(1311-04-15) The Gift of Thought
Summary: Raphael joins Aurore for dinner in her chambers.
RL Date: 04/15/19
Related: Of Dureza and Cahors, Well Met Over Cahors, Good Meats, Unconventional Exercises.
aurore raphael 

Ferrand Suite — Chalasse Residence

The large sitting room window has a wide padded sill large enough for two to sit comfortably and take in the scenery. The room is decorated in bold colours with red dominant. There is a frequently reappearing motif of various wildflowers in the paintings and needlepoint tapestries. More exotic flowers from all over the known world are woven into the dark green carpets. Vases of dried flowers sit on all the tables and there are a number of live plants kept where the sun can reach. In the large sitting room are velvet-cushioned chairs and couches in red, including one of those 'gossip' couches that separate a seated pair with a curving arm, and a lounge for lying down. A carved sideboard holds wine bottles and glasses, and there is an ornately carved oak table that can seat four for dining. On one side of the suite are two further doors, and on the other there is a door leading to a bedroom.

In the sleeping chamber a large four poster wooden bed rests in one corner, with a red and gold coverlet and ridiculous number of assorted pillows. There are two wardrobes to match the bed, and a nightstand with an oil lamp painted with a wild carrot motif. There is also a large vanity table with a big mirror of real silvered glass. The surface is neatly organized with ivory handled brushes and combs, as well as several pots of fragrances and emollients. There is a long shelf with a wide variety of books from children's primers to serious tomes on botany, gardening, and history. The wall that leads to the sitting room is equipped with a hearth that heats both rooms should it be needed. A wolf skin is placed for lounging in front of the fire. In one corner sits a large copper bathtub.

Aurore has sent around a formal invitation to dinner. It is evening. There are hyacinths growing in bowls on the windowsills. Thierry Chalasse is playing an elaborate game involving wooden bandits attempting an assault on a pillow redoubt defended by armoured soldiers, a governess knitting socks as she keeps an eye on him. The dowager is reading by the window. An array of spiced cured meats and cheeses is laid out. A bottle of Dureza has been left to breathe.

Raphael responds in a short but courteous note written in a well-schooled hand that it would be his pleasure to attend. He turns up at the appointed hour, in some of the more sedate of his new clothes: dark brown broadcloth breeches and a chocolate-brown lightly-textured woolen jacket over a light linen shirt. He appears to have arrived without a gift. "Good evening," he says as the servant shows him in, taking in this attack on the pillow fortress first, the governess second, the spread third, and lastly his hostess herself. At whom he smiles. "I hope the change in seasons has not been rough with any of the household."

Aurore rises to greet him, offering the traditional cheek kisses between friends, "Raphael! So good of you to make it. This is my son the Vicomte."

The governess gives the lad a look. He carefully puts down the archer he's holding and rises, "It is a pleasure to meet you." He is neatly dressed in good, but sturdy clothes. He must have his father's nose, for that is certainly not his mother's. His hair is two shades lighter. The ways he most resembles her are in the set of his chin and shoulders and in the frankly inquisitive look he gives this new adult.

"On the contrary, it was my pleasure to be invited." Raphael's words for his hostess. He then makes an abbreviated but elegant bow to the young Vicomte, appropriate to his age and station. "How good to make your acquaintance," he says. "Your mother mentioned to me that she had a son and I wondered what sort of lad he might be. I see you are honing your siege tactics." His tone is lighthearted without being at all condescending.

The child watches Raphael's face, clearly trying to work out what sort of adult exactly he is, but visibly decides Raphael is probably all right, "We have trouble with bandits in our mountains, so it is good to be prepared. Mother says thinking things through when you have a chance is the best way to handle difficulties." He adds, "I do sword and bow practice too." More shyly, "Would you like to examine my troops?"

The dowager is watching them both with a subtly softer expression than is her public face. She does not intervene one way or another. Perhaps this too is a test, though it is clear she is fond of the lad.

"Naturally," Raphael replies without hesitation, clasping right wrist with left hand behind his back. "While I am not a martial man myself, I agree with your mother about the utility of forethought and preparation." The boy has Raphael's full attention.

Thierry flashes Raphael a sunny smile that displays several missing baby teeth, and leads the way to the battle. "As you can see, our men have retained the high ground and are raining rocks and arrows down on the outlaws…." He explains the names and roles of each of the figures with some relish. Aurore quietly goes to pour them wine. The governess is watching Raphael with narrowed eyes, though Aurore seems entirely unworried.

