes are waiting for his, when he looks up from that single page covered so densely by her own bold and rarely granted handwriting, in her violet ink so dark one might take it for black. “The names and addresses,” she confirms, her gaze locked with his in due solemnity as she awards him this graduation gift of sorts, celebrating his fine work in her private academy, “of five interested parties I have turned away since I arrived in Marsilikos. Three are of noble birth — I imagine they see or have seen other Thorns, and might discreetly be lured,” she suggests in an undertone, “by a distinguished elder exemplar of our canon, having sought one such already.” What use, false modesty? “The other two are commoners of wealth and position in the city, yet ineligible for reception in its Night Court. They hoped to find me more lenient.” She smiles faintly. “You might if you wished come to some arrangement,” she suggests, “away from the salon and its strictures.”

“I take it exactly as you say,” Raphael returns, “Not as an insult of any kind. It is important to take care with our greatest treasures, after all.” Meanwhile he opens the paper, careful not to rip this important document she is entrusting him with, whatever it may be. He drops his eyes to determine that, then looks back up to Emmanuelle. “This is good of you to give,” he says. “I wonder if I should send discreet cards or to contrive to meet them. Are they the bold or the cagey type?” He takes another moment to run his gaze over the names and addresses, picturing neighborhoods, searching his memory for what he knows of the families.

“What you should do first,” recommends Emmanuelle with another nod to the page in her friend’s hands, “is copy that in your own hand and burn the original. Then…” She steeples her hands in her lap and ventures, “Writing me a private letter requesting assignation is fairly fucking bold, don’t you think?” A slight tilt of her head invites his agreement, though before it can be voiced she continues, recalling: “Number three, now, he went out of his way to proposition me in the corridor of a mutual friend’s house when I was leaving a dinner party.” An encounter which even now has her eyebrows lifting in amusement at her remembered riposte. “You might profitably begin there without fearing to offend too delicate a sensibility,” she drawls.

“I wouldn’t write,” she says honestly, “or even send cards. I think it has too much the flavour of soliciting custom, in a manner unsuited to your persona — besides, your name is only just becoming known again and on a sheet of parchment it could be too easily dismissed. Your presence in the flesh is what will compensate for that.” And she looks him over again, the half of him she can see past the remnants of their supper, in that coolly appraising manner of hers which gauges his appeal down to the last scintilla without ever quite responding to it as other women might. “… Especially,” she concludes, “in that new suit of clothes.”

Raphael folds the paper again along its creases with one hand, then tucks it away about his person. Emmanuelle’s evaluating look is met with a steady stare in return. Naturally any courtesan knows how to be looked at. “How good of you to notice,” he says. “It is something of a challenge, choosing for understated luxury. So many of the expensive fabrics can threaten to approach upholstery. But Lady Isabelle, as you promised, proved to have good taste and to understand my needs. And I think it will not take long to pay off the credit,” he adds. “In addition to these particularly good leads on patrons that you have provided me with, I have not been unsuccessful in finding a few myself, who have not been afraid of the high price I have set.” He nods a few times at a mental calculation. “I owe you my thanks again for the guidance.”

“You’re welcome,” which Emmanuelle signals with her actions as well as her words, sitting up straighter to pour her visitor another moderate but sufficient draught of wine from the crystal decanter set to one side of their fireside dining-table. “The high price does,” she confides from experience, “make you more attractive rather than less, no? … I’m glad to know it,” and her regard lingers upon this Thorn she has given so much thought and care to re-sharpening, as she sits back with her own goblet in her hand and the base of it resting upon her leather-breeched thigh just above the broad cuff of one high, pointed, golden-spurred black leather boot. She dresses up a little more for Samanthe than for Raphael, naturally.

“What news of my neighbours?” she inquires at last, having set aside her curiosity all the afternoon in the pursuit of more pertinent, more pressing, more pulchritudinous concerns. Her tone is an idle one, her ears anything but.

“It certainly does seem to have a positive effect,” Raphael acknowledges, despite his initial concerns for his worth. He picks up his glass and sits back with it. “Let me see. When last we spoke on it, I had told you about my interview with the Second of Red Roses. Since then I have been somewhat less concerned. Although do you know a nobleman came in keen to call me by ‘lord’ despite my correction? This younger generation…” He lets that thought trail off before he truly makes himself sound old. “We seem to have imported a new Mandrake. I don’t understand him well. Apparently he left Elua for Marsilikos with a thought of going independent, but in the end he’s come under our roof. Younger, but not terribly young. Claims his interest is in being the ‘Innocent Mandrake.’” Raphael’s expression shows he does not think much of this title. “I have not yet seen him in action with the patrons. He showed initial inclinations toward rudeness, but must have been feeling insecure; he’d tamped them down when next I saw him. I’ve met a few more of the Red Roses. Clara seems dependable. Of course her mother served, too. She’s merry-tempered, but there is a place for that. And there is to be an event in the garden soon, a display of bondage.” He smiles sharply to pass that news on, sipping from his glass to make a space in this deluge of news in which his companion might respond.

