(1311-03-31) One Hand Giveth, The Other Taketh Away
Summary: Clara is charged with a mission to the Maison Sanglante, on behalf of one whose will she can hardly defy. (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 03/26/2019 - 05/04/2019
Related: None.
emmanuelle clara 

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.

The Maison Sanglante is a familiar sight to any habituée of the Rose Sauvage: its plain and modest grey façade is glimpsed whenever one enters the precincts of the Night Court or departs therefrom, one walks all the way past if one happens to turn left on one’s way out into the city.

The rumours, of course, everyone has heard. Seven people bled to death in the entrance hall and down the front steps in a mass murder not so very many years ago. Within the lifetime of anybody aged twenty or so. The house’s new life, as a stronghold of House Shahrizai in Marsilikos, as home to the late duchesse’s consort and their daughter the recently retired Dowayne of Mandrake House, is likewise common currency by now. Ringing the bell anchored deep within its protective front wall produces at first silence, and then a lackey in a House Mereliot fish tabard whose dimensions and posture scream 'guard'. When Clara makes so bold he conducts a brief interrogation of her through the bars of the gate, past the gilded Shahrizai insignia worked into the pattern of black wrought iron. Then he takes the girl's name and her business inside, and returns several long minutes later possessed of a large iron key.

The courtyard is full of the bitter scent of wormwood; the entrance hall is full of silence.

Rather than following the visitor inside the guard shuts the massive ironbound oaken door at her back and retreats (one can only presume) through the smaller side entrance, down a few curving steps and below the main one, whence he came to begin with. Clara is left entirely alone, with nothing to do but appreciate the masterful nature of the artwork.

It's perhaps another ten minutes before the iron handle turns upon a door tolerably well-concealed within the frescoes. A woman, the original of the Lord of Hell depicted upon every panel within this candlelit and deliberately ominous foyer, stands now in the doorway with one forearm leaning high upon the frame and the other hand resting at her hip.

Her face is immaculately painted, her wide mouth a vivid red and her striking blue diamond eyes framed with kohl beneath hooded eyelids; her nails are filed to pointed ovals and lacquered a flawless black; there are threads of white in the pristine and gleaming blue-black hair worn in a heavy twist of braids at the back of her head, for she is by no means young. Probably forty. Her outer garment is a square-shouldered, full-length black leather coat with its tails generously cut and its buttons open over a black silk shirt, a dark grey waistcoat with a narrow red pinstripe, and black breeches which clothe her lean and muscular thighs with a fidelity betrayed only by a certain suggestive bulge in between. Nestled into the folds of her black silk neckcloth is a pin in the shape of three golden keys, twined together in a delicate triumph of some Elua jeweler's art. She stands about five foot nine in boots with their cuffs folded down about her knees, their leather as soft as their four-inch heels are dagger-sharp. Her cold, hard eyes, the proverbial and glacial eyes of her lineage, are waiting for her visitor when she turns.

“What have,” she drawls at last, in a deep but distant voice, Eisandine by way of Elua and a bottle of the finest uisghe, “we here.” Her gaze travels slowly down over the Red Rose, tallying her credits and her debits according to the dictates of the most discerning taste: then, a quick flick, and those blue diamond scalpels pin Clara in her present place, in the expectation of an answer to her question which hardly carries the flavour of a question at all.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Emmanuelle=Intimidation Vs Clara=Composure
Emmanuelle: Great Success (8 5 5 6 7 1 4 2 8 8 4 7 1 6 5 6 6) Clara: Good Success (3 8 7 2 2 5 6 2 1 2)
Net Result: Emmanuelle wins - Solid Victory

There are always people whom a professional can tell were raised around intimidating people. Either they respond like kicked puppies, cringing away from a raised voice or an arched eyebrow; or they seem almost blithely unaware of intimidation, so used to it as the background radiation of their life.

Clara Valliers nó Rose Sauvage manages to be in the second category for…most of her approach in to the Maison and the famed occupants within. When she shows up to the gate guard she is the picture of poise; also the picture of someone that many in the city know. With her bright red hair, shining blue eyes, and porcelain skin, she is the very spitting image of her mother. But for the bright smile on her features, where Elissant was more prone to a smirk, and the fact that she is several inches shorter, Clara very much is her mother. But travel sized.

