(1311-04-01) Needful Adjustments
Summary: Whilst doggedly taking her daily exercise, Philomène runs across Emmanuelle and finds that one adjustment perhaps necessitates another…
RL Date: 03/26/2019 - 04/02/2019
Related: Creditably Matched, Nothing Comes Free.
emmanuelle philomene 

Jardins d’Eisheth — Marsilikos

Tranquility and beauty of nature is what those coming to the gardens of Eisheth usually seek. There is a playfulness in the arrangement of paths through the greenery, and the way four of them wind to the center, where there is a pond surrounded by a few elm trees, beside an area with wooden benches and tables beneath an arbor, where ivy winds about wooden posts, and a roof of colorfully glazed tiles offers shelter from the sun but also moderate rain.

Bushes are trimmed, and the green is kept short, so that people coming here can enjoy the dramatic view over the coast all the way to the sea, with the harbor and the citadel slightly to the north. Slightly towards the south and close by is the infirmary with the herb garden beside, where a variety of plants used for healing and treating certain illness are grown under the immaculate care of the healers. Towards the east, a path leads towards the temple district, where the dominant structure of the Temple of Eisheth looms, the white marble shimmering almost otherworldly on late afternoons, when it catches the warm, orange light of the setting sun.

Right up until the end of February there’s been snow, keeping the majority of the city inside in front of hearths, in the warmth of the temple baths, or for the upper echelons of society sharing their time in the beds of the Night Court’s denizens. Only a few foolish and stubborn people spend their mornings out walking in freezing temperatures, on treacherously slippery ground.

But with the coming of spring, it’s as though winter is completely forgotten.

The snow has melted within a day or two, leaving only patches of mud through which struggling spring flowers are beginning to poke up their sleepy heads, and the trees — for so long merely skeletons — are beginning to bud into life again, pale blossom forming upon almond branches in advance of their shedding sweeter snowdrifts across the grass and the paths. With the stirring of nature so comes the stirring of the city, and every day more and more of its people are beginning to find the gardens once again, to walk, to sit and enjoy the view out over the wide blue sea, or to arrange a secretive, giggling tryst with a new beau.

Philomène is one of the foolish and stubborn type who’s been here all winter, and with the coming of spring she has adjusted her otherwise cast-iron routine to begin coming to the gardens ever earlier each day just to avoid the increasing numbers of people who, with the good weather, have rediscovered that it’s the perfect place to visit.

Thus it is that the sun has barely risen this morning and she’s already tramped a distinct, muddy track around the garden path, her uneven gait making her quite distinctive even in the pale, tentative light of dawn even if the warm blonde hair, worn brown riding jacket with the tiny, delicate embroidery and her tall, polished boots didn’t give her away.

The Mereliot guardsmen provide Philomène’s first intimation that she is not alone. Those blue tabards with the cheerful yellow fish on them, they don’t exactly blend in with the new spring greenery — and swords, of course, tend to stand out in any landscape.

Then, from the herb garden to the south, flicking a picked sprig of thyme to and fro between fingertips gloved in fine dark red calfskin, comes Emmanuelle Shahrizai in the flesh.

She is armoured against the morning’s coolness by a black leather coat, square-shouldered and full-cut, the tails of it skimming above the feet of her flat leather riding boots as they carry her along the path in a steady and measured stalk. A black tricorne hat, set upon hair pulled back into a neat, plain black chignon, throws her immaculately painted visage half into shadow. She doesn’t seem to have bothered to put on any sort of facial expression today.

Her dog is close at her heels, that kinsman so uncommonly subservient to her. He’s carrying a large black leather bag the brass clasps upon which gleam in the sunshine.

Far too pig-headed for her own good, Philomène doesn't alter her course an inch as she continues round, no matter that the Mereliot guards stand out like a blind cobbler's thumb.

It is they who are obliged to move out of her steady, limping way, exchanging dirty looks for scowls — or what passes for a scowl in Philomène's case at this time of the morning, with so many laps already managed and the majority of her concentration all of a sudden switched to making sure the struggle of continuing to walk doesn't show on her face. For which we can blame at least a passing recognition of either that coat, that frame, that nose and lack of expression or just the aura that emanates from Emmanuelle.

That august visitor to what Philomène privately considers before dawn to be her gardens is given a short, perfunctory nod of greeting and recognition but little more. Bloody woman.

