(1311-04-17) An Unlikely Amanuensis
Summary: Desarae seeks to spice up her study of stewardship and economics via a deal with a courtesan lately of Bryony House… who has one or two needs of her own.
RL Date: 17/04/2019 - 20/04/2019
Related: Prefigured in A Letter to Leonard; continued, after a fashion, in And A Productive Hour.
garance desarae 

Garance’s Chambers — The Dome of the Lady

One comes first into an ordinary chamber in the Dome of the Lady, decorated some years ago in impersonal good taste and Mereliot fish motifs, sparsely furnished at present. Several high casement windows recessed into the wall across from the door provide ample light from an inner courtyard; in front of them stands a large desk with a leatherbound chair behind it and two smaller and plainer chairs before it, rendering this more a study than a sitting-room. Against the wall on the far left is a long sofa upholstered in slightly worn dark green velvet; opposite, to the right, double doors lead into an adjoining chamber. Just beyond them a fireplace mirrors and shares a chimney with an identical hearth next door.

The only individual touch lent by the study's occupant to distinguish it from a dozen or a hundred other such chambers is a red and white 'broken' tulip in a pretty blue and white porcelain pot with touches of gilding. It sits usually on one of the broad windowsills, but it has been known to migrate to the desk.

The connected bedchamber has likewise been pared down to the essentials: a tester bed hung about with fish tapestries, a table beside it, a pair of armoires set at either side of an uncluttered washstand. There is no looking-glass. Everywhere they'll be out of range of sparks from the hearth the walls are lined with bookshelves, floor to ceiling, necessitating the presence of a small ladder in one corner. They're packed with hundreds upon hundreds of volumes, in Aragonian and Caerdicci and Tiberian as well as d'Angeline, leatherbound in a rainbow of hues. All the same colour now, to their owner; and all equally useless.

The duchesse d’Eisande summons her staff into her presence when she desires to consult them: her niece, the future marquise de Chavaise, pays courteous personal calls, at least upon those ducal retainers she understands are keeping to their chambers by healers’ orders.

It is indeed an acolyte of Eisheth’s order, one of the palace’s normal complement of healers, who opens the door at Desarae’s knock. She recognises of course the slight dark beauty trailed by the guard in Cassiline grey, and greets her with widening eyes and a curtsey. “My lady,” she murmurs — and perhaps she ought to inquire within before showing the visitor inside, but she’s an acolyte, not a maid, and in any case she’s outranked here by about twenty gradations.

Besides, as she steps away to let the lady and the Cassiline pass through the doorway, there’s already a voice calling out through the open doors of the adjoining bedchamber, in the mellifluous accents of Mont Nuit, tinged with eagerness. “Who is it?”

What first greets Desarae is an ordinary palace chamber, decorated some years ago in impersonal good taste, dominated by a large desk with one chair behind it and two before which renders it a study more than a sitting-room. Plentiful light comes in via windows onto one of the palace’s inner courtyards. There’s nothing individual in it. Nothing revealing.

The bedchamber beyond is in the main lined with bookshelves, floor to ceiling, a collection of hundreds upon hundreds of volumes which necessitates the presence of a small ladder propped in one corner. On the broad windowsill a red and white tulip blooms in a pretty porcelain pot. And in the bed is a woman of about thirty, with a rosebud mouth and a retroussé nose suggesting beauty even in a face presently rather wan from her illness. She sits upright against her pillows, presentable in a yellow silk jacket of faintly foreign aspect with touches of lace edging the openings of full sleeves and overlapping at her throat. Thick, well-combed dark blonde tresses sit neatly about her shoulders, held not by a hair ornament but a bandage of undyed linen wrapped about her head and covering her eyes — despite which, there’s a mahogany lap desk nestled close to her, in current use. Impatience is suggested by the turn of her ear toward the door, the twist of her fingertips in a fold of the bedclothes.

“The lady Desarae Mereliot, mademoiselle,” explains the acolyte.

And Garance nó Bryony’s lips part again and shift at once into a small intrigued smile. Dimples appear in her pale cheeks. “My lady… You come as a surprise. I hope you will forgive me for not—” She spreads her hands open, helplessly. “Not rising to make your acquaintance.”

