(1311-04-05) It Isn't Dinnertime
Summary: Keeping a vow to Eisheth can be a vexing business, when it involves Philomène d’Aiglemort’s left leg and — as usual — her mouth. (Warning: Some nudity for medicinal purposes — the war-wound gets an airing — Mandragian references here and there.)
RL Date: 02/04/2019 - 11/04/2019
Related: Creditably Matched, Nothing Comes Free, Needful Adjustments.
emmanuelle philomene 

Jewel-Box — La Maison Sanglante

This palatial chamber is designed to stifle sound. The walls are padded with cork and covered in quilted dark purple satin, and the floor is layered with thick, priceless Akkadian carpets in warm hues of orange and violet, red and gold. The copper-gilded ceiling above serves as a distorted mirror, reflecting the flicker of candle-flames and whatever alarming games may be played herein.

In the middle of the room stands a massive high bed lavishly layered with jewel-coloured silks and satins and velvets: its four posts are not carved from wood but intricately wrought of black iron, of a piece with shackles and chains and an interesting pulley system inside the canopy, against all of which the strongest man might struggle in vain. The latter is silhouetted against the flames of Lord Kushiel's hell, painted red-orange but violet at their very core. None of this is Mandrake House's standard issue, but an invention of the lady of that house and this one; likewise the cross hewn from rare and costly purple heartwood, attached to a wheel presently chocked but quite capable of spinning.

To the left of the doors by which one enters from the corridor, are three pairs of wide glass doors which open upon the courtyard and are customarily hidden behind floor-length drapes of soft black velvet edged in gold-embroidered Shahrizai keys. Arranged across the farther wall, on ebony shelves against purple satin, is a display of every possible aid to love or incitement to pain, precisely arranged and immaculately dusted. Some would be familiar to any patron of the Night Court, and others bewildering to anyone unaccustomed to the practices of Mandrakes and Valerians. One might wonder why any single person requires quite so many whips, straps, canes, tawses, crops, and flails, organised by size and by colour: but each has its own particular gifts to bestow upon its fortunate victims. To the left of this joyous array, between it and the courtyard doors, stands a locked, glass-fronted cabinet which contains various Akkadian trinkets, designed in the main to inflict extraordinary pains upon masculine anatomy — though there are also one or two pieces of interest to ladies. They obviously comprise a set.

The back wall is anchored by a massive fireplace of dark marble.

At either side of it, dividing the wall into symmetrical sections, stand finely-carven screens of purple heartwood shielding arched openings into smaller chambers. Beyond the left-hand screen is a miniature infirmary, furnished with a lowish, padded, sheet-draped table of the kind one might see in a marquist's shop, or in certain Balm or Coquelicot patron rooms. Shelves above and behind that table hold an extraordinary variety of vials, flasks, jars, and boxes: all the equipage, in fact, of an Eisandine chirurgeon conversant with the very latest theories in medicine. Of course there is also an unusually well-appointed washstand.

When Philomène returns to the Maison Sanglante as an expected guest — the arrangement made via a short note, perfectly courteous but couched in the third person, in a neat and legible and characterless hand which can't possibly be Emmanuelle's own — she finds herself in the charge of Lord Baltasar Shahrizai, who waits in the Kushiel chamber to admit her to the house and then escorts her as swiftly as her present stride will allow down that corridor limned with nightmare visions out of Kusheline myth, and the second leg of it besides.

Alternating sets of black-lacquered shutters and the windows inside them are open to admit the light and the air of this mild spring afternoon. Through them the courtyard is intermittently visible; the whipping post Philo may have noticed during her last sojourn in this house, a month past, is occupied by a curvaceous small redhead whose peach-coloured satin gown has been torn half from her body to expose the pattern of red roses tattooed along the length of her spine. Holding the post in her involuntary embrace she’s resting her cheek against it, her head bowed, her marque oriented toward the central set of doors at that end of the courtyard. They too stand open, into the chamber which balances Emmanuelle’s exquisitely uncomfortable sitting-room at the other end. Compared with the outdoor light it seems a portal into some private hell — the truth of which is due to come to the visiting vicomtesse in just a few paces’ time, for Baltasar is already opening ornate dark double doors leading into it from the corridor.

In this inner sanctum where her work and her play unite in unorthodox and intriguing proportions, Emmanuelle is lying on the nearer side of her monumental iron bed.

Whatever she’s wearing is black and fitted and makes of her a narrow shadow upon the richness of her bedding. Both her hands are employed in holding up above herself a large leatherbound book; she has another, smaller book draped over one thigh, three more variously arranged within her reach on the other side of the bed, and a broad-based combined inkwell and quill stand, wrought in solid silver, resting upon the flat plain of her torso. She lowers the book with her eyes lingering upon it in the international language of ‘just finishing this paragraph’… Then her gaze flicks up to Philomène, and her attention is suddenly absolute.

Meanwhile Baltasar carries out orders previously given, drawing closed the central set of glass-paned doors and their shutters and cutting off the view of that inadequately clothed redhead bound to the whipping post in the expectation of some further chastisement. The water plashing down from Eisheth’s hands into the basin of water lilies, is abruptly silenced — his footsteps, too, go unheard as he retreats through the courtyard, leaving the two women alone with the candlelight, the quietness, the whips and the books, and one another.