She shows the gate guard the sealed letter, and is happy to show also that in her small bag she has a few sheets of paper and charcoals for sketching; but she unfortunately cannot show the guard what is in the letter, as it isn’t hers to disclose to anyone but the famed owner of the house.

That poise continues as she is shown in to the Maison itself, where she somewhat stands out. Brightness of hair and skin among the very Shahrizai decorations would almost be enough, but she is also wearing a sky blue dress that’s tied to a necklace around her neck and swoops around her body while leaving her back bare. Matching blue slippers peek out, and the outfit is further highlighted by a few pieces of bright gold. She stands out in many respects as she is shown in, and stands respectfully waiting with her hands folded together behind her back holding the letter.

It is while waiting that her resolve begins to break slightly. She is a fully marqued courtesan of the Rose Sauvage, so she is used to a certain aesthetic; but the Maison is that aesthetic very much to the next level. It is not hard for someone to believe that there were horrible murders in this house, with the grim visage of Lord Kushiel looking down upon all visitors. And so the Red Lily of the Rose Sauvage starts to get a little bit fidgety.

That only expands as Emmanuelle herself enters the room, and Clara visibly swallows. She doesn’t lose her poise completely—she doesn’t flee to the outside world screaming in horror and vowing to never return; but she is obviously intimidated by the vision of Kusheline service coming toward her. She starts to respond, but finds quite to her consternation that when she opens her mouth her voice seems to have been sent scurrying off somewhere. She takes another two times trying to speak to find it before it deigns to make an appearance.

“A letter f-for you, my lady,” Clara answers, offering a picture perfect courtly curtsy. “F-from my mother. Elissant nó Rose Sauvage.” She swallows again.

She holds out the folded, sealed letter in a hand which shakes only slightly. Slightly.

“That bitch,” drawls Emmanuelle, deadpan.

Her hand uncurls slowly from the doorframe and she extends it; her black-lacquered nails glint in the warm but flickering light cast by the candles above. The corridor whence she came is darker than the Kushiel chamber itself, as though this terrestrial incarnation of the Lord Punisher of legend has the very portal to Hell at her back. She waits, inexorable and cool.

Clara deposits the letter carefully into the hand. Interestingly she doesn’t wince at hearing her mother called a bitch, which might mean that there was some explanation that nonetheless doesn’t quite dull the powerful force of Emmanuelle’s presence.

The letter reads, in a simple but elegant hand:

Emmanuelle darling,

Since I can only assume you’ve managed to break all of your fingers simultaneously, I sent Clara to check on you. Please don’t scar her, she has a Camaeline spirit but she’s not quite ready to face Kushiel herself.

Clara has been instructed to sketch a picture of you reading this letter as proof of life. I would have told her to sketch a smile on your face, but I wanted a still life not a fantasy.
Clara just made her marque, is quick on her feet, and generally enjoyable to be around. You could do worse for an acquaintance, if your obvious medical maladies have stopped you from writing your friends.

Missed you in the capital this Winter, hope you had a wonderful time. Bertrand sends his best.



Clara is, in fact, gamely pulling out her sketch pad and a stick of charcoal, while obviously trying not to tip over the edge into existential terror at her current life choices.

But these sweet nothings from far Camlach remain yet opaque to Emmanuelle, along with the purpose of the artistic accoutrements her visitor seems to be likewise intending to present to her. Interesting. She releases Clara’s gaze only long enough to glance down at the handwriting and the seal, then captures it again and indulges in a slight lift of boldly-drawn black eyebrows — the first genuine expression Clara has seen upon her calm, painted visage.

“Shall we sit?” she suggests mildly. “If I’ve an answer you’ll carry it for me,” and she gestures with the letter for Clara to precede her toward the chamber’s other inner door, left fractionally ajar. She follows a step behind and in a soft waft of resinous and leathery cologne, passing the letter discreetly from one hand to the other that she might reach out and graze admiring fingertips over the artwork this new-marqued Red Rose carries upon her own body. She barely touches her nape, just below the necklace holding up her backless blue dress, then withdraws.

“Very nice,” she drawls. “Congratulations, my dear, upon how well you wear it.”

