(1311-04-12) It Isn't Lunchtime
Summary: Philomène returns to Emmanuelle for another sparring match, more unwelcome advice on her health, and further instruction in matching meals to hours of the day.
RL Date: 18/04/2019 - 22/04/2019
Related: Creditably Matched, Nothing Comes Free, Needful Adjustments, It Isn’t Dinnertime.
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.

A week after she was last here almost to the hour, but only given that Baltasar was very firmly against even suggesting an appointment at the sort of time of the morning initially put forward, by the time that Philomène is shown through the long, spectacularly decorated passageways, the carved double doors, past the impressive illusions set into the wood, the vicomtesse is distinctly agitated.

Constantly tugging her smooth white cuffs straight beneath her customary riding jacket, or pulling the short tails down, or plucking a bit of imaginary lint from her lapel, or simply shifting her weight from one foot to the other when she’s finally presented in this inner chamber, there’s a permanent undercurrent of twitching and fidgeting which is distinctly out of character from the woman’s usually upright and precise posture.

Only ever a wearer of the bare minimum of makeup anyway, today she’s simply gone without. Perhaps in the summer, when she’s on horseback in the sun she might suit the look but today she just looks pale, washed out, and the tiny pinpricks of pupils match the colour of the bags just beginning to make themselves known beneath her eyes. The one thing that has remained constant, though, is the belligerent glare with which she greets her hostess and the way she holds her chin high in defiance.

The jewel-box’s glass-paned doors all stand open on this balmy spring day, when the sun has reached its zenith over Marsilikos and the courtyard beyond is flooded with light.

Inside, placed to avoid direct sunlight for the necessary period, stands a rectangular table laid with a pristine white linen cloth and the porcelain and polished silver accoutrements of breakfast for one. A low crystal bowl of unscented white flowers anchors the unused space; a second cup and saucer stand idle next to it, waiting for tea to be poured from a solid silver pot kept warm on a matching silver stand above a candle’s flame. Emmanuelle, seated in a leather-upholstered armchair on the far side of the table from where Philomène comes in, answers that glare with the interrogatory lift of a single black eyebrow as she chews her present morsel of bacon. She’s immaculately painted, dressed in something dark, and in no hurry to swallow and speak.

It may be the bacon that causes the glare. How can one expect to be led into a room which smells so deliciously of breakfast and not immediately envy the woman eating it? Or, given that this is Philomène, it may be the same issue only with the tea.

Folding her arms across her chest in an attempt to still them, the Vicomtesse gives the woman, the room, the breakfast and above all the silver teapot a long, careful scrutiny, before finally offering, about a minute or two after it became impolite, “Good afternoon.”

Her hands may be still, but her jaw is working silently away to itself, tensing muscles visible as her teeth grind together in their place.

By this time Emmanuelle has almost cleaned her blue and white Ch’in porcelain plate of its cargo of applewood-smoked back bacon and cheesy eggs. Her eyebrow has returned to its normal elevation. Her expression has not otherwise altered. Now, though, she lays down her silver knife and her silver fork and, again chewing, takes up her cup and saucer. A sip of tea and then another, to wash down the last piece of bacon, and she restores cup to saucer with a muted and expensive clink and issues the mildest of ripostes: “Good afternoon.”

Then she sets down her tea in its appointed place upon her table and goes so far as to venture: “It would appear you have something to say to me, vicomtesse. Why don’t you say it, then? While I finish my breakfast,” she offers, baring her neat white teeth in the close cousin of a smile. She takes up a piece of chewy, crusty bread — which she much prefers to soft white rolls — and a different silver knife, with which to anoint it with thick orange marmalade.

Of course all the while her blue diamond gaze is for Philomène rather than anything more edible; and coming nearer the table requires that the vicomtesse come into the light.

There’s a definite difference in Philomène’s gait this week as she takes the few paces over towards the table. It’s more cautious for a start, but then perhaps that’s down to the careful way in which she endeavours to place her feet. She might be grumpy, rude, acerbic or worse, but she was apparently paying attention to the demonstration last week and is attempting at least to follow the instructions given. Either that or the shaving of that tiny fragment of sole from her boot has made a significant difference. Or maybe both.