“Vicomtesse. How do you do?” Emmanuelle drawls, giving a slight interrogatory quirk of her eyebrows. She finds a lavender silk ribbon somewhere upon the bed and marks her place with it, and lays that book aside with the others. She doesn’t seem in any hurry to arise.

The redhead staked outside gets no more and no less of a glance than the heavy curtains, the sconces that hold the candles, or the bed itself when Philomène is shown in. Her uneven footsteps make it quite clear even before Emmanuelle looks up from her book to see the vicomtesse there in all her tall, blonde, exquisitely structured glory exactly who it is that has come to visit. Not that it’s any sort of shock, being the appointed time according to Baltasar’s neatly penned note, and Philomène doesn’t seem the sort of person to be fashionably anything, let alone fashionably late.

Waiting to be acknowledged, the Gueret noblewoman folds her hands behind her back, the skin well weathered and worn but pale against the dark brown of her jacket — she’s too stubborn to dress for the occasion, and why the hell not — and casts her appraising eye over the glass fronted cabinet close to the double doors. One can only wonder at the purpose for some of the instruments therein. Unless one is Emmanuelle Shahrizai, presumably, in which case one is almost certainly well versed in every possible use for every item in the room.

“Lady Shahrizai, how do you do,” comes Philomène’s rote, polite response as she’s greeted, turning clockwise back around to face the former Mandrake who appears by all accounts to be just as busy ‘retired’ as she ever was, even if right now it’s with books.

Emmanuelle answers in the same easy and vowel-lengthening drawl. “I?” She affects a moment’s consideration of the question as she screws the engraved silver cap back onto her inkwell, quite as though she supposes the inquiry to originate in genuine interest. “I,” she pronounces, “am weary of being fucked around by Lucretius’s maunderings on the nature of heat and of fire— but we all have our sorrows to bear. How you are, seems more to the point. What changes have you discerned in your body and your pain since last we met?”

“I wouldn’t know Lucretius if I found him in my soup,” Philomène admits candidly, weight resting squarely over her good leg for those who are paying attention, and arms folded across her chest. And no doubt Emmanuelle is paying attention to that sort of thing. The other foot remains at that odd angle — for a dancer it might seem deliberate, but for Philomène and other ordinary mortals it’s just peculiar.

She purses her lips for a moment at the direct question, lifting her chin and inhaling through her nose as though readying for a fight, but then makes a deliberate choice to exhale, relax her shoulders, unwind her arms from her body and take a few paces across Emmanuelle’s field of vision, walking from the glass fronted cabinet on the one side of the room toward the heavy dark purple wooden cross on the other in long, measured steps.

That is probably more an answer than words could be, but this is Philomène so she speaks anyway. “There’s less strain across the bottom of my back and shoulders when I sleep, and there’s less stiffness on the left hand side when I wake.” That might be some use, anyway. “I’ve a little more movement in the hip, too.” Not a word about the actual pain. Well, that’s a much more personal matter, isn’t it?

”… if I found him in my soup.”

“I don’t imagine you will,” Emmanuelle murmurs drily of the Tiberian philosopher-poet; “he passed away some years ago.” A millennium or so, but who’s counting?

The inkwell being now secured against spillages she shifts it to a place on the bed amongst her books; the smaller volume which was lying open on her thigh, she picks up in one hand and glances down at for a moment when Philomène reaches the cross and pauses in her promenade. “Listen to this,” she drawls, and reads aloud a sentence in Tiberian. “‘Why’,” she translates into heavily sceptical d’Angeline, “‘would anyone rather be rid of all else, and yet desire to leave behind the sole nature of heat, than—’” The tiniest hesitation, followed by another peek at the page. “‘Than deny that fire departs,’” she continues slowly, “‘and yet leave behind, nevertheless, that something else is?’ It’s gibberish — and a false dichotomy besides.”

She looks up, snaps the book shut one-handed, and commits it to her pile with an air of having dismissed from her presence the man and his madness. “I see the improvement,” she agrees to Philomène, returning now to present, practical problems, “though I don’t care for the way you place your weight… All right,” she pronounces crisply. “Take off your clothes.”

Philomène turns as she reaches the wooden cross, beginning to walk back across the room but stopping, or rather hesitating, as that demand comes. She shoots the woman a searching look, both brows drawn. “What, you’re not buying me dinner first?”

It’s a cheap answer, but an easy one to come up with in the moment, and it’s followed up by a little smirk. But it’s not a wholly unreasonable request, under the circumstances. The clothes, that is, not the dinner, and so in the absence of a comfortable chair against which to lean, she turns to the bed, resting one hand and forearm up against the ironwork to keep her upright as she begins unlacing those tall, very specifically made boots with the gleaming brass spurs and the thick sole on one only.

“Does the fire,” she asks, pausing between words as she manhandles her own foot upwards to be able to pull off the boot, “mean a literal one in this case, or something metaphorical?” She pulls a face as the boot refuses to come free easily, giving it a harder tug which pulls on all sorts of muscles it oughtn’t until it comes loose and she can drop it to the ground. “Or is this about the physical state of fire as matter…? Or, more likely, as doesn’t matter.”

The injured side boot removed, it’s even more clear how much shorter that entire leg is. She sets her jaw, cutting the small talk so she can hang most of her weight off her arm, biceps flexing under the strain, and balance on the left side. Her right foot and boot is brought up in several attempts, a seconds at a time, then, to unlace and finally discard, foot thumping solidly back onto the floor as soon as she’s able.