Clara is left somewhat emotionally whiplashed by the sudden change. It went from looming death and the promise of a very painful afterlife, to… let’s sit! But the Night Court is nothing if not adaptable, and the smile on Clara’s face is only partially painted on as she nods. “Of course, my lady,” she offers. She moves to follow the woman over to the little room off the foyer, and shivers slightly at the teasing touch that runs across the new tattoo.

“Thank you, my lady,” Clara responds honestly, beaming an electric smile at her. “It is… the culmination of what I have wanted my entire life. It feels like I have been waiting for it to be a part of me, and I am now complete; and can continue on now whole.”

She does not move to sit until Emmanuelle does, after which point she will do so with the customary grace of a courtesan, crossing her ankles and resting her hands in her lap with the sketch pad. “Of course I will be happy to convey an answer to my mother, but I will have to do so by messenger as I may not see her for several more months; but if there is one I will make sure it gets to her.”

The low mahogany table in the small sitting-room attached to the foyer is laid already with a copper bowl of unseasonal fruit, plates and knives, black linen napkins each embroidered at one corner with the three Shahrizai keys of hell in thread-of-gold, and a decanter of elderly cognac left open to breathe. Two bell-shaped glasses stand ready to receive its warmth.

In this, the least of her receiving chambers, Emmanuelle establishes herself upon the sofa which affords her via the open door an excellent view of anyone who might come or go. She’s upright and relaxed, her booted feet planted well apart in an unconsciously masculine posture; she gestures for Clara to sit, to avail herself of what she wishes. For herself she claims the roundest and ripest hothouse peach from the bowl, a small plate, and a silver knife which any denizen of the Rose Sauvage must recognise at once as a true fléchette. (The other knife, presumably placed there for the use of a guest, is a far less intimidating specimen.) But these she leaves on her side of the table, drawn up to the edge, the peach upon the plate and the knife laid neatly across the edge of it. She breaks the seal upon Elissant’s letter, unfolds it, and acquaints herself swiftly with its contents. Only then does she speak to Clara.

“Well,” she drawls, refolding the letter and tossing it down lightly next to her plate. “I gather that during the time since she and I last met, your mother has remained the world’s leading cunt.”

Once one has experienced it, one tends to notice fléchettes when presented with them.

Consequently Clara very much does recognize the fléchette as she moves to take her seat. Her eyes follow it for a moment as the woman begins to flay the peach so expertly. From one of the seats she settles her sketching pad, and begins to follow her mother’s instruction.

She blinks a little bit at the words, and although she flushes slightly her mouth also quirks ever so slightly into a subtle smile. “I’m sure even my mother couldn’t claim to be the world’s leading cunt, my lady; she would probably place herself in no more than the top five or ten.” She twirls a pencil briefly, considering. “But she would definitely have opinions about the other ones on the list.”

She glances down at the letter — she hasn’t read it after all, it was sealed — and tries to glean some of the contents. “If you wrote her back, I’m sure you could agree on at least a preliminary list, my lady.”

Emmanuelle makes no comment upon Clara’s artistic undertaking.

Instead, she drawls: “I see there is some truth in the reputation shared by this season’s flowering of Red Roses, for impertinence and gossip. Tell me — does the strategy succeed for you, my dear? Are you often beaten for the tongue you have in your mouth?”

Meanwhile the blushing skin of the peach curls away in a single long piece from that blade which caresses all the way around it and then round again, its touch slow, expert, and tender. Not a whit more pressure than is needful. Not a scrap of the peach's soft, juicy flesh left clinging to that lengthening peel as it descends slowly to the blue and white porcelain plate.

“Not everyone desires a perfect slave, my lady,” Clara points out simply, answering the question directly. “Some patrons desire someone with fire in them they have to break.” She reaches out to take a smaller peach from the table, and a knife to cut it carefully. Not with the expertness of her host, but with the more mundane expertise of…someone who eats a lot of fruit.

“And of course some people just want a perfectly enjoyable rough evening where they’re on top. Someone has to fill the niche between ‘Flay me alive if you wish’ and ‘No more than hair pulling.’” She offers this matter of factly, cutting herself a slice of peach. “Also, I daresay there are few enough who would hear their mother called a cunt and not respond with a little bit of sass, my lady; at least among those who like their mothers.”