Desarae is not alone when she enters Garance's bedchamber, though it's not because she is in the company of her Cassiline, for that's to be expected, but more down to the fact that she comes bearing gifts. Her gown is one of easy elegance, a pale ivory silk brocade that's adorned with touches of gilt thread and lace, and she carries within the angle of one elbow, a prettily decorated basket. An embroidered linen cloth is draped neatly across the top, and it conceals the basket's contents from curious eyes. Her step is stayed when her arrival is announced by the acolyte, and brightly intelligent eyes fall upon Garance where sits in her sick bed, eyes bandaged though presenting herself yet with a smile on her lips. Her Cassiline, a face that's a relatively new one to most of the ducal staff, stands quiet and watchful a few paces distant.

"Mademoiselle Garance. It's a pleasure to meet you."

There's a warmth in Desarae's voice that's been cultivated in the months since her departure from the salon of La Rose Sauvage, or perhaps it's merely the passage of time that's allowed a maturity to develop. Fingers bereft of adornment touch lightly to the basket she carries. "I was told of your illness, and thought I might bring you something which, though nothing extravagant, I hope you might enjoy."

A glance askance is given the acolyte. "I promise not to tire the Mademoiselle, and my visit will be brief, though I would like to sit and talk with her a while if she is well enough for such."

Never mind the basket, Garance is already enjoying the distraction: she has put on a courtesan’s company manners in place of the earlier fretting only the acolyte attending her was permitted to see, and now her fingertips reach out and stumble across her papers to turn them over against the slanted surface of her lap desk, in token of the giving of her full attention to so unexpected and interesting a visitor. "… My lady, you're very kind," she praises, “and so the pleasure is mine. Truth to tell, I'd be glad of your company for as long as it pleases you to give it. I don't know anyone in Marsilikos — Her Grace came once, but otherwise I only see healers. And they don't like to talk to me," one corner of her mouth lifts in a wry quirk, “because I remind them that even the skill of Eisheth's own priests has its limits. Isn't that so, Blandine?"

"Mademoiselle," is all the girl has to say to that kindly chiding. She’s standing by in all the awkwardness of her youth, between the bed and the open doors; having been talked over by her patient before she could answer the visitor herself, she is now patently wondering whether she’s supposed to do something with the gift basket. At last she starts forward and offers her hands, to see whether Desarae is of a mind to be relieved of her burden of charity.

“I’m sure the lady would like wine,” adds Garance, “if you would stretch a point and pour for her…? I hadn’t time to hire a servant of my own, before all this began.” Absent a gaze to travel from one interlocutor to another, only the shifts in her tone suggest which of her words are meant for each. “Will you sit, please? Or—” Confronted again by her state she shakes her head. “Are you sitting?” she inquires, with the air of one genuinely interested to know.

"I am not as yet," Desarae clarifies for Garance's sake. "But I shall." A quiet glance towards the young acolyte redirects the girl's intent to relieve her of her basket, into that of bringing one of the chairs closer to the side of the bed. A rustle of silks as she sits. "I'm afraid that with so little acquaintance the gift is a little impersonal." she apologises, "but I find that it's a rare person that doesn't enjoy the handiwork of Madame Durand of Bisous Angéliques." She lifts the basket and lays it to rest on the pristine linen sheets of the bed, the linen that covers it carefully pulled back. Nestled within the basket are a tray of exquisitely-made mignardises that are meant to be a feast for the eye; an artful arrangement of gemlike pates de fruits, tiny macarons, and melt-in-the-mouth millefeuille, dusted with powdered sugar.

Not that Garance will appreciate this.

"Mignardise…" The cloth in Desarae's hands is neatly folded and laid to one side, and the glass of wine that she's subsequently offered by the put upon acolyte, is accepted with grace. "If nothing else, and if they're not to your taste, they do well as something to offer your visitors, or indeed to placate the staff." She pauses, twisting the stem of her glass in her fingers, considering her next words carefully before speaking her thoughts. "It was with regret that we learned of your illness, Mademoiselle Garance. I'm certain that you must regret your decision to leave Elua to take up your position here with my aunt, and can only empathise with you on that."

Garance can feel something arrive upon her bed; when its nature is confided she looks pleased, her smile growing easy for a time, but she clasps her hands to discipline them against reaching blindly (as it were) toward her treat. Mignardises? But what kind, and how many, and arranged in what manner, in what vessel—? A dozen such questions line up behind her bandaged eyes and she’d as soon be in possession of a sworn and witnessed affidavit answering each and every one of them in detail, before taking the risk of eating in front of another person — and a highly ranked stranger at that. So does a Bryony calculate odds. “I am fond of sweets,” she admits, “and I’m sure they were chosen with care,” she’s careful not to assume by the Chavaise heiress personally, “to delight even that rarest person… My lady, thank you.”