She could and should, of course, have sat down. But that would be showing weakness.

“It isn’t dinnertime,” is Emmanuelle’s short and unamused answer from her pillow.

The comfortable chairs which are sometimes to be found in this chamber, were in fact removed in advance of Philomène’s visit — to oblige her to a display of this sort, conveniently close to Emmanuelle’s impassive eyes, as well as to see what her choice would be. Sit on the edge of the bed like any sensible person, or hop about like the world’s worst patient-to-be. Surprise, surprise, she’s chosen the latter. And the weakness she does in fact reveal is absorbing. Instructive. Revelatory of so much fine detail that the chirurgeon stretched out comfortably on the bed could watch her for an hour with this same steady and impersonal patience.

“In what year was your leg injured initially?” she wonders aloud as Philo gets on with the business of undressing. “That is not,” she states, “your first pair of boots since. Has the thickness of the sole you require on the left increased over the years?”

“I have them resoled every now and then,” Philomène admits, casting a puzzled look over at the other woman for a moment. “They wear down. I walk. It happens.” She leans back against the bedframe as she unfastens her breeches, considering as she does so. “I couldn’t say for sure if they’re thicker now than they were in ‘82. I can’t say that I measured them then or now.”

The breeches are peeled away and down, revealing one fine, strong leg, the muscles well defined from years of fighting, riding, walking, and supporting the other. That other is like the grotesque, deformed and twisted sister of its pair, though. From the inside of the thigh at a broad angle the angry red welts and pitted scars look like gnarled tree roots in shades of scarlet and vermilion. Puckered skin, wrinkling against the long, sprawling darker patches makes it difficult to spot exactly where the majority of the break originally was, but it’s clear that the bone beneath is many different kinds of not right, coming off at a twisted angle so that her knee, an inch or so higher than the other, points further outwards than should ever be strictly possible, and the leg below follows.

Steadying herself on her good leg to begin with, she manhandles this mass of scarring and deformity with one hand behind her thigh, lifting it from the puddle of practical, worn worsted on the floor before setting it down again gingerly, pulling her whole weight again on her arm wrapped around the bedpost, and withdraws the other foot too.

All of this takes place with a studied and practice expression of neutrality on the vicomtesse’s face. Yes, it hurts. Everything hurts. She’s learned to live with a certain level of pain and it doesn’t take much to slide that indifferent mask into place to cover it when it’s as simple as taking off one’s trousers.

“The spurs I had fitted,” she adds, in case this is a salient point, “a few years ago. To make it easier than having to bend and attach them every time.” She gives a little shrug, that movement enough to lift the tails of her shirt, still hanging beneath the chocolate brown jacket she’s yet to remove, and expose a little more of that reddened raging mass of scar tissue on her thigh.

“You didn’t,” Emmanuelle pronounces, “measure them.”

Regarding Philomène from behind an equally practiced mask she pauses, and does not say the first seven or eight things that come to mind. Putting the woman’s aching back up by telling her she’s a bloody fool, will not elicit any remotely desirable response.

“A difference,” she explains with studied mildness, “of even a few tenths of an inch between the reality of your legs and the ideal, would over a duration contribute to the strain in your muscles and thus the crookedness of your bones. After today, certainly, I think you will require something shaved off the sole of your left boot. I will see to that for you as well.”

Then the war wound appears in all its incarnadine glory, and Emmanuelle just gazes at it for a time. She still hasn’t moved from where she lies, her own booted feet crossed at the ankles and her hands clasped across her waist. Her eyes flick upward at length to meet Philomène’s.

“I gather you were not exaggerating,” she murmurs in a tone of distant disinterest that must surely suit Philo better than tenderness or pity — it’s intended to; “when you alluded to having your wound tended by a barber. Vicomtesse, I regret that you had not the benefit of an Eisandine chirurgeon when you most required one of us,” she says seriously. “I will do what I can for you at this late date, if you will continue to place yourself in my hands and trust my intentions. You will not run out of pain to fight,” she promises, “but perhaps in conquering it to a degree we may free some of your energies for the prosecution of other battles.”

“Well, if I’d know you were both barber and cobbler, I’d have come to see you years ago,” Philomène insists, tone dry enough to keep camels. “It’s good to keep busy, I suppose.”

One hand slides inside her jacket for a moment, the flask withdrawn and set down on the end of the bed to gleam in the blazing candlelight, then she makes little work of the buttons, popping each free in turn as she meets Emmanuelle’s gaze quite fearlessly.

“You still seem to be confused, though, Lady Shahrizai. You appear to believe that I’m actively looking for the pain. Deliberately searching it out so I can rage against it.” Arms are peeled from the jacket, revealing a much less delicately embroidered and much more patched inner lining to the thing, and it too is casually set down on the bed. “I’m not looking for it. I just need to know that it won’t beat me. There’s a very distinct difference.”

She nods firmly, fingertips going to the base of either cuff in turn to tug them straight over slender wrists.

“Vicomtesse. What am I to think,” wonders Emmanuelle in a drawl less ironic than it might have been, because this is actually serious, “when you go so long a while without seeking competent care, and you don’t even trouble to measure your fucking boots—? Don’t,” she directs, raising one eyebrow, “answer that. I think it gives you something you think you can control, a show of mastery you can make each day for your own satisfaction and your pride. I am sympathetic to the nature of the impulse — I too,” a ghost of a smile crosses her painted lips, “am partial to the sensation of being in control, of my own self first and foremost and always.