It would be difficult to tell at what moment that limping and scowling figure, or the more studiously calm and erect version of Philomène which succeeds it, registers upon Emmanuelle’s attention. Her mood of quiet resignation persists. Her expression remains opaque.

When — given the unwillingness of either woman to alter her course — they pass within hailing distance of one another, Emmanuelle’s soft drawl just reaches Philomène’s ears.

“Vicomtesse. Good morning.”

Philomène can at least pretend that she hadn’t spotted the other woman until that moment, for all the good that might do, but when the greeting comes drifting to her ears there’s only one appropriate response. No, sadly, it is not to drop-kick the Shahrizai into the closest bush — she has neither the athleticism nor the deniability, with so many guards and the redoubtable Baltasar watching — but instead it is to incline her head the very bare minimum amount to be civil and to respond in kind. “Lady Shahrizai, good morning.”

Her solemn duty done, her brows can draw together and her jaw set stubbornly as she continues along her self-destined path, boots just starting to kick up a little mud from the groove she’s beginning to wear.

What this means, however, is that while she continues her lap in one direction and the former Mandrake and her entourage in the other, they are fated by necessity to meet again at a similar point of the garden, and there are only so many times one can pass another person in silence without seeming completely rude.

“Early morning for you?” comes the query, next time they pass that particular wrought-iron bench with the almond tree beside it. The question is by necessity short - they’ll have passed each other in a few seconds and to answer only after a few minutes and another full lap of the garden have elapsed would be silly.

Yes. That would be silly.

“Late night,” Emmanuelle clarifies, in a tone as distant as she herself is near: passing so close by Philomène it is bizarrely apparent that she’s only about five foot five, despite that knack of hers for stalking along as if she’s ten feet tall and this garden her private preserve.

Her pace is on balance no more hurried than Philomène’s and the third time they approach one another, each now walking in some sense in the other’s tracks, their meeting seems set to occur only a couple of yards away from the previous instance. She unbends enough to drawl, “A little air before I go home to bed.” The sprig of thyme twists between her red leather fingertips.

“Walk with me,” Philomène suggests, it being the only sensible course of action. There’s a half second then she adds, “If you like,” and a small shrug. Her pace doesn’t vary. She’s not about to change her routine for this woman, but she will allow her to share her company. How benevolent.

The limp is quite distinctive, but also quite practiced by now. It’s a relatively efficient way to walk considering the constraints of her injury, a swing of the injured leg outwards to scrape the gravel of the path, then a light, short step and a somewhat heavier one on the right. If Emmanuelle intends to walk with her, the only sensible space is to her right, and so Philomène adjusts her path six inches to one side of the track she’s been leaving.

Whereupon the two cats give up their wary circling of one another and achieve a détente: with Emmanuelle raising her eyebrows up into the shadow under her tricorne hat and then turning on one uncharacteristically flat booted heel to retrace her steps the way she just came. She moderates her pace easily to that of the noncommittal vicomtesse from L’Agnace.

Half a dozen steps later she lifts her sprig of thyme to her nose, breathing in its scent over that of the mud underfoot, the new grass, the almond blossom coming into season.

And the invariable scent of horse that comes from Philomène’s clothing. One might wash it as often as one likes, but with the amount of riding the woman does it’s inevitable that her dark brown jacket and fitted breeches have absorbed the horse-smell and it’s never quite gone.

They might now be walking together. In theory. But it’s not an easy, comfortable stroll in the gardens and it’s not until they’re on the return leg, where the view out over the wide blue-grey sea is spectacular this morning, that Philomène speaks again.

“It’s a good spot for getting a breath of fresh air,” she agrees. “And usually quiet at this time of day. Until the youngsters start spotting the flowers and come tramping in to pick them for their particular passionate affair of the day.” She purses her lips for a moment, adding, “One has to wonder how the image of romance is to present a potential suitor with the decapitated head of a now dying and withering plant, hm?”

Most of the way Emmanuelle is silent, and she keeps up her air of Kusheline brooding admirably and without effort. The entourage moves about them, the guards at a discreet distance, Baltasar behind like a bridesmaid clasping a leather bag in lieu of a dying bouquet. She doesn’t seem to have heard Philomène speak — but a yard or so later she allows, “It is a sacrifice.”