Clara beams a smile, carefully sucking a sticky finger before she moves back to her sketch. “And I do like my mother. But I also know that being a Thorned Rose inspires a certain kind of reputation, and a certain kind of friend. Too many roses growing in too close a proximity can cause issues, while a little bit of space leads to a towering garden.”

The erstwhile Dowayne of Mandrake House continues calmly peeling her peach whilst the pretty child sitting across from her lectures her upon the varying desires of patrons, the need for any house of the Night Court to cater to a range of tastes, and the challenges of living in close quarters with others of her own canon. Halfway through, when she happens to see the said child glancing up from the page to the model, she switches hands: the peach now in her right, the knife in her left, which soon proves itself equally as deft in the skinning of soft fruit.

“You understand,” she murmurs, “there is no such creature as a perfect slave. They are all imperfect, because they are human. The illusion of perfection may survive a night — but not much longer.” Her gaze lifts then from the charcoal in Clara’s hand, to her face. “And therein lies a challenge for a lifetime, rather than the length of a single brutal bout of passion. The young ones, I know, speak of breaking this patron or that, as though such feats required more than a strong arm and time enough to wield it. I have always been less interested in breaking, than in making.” A glimmer of a smile crosses her broad red mouth. “But we all, as you say…” She inclines her head slightly toward her visitor. “Have different tastes.”

Perhaps she’s mocking a little, behind her painted mask.

“You did not,” she adds, “answer my question.”

“And most people don’t come to see us looking to either break or be broken, not really,” Clara agrees. “An evening with a Thorned Rose isn’t going to change a person’s life, for the most part, or make them a different man or woman. Nor are they going to find themselves transformed from one evening’s experience with a whip.”

She grins. “And of course there isn’t a perfect slave, but we are in the business of illusions and pleasure. And it can be a pleasurable illusion.” She listens to the woman’s view on making. “I think that is admirable. I have always viewed my position as being one of bringing joy, and completeness…even if the completeness is temporary, as all such must be until we are in the True Terre d’Ange beyond.”

The young ginger pauses for a moment, and then laughs. “Oh, my mouth gets me in plenty of trouble, my lady, both the fun kind and historically the less than fun kind. Mostly the fun, any more.”

On which note soft footsteps sound in the foyer — and the trailing of silk over marble.

Emmanuelle sets down her fléchette upon the edge of her plate, next to her coil of peach-peel, and looks up as a woman appears in the doorway with her auburn head bowed.

The silk belongs to the hem and the train of a simple peach-coloured gown, modestly immodest in its draping and its cut, covering her skin whilst clinging about a figure gorgeously ripened by the years. She has a little white in her hair, and a few discreet lines about her downcast eyes; when beckoned forward, to kneel at Emmanuelle’s feet, she reveals beneath the diaphanous silk gauze backing of her gown, a Red Rose marque identical to Clara’s own.

"You took long enough," drawls Emmanuelle. Holding the naked peach in one hand she licks a droplet of juice from her other thumb— so meticulous were her attentions to the fruit, that she has hardly got herself sticky at all. Though the longer she holds it, the worse it gets.

From unpainted pink lips comes a murmur of: "Forgive me, Lady Shahrizai."

The Mandrake’s free hand sinks then into her own Rose’s hair, loosening her simple chignon. A hairpin falls away, unregarded. She gets a good hold and then turns her head, firmly and unhesitatingly, to oblige her to face Clara across the low mahogany table which separates them still. "This is Clara nó Rose Sauvage. Elissant's girl," she drawls. "She has been telling me all about the service I've spent thirty years of my life in. What do you think of her? Quite a resemblance, no?" And it doesn't stop with the red-golden hair and the smile.

The new arrival is already flushed as she ventures, in an Eisandine accent polished by years in the Night Court of Marsilikos, “She is very lovely, Lady Shahrizai.”

The appearance of a new person causes Clara to raise her eyebrows, looking the woman over quickly. She doesn’t fail to notice the Red Rose marque on her back, and that only causes Clara’s eyebrows to rise further.

She does have the good decency to blush at the description of her telling Emmanuelle about the business. “I apologize, my lady. I was not trying to tell you about your own profession, only enjoy a back and forth about it. I did not mean to offer offense.” The apology is offered genuinely, without a hint of mockery or sass.