“I understand that you are apprehensive about appearing weak before others. I find that one of the greatest tests of a person's strength," she suggests softly, "is whether she can allow herself to seem weak, or even to be weak, in the surety that she will survive this too as she has survived all else. A brittle strength breaks sooner than it yields," and Philomène may be sure that this Mandrake knows whereof she speaks. "But a supple strength absorbs pain, anguish, defeat, a thousand and one blows if need be, and renews itself again and again. I wondered for a time if you were indeed a woman of iron," and one corner of her mouth lifts in an ironic half-smile, "but by coming to me you’ve shown there is steel in you after all.

“You will spend an uncomfortable hour with me, knowing that I can see under your skin and discern without being told the weaknesses you so dislike to acknowledge — but it is a choice you have made yourself,” she reminds her, “in the service of your own greater goals, and you will be stronger for your choice. I hope you’ve decided also not to fight me. Given that you’ve already taken the leap by coming here, preventing me from doing my best work for you would amount to pissing into the wind,” she opines frankly. “Commit, my dear vicomtesse. I’ve done so. And take your shirt off,” she adds. “I give you my word I’m looking at your muscles, not your tits.”

Philomène snorts a quiet laugh, turning to place both hands down flat on the bedclothes so she’s looking at Emmanuelle something closer to eye level. “Or perhaps,” she decides, absently tilting her head to one side to crack her neck, “I’m finally listening to what an old soldier I respect very much once said to me. Any idiot can be uncomfortable. And if you’re about to fix it for free, then I’ll grudgingly, maybe, stop being a bloody idiot.”

That said, she gives an amiable little shrug and straightens, turning away a little and crossing her arms over herself so she can pull the clean white shirt up and over her head in a single lithe movement, ruined only very slightly when she has to disentangle the cuffs from her wrists. The garment is laid down on top of her jacket at the foot of the bed and she twists where she stands, hands upraised. “Well, there you have them,” she notes as she displays her bared torso for the other woman. “Do you approve, or are you going to tell me I’m breathing wrong, too?”

Emmanuelle affects to take the question seriously. “I’d need to watch you longer before judging,” she drawls. Her eye is just as impersonal as she promised; intent upon Philomène she lifts a hand and gestures lazily in the air. “Back and forth, as you did before,” she directs quietly. “Don’t think too much about your gait — don’t try to walk, just walk. Keep talking to me so you have something else in your mind. Have you matched your daughter yet?” she inquires, seizing upon the unfortunate Laurène as the most potent distraction she’s got to hand.

“Because there’s nothing I enjoy more than being paraded around like a prize pony,” Philomène retorts as she’s directed to walk back and forth, nonetheless pursing her lips for a moment, pushing away from the bed and, head held high and back straight, begins that familiar limp over towards the glass-fronted cabinet. Without her boots, the limp is more pronounced by far, countered a little by an asymmetric swinging of her arms as her left leg swings outwards, toes scuffing the costly and colourful foreign carpets underfoot.

“I don’t have a formal contract for her yet, no,” the vicomtesse allows cautiously, perhaps wary of the Shahrizai’s new intentions to scupper her plans, or perhaps just wary of the fact that she’s parading up and down like one of the Mandrake’s playthings, and it’s not something she likes to remind herself. “I do, however, have hopes. We shall see. There are very few young women like her,” she adds as she turns and begins to limp back in the other direction. “She has unique talents to offer, if the damned idiots would see past…” She pauses, then shakes her head. “She’s a fine young woman.”

As Philomène approaches the bed again Emmanuelle finally uncrosses her ankles and sits up on the edge of that massive article of furniture. Her black silk shirt is tucked into snug-fitting black breeches, tucked in their turn inside the broad cuffs of her high leather boots; in lieu of some elaborate and elegant hairpiece she’s wearing just her own hair, gleaming black stranded with white, pulled into a very short tail behind her head and secured with a nigh-invisible leather thong. She has a couple of shirt-buttons open. No jewellery. No adornments. Even in these simple and casual garments her figure has a masculine cast to it, lean but subtly powerful. With feet broadly planted in those spike-heeled boots which are a signature of hers — save in the small hours of the morning — she watches her latest plaything (yes, it’s true, though the game is a chaste one) with a cool blue intensity fit indeed to pierce skin and evaluate bone.

“Then your daughter will find her place,” she offers, “whether or not it be in marriage. In Terre d’Ange we are fortunate to enjoy possibilities broader than the more barbarous nations of the world afford half their people… Turn side on to me,” she directs, with another crisp but graceful gesture of her hand, “and bend over as far as you can. Forwards then backwards. I want to see what flexibility you have in your lower vertebrae. Very little, I should imagine.”

This all seems like rather elaborate revenge for just having pinched the woman’s hat for a few minutes and that latest demand has Philomène narrowing her eyes at Emmanuelle, fists just beginning to form for a moment or two before she consciously relaxes them. “Please,” she grates, coming to a halt and rolling her shoulders before she does, despite this reluctance, turn in profile. It’s a good look, with the injured leg hidden from sight, her chin held high and the flickering candlelight making the best of those high cheekbones and well sculpted jawline.