Her hand lifts, gesturing at nothing visible. “Here, my darling,” she drawls in a vein just as withering as plucked flowers, and as bitter as the thyme thus held aloft; “these flowers have given their lives to nurture the love for me which might yet blossom in your heart.”

Philomène smirks at the mime, absently reaching into her inside pocket for a somewhat battered copper flask which she retrieves, unscrews the cap, and takes a decent sized swig from as she walks, never once breaking her odd stride.

“And yet presenting somebody with the equivalent from fauna instead of flora would be considered alarming,” she notes, offering the flask to the other woman with a raised eyebrow. “Here, darling, this badger has given its life to nurture blah blah blah, so have a kidney.”

The glint of sunlight upon copper draws Emmanuelle’s gaze to the side: but with a wave of her hand and a slight shake of her head she disclaims any interest in the flask’s contents. She didn’t imbibe in her own house either, despite offering Philo such fine and elderly cognac.

She looks, during this brief moment in which they face one another across a six-inch divide, fractionally older and more tired beneath her maquillage. Pale powder hasn’t quite succeeded in covering the darkness below the inner corners of her ice-cold blue Shahrizai eyes.

Her gaze reverts to the well-tramped path ahead, and the sea in the distance. “From a lamb or a calf, perhaps,” she muses. “Even I draw the line some distance before badgers.”

“I shouldn’t blame you,” Philomène agrees drily, turning the corner past an array of fragrant bushes. “They taste like bins, and they’re a bugger to kill in the first place.”

The flask has its cap replaced without judgment — some people don’t drink harsh liquor at six in the morning, who’d have thought it — and it is secreted once again into the inside pocket of her embroidered jacket, and one hand goes out to brush habitually across the top of the herbs, knocking a waft of the scent into the air.

“But I shall bear in mind that the way to the heart of a Shahrizai is a lamb’s kidney. It does seem rather more fitting than flowers, I admit.”

“We don’t have hearts,” drawls Emmanuelle, inhaling. “That is why we eat other people’s.”

Quiet reigns between them for a handful of yards, the vicomtesse’s doggedly lopsided strides in counterpoint to her companion’s easy prowl — but the laboured nature of her gait, the sound of her boot scraping across the gravel again, and again, and again, happens this morning to play on the Mandrake’s nerves as upon a stringed instrument. The senselessness of it, the waste, the deliberate wallowing… the problem that can, to a degree, be fixed.

The sprig of thyme falls, and a boot presses it down unregarded into the mud.

She takes two swifter steps and outdistances Philomène; turning in a whirl of dark leather to stand blocking the other woman’s way she lifts a hand and crisply demands: “Stop.” Her tone, her unassailably confident posture, the glacial chill in her blue eyes would give any sane person pause all by themselves, even if she hadn’t barred the path with her own slight but solidly-planted body. She regards Philo levelly. “Perhaps you might endure this somewhat longer — but I will not… Turn around.” Then, off Philomène’s natural and understandable reaction, whatever it might be, she rolls her eyes and clicks her tongue. “Come now. I’m not going to bend you over and ravish you,” is her withering promise as she resolves the impasse by stepping behind her. “Cross your arms — hands here and here,” she directs briskly, placing them where she wishes, “and elbows up. Hold.” And one red-gloved hand curls about Philomène’s shoulder from the front, whilst the heel of the other presses into the small of her back, gently once, gently twice, then hard and sudden and unsympathetic.

The wave of pain rises within the vicomtesse’s strained and narrow frame — she may well feel the air knocked out of her — but with her next breath the pain retreats, over rather greater a distance than it just came. A familiar ache is somewhat eased. Taking advantage of that instant of surprise Emmanuelle’s hands move elsewhere about her body, into the vicinity of the hip which lives in near-permanent agony from the simple act of walking; and she effects a similar sharp adjustment of the skeleton she senses trapped amid such an angry musculature.

“And that,” she pronounces coolly, releasing her, “is all I can do for you standing up.”

The initial belligerent bristling when she's stopped short on her predetermined path quickly turns to confusion, a brief moment of fear when there's a hand on her shoulder and back, and then her eyes flash a deep stormy grey as that moment of sharp pain engulfs her. There's a short exhale of hoarse breath, and the fists which had formed turn limp. She takes a half pace with her good leg to steady herself, which is all the opportunity Emmanuelle needs.