She smiles to the woman who kneels there. “A pleasure to meet you, Madame,” she offers respectfully, guessing at appropriate title given she hasn’t been introduced to the woman or been told what to use. “Did you know my mother as well?”

But the senior Red Rose in this tableau can scarcely answer at once, for Emmanuelle is feeding her the peach: bite by bite, at a practiced pace, black-lacquered nails digging into the fruit’s delicate flesh as she adjusts her hold upon it each time she feels the other woman’s teeth graze the stone. Juice runs down the redhead’s chin; her hands in her lap unclasp and she hastens to catch it with her fingertips, raising no objection to her state of stickiness, only gazing up at Emmanuelle as though what were foisted upon her were not a peach but a benediction.

Emmanuelle meanwhile seems oblivious to those adoring submissive eyes. She is watching Clara, with all the quiet and glacially blue intensity of the Scion of Kushiel that she is.

“I accept your apology, my dear,” she states after a moment, and turns the peach again; “but I hope you shall undertake to slow your mouth, when you address me. Or you may find,” she explains softly, “that I place in it something less immediately palatable than a peach.”

A beat.

“… Now,” she drawls, not thawing but perhaps gentling to a degree with her point satisfactorily made. “Why don't you tell us how you are adjusting to your new position in the salon?”

Clara considers Emmanuelle for a moment, as if chewing over thoughts and words before she decides that the best course is to simply nod her agreement to the woman’s words. They can be taught!

“In honest, I find myself unsure of the future for the first time in ten years, my lady,” Clara answers honestly. “Before making my marque there were no choices I had to make of any substance. You are either right for a patron or you aren’t. You’re working toward the goal of your marque, and following the rules.”

She shrugs her shoulders a bit. “But now I have almost too many choices. I was given the choice of fabric for some furniture in my new room, and I was paralyzed for two days in trying to come up with a choice. I spent every minute of my life working toward a goal that I now have, and I’ve realized I never spent much time thinking of the five minutes or five days or five months after that.”

She looks down, a little bit sheepish at her explanation. “It makes me sound ungrateful, and I’m not. I chose this life and I would choose it again; and I have no plans to leave Rose Sauvage. But the mere fact that I suddenly could choose so many things, like leaving or my own lovers or even assignations if I wished, has left me someone daunted by the sheer number of possibilities. I will find my feet soon, I am sure, but I did not expect to mingly the joy of accomplishment with the terror of freedom.”

The peach dwindles bite by bite; it was not a large fruit, merely ideal of its kind. And then Emmanuelle deposits the stone upon the peel upon the plate, and offers her fingers instead for her friend’s delectation, each to be sucked clean down to the gleaming lacquered nail. But she seems hardly attending to the elder Rose, so intent is she upon the younger.

“I will not say that Red Roses are constitutionally unsuited to self-determination, or unfit to determine the paths of their own lives,” she muses to Clara, “not necessarily, though I’ve known courtesans of your canon who hadn’t the sense to come in out of the rain unless they were beckoned. But an access of freedom is understandably dizzying to one not only raised amid strict rules but trained from so early an age to subordinate her own desires to another’s will. How can you know your own mind when you have had so little occasion to interrogate it—?” she asks. Reasonably. Rhetorically. Undistracted by the delicate pink tongue seeking a few final droplets of peach juice between her fingers, or upon the palm of her hand.

“If your mother were nearer no doubt she would take a stronger hand in guiding you through these early days of your adulthood,” she opines — discerning, perhaps, a fresh motive behind Elissant’s decision to renew ties with the veteran mother, grandmother, and Dowayne living just next door to her newly-marqued daughter. “I hope you are receiving suitable support from Séverine and your other elders within the salon. But now that you are no longer a mere adept, to be guided as a matter of course, you must learn to ask for help when you need it — to ask as one colleague to another — or they may assume you prefer to act alone now that you’re at liberty so to do, and rather than offering such advice as might aid you in clarifying your own opinions they may indeed leave you to waste two days of your life over fucking upholstery,” she explains in an arid drawl. Not that she’s insensible to the allure of fine furniture, as anyone who ventures deeper into her house well knows. But to the point of paralysis? Never.