Unfolding her arms again, because apparently she can’t seem to keep still in a single position for longer than a second or two, she straightens her collar, reflexively touches her chin and begins to twist her head to crack her neck before catching herself and stopping.

“In truth,” Philomène decides, tone still as dry as ever even if the volume today is significantly more quiet, “I’ve little to say. It’s been a fairly rotten week on the whole, for which you’ll be pleased to know you’ve played a significant part.” Without asking, she claims the spare cup, leaving the saucer behind and with her slender fingers wrapped around the delicate porcelain ignores the heat that has to be growing with every passing moment as she tips in tea from the pot.

Emmanuelle tilts her head to one side, and swallows a bite of her bread and marmalade. “But will I?” she wonders rhetorically. “Tell me about it,” is her next suggestion, again rather mild, as she takes another bite and reaches for her tea with the hand which isn’t holding the bread. She seems not to notice, or anyway not to regard, the liberties taken with her second cup.

There’s a faint rattle of the polished silver lid against the pot as Philomène sets it down; she stretches out her fingers then folds both hands around her purloined cup of tea, enjoying the scent of the steam as it drifts upwards. She’s not stupid enough to drink from it immediately, but the cup is held high up to her chin as she waits for it to cool a little.

“I’ve split my daily walks in half,” she explains, narrowing her eyes for a moment but this time aimed somewhere out of the door and into the sunlight rather than at the breakfast or the Shahrizai. “Half a mile in the morning, before anyone’s up. And then another half mile later in the evening before I retire. But the evening gardens are full of gormless twits making eyes at one another and getting in the damn way, and I can’t use the gardens at the Rose because of all the damn patrons and infernal devices in use in the evenings, which leaves me the option of a circuit of the walls.” Now she does turn back, rolling her eyes. “Twice this week I’ve been stopped by the city guard. Have they nothing better to do with their time than accost a bloody cripple?”

With a fragment of bread remaining between her fingers Emmanuelle uses it to scoop up the last traces of her cheesy eggs; and then she pops it into her mouth, leaving behind an admirably clean plate. Well, of course. In her own house the portions are always arranged according to her own appetite. She chews; she swallows; she remarks; “I am glad that you find yourself able to continue taking exercise, but I must admit that the connexion between myself, and your lack of resource, remains obscure to me. Do you intend to come to your point soon?”

Philomène arches a brow, deliberately taking a long moment to sip at her tea, purely to be obtuse. Only once she’s savoured it sufficiently and swallowed, fingertips tapping absently on the porcelain does she relent.

“Your instruction. Last week. To ensure I wasn’t pushing myself too hard and, I believe your phrase was something along the lines of ‘fucking myself up’.” A careless shrug of one shoulder, a quick tuck of a loose lock of hair behind one ear, not because it needed it but because her hand needed something to occupy itself. “And doing all of this on a diet of nothing but tea to drink. Also your instructions. Ringing a bell?”

Emmanuelle lifts a black linen napkin from her lap and dabs at her lips, catching a crumb or so without smudging her red paint. The gold-embroidered keys at one corner of the square of fabric catch, for an instant, a ray of morning light. Then she folds it and places it neatly, unhurriedly, next to her plate. Again she takes a mouthful of tea, as she considers Philomène’s words.

“I wished you to abstain from alcohol for the span of a week, yes,” she agrees, “and I am pleased that you found the fortitude to do so. We may learn something from that. But I gave no specific advice about your walks, nor did I forbid you any beverage but tea. Blame me all you wish for the strictures that were mine — but surely Philomène fucking d’Aiglemort,” she quotes her visitor mildly, “can carry the weight of those choices which were of her own making. Has the Chalasse house in Marsilikos no gardens to which you might request a key?”

Glaring a moment longer before a little shiver runs through her which somewhat spoils the effect, Philomène finally puts out a hand to lean on the nearest piece of furniture to steady herself. In itself that’s a rare thing to ever see, but it’s compounded when she takes a breath and admits in a low voice, “I hadn’t considered it. I shall.” There’s a sharp little nod in place of anything more polite or any token of gratitude for the advice, fingers tightening their grip for a moment. She turns her head once again to look out of the open doors, notably away from Emmanuelle, so she can close her eyes for a second or two.

