(1311-04-21) Charming Fellows
Summary: Symon must prove he ain’t afeared of plague. Along the way he learns of another disaster dodged.
RL Date: 21/04/2019
Related: In Good Part, One At A Time.
garance symon 

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 term of Garance nó Bryony's appointment as deputy treasurer to Her Grace the duchesse d'Eisande has been brief enough, thus far, that not every maid and lackey on the palace staff knows which upper floor suite is hers— tracking her down is a minor test of Symon's resolve, as if he needed another.

At length, but before he might give up and go and have a drink, a brightly-smiling young woman in the garb of an upper servant or a merchant's clerk shows him into a sitting-room that seems to have had most of its organs removed. There's a sofa, a desk, little more. The chamber's chief occupant is a red and white tulip sunning itself in a blue and white pot on the windowsill. But double doors into an adjacent room stand open, and there she is: the woman last seen genially fleecing him at cards, sitting up now in her bed in a pale green silk jacket of vaguely foreign aspect, surrounded by books. She looks thinner than she did a few weeks past in the Leaping Fish, and a trifle wan. There's a curious sort of linen bandage wrapped around her head and covering her eyes — but below it, she's smiling.

"Lord Symon! How kind of you to come… I'm afraid I've no new dress to show you," she confesses, and the corner of her mouth rises in playful greeting.

Symon has come armed with a basket. He holds it in both hands. When people are angry with him, a basket is often a good step toward a solution. So perhaps it will serve as armor for this encounter, too, and provide cheer as well. On the top of the basket is a nosegay of fragrant lilies of the valley. Symon himself has an unusual odor — he smells of herbs from an oil that some quack has advised he anoint himself with to guard against contagion. Symon hesitates a little on crossing the threshold, but he does after a nod to himself. "G…ood day," Symon bids her. "Oh, b-but none of that. I w…will let you dazzle me the n-next time. I heard that you…had some illness. It m…must have b-been awful. Did-did you have p…people around you to c— to care for you?" He brings the flowers closer. "The lilies of the v… the v…" A pause, and he gives up on the word, "They're b-blooming and I thought you m-might like to smell them." He must have heard the rumors of the results of her affliction.

… And at something in Symon's speech the corner lower again, and Garance's mouth returns again to the guise of a tranquil and shapely pink rosebud. "Yes, I was quite unwell," and she gives a careless-sounding sigh, "but I am much recovered, thanks to the care given me by Eisheth's order. Marsilikos is the finest and safest place in the world to be ill; I shall recommend it so to all my friends," she says lightly, "for their own complaints. Won't you sit?" she suggests. "I'm very fond of flowers," she confides encouragingly, "especially the smallest ones. My name— a 'Garance' is a small red flower, which was my father's favourite."

There's a chair at either side of the bed, probably closer than Symon would on his own elect to sit. The girl who let him in is just now returning from the sitting-room — the study? — with a glass of wine, which she proffers.

"W…we don't have to talk of it if you don't l…like," Symon says, perhaps even hopeful that she will not want to talk about things like illness. Oh, but he has to sit in close. Well. There is no helping it. He takes a breath and leans forward to gently put the nosegay into the deputy treasurer's hand. "Oh," he says. "I do not know the flower. B-but it m…must be quite p-p-pretty." He settles down on the chair. "I b-brought other things I thought you m…might like. Although…I don't know if you can eat? I didn't think of that. I brought a j- a cherry j…jamoh, thank you" he breaks off to accept the wine gratefully, "And a cheese that I f…ind good and a uisghe b-but also something that they call 'ice w-wine?' I have not sampled it b…but they say it is s-sweet. W…hereas the uisghe is not. I did not know your tastes so I got b-b-both. Small b-bottles." His stutter does seem worse than the last time they met. Or perhaps it is just that he is talking entirely too much.

The lily-of-the-valley's tiny bells brush against Garance's hand, which turns to accept the nosegay: her fingers fumble, uncertain of the size of it or how the flowers might be fastened together, unwilling to crush anything so delicate by her haste. Her hand covers Symon's for a moment and then moves upward over the stalks to achieve, at last, a grasp secure enough that he might let go… "I'm sorry," she sighs, "I'm very clumsy at present." And then, yes, she hides the rest of her face in the flowers and breathes their fragrance, longingly. "How I looked forward to this southern spring," she murmurs to the bells, shaking her head.

"Oh, p…please do not apologize," Symon says softly, leaning towards her. He forgets for the moment that the air nearest her may be the most threatening of all. "To b…be honest, it is gray and drizzling today. B-but I think it shall b…be a nice summer, anyway," he says, based on absolutely nothing, "W…with w-warmth and fine fruits and green smells…" He looks at Garance's face and the bandage over it. For a long moment he does not know what to say. "I ended up w…with a foreign f-frog in m…my p-possession," he says. Surely the frog is a good topic of conversation whatever the situation. "I don't suppose you know anything about frogs?"

<FS3> Garance rolls Frogs: Failure. (3 4 5 1)

"Frogs—?" inquires Garance in quite a different tone. Her head lifts and reveals that she's smiling again, as though slimy little critters who say 'ribbit' hold a greater allure even than tiny fragrant bells. "No, I don't," she confesses with regret. "Where did it come from? How did you come upon it?"

"That m…makes two of us," Symon says with a note of humor in his voice. "S…someone gave it to me. Someone I hardly know. I m…met her in the street, seeing she w…was gazing at something, and there it w-was, and she w…wanted to m-make a b-bigger box for it to live in so she asked m…me to keep it out of the w…way for her, and then she had to m-make a table for Lord B…Belmont…" So that, to Symon's mind, explains it. "I couldn't remember w…what frogs eat b-but I think I have figured it out b-by now." He pauses. "It is called François," he thinks to add. "I named it." Of course he did.