Despite having squeezed out three poisonous crotchfruit of her own, gravity hasn’t yet got the best of damn good genes, and all that walking and riding has kept every muscle well defined and proportionate. Even so, when she follows the directions of the chirurgeon it’s clear that doctor does indeed know best. Her hands hang downwards, but barely past her knees, even with a little bounce to try to bend further down.

“There’s a bloody good reason I had the spurs affixed permanently,” she grumbles with distinct irritation as she rises up straight again, sets her hands on her hips and leans backwards, but barely.

It’s true that Emmanuelle can appreciate Philomène as a well-preserved specimen — even more, as a problem to be solved… During these gymnastic manoeuvres she looks at her hard, hands resting upon thighs, eyelids fractionally lowered by concentration.

“Some of that, yes, I can fix,” she says frankly, standing up. “Come with me,” and her hand comes up to usher the near-naked patient before her, around the bed and past the eye-opening display of instruments and behind the carven screen of purple heartwood which shields an arched doorway into her own small but well-equipped private infirmary.

It’s perhaps a mark of either the signature fearlessness for which Philomène was once renowned, or an indication that perhaps she may admit a modicum of trust in Emmanuelle that means she follows without a moment’s hesitation. Well, perhaps a single moment, as before she moves away from the end of the bed she does send a hand burrowing beneath her discarded clothing there to find her flask and bring that with her.

Judging by the method of ‘fixing’ last time, there’s a good chance, she reasons, that a wee nip might be excellent company.

Though there is no immediate protest from Emmanuelle on that score, once she has Philomène cornered in the rather more confined precincts of her infirmary she gestures for her to relinquish her liquid support. “Lie face-down on the table for me,” she directs coolly, holding out her hand for the flask. The table itself is about waist high on her, a little lower on Philo. Taking the flask she turns away with it, granting the other woman a deliberate moment of privacy in which to arrange herself upon that padded and sheet-draped surface which awaits her.

Philomène can appreciate that moment to herself, as it’s hardly graceful the way she climbs aboard — with such limited movement there’s nothing she can really do about that — but at least she doesn’t just faceplant and wriggle like a worm down the table. It’s a step above that. Less wriggling. More arms. One of which has to be used to physically pull her injured leg up after her as she settles in.

“It’s schnapps,” she mentions, clearly expecting the flask back once the woman has inspected it. “It also helps keep the pain down to something manageable. But you’re welcome to some if you want it, not that I expect you’ll agree any more than you have the last couple of times I’ve offered.”

She folds her arms in front of her face and turns her cheek to rest on them, watching Emmanuelle’s turned back.

The flask has by now found a place among the medical accoutrements displayed in plenitude upon this chamber’s shelves; “Not for me, thank you,” disclaims Emmanuelle politely, “when I am working. Have you recourse to it often?” she wonders, turning back once she can hear only stillness behind her. “Do you find that it eases the pain — or your own general tension? It’s all right,” she offers gently, standing there unbuttoning her cuffs and folding up her sleeves over her slender white forearms, “if you find it difficult to distinguish between the two.”

“Only in the daytime,” Philomène answers, letting one hand down from her face to her side as she endeavours to get comfortable on this slab. “And I find it has much the same effect as a hot bath. It warms the joints, stops them aching so much.” She closes her eyes for a minute, considering, then finally offers, “If it’s too bad at night, I’ll either rely on the poppy if I can get it, or more recently on a hot bath at home. Now I expect you’ll read something prophetic into that, too.”

The heels of Emmanuelle’s boots sound upon the tiled floor as she steps up to the table. “I think,” she states neutrally, taking hold of each of Philomène’s arms in turn to arrange them flat at her sides on the table, palms up, “that to avoid experiencing such intense pain, is preferable to feeling it and then soothing it by artificial means. What I want to know is how much you have had to drink today. I prefer sobriety in my patrons and my patients alike — the more you dull your body’s natural responses, the less accurately I can judge its true condition.”

Her hands begin then to roam over Philomène’s back, from the nape of her neck slowly downward, gentle here and firm there, her own skin exquisitely soft and her fingertips angled so that her patient scarcely feels a prick or a graze from her lacquered nails.

Philomène automatically fights against that first touch to move her arms, tensing up for a moment and drawing her arms away, only to follow the indicated instructions a moment later, hands sliding down by her sides. Likewise that first moment when the heel of Emmanuelle's hand touches her shoulder blade has her entire body stiffening before she makes the conscious choice to relax.

“I should pretty much assume any morning,” she breathes in a quiet exhalation of breath that corresponds with the downward movement of her chirurgeon's soft hands, “that I've had no more than a nip to keep off the chill. It's early yet, but it's also cold outside and I'd never have made it here without something to grease the bones.” It's a quiet admission, neither proud and boastful nor ashamed, just weary. “Take that to be my natural response.”

There passes a moment or two during which Emmanuelle, in silence, continues her cautious exploration of Philomène’s back and her hips, never requesting but always assuming the right of such intimacy. “… I would like you to abstain from drinking liquor,” she says at length, “for the duration of one week, after our time together today. I appreciate you may feel you require it; but I think it not only fitting but useful, for you to give what I do for you a week’s chance. If you experience each sensation truly, un— greased,” she drawls, “you will be able to tell me with greater verity the extent to which what I do has helped you, and perhaps you might pinpoint other problems I might address. An unclouded mind, unclouded senses, may well assist me in gathering knowledge of benefit to us both… And, with that said, you don’t know whether or how much I have helped you, until you set a fair trial of my skill. Do you agree?”