"Ah, I see," Raphael says, attending on the young general, listening to his description, pointing out what strike him as wise choices, and asking one or two questions. "And is morale fine among your men?" is the last thing he's curious to know.

The small boy looks up at Raphael, with a very serious expression, "What would you suggest? If they were not cheerful."

Raphael smiles, since what immediately comes to mind is perhaps not the best advice to give such a young general. "I have heard that sometimes prizes are given for the most successes on the field," is what he decides on answering.

Aurore smiles around her goblet as she drinks, perhaps paralleling his thought. The lad flashes him another warm smile, "Oh! That is very clever! Everyone like prizes! I shall give it a try," He peers up at Raphael, "Did you used to compete in the boy's races at the fair when you were my age?"

"Perhaps I did once or twice," Raphael says. "It is a long time ago, now. But I never won anything. Are you looking forward to them?" He seems in very good humor with the lad, genuinely fond of chatting with a child.

The lad nods, "I like the races, but she won't let me try to catch the pig." He casts a glare at his mother, who simply raises her eyebrows. "But all the village boys are allowed to. And the pole climbing."

"Well, then you know which event to focus your training on," Raphael suggests gently. "I shall have to stop by the races and see how you fare. Now, I think I ought not to be impolite in keeping your mother waiting, but it has been very interesting to meet you."

The lad gives a long suffering sigh. The governess rises, "Come on. It is time to wash up." The lad gives her a disgruntled look but starts collecting his troops. "It really was nice to meet you. It really is ever so nice at the fair in our mountains." And then they are off.

Aurore hands him a goblet, "These are all our best saucisson types. Something to try before dinner, I thought, with some cheese for a palate cleanser."

Raphael gives the young vicomte a parting smile, then steps over to join Aurore, taking the goblet from her hand. "Excellent," he replies. "Thank you. Come to think of it, I should apologize for not yet sending you a note of thanks for the bottle of Cahors you so thoughtfully sent. It has been a busy week." He selects one of the available meats to give it a try.

Aurore cocks her head, "I am glad your business is good. Mine has been… baffling. No useful news for good or ill. So what do you think of the young Vicomte? Do you think he'll do?"

The slices are white and powdery around the outside, instead of having the usual hard crust these sorts of meat tend to have. Peppercorns are prominent in the meat, though some have other spicing, like mustard or coriander. They are about as big around as the space between thumb and forefinger.

"I do," Raphael replies, nodding once, judiciously. "He seems genuine in developing his skills, but has enough of his own mind, as well. I expect he will challenge you as he grows, but in the sort of way a young man should." He has another selection from among the sausage slices and says, "These are very nice."

Aurore nibbles one of the more complicated ones, "We thought they might be good for travellers at sea. Compact, delicious, and keep a very long time." She watches his face, "Do you really like them? I prefer honesty."

"This one better than that one," Raphael says, pointing out his preferences. "But yes, I find them good. Is it the sailors who crew your ships you are concerned with feeding so well, your officers, or your own family?" He wonders.

Aurore laughs, "Oh, I have no ships. Our mountains are far from the sea. We are rich in pigs, and this is a local delicacy. It seems to me much easier to ship these to a port and sell them there, than it would be to move pigs so far, them losing weight as they travel, so people might have them as fresh chops. My hope is to contract with the navy and various merchant captains, so we might sell in quantity instead of just piecemeal." She makes a mental note of his preferences. "I'm not afraid of challenges, and I'd rather a son with his own mind who will be ready to make his way in the world when he comes of age."

"Oh, I see," Raphael returns, "For some reason I had imagined you did trade by ship." He smiles. "It sounds as though you know pigs as well as I do, through perhaps at a different scale.” He looks off in the direction young Thierry has departed. "You are teaching him to think: a wonderful gift. His governess, I think, does not approve of me," he observes, amused. "And so she must be a woman of upright moral character. And a quick hand for knitting. You choose the people around you well, I suspect."

Aurore says, "Perhaps some day, but right now I am trying to build up the land and river trade." She smiles at him, her manner almost flirtatious, "I came to it very late. I've been trying to learn. I have read the books on husbandry and butchering. I have talked to pigmen and butchers and cooks and all sorts of people on our lands, but I'm not the expert that someone who has really done the work can be. I can work hard, when there's a good reason. Building this future is a very good reason." She snorts, "His governess does not approve of me either, but she's good to the lad, firm, but not too strict. He has tutors as well. I want him as well educated as possible, but not just memorizing. Knowledge isn't enough. I really do want to give him the gift of thought. It has served me the best of all my gifts and I've hopes it will serve him just as well." She looks up at him, "You have it."