That second adjustment is the one that does it. It's a good thing she's being held up by that shoulder, because with the white flower of agony that suddenly blossoms when reluctant muscles are forced to give up their customary tension on the injured side, so comes a strangled, low grunt and both knees buckle. Without that supporting hand, she'd be arse over tit in the mud, and that humiliation she could never forgive.

Most assaults on Philomène's person or sensibilities flick her mood directly from strained civility to outright rage, but this sudden and unexpected agony takes her right past her protective armour of rage and to something simpler. Tears form in an instant, likely the first she's allowed herself in many years, but it doesn't stop at her eyes. Staggered, she chokes a breath and a dry heave, nose running freely with an unsavoury sticky, snotty mess, and there's even an unsightly dribble of saliva that drips from her mouth as she leans over double.

Yes, for once she has no snarky response to give — she's simply unable at present to do anything at all. Even her upright (well, semi-upright) position owes everything to the woman behind her.

Emmanuelle has the advantage of knowing exactly what she’s doing, not to mention decades of experience in manhandling with varying degrees of brutality persons somewhat larger than she herself. She has an arm around Philomène in a trice; then, shifting her hold and stooping to a degree, she insinuates her own shoulder beneath the taller woman’s arm and, lifting from her knees, props her upright again and carries her weight long enough for Baltasar to shift the leather bag from one hand to the other and respond to an urgent, summoning glance.

Between them the two Shahrizais mostly-carry Philomène the few paces to that bench by the almond tree, the allure of which the vicomtesse so stubbornly denies the many times she passes it each morning. She finds herself deposited there, to sob and to shake and perhaps even to gather herself… Emmanuelle in her dark leather coat perches on the edge of the bench, next to her, and produces and shakes out a large handkerchief of plain white linen.

“When was the last time,” she inquires, somewhat wearily, “you even troubled to consult a chirurgeon? … You make life unnecessarily difficult for yourself,” she chides, dabbing at Philo’s mouth and her eyes and then holding the hanky to her nose, tending her as if she were a distraught child, “simply for the pleasure of having a foe to pit yourself against. Blow.”

The guards in their fish tabards have thankfully maintained a certain distance throughout this adjustment of Philomène’s conception of her body’s injuries. Baltasar retreats likewise, exiled by another speaking look from his mistress as she plies that increasingly soggy hanky.

Philomène has little choice in the matter, all control of her own body shaken from her for at least long enough to be manhandled to the bench, to have the drool mopped and the tears caught before they fall, but that final affront of blowing a snotty mess into Emmanuelle's kindly offered hanky has at least one fist beginning to form. Ah yes, now she's becoming more herself. There's another choking breath and she wrenches herself what was no doubt intended be far away but is in reality no more than a bare inch if that. The intention is clear, even if the execution needs work. One shaky hand produces her own hanky, as she regains wits enough to refuse the eminently more sensible and already soggy one offered, which she lifts to wipe her own nose.

She doesn't yet trust herself to attempt words, or even to look at the woman still tending to her, fixing her mounting anger and relief and frustration in a narrow gaze at the gravel in front of the bench and a particular almond blossom that has become the focus of every emotion she begins to lock away, one by one.

“Your gait,” explains Emmanuelle in an undertone as she deals with her rejected handkerchief, red-gloved fingers folding it up deftly and fastidiously with the soggy bits inside, “puts such an unnatural strain upon your muscles that it has over the years pulled your bones out of their correct arrangement. I merely,” she inhales, and her painted lips twist into something that isn’t quite a smile, “pushed some of them back into their proper places.” She lays down the folded handkerchief on the bench on the other side of her, for Baltasar to pick up later.

“After a day or two you will find that your range of motion has improved slightly and, I think, that the act of walking results in less of that cumulative pain to which you are accustomed,” she predicts quietly. There’s nothing of boasting or gloating in her voice: she only sounds as though she’s coming to the end of a long, long day. “Meanwhile you will wish to rest, and to apply heat to your lower back and your hip, to soothe your muscles as they adjust to such a release of tension. Where do you live? I’ll take you home,” she states, “if you have not a carriage of your own waiting. In three or four days you may consider another, more complete adjustment, which may well produce more profound and lasting results. Come to me for it if you wish — or if you’d rather eat shit than see me again, there are a number of healers in the infirmary,” and she jerks a thumb toward that gleaming marble building beyond the herb garden whence she came, adjacent to the very Temple of Eisheth, “experienced in the same techniques.”