And the heel of her hand aligns itself against Philo’s spine and her other paw unites with it and the first almighty crack occurs. And then the next, and the next after that… Bones aren’t made for such noises, surely—? But whatever the initial sensation that conjures forth such a noise: there is no genuine pain afterwards. It is not a penitence but a release.

It's the noise more than anything, that unexpected clunk and a sudden relaxation of tension in muscles she didn't even know we're stretched to their limit, that causes fists to form, the jaw to set, and the eyes to narrow suspiciously. Clearly this must be some sort of trick.

“No,” comes Philomène's simple, flat refusal, between two glorious clicks and a shaky outward breath. “What I choose to drink has nothing to do with you. You're looking at my damn leg, not my liver.”

“… Because, of course,” Emmanuelle drawls, clicking vertebrae into place lower and lower with only a breath between, “each part of your body is absolutely separate from all the others.”

“If I'd cut my finger,” Philomène argues, pausing with every crack of her back, “I wouldn't expect you to tell me to eat more turnips, would I?” The fists begin to deliberately and slowly unclench into loose claws, gripping at the table beneath her.

“Just because you have me on your torture table right now gives you no damn right to interfere with how I live my life. This is my choice to be here, to see what you can do to fix the damn pain, not let you decide on my behalf what I'm allowed to feel.”

Emmanuelle exhales: “So ferocious,” she murmurs, her hands lowering again, making a nonsense of whatever brief undergarment Philomène might have retained. “I want you to roll backward,” she says simply, “onto your better hip…” And her touch is somehow expert in determining the leverage, in shifting Philo as she describes. “I am interested,” she specifies, “in whatever you feel. I desire the purest and the most accurate information you can give me. And that information, my dear vicomtesse, will be more accurate if you refrain from confusing the issue with liquor. I make no moral judgment: my interest is practical.”

On which note her hands settle, and she simply wrenches Philomène’s uppermost and worst hip: an instant of blinding pain which melts into an extraordinary release.

“I'm not here for your damn desires,” Philomène begins, only to be struck mute but for a small, strangled noise for a split second, back arching and hands gripping the edge of the table. The muscles of that one arm now crossed over herself as she lays there on her side to grab the edge of the bed and hold her in place flex impressively, fingers and face paling in equal measure at the sudden crunch and flash of helpless white pain.

For a second rare time in less than a fortnight, Philomène's eyes begin to leak, flashing that bright, light stormy grey colour as the pupils reduce to mere pinpricks, despite the ambient light of the candles, the tears forming but not daring to fall from the corners of her eyes.

And then, as quickly as it came, the moment of helpless agony passes, replaced with what she'd never admit to be a not altogether unpleasant throbbing ache. It's not the ache she's learned to live with, but the ache of the end of a long ride, the ache of finally settling into a hot bath, or the ache of the aftermath of a good meal. It's the muscles still reflexively sending their messages to the brain that they're still there, but do you know, they're not in pain any more and that seems odd so here, have this tingling sensation instead.

“… Now,” purrs Emmanuelle, because she can, because she feels it in her hands, because she can see it in every contour of the body spread out before her, because she’s successful and proud and that only feeds into her easy aristocratic arrogance. “Give it one week,” she repeats, “for curiosity’s sake. And come back, then, and tell me a hundred intimate details you don’t like to discuss. Let me see, then, knowing as much as I can, what else I can do.”

And, fairly briskly, as if manipulating a largeish slab of meat, she turns Philo onto her other side — facing in toward her — bare flesh against black silk — and performs the same offices for her other hip. No, it’s not as dramatic; But it completes the piece.

“You could try,” she suggests, as her hands leave Philo’s hips, “lying to me. But I can usually tell, my dear, and I am not interested in falsehoods. I desire unvarnished truth — will you give it to me?” And she has left her patient alone now on the sheet-draped table, and she’s leaning back by the archway, a foot lifted and a heel against the wall, her attitude casual.

“Fuck you,” Philomène grates out, jaw setting with defiance as she rolls, or more accurately if less charitably collapses, back onto her back on the table, glaring up at the ceiling as though perhaps it's all the fault of the architecture. “Call me anything you like, but never a bloody liar.”

Thumbs go back to somewhere near the top of each hip, poking and prodding at the places that usually give relief and right now are strangely if not pain free then distinctly less painful, elbows back on the table to half prop herself up.

“But I'm telling you now, it's not because I'm pandering to your bloody desires, it's because I'm Philomène fucking d'Aiglemort and there's no woman alive that can break me of being me.”

“Put Philomène fucking d’Aiglemort’s hands down flat on the table,” is Emmanuelle’s wry and pragmatic suggestion as she steps behind her patient’s head and places her own warm and smooth hands on her shoulders, encouraging her to lie down and be still again.

And then her fingers curl about the other woman’s throat, in a familiar intimacy which it must be a challenge to tolerate. “You will imagine that I am breaking your neck,” she adds conversationally; “snapping it in between my hands. But I assure you it is not so. I know precisely how much effort such a twist would require of me, and I shall stop well short of it…”

There’s a twist and then another twist, at a lightning pace. The left and then the right.

And suddenly Emmanuelle’s harsh and competent hands are caressing her patient, after a fashion: taking an inventory of the muscles about Philo’s neck and her jaw and her shoulders, and digging in just so to relieve her from this, that, all of it.