Raphael’s lordly title, so uncomfortably borne, inspires a fastidious twist of Emmanuelle’s mouth — but he already knows her thinking and so she forbears to animadvert upon the matter.

Instead she muses, “The ‘Innocent Mandrake’. Danté Somerville. I had heard something already of your garden party; I imagine he is involved in the preparations, yes? He has a particular inclination toward rope work,” she agrees. “I taught him; he was an apt pupil in the more refined arts of bondage but we were never close. He was unusual,” she pronounces, with the lack of specificity befitting one who seeks to be as frank as possible without betraying any loyalties old or new, “though certain patrons enjoyed very much what he offered them, and returned to him again and again. You understand what a variety of uncommon tastes we cater to, beyond what the public supposes. His style had value to us in that regard.” She purses her lips and ventures a step or two farther, her tone that of a botanist distantly recollecting her past specimens. “As I recall he is a young man much given to rules and their application. I find it difficult to imagine him working alone, without the structure and the routine of a house around him. Perhaps, in the event, he found it difficult to imagine too?” she suggests mildly.

But that seems to be an end of her interest in this mandrake flower transplanted into southern climes; she goes on crisply to local varieties. “I don’t know a Clara. You said her mother—?” And, when Raphael obligingly supplies the name, the memory follows and Emmanuelle nods. “I liked Elissant,” she admits. “We were sufficiently different that we never competed. How good to know that she sent her daughter to follow her. But did you imply the girl is a Red Rose?”

“I did,” Raphael confirms. “And yes, that is what I implied. I always liked Elissant, too. We were reared together, of course. And now it sounds as if she is living in comfortable retirement as a consort. But, you see the husband is… Well, you can imagine. The girl says she takes after her father. Though she looks enough like her mother and can be like her in temperament if not taste.” He sets his glass down.

“But you’re quite right about the usefulness of our new Mandrake. Do you know that Alban woman came in again just last night? Hooded and blushing. I suppose I shouldn’t have encouraged her at the garden party. She talked of wanting to hunt or be hunted, but then said she didn’t know if that was what she wanted, and started rhapsodizing about kisses…” He seems to find the matter distasteful, and picks up his wine glass to wash away the taste of it. “I found it useful to be coarse and drive her toward Danté, who seems the much better suited to her.”

“That kind,” Emmanuelle diagnoses drily, “wants to be told what she wants, preferably by means of a firm hand on her arse.” Speaking of strategic coarseness. “And Danté’s hand would be more suitable than yours,” she agrees, “for a rank beginner. Fortunate, perhaps, that he was present. We all have our own gifts to offer in Naamah’s name,” she drawls.

Then, taking up an earlier-abandoned fragment of that chewy, crusty bread she likes so much and anointing it with a soupçon of goat cheese, she narrows her eyes at Raphael and wonders aloud: “Did I ever tell you how I found your shop? Those years ago?”

… No, she did not.

“Indeed, I was glad of him,” Raphael admits, looking mildly amused by Emmanuelle’s deadpan wit. “It sounded as if he were leading her in the right direction when I left. Work I do not have the time for.”

But this other subject absorbs his attention instantly so that updates on the salon drop away immediately. “How you found it,” he says. “So it was not by chance, then.”

In that same deadpan tone Emmanuelle confirms, “Not in the least.”

She eats her bread and cheese, in no hurry, and with her black linen napkin wipes the crumbs from her fingers until they meet once again her exacting standards of cleanliness. Another mouthful of wine, and then she seems fortified to tell her tale.

“You may recall,” she begins, “the time when I was expecting my first child. Waddling about the salon like a sow about to farrow, no longer fast enough on my feet to avoid all those persons dispensing kindly advice about the wisdom of hiding myself away in the country, because if I insisted upon doing this foolish thing it would at least be preferable not to let anyone see me doing it. I was supposed,” a modest pause for effect, “to be ruining my career.”

The lately retired Dowayne of Mandrake House essays a small, ironic smile.

“But, of course, desire is manifold in its richness, and for each patron I lost via my expanding waistline I gained another who was curious — or fascinated by the awesome generative powers of the female body,” she drawls. “One gentleman who was a regular patron of the salon, had not sought assignation with me before because his inclination was toward the more feminine women of our canon — Elissant, for one,” she adds in an aside. “But once my belly became apparent to the eye he came to me on his knees, to confess how long he had been tormented by his yearning to receive certain chastisements from a woman in my condition.