Does she look as though she's likely to have a carriage waiting? Is there something about her, anything at all, that implies a less than Spartan existence?

“I can manage,” she mumbles, voice still strained and sounding really anything other than like she can. The glare at the blossom on the ground becomes more pronounced as she's given advice; mentally she's already deciding to do what she damn well pleases if only to spite her unwanted healer.

But then there's something, if we're honest it's the moment when Emmanuelle suggests she might like to eat shit instead, that suddenly lifts Philomène from her sulk and she casts a red-eyed side glance to the woman. There's a moment or two where she studies the other woman's face, perhaps looking for that triumph, the boast, the pleasure in humbling the vicomtesse, and when she finds it pleasantly and surprisingly absent she straightens her shoulders with a residual wince of pain, wipes her hand on her breeches, then offers it over.

“You've done me a favour,” she's adult enough to admit, seeking the other woman's eyes. “An unorthodox one, but a favour nonetheless. Thank you. I'll manage from here today, but perhaps I might arrange a time next week..?”

Her voice is still somewhat strained, but that layer of cool civility, the final part of her mask, is back in place. A few more minutes out in the cold air and, provided the guards, Baltasar, and both women keep their mouths shut, nobody needs to know quite how badly she was broken.

“Had I asked you if you wished it,” Emmanuelle points out with that same quiet resignation, that same irritating insight into her companion’s character, “you’d have refused.”

There is a pause, as she regards Philomène with the clinical eye of a chirurgeon who has overstepped, perhaps, but who is willing to go further still to make it right. She broke it: she bought it. “I would prefer,” she says at last, “before I leave you, to be certain of your condition. If you are adamant against being seen home I’ll wait and watch you walk again before I go. You may feel that you can manage as you are, but you have as yet no solid empirical grounds for such a feeling — and nor have I. Until then I remain sceptical.” A pause. “If I know where you live, I can consult my diary and send you a message naming an appointment.”

“I won’t have people see you dragging me away home in this state,” Philomène points out frankly, lifting her handkerchief to her nose for a long blow, wiping it, then tucking the hanky away goodness knows where. That done, she sets her jaw and looks the Shahrizai over square on now, making no bones about it. “Besides, you look about tuckered out for the night yourself.”

She shakes her head, taking a moment to grip the bench, frown, and do what she can to lever herself upright - the blossom on the floor gets another hard stare, then a foot deliberately placed down on it. That’ll teach it. “If the heat will help, I’ll visit the baths before I head home,” she explains practically, words coming short as she gingerly tries her weight on the other leg then decides against it for now. “Quick, before they’re full of bloody people staring, too.” She bristles for a moment, then unwinds a little, adding, “The house on the Rue de Port with the yellow door and the two pots of rosemary outside. Word’ll find me there.”

"… Because what strangers in the street think of you," Emmanuelle agrees with cool unsympathy, "is of course more important than what you know of yourself."

She looks back at Philomène just as frankly, her eyes following when the vicomtesse levers herself up and affects to demonstrate her renewed mobility. "Who do you see about you at this hour?” she asks. “My men who have seen you already — and few others. The longer you rest here, the greater the number of observers when— for instance," she posits critically, "the muscles in your hip quiver with each step until your leg collapses beneath you and you fall flat on your handsome face. Do you always," she inquires, "fight so hard against receiving aid, or is that something I myself bring out in you? Don’t go to the baths,” she directs in a flat drawl; “if you sit down in the heat for too long you may find yourself unable to rise again. Let me take you home — and then if your body fails you, your amour propre at least will be secure. You know that I, my dear vicomtesse, have a lifetime’s practice in the keeping of secrets.”

One hand snugly gloved in red leather lifts from her lap and makes a gesture to Baltasar, who knows his mistress’s mind well enough that he’s quickly away to direct the carriage to come nearer. There’s no need for Emmanuelle to look to see whether he’s obeying her will. Her hand lowers again upon her thigh, without her gaze having once broken from Philomène’s.

Philomène arches one slender eyebrow, one hand setting on her hip. “Are you special, you mean? My dear Lady Shahrizai, I was born a d’Aiglemort. I will fight for anything,” she responds, echoing the precise tone of Emmanuelle’s drawl before allowing herself a small smile. “But I will also, perhaps this once, accept your guidance. Much as falling over on my face would entertain the masses, it’s not the impression I ever hope to leave them with.”