“The unvarnished truth,” she repeats; “no matter how squalid or how sodden or how silly. I really don’t care,” and that sounds so detached as to be callous. “I want a good idea of your body and how it behaves; I want your truth. You can bring it to me or not. If you don’t,” and her hands alight and she takes a step back, “you and I need have no further intercourse.”

The very moment she steps away, Philomène is already sitting up, her own hands going to her neck and jaw to check for herself if there's still residual pain. Still mistrustful, even when she finds to her delight that it's not a momentary thing, she draws up her good leg in a single languid movement to cross over the table, toes pointing to the far wall, observing exactly how flexible she's suddenly become.

The other leg, mind, she doesn't even try. There's a pleasantly surprised difference and then there's a miracle and she's hardly expecting the latter.

Extending her leg and turning to sit on the edge of the table, she takes a long time to just study Emmanuelle, her face, her stance, her expression. “If this bruises,” she warns, “You can bet your life I'll lie to anyone who asks. But you can have… mostly anyway… your plain truth from me. At least I promise you this — I won't lie. But if it's none of your damn business I'll tell you that, too. Agreed?”

By now Emmanuelle has resumed her lounging, the foot and heel of one high leather boot set against the wall toward which Philomène’s toes are so defiantly pointing. Her uncannily clever hands rest relaxed at her hips, her thumbs hooked into her waistband.

“I always desire the truth,” she agrees, “whether or not it holds for me any personal appeal. If it is true— it is a fact, whether or not I care for it.” She shrugs easily in her black silks; and adds, “It may bruise. That will depend upon your own physical circumstances— which I tire of exhorting you to confide in me. I want you to get up and walk for a while, and let me measure the differences. You must understand: this is about you rather than me. You’re a pain in my arse — and I will still, no matter how you speak to me, endeavour to give you the best of my knowledge and my skill. I’ve committed to this,” she reminds her quietly. “Perhaps you have not, yet.”

“I'm here,” Philomène points out, tapping a finger pointedly on the table beside her for emphasis, “and I've answered every query you've asked.” She shifts to stand, automatically settling her weight on the good leg first before attempted to balance. She takes a moment or two to be certain she's steady - it's an odd feeling, this lack of strain that's been with her on and off for practically forever, and it's unsettling.

“If you want more, then you ask more,” she insists. “I've hidden nothing.” This with a faint smirk and a gesture down her unclothed front, before she steps off to begin to walk as best she can into the other room, whence she is gestured. The gait by now is automatic, and not changed a great deal in its execution, but there's a smoothness that there might not perhaps have been when she first walked in. “So maybe you'll sate my curiosity in return. Why? You get nothing from this except to see the pain reduce. That seems to go against your reputation rather.” She turns, flicks the woman a casual glance, then with her head high and all the confidence of a woman born to high name and expectation, casually limps back in the other direction.

Emmanuelle’s eyes follow Philomène out of the infirmary and into the jewel-box; the rest of her follows too, slowly prowling, keeping just far enough behind to enjoy the full panoramic view of her patient’s progress. Then she sits down on the side of her richly-draped iron bed and begins in a businesslike manner to take off her own boots. No nonsense here about hopping on one foot: she just sits, crosses an ankle over a knee, and sets about unbuckling. She doesn’t usually do this for herself (what are submissives for, after all?) but her hands remember well enough that her gaze is free to enjoy, if that’s the word, Philomène’s return journey. “I have made a vow to Eisheth,” she answers quietly, setting down her first boot, “and you are a part of its fulfillment… I see a twitch, there,” she mentions; “if at any moment you think your leg may fail you, please tell me and I’ll help you to sit down. We have nearly finished for today.”

She rises, in black knee-breeches and black silk stockings that show off slender calves not without a certain amount of lean muscle to them. “Watch my feet,” she instructs Philo. “Heel down first, then roll forward onto the ball of the foot and push up with the toes. Like this.” And, in demonstrative slow motion, she makes a promenade of her own.

Shoulders straighten a touch more at the very suggestion that any part of her, no matter how well abused today, might fail. She doesn't actually say it aloud, but every part of Philomène's body language is screaming out that she'd collapse and crawl away before asking for help.

When she reaches the ironwork of the bed again, she grips it with as casual a stance as she can muster, although the effort of even this small amount of walking has begun to impart a slight shimmer to her skin. Fingers tight on the wrought iron, she runs her tongue over her teeth as she observes this demonstration.

“Heel first and I'll lose my balance,” she grumbles, more for the sake of something to complain about than with any real vehemence. “I want to see you try like that with your foot pointing somewhere way over there all the time,” she challenges, gesturing vaguely with her free hand.

“Then try it simply with your better foot,” is Emmanuelle’s immediate riposte, more in answer to the whiteness of Philomène’s knuckles and the clamminess of her skin than anything she’s said so far. “When you have proven you can walk correctly on one side, you may then make whatever experiments you wish in private, in your own time. The point of this little exercise is to begin retraining your body to move in ways less likely to build the tension in your muscles to the peak from which I have this afternoon endeavoured to release you… It begins with your feet, though I should like to see also a little more movement in your shoulders. You will find that easier to cultivate, I hope, now that you have less to steel yourself against with each step.”

“I think I preferred it when you were threatening me,” Philomène decides, taking a deep breath before pushing herself forward to continue her demonstration of walking, which, to her credit, she is endeavouring to follow instructions. “Right now you remind me more of some sort of deportment teacher at an academy for young ladies, and I can tell you right now,” Pause. Turn. Continue. “I'd rather face a battalion of berserk Skaldi.”