“He was happily married and the father of young ones of his own — but while his requirements were not at all strenuous, they did necessitate a degree of knowledge and dexterity his wife had no interest in cultivating. Hence his recourse to the Rose Sauvage with her blessing. He was a charming man,” she says honestly; “very solicitous, very respectful, and he chose beautiful gifts for the baby as well as for me. He always remembered her birthdays, too, when she was a little girl. He was the last patron I still received as my time drew nearer; later, when I was pregnant again, I wrote to him supposing that if he had business in the capital he might wish to visit me, a breeding Mandrake being a flower so rarely in bloom in any city, in any season.”

Again she pauses.

“He packed up his household and moved to Elua to pour out gold into my lap and tears upon my feet for three and a half months,” she confides. “And, because I’d left Dorimène’s things behind me in Marsilikos and I was setting up my nursery again from the beginning, he amused himself shopping for toys for my new baby. He told me,” and a teasing note enters her previously matter-of-fact voice, “that the finest of them came from a shop where he was served by a man who looked very like a Thorn he remembered from the salon…” Her eyebrows lift. “He gave this to me as an amusing aside, supposing that perhaps that Thorn — whose name he could not recall, I assure you — had kinsmen in the capital. But I remembered something more.”

Raphael listens to this story, selecting a few imported berries to eat as he considers the tale, his gaze sharpening on Emmanuelle when she gets to the parts of particular interest.

He is initially amused by the tale of this patron, judging by the smile interspersed with chewing. The mention of himself, however, has his expression growing suspicious, though Emmanuelle makes certain assurances. “Well,” he says at last. “A generous patron, indeed. So it was his chance. But you came deliberately.”

“Another of those coincidences Naamah gives us,” agrees Emmanuelle, “which are not quite coincidences… I was curious whether it was you,” she admits then, pushing the dish of berries nearer to Raphael’s side of the table for she herself has had by now a surfeit of them; “and I was teaching, but not working many hours each day, and I knew already I was planning for more than one child. I always intended to have three, in time. You must have gathered from my house that I prefer to give my family only the finest, and Sylvie’s work was certainly that. Calling at your shop in person as I did sated a great many instincts,” and with that last wry confidence she lowers her chin and her voice, enjoying the double entendre.

Raphael accepts the polite gesture by helping himself to more berries, but only a few.

“I can see that. It is difficult to forget Sylvie’s skill at carving and shaping once one has seen it.” That is his own biased opinion. “I always dreaded the word getting out, of course. It could be a matter of great fun. The…contrast. Although courtesans are known for their discretion, we all know that they live for gossip. So naturally when I first saw you there, I wondered…” He wipes his hand with a napkin. “Not to imply, of course, that I considered you personally to be a gossip. But the danger was on my mind.”

His biased opinion; Emmanuelle’s considered one, and so she nods easily when he voices it. “I gossip a little, in the right company,” she allows, for that’s just what they’ve been doing since they sat down to supper together. “But about public lives, not personal ones. We who give so much of ourselves professionally have the right to draw a line between.”

It’s possible that something is on Raphael’s mind after this conversation. Then again, it is perfectly possible that they have simply had a long and exhausting day, and that is why he begins to look somewhat drained. “I think I shall soon have to thank you for your hospitality — as always — and start to make my very long way home.” That last of course is meant as a joke between them. “You don’t mind, do you?”

On that score Emmanuelle reserves judgment. Her open season is perpetual where patrons are concerned; but there are only so many fine needles one may in all courtesy insert along the fault lines of a colleague’s psyche. “If I minded letting you go I could always chain you up downstairs,” she drawls cheerfully, already pushing back her chair in order to rise and set Raphael upon the long and arduous road ahead of him. She takes a last sip from her goblet and then does so, straightening her coat of purple velvet with a brisk pull by both hands.

“You haven’t seen my downstairs dungeon yet,” she remarks; “but then, nor has Samanthe.” The inevitable thought occurs, and she raises one eyebrow at Raphael across the table still between them. “Perhaps we might show her around, one day—?”

Raphael sets his napkin on the table and rises, as well. “It sounds as if we will have to,” he replies. “I’m afraid she would wear the chains far better than I could.” He smiles at his host. “How good it is to always have something to look forward to.” He moves to the door. “By the way, the food was, as you very well know, excellent. A match for the afternoon’s diversions.”

Accompanying him with her ring of gilded keys at the ready — that necessary prop to getting in or out of her Shahrizai stronghold — Emmanuelle pauses with her hand on the door to look back at Raphael and drawl: “Oh, I’d hardly go that far.”

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