“It is simple enough,” she adds. “Lay out all your dresses, consider which colours you wear most often and which suit you the best, and choose for your upholstery a shade which doesn’t match but contrasts pleasingly with your favourite gowns and your hair. Given your own bright colouring there will be few choices that suit both. Perhaps a texture — but not a pattern, in so small a chamber. And nothing that is too difficult to clean. Ask about that.”

Clara is nodding along fairly consistently as Emanuelle discusses the issue. She especially nods when the older woman comes to the discussion of having support. “Oh, absolutely,” Clara says, eager to dispel any concern that her peers and superiors at the salon are doing anything but their best and their duty. “Séverine and the Dowayne have both been very supportive, and I gather it is not uncommon to be intimidated by the sudden freedom.”

But then she blinks, and flushes a little bit at the tone, and the phrasing that Emmanuelle uses. “I didn’t waste two days,” she protests. “Paralysis in terms of not being able to decide. But I didn’t just lay in the room helpless, with novices throwing food at me. Among other reasons, because I didn’t have any furniture. I helped teach novices, I entertained in the salon, I knitted a hood for heaven’s sake. I’m not the kind to be incapable of doing anything, even when I am laid up after a rough session. It’s one of the reasons why I knit, actually. And embroider. And sketch.”

She does nod at the discussion of what to do. “That was largely what I ended up going with, and I do appreciate the advice. But I don’t want you to think that I was laying there helpless, I simply couldn’t decide what to do with the fabric; so I did other things until I could get past the mental block.”

A ghost of a smile shapes Emmanuelle’s red mouth and then fades away again as Clara speaks. “Very well,” she concedes, bestowing upon her a precise, angled nod, “you were not lying there helpless, upon the furniture you hadn’t got. I am relieved to hear it, my dear.”

She reclaims a stray fingertip from between the lips of the third party to their conversation, who has been silent all this while and slightly flushed to match the peach she was eating — then she picks up a black linen napkin from the table and wipes her hand upon one part of it before passing it down to her somewhat stickier companion and victim. Her gaze follows the cloth to the woman tidying herself with it, and with a courtesy she has not thus far extended to her she inquires: “And what do you think of all this? You may speak freely to my visitor.”

“Thank you, Lady Shahrizai.” And with a slight, graceful shift of her kneeling posture the elder Red Rose turns the more easily to face Clara, and to give her a friendly smile. “The pleasure is mine, mademoiselle,” she assures her, picking up their conversation from the point at which Emmanuelle so high-handedly interrupted it to get rid of her peeled peach. “I did know your mother — though not as well as the Lady Shahrizai did, I being younger.” In confessing that she bows her head. Lifting it again she adds, “I had a deep teal green silk in my chamber, when I was newly marqued. But I didn’t choose it. It was a surprise for me,” and she dares to eye Emmanuelle sideways, “from some of the Thorns. You may imagine which.”

Emmanuelle’s answer to that is delivered via an eyebrow.

Clara responds to the ghost of a smile from Emmanuelle with a bright one of her own, and resumes her sketching. The broad outline of the sketch moves to include the kneeling woman next to Emmanuelle, and she responds with a beaming smile to the other redhead as she speaks. “I am always happy to meet people who knew my mother when she was working,” Clara confesses. “As I’ve only ever known her in her role as my mother and consort to the Lord my father.”

She grins. “Green is going to be one of the colors involved. Everyone says it goes so well with my hair, I do have a number of dresses in greens. I’ve always preferred blues because they match my eyes as well as looking good with my hair, and when I wear blue no one asks if I’m half-Eireann,” Clara offers with a roll of her eyes. “Some people are so disappointed when I say I’m pure d’Angeline, and others are so happy. I can’t quite decide which response is more annoying.”

She looks at the raised eyebrow, very clearly thinking Emmanuelle is the one who chose for Samanthe.

Samanthe folds the napkin she had from Emmanuelle and matches each corner neatly to its opposite, and slips it onto the edge of the table next to the plate holding the remnants of the peach and the fléchette which laid waste to it. “Well,” she ventures, risking another look up at Emmanuelle, “I think we both remember your mother falling in love with your father. I think such love brings out something so true in a person’s character, that to have known her before it happened is hardly to have known her at all. You do know her,” she reassures Clara gently, “probably better than we do, even if we possess a fragment or two you’ve not seen.”