But then as soon as that moment has passed and she feels more in control of her body again, the shoulders come back, the hand releases its perch, and she swings her stormy grey-blue gaze with its tiny pin prick pupils back to the other woman.

Somehow she’s managed not to spill a drop of tea. She may secretly be from Alba. “No alcohol, what the fuck am I supposed to be drinking, then? Even beer has booze in it.”

All this is of considerable professional interest to Emmanuelle, who studies intently what Philomène allows her to see, and one or two things the Camaeline woman would be appalled to know that she has shown her — and also, meanwhile, takes up a cloth with which to grasp the handle of her silver teapot and pour herself another cup. No scalding required.

“I am partial to fruit juice,” she mentions. “Peach, or orange, or pomegranate. Squeezed fresh it has a pleasant sharpness — not too sweet,” she clarifies, for the benefit of a thief who purloined tea but no honey with which to adulterate it. “Sit down,” she suggests, pointing one white finger with its immaculate black-lacquered nail toward a smaller chair not opposite her own but drawn up to her table at a right angle, facing the courtyard, “and tell me what has been different this past week in your body and its sensations, besides your excess of yellow bile.”

If anyone honestly expected Philomène to then immediately sit then they clearly don’t know her. She makes her laboured way over towards the chair sure enough, but then leans up against it rather than actually sitting and, with her tea still in one hand, eases her arms folded. “Sweet drinks make my teeth itch,” she states flatly, taking another long breath as a further shiver runs through her, making the tea in her hand shake worryingly until she can glare down at it and tighten her grip and control sufficiently to stop it.

“I’ve not slept well this week,” she admits after a moment to decide whether this is information she’s willing to give up. “It may be the warmth — I’m not used to spring on the south coast. But at least the warmth means I don’t get the chill in my joints which has them seizing up entirely.” She shrugs a casual shoulder, as though it’s all one to her. “My leg hurts. Take that as a given. It always fucking hurts. Other joints, too, though. My neck, my shoulders.” She unfolds her arms to hold up one hand. “This hand does not hurt, is that more comprehensive?”

Another little shrug, this one more in challenge, along with a raised eyebrow in her pale, somewhat drawn face, sweat visibly forming on her forehead. “Well?”

<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Medicine: Great Success. (2 5 7 4 3 5 8 6 1 7 8)

Sitting back in her chair, sipping her own tea with cup and saucer held in an unwavering grasp, Emmanuelle listens. Her gaze is slightly lifted, to Philomène’s face: she didn’t really expect an end to the standing, or indeed an end to that instructive display of strain. It has simply come nearer to her, that’s all, and all the more clearly into the focus of her blue diamond eyes.

“The shivering. The sleeplessness. The night sweats. All the tea you’ve been drinking,” she states with quiet certainty, holding Philo’s eyes with her own, “because there is little else you can keep down. My dear vicomtesse, I take it back. I am in large part responsible for the week you’ve had. Your body has come to a greater dependence upon your schnapps and your wine and your beer than I gathered from what you said to me last week — and all this is the result of your laying down, on my advice, a crutch which has become truly necessary to you. There is no shame in it,” she adds, still holding Philo’s gaze with her own and speaking without any perceptible judgment or hesitation, “considering all you have had to bear, and for how long. You are not a young woman. If the habit of drink has not substantially discommoded you so far, it is unlikely to do so in your remaining years. Though you may find — you may already have found? — that over time, as with any addiction of this nature, the usual dose grows ineffective and a larger portion is required to produce the same easing of your pains. I would say,” she concludes coolly, her cup clinking into her saucer, “that you have a decision before you.”

“I am dependent on nothing,” Philomène grates out, fingers tightening around her teacup as she lifts it to her lips for what was clearly intended as some sort of show of defiance. But really? Really, though? Can anyone drink from a teacup, particularly so fine a cup as this one, with any sort of show of will? “Fuck you, and fuck your sanctimonious pity. Not once in my fucking life have I used a damn crutch.”

She straightens, fixing a steady gaze on Emmanuelle, filled with indignant rage and a very careful maintenance of control that holds the shakes at bay as long as she’s concentrating hard enough. “You deal with your southern, city patrons, with their addictions and their inability to control their own fucking bodies, but don’t you fucking dare lump me in with them. Fuck you!”