Emmanuelle in her role as an ambulatory educational aid walks toward Philomène, still showing her that slowed-down gait; then, passing her, watches critically from behind as her cantankerous patient’s feet strike the softness of the Akkadian carpets lavishly covering the chamber’s floor.

“I usually teach advanced knife work, suspension bondage, and the spiritual basis of dominance and submission,” she drawls; “though deportment does enter into my more private curriculum for the benefit of patrons. Be glad that I am not lecturing you in earnest. Very well,” and she gives a crisp nod, “this time you may walk into the infirmary and lie down again.”

“I 'may’, may I?” comes the counter, and just to be contrary, she turns again to walk across the room instead. The pace is a little slower, but she is at least with her good leg trying to follow the instructions given. Apparently one set of instructions is acceptable, but an additional demand is too much for her pigheadedness. “I'll remind you that I walk a mile a day. I think I can handle twice around your chambers without keeling over.”

“And I’ll remind you,” Emmanuelle drawls, coming to stand still stocking-footed next to the carven screen which conceals the arched opening into her little infirmary, “that you are not my only appointment today.” A beat. “But when I arranged my schedule I wasn’t aware that you were so interested in prolonging our time together, my dear vicomtesse. Perhaps we ought to consider a different arrangement for your next visit.” Upon Philomène’s next about turn, there’s a broad and coolly mischievous red smile waiting for her.

“I'm going to assume,” Philomène decides drily, easing her way across the carpet to the screened off entrance, “that means you are going to buy me dinner next time, then.” She briefly pauses with her forearm resting up against the doorway, before pressing through and over to lean on the edge of the table there. “Even if you will refuse to buy me a drink.”

Emmanuelle enters the infirmary via the other side of the screen, arriving before Philo whilst keeping out of her immediate path. “A formal assignation with me naturally includes supper,” she explains, “a night’s rest in my house, and whatever medical treatment might be necessary in the aftermath. On the table, please, on your back,” and she contrives once more to busy herself with the accoutrements of her professional whilst her patient struggles with this latest foul demand. In particular, she is possessing herself of a small and extremely precise set of calipers.

Setting her jaw once more, Philomène perches on the table and lifts one leg up to rest, foot flat and knee bent, then grasps the other with both hands behind her knee and physically pulls it up behind. “Lady Shahrizai, the day I come to you for an assignation rather than to see what you can do about this will be the same day pigs fly. I'm sure you have more than enough meek little patrons to satisfy your needs anyway.” She slowly lowers her knees both down, and settles back on her elbows.

“Which does remind me, however, I'm sure I asked but you never gave me a straight answer. If this poking and prodding helps matters, I'll owe you, and if you eat bacon then the finest thanks I can offer is a Gueret old spot pig.”

“Then I fear you shall never attain your unaccountable desire to share a meal with me.” The Mandrake’s tone is deadpan as she turns back to the table and once again re-arranges Philomène to her liking, her good hip and her bad hip as level as possible. She straightens her legs with careful hands — well, ss far as they will straighten — and adjusts her feet rather fussily, bending down to look at her heels from one side and then the other. Whilst all this is in progress she delivers the desired straight answer. “I am fond of bacon, though I have it usually from my sister’s farms. They rub it with nine different spices” Which she proceeds to list, in alphabetical order. “And then they smoke it slowly over apple wood…”

“But it's not Gueret old spot,” Philomène counters, almost dismissing the talk of herbs and smoking. That part is food preparation and therefore, in her eyes, not a patch on the important business of the pig breeding itself. “What the fuck are you even doing with my foot now? You won't fix it from there - the issue is much further up,” she adds casually, although that light tone is belied by the way she grips the sides of the tables as she's manhandled into place.

“That… stings,” she adds as something clicks and shifts in place, voice somewhat strained. “Is it strictly necessary?”

“I am I believe unacquainted with your Gueret bacon — I am sure it is superb,” though as she works Emmanuelle sounds distant now, “but I wish to disabuse you of the notion that you owe me anything. You don’t. Keep still.” The calipers then come into play, several sets of them, for the minutest possible measuring of the difference between one leg’s length and the other. Each bone receives finicky attention for a minute or two, the results being noted on a sheet of parchment laid out on the washstand before Philomène even arrived today. Is this strictly necessary? So much so that Emmanuelle doesn’t dignify the question — or argue the continuing question of debt, obligation, and bacon, which surely Philo continues to raise.

When she has her desired list of numbers in two columns Emmanuelle, putting the calipers neatly away again whence they came, announces: “I shall leave you to dress, and to rest until we’ve finished with your boots… If any of the books pique your interest, do help yourself.”

She withdraws to don her own boots and kidnap Philomène’s, thus holding her hostage for what is certain to be an irritating length of time. Her man Baltasar is the one who returns at length with the purloined footwear and the hour of an appointment in one week’s time.

On the way out Philo again glimpses through open windows the redheaded woman bound to the whipping post in the courtyard, this time with Emmanuelle standing next to her, rubbing the back of her neck with what looks to be a gentle touch. It’s her soft-spoken words, rather than any more explicit act of sadism, that have the woman’s whole body shaking with guttural sobs. A day of appointments indeed — and perhaps Philomène’s own not the most painful.

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