She glances briefly upwards, considering the sky for a moment, then there’s a spark of some kind of mischief in her eyes and she plucks the hatpin with one hand and Emmanuelle’s tricorne from her head with the other and places it on her own short-cropped blonde hair. “To your carriage, then?”

“Anything?” drawls Emmanuelle. “How indiscriminate.”

With that same casual disregard for anybody else’s bodily autonomy — that is, once she’s decided where her responsibility lies — she takes Philomène’s hand and anchors it in the crook of her own arm, lending support whether or not it’s desired. Baltasar, returning minus the bag he’s just stowed away, is hard put to claim Emmanuelle’s abandoned handkerchief and catch up with the two women making the best strolling pace they can together toward the sporty little black carriage — drawn by not two but four perfectly matched black geldings — which comes part of the way up onto the grass to meet them. Who’s here to see? Who’d complain if they did? Some small divots left by hooves, a few parallel and curving wheel-tracks that will fade in a day or two, are the only evidence left behind of Emmanuelle’s peremptory nature.

It falls to Baltasar, as usual, to hand his mistress and her guest up into the carriage — in that order. The interior is a black on black jewel-box, with seats covered in black velvet below black satin upholstery quilted and studded with onyx. A single candle, lately replaced and of the very best beeswax, serves to illuminate these confined precincts whilst curtains of black tussore silk are drawn shut inside windows composed of extravagantly large and pure glass panes. An ebony cane, topped with a wrought silver fish, rests within a leather strap against the farther wall. Emmanuelle all by herself takes up the back seat, quite comfortable there: the front seat belongs at present to Philo, who has her back to those magnificent horses.

“I wonder — are you always,” Emmanuelle muses in mild curiosity as the wheels begin to turn beneath them, “this much work for the other people in your life? How often do you test someone’s intentions toward you before you’re willing to accept the truth?”

In her present state, the horses only attract an admiring glance for a moment or two — Philomène doesn’t insist on looking them over more closely for now at least — before she’s eased up into the carriage and deposited on the seat. Once again she digs inside her jacket for that battered copper flask, itself showing the same sort of wear and tear as everything else the woman owns with a repair welded on the bottom over a dent and a long scratch. Unscrewing the cap, she offers it over with a raised brow of question.

“Are you suggesting that you’ll let any old person treat you like they know you without finding out why, first?” she counters. “Perhaps you’re more likely to allow people into your life without knowing who they are, but I am not. This might not be the nest of snakes that Elua is, but every city has the same slimy undertones, of every man, woman or beast out for themselves and all the while with a cheery smile on their face and a knife ready to stab you in the back.” She gives a little snort. “If you want an honest answer,” and she looks the woman squarely in the eye, “I can count on the fingers of one hand how often I’d trust anyone to tell me the damn truth.”

Again Emmanuelle waves away Philomène’s flask.

Philomène’s eyes, however, she meets without the least hesitation. She steeples her hands in their red gloves, wrists upon thighs and feet casually planted apart on the floor of the rhythmically rocking carriage, and remarks: “You came to me, you know.”

A beat.

“What was it…? My—” Again, the slightest pause for effect. “Poisonous little fucking crotch fruit,” she repeats, from memory, pronouncing each word with an elegant clarity. “You’ve met her now; do you still suppose your description applies? … And here we are, and have you discerned in me any dishonesty, thus far? My dear vicomtesse, I may well deceive those who pay me for their own deception; but I’m the most honest person you’ll meet in this city or any other,” she drawls easily. “I hide no part of who or what I am. I have no need. I find the truth not only more palatable but more satisfying. It is so seldom — as you are testament — believed.”

Philomène takes a good swig from the flask herself before its cap is scrupulously replaced and the whole thing hidden away again. It’s put some colour back in her cheeks, anyway, and she’s starting to look far more her usual self.

“I believe I did already apologise for that particular misunderstanding,” she points out drily, “but it only goes to prove my point. That people are seldom to be believed.” She touches a hand to her chin, leaning her head to one side then the other until a satisfying crack emanates. Apparently at least her neck she’s used to fixing for herself. That done, she lifts the hat from her head and offer both it, and the hatpin back to its owner, giving a small, satisfied nod.