<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Composure+Presence: Amazing Success. (8 6 7 2 6 7 7 7 6 7 6 7 5 7 4 8)

The storm rolls out of Philomène’s teacup and over Emmanuelle without any discernible effect: the Mandrake chirurgeon merely sets down her cup and saucer upon her breakfast-table and sits back in her chair with her hands folded placidly in her black silken lap. Rather than addressing herself directly to the vicomtesse’s gift-basket of insults and profanity she pursues her own line, patiently and without rancour, her voice low and thoughtful and deep.

“You might resume your habit and see how swiftly you feel better, your hands recover their steadiness, your sleep grows longer and deeper and less damp. Shall I open a bottle of uisghe for you right now, and sit here and watch the result—?” she suggests, laying out the first of Philo’s choices. “Or, having proven to yourself that you can survive a week without strong drink, you might set yourself the challenge of a second week, and then if need be a third. In either case you will come to a time in which you feel a greater benefit from the adjustments I’ve made to your bones and your boots. It is a question of patience, and endurance.”

There is perhaps a small tell in the way Philomène’s expression briefly lightens at the thought of uisghe, and the way her eyes dart to the shelves to see if perhaps there is a bottle there so Emmanuelle can carry out her threat. But then her eyes are narrowing again and fixing on the former Mandrake.

“Of the two of us in this room, there’s only one who has a thing for pain. And it’s not the one with ‘Chalasse’ in her name.” She takes a breath, deciding now that enough time has passed that she can sit down without it looking like it was Emmanuelle’s idea, and slithers down to settle in the seat instead of resting on it. “If I want a nip of something I’ll fucking have a nip. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone.” Lies. “And if I want to have a nice cup of tea, I’ll have a nice cup of sodding tea.”

Whilst Philomène’s eyes seek a bottle that isn’t there, Emmanuelle’s glint.

Watching her patient subside into her appointed chair she deftly triangulates her aches and pains, ascribing each to the responsible muscle. “Then do,” she shrugs, and with cloth in hand picks up the silver pot to refresh their cups. “The decision is yours. As your chirurgeon it is simply my responsibility to speak the truth to you, so that you understand every implication.” She pauses. “I must also in conscience add that if you resume the habit of drinking now, to cure your present malaise or simply because it pleases, and then later on when you believe me you decide to free yourself from the dependence— you will have thrown away a week’s suffering and a week’s effort, and you’ll be obliged to begin again from the beginning. Consider that as well,” she advises, replacing the pot above its flame, “when next you lift your flask.”

Philomène drinks her tea in silence for a few blessed seconds, both hands curling around her cup as she holds it out for its refill before it’s brought back to her lap to cradle. It’s possible that she’s actually considering her chirurgeon’s words. More likely she’s considering the words from earlier, now she’s no longer obliged to be enraged by being called old, weak and dependent.

“You’re my physician,” she decides at length, eyeing Emmanuelle, her clothing, the painted fingernails and the way she sits there. “You’re not my bloody mother. I’m here because you claim you can do something for my leg. But I’ll take advice for the vomiting, too, if you have some. And if you can think of a good way I can get some damn sleep, I’ll accept that advice, too. But what I drink and when and how is my life and my choice.”

“I have done something for your leg,” Emmanuelle points out mildly; “I understand that in your present state of withdrawal it is less apparent to you than it might otherwise have been, but I could see it in your stride the moment you crossed my threshold. Your movement is improving. I’ll adjust your back again today, and it will improve further. For the rest, you have my prescription. You will sleep and eat better either when you drink again, or when you refrain long enough from drinking at all. I can give you a different kind of tea which will help to settle your stomach in the meantime, but in the final analysis my advice is as I have already said. Patience and endurance,” she repeats, “or a well-informed choice to dispense with them in the interests of controlling your pain more swiftly and in a manner you find more agreeable. Whatever you choose to do with yourself — all I expect from you is your continuing honesty.”

Philomène gives a half smile. “Patience I may be short of, but I can certainly give you endurance and honesty. I’ll take your recommendations for tea, though. I would rather like to eat something this week.”