Raphael inclines his head thankfully. "I am not sure whether I had it off my parents or if I got it at the salon," he says. "Perhaps both. But your son will find it is one of few gifts that very few misfortunes can take away from him till he be very old indeed," Raphael predicts. "And therefore it is better than coin or property or…" He hesitates just perceptibly over whatever he would have originally said, "Almost anything else."

Aurore says, "I am and always was my own creation, but why should my son have to do the same when I can nurture and guide his talents?" She cocks her head, "What is the thing even safer than a habit of thought from thieves or misfortune?""

Raphael's gaze drifts thoughtfully. "I wonder what it means to be one's own creation," he replies, "And how many can claim to be so." Now he looks curiously at Aurore. "But quite right," he says. "The mind is surely the safest storehouse in an unsafe world. And he is the only child?"

Aurore nods, "His father was very old and did not live much past his birth. I have not remarried. I have devoted myself to his education and securing his future in other ways." She sips her wine, "Many thought his education and the finances of the house would be better in other hands than mine." She looks him dead in the eye, "They are wrong."

Raphael returns the look without his eyes giving very much away. It is a serious look, considering what she has to say without rushing to affirm her. "You use the past tense," he says. "Have your critics quieted?"

Aurore barks her laughter, "No, do critics ever quiet.? The lawsuits come one after another. Still, I persist." It is at this point that two servants arrive with apple and pecan glazed slices of pork and cheese wrapped in tender chicken breasts, glass grown asparagus, and good soft bread. "Shall we sit?"

"Well, if you gag them," Raphael replies deadpan, though it is surely a joke. He drinks from his wine, then nods. "Thank you," he says. "I suppose it is well for me that you persist and that the persistence had brought you here, since it means I have the fortune of sampling your wine and food."

Aurore laughs again, "That is your specialty, no mine, alas." She studies him, "I intend to keep doing so. Persist. Offering you food and wine. I know you are far too good at your calling to make it possible for me to guess if our conversation please you, but I do enjoy our meals together."

Raphael smiles his appreciation at her intentions of persistence. When she is seated, he will take his seat as well. "In fact, I am greatly pleased to be here," he answers. "I have had a quite tiring week, and a conversation with a clever person is the best tonic I can think of. I hope you do not think I have so few invitations that I cannot afford to turn away the ones that do not appeal to me." That is said with a note of humor.

Aurore sits, her back straight and shirts gracefully arranged. She looks him over, "I suspect you have all the patrons you wish. You are exactly… yourself." She cuts into her meat, slicing the herbed layers decisively. "Was it a good week for you as far as amusements?"

Raphael has the table manners any courtesan is trained to default to when dining with noble patrons. "I have a few," he says, eyes glittering over a hard smile that suggests that he knows that she knows that the modesty is false, and that it is in fact meant as a game between them. He too starts with knife in chicken. "A good week," he says, as if posing the parameters of her question to himself. "I had contracts with two new patrons, and that is of course demanding. A third I steered to another Thorn, and think a good match was made there. The problem is indeed becoming… one of editing, if I am to keep the schedule another friend of mine has suggested for courtesans of our standing and experience." He speaks openly of all this, though he adds, "Of course, there are those with whom I am a certain self not entirely this./ self. But //that self you would have little use for."

Aurore was just as well trained in table manners, and gives him an amused smile when she realises they are both falling back on habits drilled in. She nods, "I fear that is the case for all your attractiveness. We wouldn't suit each other at all in that way. It is a good problem to have, to be able to skim the cream of patrons and hand the ones who suit you less to others." She gazes into the distance, "I never really had that luxury."

"Nor I, in my younger days. If we think of it in trade terms, I now have a limited market, but that market itself has limited suppliers. There is also the factor of novelty. I am only returned to work a month or so. Some will fall away in time, they always do." He looks to Aurore. "You were unhappy in your service?" he wonders.

Aurore thinks it over as she eats, everything buttered and seasoned and cooked just so. "Unhappy is entirely the wrong word. I wanted to be a courtesan very much. I wanted to be good at it. I did not do well with house discipline, though I saw the value of training. I really was happier once I was independent, and there were aspects of the work I enjoyed very much, but it was always…" She sips her wine, "Not so much a vocation as a pleasing way to get the training and resources to become who I wanted to be."