Then the darkness she’s sitting in grows silent as well, between Desarae occupied in arranging her next words and Garance herself listening hungrily to her attendant’s operations with decanter and glass. An ear turned, a breath held… Desarae speaks, and the Bryony’s practiced smile finally fails her. She rests her head back against her pillows, treasonous face tilted away from her visitor, and smooths her bedclothes whilst making a cautious choice of her own.

“Fortune’s wheel never ceases to turn, in Elua as here, exalting some and casting down others… I know you have cause to lament that truth also, my lady,” she offers gently, “and I am sorry for it.” She draws a breath and lifts her head. “And as I have a visitor it’s fortunate I’ve something to offer her, no? Lady Desarae, would you care for a mignardise?” she wonders, in a stagey sort of tone well-suited to a playful call to pleasure. She unfurls a hand in the direction of the object on the bed to invite the younger woman to partake of what she wills.

“I've long been of the opinion that mignardises are small enough," Desarae muses, "that should you find yourself with a mouthful of something quite unpleasant, that it's easy enough to either swallow it down, or to spit it discreetly into your hand with very little fuss and offence. Not, I hope, that you'll find anything unpleasant in the selection that I've brought for you today." She leaves the basket where she'd placed it, and folds her hands neatly in her lap, studying the woman before her quite openly since, circumstances being as they are, it couldn't possibly be considered poor etiquette.

"Fortune's wheel indeed…" she responds to Garance's next offering, her eyes lingering upon the sightless Garance. "How easy it is to look back upon events, and marvel at how the smallest shift in events might have set any one of us upon an entirely different course. As to the mignardises, I wouldn't deprive you of even one. I'd like to imagine the pleasure you might find in them whilst bereft of the visual treat that they present." A tilt of her head to one side. "It's gauche of me to put it that way, I know, but as a novice of Rose Sauvage it was a part of my training which I very much enjoyed. The heightening of senses, that is. Perhaps next time I could bring a book from which I could read. Your healers have precious little time to spare for such things and, if you’re blessed with literate maids, it's not within their duties to do so either. Have you a preference for style and subject? Poetry, perhaps. Or a novel?"

However intent Desarae’s study there isn’t much to be learned from a Bryony’s poker (whist?) face, even when it isn’t half-bandaged to conceal the eyes. No windows here to the elder woman’s soul, only a faint smile as she protests: “It isn’t gauche, it’s refreshing… I too have heard it said,” and she names the elephant that has settled into her chambers with her, “that a blind person’s other senses grow more acute to compensate for the loss of one. If that is so it must take longer than a week or ten days,” she allows ruefully, wrinkling her nose toward the sound of Desarae’s voice, “for I’m clumsy yet, and constantly hearing things that aren’t really there.” Then the implicit promise in the phrase ‘next time’ perks up her interest and that corner of her mouth alike. “I like any book I haven’t read before, my lady,” she answers, lifting a hand from her lap to gesture wryly at where she knows her books to be. Row upon row, leatherbound in a rainbow of rich hues, all the same and all equally useless to her now. “I’m lucky to be allowed to keep Blandine and her eyes a little longer, while I accustom myself to lacking my own — I’ve been practicing,” she adds suddenly, turning over her papers again and offering them to Desarae, accidentally sideways, “and Blandine gives me marks out of ten for each.”

Those three sheets are covered in the name “Garance Lesage nó Bryony”, over and over, in roughly the same size but different degrees of crookedness both in absolute terms and in relation to one another. A few just trail off into bold lines of vexation, half inked upon the parchment and half scored into it. Inkblots abound. The last few, however, adapted to contain fewer curlicues and flourishes, are near perfect and marked thus in another hand.

“Yes, the palace servants are, shall we say, literate enough for their duties—?” the blind woman goes on. “The delivering of letters, the keeping of linen-books. I would be grateful,” she says sincerely, though with a pause to swallow as though the admission were nowhere near as sweet as the creations of Mme Durand, “for another willing pair of eyes, though I’m bound to note that it forms no part of your duties either, my lady.” She lowers her voice. “I’ll admit I’d hoped to meet you, one day, but I understood you were very much occupied with your studies…?”