She rolls her shoulders, exhaling and leaning back a little in her seat. It is perhaps the first time she’s looked actually comfortable in Emmanuelle’s presence since they first met. “And if you point out again that I’m not a young woman, I’ll have to murder you and hide the body,” she adds with a wry humour. “And then I’d only have to find another chirurgeon, which seems an awful lot of effort to go to.”

Which jest Emmanuelle receives in unblinking seriousness. “Are you certain you would come off the best in such a contest? I wonder, where would you hide me? And how, then, would you escape from my house?” she muses aloud, and sips her tea. “Past so many locked doors — my kinsmen — my Kusheline servants — my sister’s excellent guards at the gate?”

“It’s a valid point,” Philomène acquiesces easily, taking a long draught of her tea with barely shaking hands. “Besides, murder isn’t my style. If you needed stabbing, I’d do it in front of everyone. Pour encourager les autres, as it were. And before you say it, no, I’m not certain I’d come off best in that contest either, but at least it’d be honest.”

“… As opposed,” drawls Emmanuelle, “to all our dissembling thus far.”

Another mouthful almost empties her cup, and she replaces it in her saucer and her saucer on the table. Then she pushes back her chair and rises. Her black silk blouse isn’t a blouse; it’s the top half of loose full-sleeved long robes, several layers enshrouding her narrow frame, in the sort of style Philomène has seen worn by certain Thorns of the Rose Sauvage next door. “You needn’t strip this time,” she remarks, “but take off your jacket, or it may tear.”

“Because nobody needs to see the state of my leg immediately before lunch,” Philomène notes drily, leaning forward to set down her tea. She clenches her fists once again as another shiver runs through her, squeezing her eyes closed for a moment before forcing herself to continue. “What you can’t imagine, though, was the smell, those first few months at least. No amount of tea would have kept your supper down then.”

Adjusting her cuffs habitually before she begins to unbutton her jacket, she adds, “And it’d hardly be the first time I’ve torn my jacket. Maybe I should get myself something like that.” A nod to the robes. “But then I’m a creature of habit. This is comfortable.” She leans forward a little as she peels herself out of the oft-repaired and then embroidery-disguised garment.

“It isn’t lunchtime,” Emmanuelle ripostes patiently, as she takes a step out from behind the table and lingers there to await the removal of Philomène’s favourite jacket. Her layered hem just touches the flat black velvet slippers encasing her small and firmly-planted feet.

“These are comfortable, of course,” and she smoothes a hand over black silk at her hip, “and it is simple to add another robe or to remove one according to the weather — however, the style is so much associated with my canon and its practitioners that you might find it gave rise to certain misconceptions among new acquaintances.” She favours the other woman with a wry smile. “Mandrake men in particular are notorious for going bare beneath, in case they need to wave their cocks about at short notice. That is not my custom — let alone, I imagine, a reputation you’d wish to court. Is that your own work?” she inquires then, eyeing the fine stitching habitually worn by this woman who never seems to have a single servant attending her.

“I’ve very seldom found the need to wave my cock around at short notice, no,” Philomène deliberately and solemnly considers, head tilting a little to one side. “I’d like to think any willy-waving would be much more considered. Planned. Much less a sort of casual ‘goodness me, did that just slip out of my robes, how careless of me’. Surely if one were going to insist on whapping it out for a quick comparison or a spot of admiration, it shouldn’t just be on a whim?”

She shrugs, flexing her fingers now, given the absence of a cup of tea to hold or cuffs to adjust, and finding a need to move somewhere and somehow. “My work? The vines? I like the look of them,” she defends herself, waiting now to be told that there’s some sort of subtext to even her embroidery now. “I enjoy sitting in the warm weather with a needle. And the patterns help disguise one’s shape if you’re out hunting.”

“There is such a thing as a sense of occasion,” agrees Emmanuelle drily. She solves the question of movement by lifting her hand and ushering Philomène ahead of her into the small but well-equipped infirmary attached so conveniently to her bedchamber.

“I don’t embroider,” she mentions as she watches, this time — for Philomène is not only more clothed but more limber, whether she’s had occasion to notice it or not — her patient ascending the padded table draped this morning with a fresh white linen sheet. “Like most Mandrakes of course I do a little work with leather. I braid my own whips, and so forth.”