Sitting back at her ease upon the sofa with her hands resting idle now upon her thighs in their snugly-fitted black breeches, Emmanuelle fixes Samanthe with a sardonic blue gaze. “You,” she pronounces with cool precision, “may return to your duties, my dear.”

All at once Samanthe is rising smoothly from her pool of pale silk, her hands clasped, the leg muscles beneath her trailing gown obviously powerful despite her years. “Yes, Lady Shahrizai,” she says at once. But she dares linger just long enough to curtsey to them both, and to give Clara a parting word: “Congratulations on your marque, and I hope you shall come to know as much joy as I do in choosing for oneself, when to lay down the burden of choice.”

On second thoughts, that may have been for Emmanuelle too.

“And you,” the lady of the house drawls to the artist currently in residence, once that other Rose has dragged her soft petals away again across the marble floor of the Kushiel chamber, “may tell your mother, when next you write to her, that you met Samanthe Arnaud.”

Clara smiles at Samanthe. “I don’t say it because I don’t feel like I know my mother, but because…because that person is so far from the mother I knew that I’m curious. I believe she is proud of me, but I’m always curious what she would have thought of me at the height of being a Thorned Rose.” Her smile deepens. “But thank you, because it is a good reminder to not be too much chasing the person she was once when I am happy to know the woman she is.”

She does not protest as Emmanuelle sends the woman away, because it’s entirely the business of the two of them; she would not dare to interfere with a Thorned Rose dealing with someone serving them. She smiles to Samanthe. “Thank you very much. I don’t know if it is something I ever will put down, but I do believe I will come to savor the choosing.” She’s happy to answer, even if it could be a pointed remark for both of them.

Clara beams to Emmanuelle at her direction, and nods. “Of course, my lady. I will do so.” She then pauses for a moment, as if considering something. “I feel like I know that name. Perhaps my mother has mentioned her before?”

“Samanthe was for some years the most prized and the most expensive Red Rose in Marsilikos,” Emmanuelle elaborates in a tone mild and complacent, befitting one who holds such a creature upon an invisible leash and feeds her tidbits at will — the preciousness of the slave reflects absolutely upon the reputation of the mistress; “it is not impossible that your mother has held her up to you as an exemplar, at one time or another.” A pause. “She left Naamah’s service somewhat before your time — Arnaud,” she elucidates, “is her married name.”

They are still speaking of the salon and its history, Emmanuelle’s offhanded remembrances of time past sparking no end of curiosity in the young Red Rose still sketching her, when footsteps sound again in the Kushiel chamber and there appears in the doorway a man of undoubted Shahrizai blood. He’s in his middle thirties, clad in black velvet and black silk, with long blue-black hair braided after the frequent fashion of the men of that house. He carries in one hand a capacious black leather bag with brass clasps; in the other, a three-cornered black felt hat turned upside down to hold within its crown a pair of dark red calfskin gloves.

His effect upon Emmanuelle is that of a summons. She rises from her sofa abruptly though not without grace, cutting off in the middle her tale of a young Elissant’s rivalry with one of the male Thorns and the prank by which she so definitively ensured he’d steer clear of her.

“But that,” she pronounces to Clara, “you must ask your mother when you write to her. I’m sure she’ll prefer to tell you herself,” she suggests, in a neat little piece of revenge for Elissant’s last letter and its enclosure. She and her kinsman display then a practiced dance in which he puts down the leather bag and they pass hat and gloves back and forth, she crowning herself with the tricorne and pinning it in place whilst he slips her red gloves one at a time onto her hands and fastens them at the wrists with glinting golden Shahrizai keys which serve in lieu of buttons. “Show me your drawing,” she orders her visitor briskly, and holds out an imperious red hand for the sketchbook whilst Baltasar is busy still with the other. “Well done, considering the haste of it,” is her opinion; “the perspective is excellent, Samanthe’s marque suggested just far enough… But,” and she looks up from the page to Clara’s face, “you did not ask my leave.”

And she rips that page from the sketchbook, and in front of the artist’s very eyes she tears it twice more — in half and in half again — and bears the fragments away with her in departure. “I must go; someone will come to show you out. Good day, my dear.”

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