Raphael looks up as he thinks that over, simultaneously chewing some asparagus. "There is a value in that, I think," he says. "For the amount of money a salon takes in, part of the good they provide is in giving education and opportunity even to those who will not stay."

Aurore says, "It was an excellent education and I got very good value, for all I did not much like it by the end. Now I have more distance I can admire the ones who have a strong calling and the way that a well run house shapes novices. I didn't feel that way at fourteen. We all grow and change, even one as stubborn as I."

"A fourteen year old who appreciates discipline probably belongs at our salon," Raphael says, drawing up one corner of his mouth in a smile. "The asparagus is very fine, especially for this season." But this isn't said simply to change the subject, for he returns to it. "I think it is unlikely that I should ever have read a book had I not been taken to the salon, myself. You mentioned books about butchery, but I doubt my father ever read one of those. Not that he was a stupid man. But it wasn't necessary. Still, even I went away for a long time."

Aurore barks a laugh, "That's definitely true… Thank you. It is good to have something fresh and green after all that grey." She nods, "The ones who know the most often can't write and the knowledge they hold in their heads is so easily lost. I do not make the mistake of confusing literacy and intelligence or lack of letters for the opposite. So much of access to education is chance in this life. I came a bit late to letters myself, and recognise the gift a good education is, but I listen to the men who do the work first because no one knows a pig as well as them who live and work with them everyday." She studies him, "I think the wideness of your experience of life makes you more suited in a way. There is a kind of ignorance that comes from only having lived one life. You and I are rare creatures who have lived several very different ones."

"No, of course not," Raphael says mildly. "I assumed that you know the difference very well. But a book is a tremendously useful thing to thought, even so. Which is different from knowledge." He cuts another bite of chicken and listens to Aurore as he eats, nodding once. "I agree, I would choose no different if I had it all to do over again."

Aurore has some asparagus, careful and ladylike, "I would choose not different myself." She smiles with an obvious self awareness, "And yet I've no plans to give my son a childhood like mine. What does that make me?"

"Conscious that you and your son are different people, possibly," Raphael replies with a smile. "And possibly conscious of the risks and pains of that life. As suited as I have found myself at times to the life, I cannot imagine that either of my parents would have been right for it."

Aurore blinks slowly, then bobs her head in acknowledgement, "That is wise, I think. For all can see bits of myself in him, he is very different than I was at that age, and shaped by different things…" She sips her wine, "I wish he had lads his age to play with here. There wasn't much levity in my childhood; I wish I could give more to him of that."

Raphael cuts through another tender stalk of asparagus. "Why doesn't he?" he asks frankly. "Marsilikos is a sizeable city. It must have its share of boys, even noble boys."

Aurore smiles crookedly, "And how many noble mothers want their sons playing with a child of mine?"

Raphael tilts his head slightly to one side. "Do you mean by that that there are certain rumors in circulation?" he asks, again quite blunt. "Is everyone really cowed by only that? Nobles are tremendously conservative."

Aurore gives an unladylike snort, "Some might consider you very brave to eat and drink under my roof. I know what is said, and a good story like that travels."

"Someone said that to me, in fact," Raphael says lightly, as though amused by a coincidence. "But of course that is very silly. What would be the point in your killing me, after all?" He chews another mouthful of chicken, making cheerful eye contact.

Aurore looks back, direct and amused, "I am not surprised that you had the good sense to see it that way." She toasts him with forkful of meat just as cheerfully. "I really am glad your appetite has not been harmed by gossip. It would be a terrible waste of perfectly good meat and wine."

"If I were to be poisoned, I would hope at least that the meal preceding that would be so delicious," Raphael returns. "But no, in all seriousness, I am not afraid of being killed by you." Does he mean by that that he thinks she would not kill, that she would not kill him, or that he does not fear death? Unclear. "So is it that people shun him directly because of the rumors, or that you are shielding him from hearing them?" he asks, another frank question.

Aurore laughs with her open, mannish real laugh, rather than one of the social ones she used to use for work. "That's true. One should dine on saffron and truffles and the like for one's last meal." She sips his wine, "I have made few contacts among the nobility here beyond my kinswoman whom you saw me with recently and another lady with similar interests. It is hard for him to be shunned if there is no one much to shun him. At home, there were children in the household and down in the village. Here for all its educational benefits we are more isolated than when we lived on a literal cliff's edge."