“I agree, it's very likely to take longer than a week or ten days, mademoiselle," Desarae laughs, the sound a sudden thing within the solemnity of the bedchamber. "But every new beginning has a start, and what better place to start than at the beginning, don't you think?" Her eyes cut to the acolyte with that, and a tilt of her head is given the basket. "Perhaps you might put this somewhere safe?" A curl of her lip. "Somewhere cool, so nothing is spoiled." It mightn't be the height of summer, but it's a warm spring day, and warm spring days do tend rather to wreak havoc upon delicate creations of the patissière’s craft.

"Practicing?" Desarae's attention is turned to the parchment. "I'm filled with admiration for your determination," she notes as she accepts the signature-filled sheet. "You seem unwilling to allow your misfortune to gain the upper hand, and it shows a strength of character possessed by so few. I'm sure that my aunt will be happy for you to retain the services of Blandine for as long as you require her whilst your recovery continues, or at least until a permanent companion might be engaged. As to my own duties. Well…" Her smile is bright. "I'm sure that my reading to you will make a better person of me. I doubt your tastes run to my own, so it's an expansion of the mind, wouldn't you say?"

She replaces the parchment on Garance's lap-desk. "But I'm curious now. You said that you'd hope to meet me. But why? I'll admit to wanting to meet with you too, but my reasons were purely selfish." Colour lifts her complexion. "I was going to see if it would be possible to study finance at your hand."

This being a chore orders of magnitude easier than describing aloud the flaws in Garance’s signatures, Blandine — who is, in fact, on punishment duty, for though she’s an adept pupil when she’s interested she’s apt to daydream and to drop things — makes away with the basket.

Garance presses unconsciously backward into her pillows as she feels Desarae’s lean against the edge of the bed, and hears that rustle of papers suddenly closer to herself. “Ah,” she breathes out then, relaxing, and her lips curve into a broader smile as her imagination is caught. “I see… I was curious about Her Grace’s Morhban niece,” she elucidates, “because I have two Morhban half-brothers who must be in some degree cousins of yours, my lady. Not close, I’m sure, but there they are: the sons of my mother and her late consort, the baron de Bardenac. So you see I can’t help but be interested in the kin of my kin, and in how few steps it sometimes takes to link the unlikeliest of people…” A little shrug. “If you’re determined to expand your mind, my lady, I’d be the last to place any impediment in your way,” she pledges, her smile reverting to its mischievous sideways quirk. “And I’d be delighted to teach you whatever I can, of course. Perhaps…” Here the Bryony manifests. “We might trade, an hour’s lesson for an hour of reading aloud? As you see,” she lifts both hands this time, to indicate her present isolation and limited opportunities for entertainment, “I have nothing but time; and if it’s decided I cannot continue in my position here— well, I’ll need another job, won’t I?” she points out pragmatically.

"I believe the trade to be a fair one," Desarae notes, a degree of caution hinted at in her tone as she agrees to the Bryony's terms. Making a deal with so highly skilled a courtesan of her particular canon isn't something to be entered into lightly and without consideration. "I must warn you, however," and her face turns towards the bookshelves, "that I'm unfamiliar with foreign tongues, and speak only d'Angeline. Languages weren't something I studied as a novice of my house, and I'll mangle horribly any text written in such." Her smile is faint. "But you have so many books, that I'm sure we will cope."

The silk of her skirts sighs a little as she settles herself more fully upon her chair. "I could read to you now if you like, or pen some letters if you've some to send. I imagine you've not had much time to do that, and you probably have family and friends that are waiting for word from you. Like," and she smiles, "your half-brothers." Her breath escapes in a slow exhale. "Perhaps, should they visit you here, I may meet them. My time as a novice didn't allow for trips to Kusheth, so I'm mostly ignorant of that side of my family." An uncomfortable pause. "You speak as if you know for certain that there's no hope for the return of your sight. The healers have told you as much?"

“Then we’ve a deal, my lady, and I’m sure we will cope,” and there’s an easy note of pleasure in Garance’s voice as she offers the young heiress her hand to shake on it. Her grasp is warm and dry and smooth and just firm enough, the kind of handshake one instinctively feels one can trust — they teach that, at Bryony House. “A priest has already kindly sent word to my mother on my behalf and I’m sure she’ll have told the boys what happened to me. I don’t know whether they’d care to visit so dull a creature as an elder sister,” she admits candidly, “but I may be able to draw them out with promises of southern sunshine, and swimming in a different sea… We might write to invite them another day, my lady, if you don’t weary of playing the amanuensis. Today there are one or two other notes that seem more pressing, in light of…”

With the hand which lately held Desarae’s own and hasn’t quite settled again, Garance touches fingertips to linen at her temple, effecting a minute adjustment of her bandage. Cue the uncomfortable pause, at the end of which the Bryony’s fleeting cheer has dissipated and she has twined her hands firmly together upon the bedclothes covering her lap.