Judging from the sotto voce curses and blasphemy as Philomène makes her way up onto the table, the d’Aiglemort has noticed no such thing. In her defence, she’s been rather too busy being sick, shaking, raging at the world in general and the advice of her physician in particular, and generally being foul to everyone including herself to have really spotted the difference in her flexibility.

Both hands grip the table as she turns her head away to the side. “Because of course you do,” she forces out in as much of a semblance of good humour as she can manage. The movement from chair through to infirmary and up to the table, undiminished by numbing alcohol, takes rather a lot of her concentration to handle, and it’s not until she’s taken a few deep, steadying breaths that she can really respond.

“You’re half decent with a needle,” she points out. “You showed me your man’s abdomen. Maybe you should try it when next you’re sunning yourself and waiting for your next victim to show up, ready for their weekly torture.”

What an overwhelming, heartfelt compliment. “… But I don’t like,” Emmanuelle murmurs, straightening from her lean against the infirmary’s wall, “to sit in the sun.”

Mark you, she offers no argument against the accusations of torture. Philomène’s begins, this week, with having her hands peeled unsympathetically off the edges of the table and her arms laid flat by her sides. And then the chirurgeon’s own deft hands begin to play over her patient's back, feeling through her shirt, ascertaining that all the bits are where she put them last week. Some are not: such is Philomène's dauntless pursuit of her own discomfort.

“Whilst I was training I dissected corpses that were not as fresh as I might have wished,” Emmanuelle remarks conversationally; “I have, though, as you intuited, scarce experience with infected wounds and their odours. In Eisande such situations arise less often — and if a young woman came to me with a wound such as yours, I would cleanse and cauterise it however thoroughly I considered necessary to prevent infection from taking hold. Then, I’d break her bones anew with my own hands so that they might heal again straight and strong. No matter how much she screamed, or wept, or begged me to cease,” she confides, without relish but also without a trace of compunction. She joins her hands and begins to address Philomène’s vertebrae with precisely the same attitude, the heel of her lower hand coming down hard again and again along her spine. “Some mercies are but cruelty masked,” she observes.

Philomène barely makes a sound, merely glaring at the wall as the weight comes down and her back makes those odd cracking noises which really shouldn’t be good, but my goodness they do seem to be. “Do I,” she asks between gritted teeth, “really strike you as…” a pause for a crunch and a click, “the sort of woman to beg for anything?”

“No,” Emmanuelle agrees, arriving at the base of her spine for one last good vicious crack which will perfect, for the nonce, its alignment; “you strike me as a woman who, far from begging, is so uncomfortable with the idea of accepting anything from another person — so afraid to appear as though she might sometimes, like any other mortal, find herself in need — that she struggles to accept aid, or advice, or affection, no matter how freely and unconditionally it may be offered her. A woman,” for the Mandrake is now beginning to wax lyrical and to indulge in a little embroidery after all, “who cannot be persuaded to a course of action in a rational and straightforward manner, but must always be teased and cajoled and managed into acting in what she knows, deep down, are her own best interests. Turn onto your side, facing me,” she directs, and surreptitiously stretches her own sore hands a couple of times before assisting Philomène to accomplish that difficult sideways roll. Her touch is, as always, competent and disinterested: she might be manipulating a side of beef, but valuable beef.

“Tell me, were you this precious when you were a soldier?” she teases, smiling crookedly down at her victim du jour. “When the Skaldi began shooting arrows, did you have to puff and preen your feathers for half an hour before you'd follow an order to duck?"

Philomène winces once, then snorts a laugh. It's a dry sound, more like paper rustling. “When I was a soldier I was worse,” she admits, holding up a hand for a moment while she takes a couple of breaths. “You think I got this by safely following orders? I was fucking awful for it. I was young… younger. Stupid. Stupider, yes. And I thought nothing could touch me because I was Philomène fucking d’Aiglemort and therefore invincible.”

At the notion of this being the wise and mature edition of the lady in question, Emmanuelle raises a dignified dark eyebrow. “I trust that that misconception at least has been buried in a shallow grave,” she drawls, and though she allows the respite she’s soon addressing herself to her patient’s hip and her thigh, and taking the suspect limb into both her hands. “It won’t astonish you to hear,” she adds in a deadpan murmur, “that this is going to hurt.”

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