"Hm," Raphael replies after hearing all that through. "I've nothing to suggest, unfortunately. I've no children of my own and it is not usual for people to be eager to share news of theirs with Thorns, so I am unacquainted with which of my open-minded patrons might have boys of the right age. Still, it all seems very hypocritical. Nobles seal hard fates of so many at a word and never give it a second thought."

Aurore's eyes go wide. He really has surprised her here. Then she is smiling her pure delight. "You may be a Thorn, but you are more precious to have as a companion than any flower or jewel, I think. So many of them never meet the people who pay the rents and fines that keep them in silk or velvet and have no notion of the real cost of things for the folk whose lives’ course their word determines. I always do a lot of thinking about what my actions result in. Proof I will never really be one of them, I think."

Raphael lifts his eyebrows at this praise, but then lifts his glass ass well, to his host. "How kind of you to say," he replies. "I make better conversation than a flower, most days," he replies. "But I suppose nobles have their nature as flowers have theirs."

Aurore lifts her glass to him, "You are certainly more interesting and have better taste in wine." She drinks. "I don't suppose you've heard anything about grain theft lately, have you? I suspect you pick up all sorts of odds and ends in your line of work."

"Grain," Raphael repeats. "No, that hadn't crossed my notice. Where has it gone missing from?" He finishes off his chicken. "I suppose this is the season where granaries might find themselves a bit short."

Aurore says, "That's what we're trying to find out. It's not my grain, mind, but I really only have one kinswoman I actually like. My people haven't been able to spot a thing."

"Oh, I see," Raphael repeats. "Missing from the Vicomtesse, then. Curious. I'm afraid we probably get less intelligence at our salon than comes in to the Glycine. But I'll see whether I do hear anything."

Aurore smiles at him, "Thank you. It's really baffling and I feel as if, as less than conventional women we ought to stick together and there really is something about her I like. Tenacity, maybe, and forthrightness. It's rare."

Raphael sips from his wine, then smiles. "She is indeed honest. And troublesome. I quite like her." This sounds genuine. "I first met her in the Gardens of Eisheth, she was doing one of those stubborn walks of hers."

Aurore smiles over her own cup, "I met her the night I met you. She liked the Cahors particularly. I would like to make things easier for her if I can."

"She would," Raphael says in the tone of a light-hearted insult, though of course both he and his host also enjoy the same wine. "But yes, I can drink to that. If I find something out, I'll let one of you know."

Aurore lifts her glass and drinks, "Thank you. It is much appreciated. So how goes the training of the novices?"

"It is a curious business," Raphael says. "It strikes me more now that I am older how strangely young people develop. Sometimes they are so strong in one regard and then so weak in another."

Aurore cocks her head, "I am interested. Please elaborate?"

"Well, for example, we have a boy who really is talented at…let us say the practical applications of technique," Raphael says, with a faint smile out of regard for the setting of their dinner and his host's lack of interest in the canon. "Yet he is terribly weak in conversation and poor at reading a patron's desires. So from observing or overhearing a patron, he makes unsuitable assumptions about what he thinks they would want."

Aurore smiles, "You needn't sanitize for me, but yes, I follow." She winces, "Oh! That is unfortunate. Anticipation is essential to providing service and I imagine getting it wrong in your canon is so much worse. Awkward at best and dangerous at worst. How does one teach something that is a matter of feel rather than knowledge?"

"As you like," Raphael returns with a faint inclination of his head. "But yes, indeed, it is unpleasant to make a mistake in our canon. Reading the mood poorly can cause a patron to be too frightened to return, or even injury." Her question makes him nod deeply. "That is just the trouble. How does one? I have always found it a fascinating game to guess what people like and what they want and where their own perception or presentation of themselves is wrong. But how can I put into words how exactly I decide when to press and when to hold back?"

Aurore says, "I suspect you and I are both naturals. I remember studying people as a child, guessing things about them from their clothes and how they walked. Training gave me polish and certain other useful skills like accounting, but I was always… as I am at heart. I haven't the faintest clue how one turns a lad into a student of people…" She sips, thinking, as the maid servant brings in a custard tart for dessert. "Maybe that's your answer. Go back to basics. Set him to serving patrons food and drink. Until he can work out when to turn up with decanters or nibbles, he should not be doing more challenging things. Perhaps listening to the flow of conversation with a simpler task in mind will make him more sensitive to its nuances, though to be honest, I'm not sure if that will help.""

Raphael looks amused at the suggestion, sipping the wine. "He'd be insulted," he predicts. "But whether he'll listen to the reason for it or not, he'll have to learn one way or another or he'll find it hard going to make his marque." He shakes his head faintly. "There's a girl who's quite promising, very clever. She'll make pots. One or two of them are coming along all right, but lazy if you don't watch them."