"They bandage my eyes to suggest there is still something to protect — from what I've overheard," she confides with cool matter-of-factness, "I should put the odds at seven-and-fifty to one against my sight returning." The look on the acolyte's face confirms her numbers. “One cannot rely upon so remote a contingency. Blandine, will you please fetch me the leather case from the second-to-bottom drawer in the left-hand armoire? The red case,” she adds.

Reddening herself, the acolyte complies.

Desarae nods as their bargain is struck, and once her hand is released it returns to its twin in her lap. "Let us hope then that you have tolerance and patience for someone that has neglected not only an interest in foreign languages, but to whom figurework also remains quite the mystery. My tutor despairs." Beyond Garance's senses, the young heiress' lower lip juts in a moue, and her voice lowers as she adds, "Not that he's not good, for my aunt has furnished me with the finest. It's just that he's just so…" her breath escapes in a drawn out sigh, "… dry." She leaves it at that.

"It does, however, sadden me that you place such low odds on the return of your sight, mademoiselle." She pauses as the acolyte returns with the leather case, adjusting the lace of her cuff where it kisses her wrist, in anticipation, perhaps, for the ink she is shortly to deal with. (For it’d be a fool of a person whom would dangle lace upon their penmanship.) "But my aunt is a generous woman,” she further adds as the case is delivered, “and as your blindness is a direct result of your dedication to your duties, I'm certain that she would see you comfortably settled should you be unable to continue." And having spoken, she falls quiet, allowing Garance a moment to process what she's said.

The red leather case is sturdy and beautifully made, a rectangle five inches high with a pair of brass latches on one of its longer sides. When Blandine places it on the bed Garance’s hands, at first, grope hesitantly toward it: then, finding its surface, she grows confident and shifts it into her lap. The catches open easily to her touch. She lifts the lid to reveal a set of hourglasses in different sizes, each nestled in a velvet-lined depression made to fit it exactly. The gilding at the top and bottom of each piece extends a little way over the glass as tendrils of greenery, and what any amateur botanists present might recognise as bryony and sage flowers.

Garance acknowledges the tutor’s dryness with a wrinkle of her retroussé nose and a nod which doesn’t interrupt. And then beneath Desarae’s reassurances she bows her head.

“Her Grace has indeed been kind to me,” she agrees softly, “and I know her by repute to be a just and a perspicacious woman. I’m certain that whatever decision she arrives at will be wise and well-considered, in Eisande’s best interests… but I confess I do hope that I have not yet come to such a pass that she is of greater utility to me, than I to her.” While she speaks her fingertips play across red velvet and curved glass; lifting her head and her voice, she tilts the open case toward Desarae as a ready means of changing the subject. “I assure you these are precisely calibrated, for use in gaming tournaments… This,” and she selects the correct size, knowing the feel of it in her hand, “is one hour. Blandine, on the table, please, where Lady Desarae can see it—?” She holds out the chosen hourglass before her but then seems reluctant to let it go. “Have you got it? … There,” she sighs, surrendering the precious object without having fumbled or dropped it. “And you’ll turn it over when the lady is ready to begin?”

Now that the moment has come Garance seems anxious: to know what’s being done, to know it’s done correctly. She shuts the lid of her red case and fastens it, distractedly fingering the leather, listening to Desarae possessing herself of the lap desk that’s already to hand with a quill in the stand for it and ample quantities of good parchment in the drawer. All a volunteer amanuensis need do is unlatch the lid of the silver inkwell, which Blandine prudently shut before answering the door, and compose herself to write in her hostess’s thick, raven-black ink.

“Are you ready? Then — let’s begin… My dear Monsieur Duvernay," the Bryony breathes out as the sands begin to fall— and, after the manner of one used to giving dictation, she pauses to spell out 'Duvernay', and pauses regularly thereafter until she hears the quill in Desarae’s hand catch up with her words and its soft scratching fall silent again in anticipation. "Your name has reached me as that of one who has studied the art of lens-grinding in Angoulême, and who might be amenable to accepting a small commission from me…”

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