“I’ll decide for myself if you’re the most honest, but you’ve yet to give me any reason to disbelieve you, for which I find myself surprisingly in your debt,” she notes, lips pursing. “I dislike debts. Do you eat bacon?”

"… And yet you leap to believe what these people of yours tell you of other people," Emmanuelle drawls, “and you sail out to war on the strength of it.”

Her hands lift to accept the hat, now that Philo has had her game with it; gloved fingers close upon the brim and the hatpin both, but at the same time she’s sitting up subtly straighter. "Have you pain about your jaw and the sides of your face as well?" she inquires with interest.

“I’ve never professed to be perfect, when there’s the opportunity to be duly outraged,” Philomène admits with a half smile, gesturing in a sort of self-deprecating bow in front of her. “Aiglemort blood, remember? When would we ever turn down the chance to fight?”

The following question, however, has her leaning back in her rumbling seat, the good springs not enough to completely disguise the movement of solid wheels over cobbled road. “My jaw? At times, yes. But then at times there isn’t a bone in my body that doesn’t give me pain. What of it?”

By now Emmanuelle is stripping off her gloves and tucking them into a pocket of her voluminous leather coat. “Here,” she suggests, sitting forward and beckoning her companion to lean in too: and she reaches for Philomène’s face, and unless the latter tries very hard to evade it, she’ll find those smooth and expensive white fingertips adorned with black-lacquered nails exploring the contours of her magnificent jaw — her neck — behind her ears, the touch alighting and then returning with the revolutions of the carriage’s wheels, from time to time uncomfortably firm but never holding or lingering. The circumstances don’t conduce to it.

Then the Mandrake chirurgeon settles back again, shaking her head. She has still the same focused expression, coloured — below the eyes, at any rate — by her growing exhaustion. “Let me think upon it,” she drawls, “and I may have something for you. Next week.”

There’s a wariness now. Last time this woman decided to poke at a part of her body that ached, it was really rather unpleasant. Admittedly now the shock has worn off and the initial white, blinding, unthinkable pain is no longer controlling her body, Philomène might admit that yes, perhaps, maybe the ache is somewhat less. If she absolutely had to.

Wariness, but she doesn’t draw back as her jaw is examined by those practiced fingers. It’s a liberty taken that for most people would probably result in a pair of neatly broken wrists, but there’s nothing about Emmanuelle but the businesslike and thus she endures. As the fingers withdraw, she quirks her finely sculpted jaw from one side to the other and arches a brow once again. “I’m fairly certain,” she notes, “that I would have remembered if an axe came and hit me there, though.”

“Perhaps an axe hit you elsewhere,” drawls Emmanuelle, without any particular venom, or heat, or intention beyond voicing the thought, “but you feel it there. It is not unknown.”

And then she, who has something of Marsilikos in her own bones, remarks: “We are in the rue du Port. I will not haunt you as far as your bed, my dear vicomtesse, but remember: rest, and heat. Let yourself have a little holiday,” she suggests, one corner of her mouth lifting in something which— still isn’t a smile, “with no one to see you and judge. I’ll send you word of our appointment in a few days’ time. Understand,” she says patiently, “I shall be thorough.”

The carriage is slowing, the quartet of fine horses halting at the coachman’s command.

“I’ll still be out to ride this afternoon,” Philomène states, this one thing being the hill on which she is quite prepared to die, “but I’ll save my walking except as far as the stables.”

She rubs her fingers together on one hand for a moment, speculating, judging by the eye on that hat, if she wants to claim it again, but apparently she thinks better of it. Well, she does owe this woman something. No, she offers her hand for a shake instead, giving the other woman a short nod of respect.

"If you fuck yourself over by pushing against your body's limits without a true understanding of where, today, those limits might lie — I may decide that so reckless and bloodyminded a patient is not worth making an investment of my knowledge and my time. And then if you wish to explore the latest possibilities for reducing your pain you'll be obliged to begin again with a stranger. Pain," pronounces Emmanuelle clearly, "is my bitch." She pauses for a beat, her hand tightening upon Philomène’s — and then abruptly she lets go. "I leave you with that thought, vicomtesse. But you must of course,” she inclines her head, “do as you wish."

And by then the door of the carriage is open, and Baltasar Shahrizai with head bowed is offering his hand to assist Philomène in stepping down into the light, between the two pots of rosemary which mark the front door of her house.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License