Aurore smiles, "Your canon requires strict self discipline as well as the skill of disciplining others, yes? Time for him to practice some, sounds like. Of course, I was not much a one for following orders that didn't suit me, so I'm not the best judge." The glass grown strawberries are a little bitter, but it suits the sweetness of the custard. "Lazy I definitely wasn't and the last thing I wanted was someone hovering over me while I was trying to work. I've no clue how to instill ambition in a person not naturally inclined to labor."

Raphael seems to appreciate that course as well. "It is difficult," Raphael says. "Although certainly we have the benefit at our house of being able to discipline as performance. But as you say, they must be taught to have the greatest self discipline, far greater than what they will enforce on patrons."

Aurore takes her time with the custard, small, delicate bites. She nods, "My training required quite a bit of self discipline too, though more for the good of the house as a whole instead of for safety of the patrons. The ones who love risk too much are bad bets, and tend to get traded way." She eyes him, "That was definitely not my weakness. Risk is a thing to balance and manage. Knowing how much to risk and when is everything."

"Spoken true to your canon," Raphael replies approvingly. "I wonder whether I could ever have succeeded in a house such as yours. Not that I would've been selected for it. But the patrons who come to our salon… even if they say the opposite, they tell you exactly what they want so easily."

Aurore laughs, "I'd like to point out that I didn't. I made my marque as an independent. It's funny, I wonder much the same. What might I have been like if i'd been raised to be a Thorn?"

"Well, that is true," Raphael allows, "Though surely you've been a success." He smiles curiously at this idea of Aurore growing up in his own canon. "Of course selection at the Rose Sauvage may be some of the most selective. If you haven't any interest in pain or discipline one way or another, you're unlikely to last long."

Aurore nods, "I achieved everything I'd hoped for myself. Paid off my marque, won my independence, found a life that suits me even if my having it does not suit a great number of people." She studies him, "Are there any who enjoy disciplining without the infliction of pain, or is it all one thing?"

"There are certainly those people," Raphael replies, nodding. "Though to be a Thorn you have to be prepared to offer most everything our canon offers. So I have never heard of a successful Thorn with a distaste for pain. It is surely much easier if you can appreciate it. But then again, we do each have our own boundaries. Several at my house will serve only men or only women, for instance, though I consider that to be incomprehensible."

Aurore smiles softly, "My own tastes are wide when I choose to exercise them. Is it impolite to ask what your boundaries are? I've never really thought much about the details of your canon until I met you. I felt instantly you must be terribly skilled at it, but it is hard to… I'm not sure how to put it into words."

Raphael smiles in return, a bit sharply. "Well, I won't shit on anyone," he names for one. "And currently I prefer to leave the romantic soft cases to Danté. He has patience for that. But some things I decide on the spot. There are certain people who… simply do not appeal, or seem to be more trouble than they are worth. Which also sometimes includes people with no limits, who want what is likely to be dangerous."

Aurore wrinkles her nose, "That does seem like an excellent rule. I think… feigning romantic interest was the hardest part for me, so I made an effort to avoid those. I much preferred more straightforward arrangements." She shudders, "No limits sounds… terrifying and so… far from my nature that I'm not sure what I would…. Yes, I think you are wise to avoid those."

"I think so," Raphael agrees, sipping from the wine. "Terribly dangerous," he says. "I won't take anyone unwilling to use a signale when called for. To be a courtesan may be an elevated status, but I'm sure if I killed a patron I'd hang beside the rest of the riff-raff." He sets his cup aside. "Luckily it is easy to be a Thorn who refuses romance. I think I would have found it very difficult to return if that were required of me. We are fortunate to have Heliotropes to point people toward."

Aurore nods, expression grim, "And it would be a terrible waste of a truly original mind. I am glad you are careful." She sighs, "I did not always have the luxury of avoiding feigning what I did not feel, but I did did my best not to promise more than I could pretend. I do not know how the Heliotropes manage it. I'd have been over the wall in weeks." She says quietly, "I would never ask that of you, you know. To feign what you you do not feel. That isn't what this is about, and I am no child looking for romance where none could be. I really do just enjoy your company on your own terms."

Raphael nods at Aurore. "I never suspected you would," he says. "And I would not give it to you if you did." This is said with a smile, but not a lasting one. "In truth, I could not imagine romance, now. It would be impossible not to think of my wife." There is a certain quality in the way he says that which would suggest it is not something he would share with a typical patron. "As for the Heliotropes.. .perhaps there are some who truly can fall in love three times a day."

Aurore says, "I am glad of that assurance. If there are things you wish to speak of on your own account, I will listen and not tell, but there will never be an expectation that you share things you are uncomfortable talking about." She snorts, "Phft. Heliotropes. They might be from the moon, or perhaps we are. I do not love easily or often."

There is a certain expression Aurore's offer brings up, something in the neighborhood of evaluation, but it's impossible to tell what his conclusion is. But her remarks about Heliotropes draw a laugh. "Nor I," he says. "Or at least so I assume. Once I found one…" He smiles tightly and does not finish the thought. "Did you love your husband?"

Aurore's eyes search his, making her own evaluation. Finally she says with an air of truth, "Romantically? No. I was fond of him in my way. He could be a terror of servants and relatives, but he was kind to me and sweet in his way. As fussy old noblemen go, he made a surprisingly good husband, but that's not the same as finding a true partner who suits one body and soul. I was but a girl still and he was nearly as old as our ages now combined. This too is a reason to suspect me, of course." She pours them both more wine, "I like to think I made his final few years a good deal jollier for him than they would have been otherwise, and certainly, he lived more at the end than he had in a very long time."

Raphael seems interested in this story, but he doesn't appear interested in searching for any signs of guilt. The honesty, however, is of interest. "You must have," he says. "And truly there is a value in a good husband, I should think, even as there is a value in finding a love. A different value, but a value. One that only some are afforded."

Aurore says, "There is definitely a value in a good husband, though I feel no want of one just now. I have much to occupy me for my son's sake and a husband would… want rights that I do not feel like granting. Better to have no man hulking about wanting to shove his fingers into the running of my son's estate, or worse yet wanting to stunt his growth in favour of some progeny of his own. I do not plan to marry again, though I might take a lover if the right one came along." She looks into her goblet, "You likely think I am horribly mercenary, you whose experience of marriage was entirely different."

Raphael laughs in response to Aurore's concern, though more warmly than harshly. "I am a courtesan," he says. "I do not judge a mercenary arrangement." He does grow quiet for a moment. "I think every marriage must surely be different and have a different meaning and different value. I had… a special one," he is able to say, "But if every marriage had to be like that, the nobility would be unsustainable. Indeed I doubt the human race would survive. I bless my rare good fortune; I do not curse others for not having had it."

Aurore's voice softens, "I am glad that you had that. To love and to be loved that way."

Raphael watches Aurore a moment, then his gaze drifts in a silence long enough for several thoughts to pass, his own expression altering, becoming more readable, porous instead of impenetrable. The feeling there is complex. "So am I," he says softly at last. "It is worth every bit of pain. That is the fee, of course."

Aurore nods solemnly, true empathy on her face. Very gently, she places her hand on his and squeezes it, "In life, there is always a fee, I think, but your bargain was a good one." She withdraws her hand quickly, lest it be taken for more than the comfort intended.

Raphael would catch a patron's hand, as surely a patron would want their hand caught. But Aurore's squeeze he simply accepts without returning, looking from the hand to her face, appreciative smile quirking on his own despite the lingering pain. "I believe there is no more sincere way a former Bryony might put it," he says with a note of humor. "Thank you."

Aurore smiles back, "It is meant so." She studies him a moment, "Do you enjoy cards at all?"

Raphael grins. "I know how to play only a little," he says, "And I am far from fool enough to wager money unless I intend to lose it for someone else's pleasure." He drinks from his wine. "Is it a particular pleasure of yours?"

Aurore says, "It is. I was wondering what we might do next time, but I would like it to be something we both enjoy. I would never ask you to wager anything of yours for my pleasure… What might you like to do, if the choice were yours?"

Raphael narrows his eyes thoughtfully at this question. "In my return to Marsilikos, I had not really anticipated that people would often ask my pleasure," he says, but with a certain amusement in his tone. "The weather is turning very fine. We might walk out of town if you liked."

Aurore nods, "Then I shall engage you for an afternoon at your convenience to escort me." She cocks her head, "Would you take another glass, or have you another engagement for the evening?"

"No, only you," Raphael says, making a gesture that says he would accept more wine. "This is the benefit in charging twice what the young bucks ask. I can concentrate." Which includes concentrating on the enjoyment of a particular vintage.

Aurore smiles wide enough to give a glimpse of sharp incisors, and pours them each one more glass, "I truly am honored. I am also of the opinion you are worth it… What is the most peculiar thing you have done that wasn't for work?"

"Thank you," Raphael says, lifting the glass in a faint toast. "I expect you are a fine judge of worth." He sips the wine, half-suppressing a smile. "When you ask that," he says, "Do you mean in the bedroom, or do you mean generally?"

Aurore drinks with him, but nearly chokes, "I wasn't thinking of the bedroom, but we might certainly include it."

Raphael simply smiles cheerfully, then takes a moment to consider this question. "Well, you understand, in my other life, I did many strange things. There was a little girl once who had ordered a custom doll, and we had made it precisely to the child's and the family's specifications, but when I brought it out, the child was in a terrible mood and complained that the shape of the nose and face were all wrong. Well, my wife was not in and I would not dare to alter a finished product of hers. So I promised to take the doll for a visit to the healer and return her to her proper state. I swept it away with me to the back of the shop, where I did absolutely nothing for an hour, sent the apprentice out with cakes in the meantime, and then returned to unveil it again. The girl was delighted and her lady mother sniffed, 'That's better.'" He smiles and drinks from the wine. "I don't know if it's the most peculiar, but it comes to mind."

Aurore listens rapt, and then laughs in than bold, mannish way she has, "That is clearly the cleverest way to handle it. Half of them haven't the brains Elua gave a sheep anyway." She grins at him, "You may have noticed my endowments are not particularly large? Once, I went over the wall when I was meant to be scrubbing floors for some punishment or other, 'borrowed' the livery of a certain noble house and served three courses of a feast for the pleasure of watching some jugglers and listening to a particularly fine harpist. No one noticed I wasn't a boy, let alone not one of the household. The wine was flowing free that night below and above stairs."

Raphael listens to this return tale with enjoyment. "Was that the last time you played a boy?" he wonders. "I imagine that there is some interest in seeing how differently one might be treated just in a change of clothing and role."

Aurore winks at him, "Neither last, not first. Shall I be a lad for our walk instead of a lady? Or perhaps we could look in on that gentleman's club nonsense, if it would amuse you to sneak me in."

Raphael seems satisfied to hear it, although that latter matter takes his attention. "Oh, yes, what on earth is that?" he wonders. "I am of course not precisely a gentleman so one wonders what is meant by that in the first place…" He drinks from the cup. "It could be entertaining," he says, "If those games are still to your liking."

Aurore grins at him, "Then let us see if we can manage it. I may be a little long in the tooth, but let us make the attempt. I'm even further from a gentleman that you, but let us see if we can fool them."

"If not, we will have a fine walk out of town," Raphael determines. "Either way, a pleasant excursion. I like your troublesome nature. It makes for entertainment. I suppose it is my salon that cultivates a liking for trouble and its many wonderful possibilities."

Aurore looks into his eyes, "I think it is your nature that turns a canon of strict discipline into joy and mischief."

Raphael snorts air out of his nose. "It is too dull to find no joy in one's calling," he says. "Nor do most patrons want to feel that they are a task rather than a pleasure. So it is better in all ways to find the fun than to shut it out. No?"

Aurore grins at him, "Oh, that is always what I did. I used to make little side bets with myself to keep things interesting."

"I have no doubt that that is so," Raphael says, drinking again. "I also have a bit of fun at the salon matchmaking the cases I do not care to take with other, more suited courtesans. When I can do it with everyone ending up happy, I feel I have truly gotten away with something."

Aurore sips, "Yes! It is a sort of puzzle to solve where everyone wins when you get it right.”

"I like to solve such puzzles," Raphael admits. "What someone wants and how to match desires one to the other. That is the best of the work, I think."

Aurore says, "You are kind in all sorts of quiet ways, I think. I am glad my son got to meet you."

"Not really kindness in that case," he claims. "Practical, satisfying, and saves trouble for everyone." He pauses, and relents, "But. I was delighted to meet your son." That sounds genuine. "I am fond of children."

Aurore smiles fondly, "I am not in general, but I love my son very much and I could tell you would be good for him if you wanted to visit him again. I liked… watching you with him."

Raphael smiles faintly, though it is quite a real smile, an unaccustomed shyness somewhere in it. "Possibly," he says. "Possibly." He will probably be easily convinced.

Aurore smiles, "It would be a kindness. It helps to have good men around when one is raising a son, to be a kind of model for the different sorts of men he might grow in to. I will give orders to admit you.”

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