"She wanted to make a bigger box," Garance repeats, with the air of one turning over a pearl between her fingertips, "and so she gave you her frog to look after. I see. Symon, I wish you'd come and see me every day," she confesses, and covers her smile with lily-of-the-valley for another swift sniff of spring. "You tell much better stories than my other callers. But tell me about François the frog," she urges. Her curiosity seems as genuine as it is eager — at least, inasmuch as an interlocutor can be expected to tell without seeing her eyes. "What does he look like? How big is he? Will he have his new box soon, do you suppose?"

Symon lets out a little laugh. "P-people usually tell me I get my stories confused too easily," he confesses. "B-but this one at least I am rather clear on." He can be proud of that. His hand goes to a pocket and he holds something while he tells the story, basket balanced on his knees. Only then he thinks better and puts the basket on the floor where he is slightly less likely to upset it. "It is about the size of my fist and it has a lot of b-blue on it and some green and a little red along its legs. Terribly b-bright. Catherine has p…promised the new b-box soon, b-but…" A certain note of doubt. "Anyway, Étienne has said it is all right to keep for a w…while. Only I'm not allowed any other p-pets w…while we have it. But that is all right." He doesn't remember if he has ever even mentioned Étienne to Garance before. But while he has been caught up in the narration his stutter has mostly receded to its usual level.

Her visitor's fidgeting is happily lost upon Garance, who is trying to remember if ever she saw a real frog as opposed to a specimen sketched or embroidered, and replacing the green of convention with the red and the blue of novelty… "Well, I think your friend is sensible. He's the one you played with at Bryony House, isn't he? And your friend Catherine, she makes tables as well as boxes? You do know the most interesting people, Symon. But I wonder—" This thread, she begins to unravel with more care, pausing to draw a breath and sigh it out clasp both her hands more comfortably around the nosegay in her lap. "If you've only the one pet at a time, you must see rather a lot of François, no? Do you often touch him?"

"Yes," Symon says, enthusiastic that Garance has made this connection and incidentally reminded him of what he told her last time. "Yes. That is him. Extremely sensible. B-but yes, she is some sort of…joiner, or I don't know w…what you call it. Not carpenter. Craftsperson, anyway. V…very good, I gather." He thinks a little at the question she poses. "M…mostly I have b-been hiding it a little and also trying to figure out w…what it eats. So do you know, I don't think I have ever touched it. Are they slimy, do you suppose? It seems to go in w…water some of the time and b-be on a rock other times." As much as he is fidgeting a little, he does seem happy to be drawn into this conversation by his host's charm.

"François probably is quite slimy to the touch," Garance agrees, "but I think there may be another reason you won't wish to handle him, Symon. I don't know a great deal about frogs, you understand," she disclaims carefully, "but I have at one time or another," and there she sounds dry, as well she might, "conversed at length with sailors who are accustomed to travel to the most unusual places and to see the most unusual creatures. From what I have heard," again the caution, "about spiders and snakes and so on, it seems that the most brightly-coloured creatures are the likeliest to be poisonous. It's a kind of warning from Mother Nature. I do hope you'll be careful, Symon, for as long as you're looking after him — just in case," she urges, with a nigh-palpable concern for his welfare.

Symon seems startled to hear this. "P…poisonous?" he repeats incredulously. Life is throwing so many hazards his way, lately! Is this punishment for not being married? "Goodness. W-well, then I suppose w…we ought not to touch it. B-but it has such a friendly little face, with a big sort of m…mouth curving round from eye to eye. Really François is a charming fellow."

"It's possible, yes," the Bryony says seriously; and then something amuses her and the corner of her mouth quirks upward again. "You must take my word as a courtesan," she teases, "when I say that sometimes charming fellows with broad smiles who dress beautifully do prove poisonous in the end."

"Oh dear," Symon says, and then he laughs. "I see!" He looks at Garance a moment. "You know, w…when we m-met I could see that you w…were awfully clever. And I thought m…maybe you were laughing at me the whole w-while. But I can see that you are not laughing at m…me, it is only your w…wit that is natural to you. You are nice. Nice enough at least to keep m…me from p-poison. It's not deadly, is it?" he wonders, though his hostess has already indicated that she has no direct knowledge.

<FS3> Garance rolls Frogs: Failure. (6 2 4 2)

"Well, I'm glad you think so," says Garance easily of her purported niceness; "and I'm sorry I made such a poor impression at first, when I did like you so much. I like to laugh, too, I suppose, because it's such a good proof against weeping… especially lately. I really don't know anything about frogs or poison," she insists, "but I might have a book that could tell you something, if you knew where in the world François was born. Or— Calinthe, are you there?" she inquires of the young woman who has made herself scarce since bringing Symon his wine.

That curly dark head pops round the door again. "Yes, mademoiselle?"

"Will you get down a volume for me? I think it is on…" Garance lifts a hand and indicates first which side of the chamber she means, her gesture faltering at first and then increasingly certain as she points a finger; her borrowed clerk follows the line of it, her own hand hovering over leather bindings. "The second shelf up," she declares, nodding to herself, "to the immediate left of the windows. A dark blue binding, with silver, about an inch thick. The journeys of Vasco da Gama, in Aragonian. Do you read Aragonian? No matter, you might still read it out to me. Two thirds of the way through, perhaps, there is something about— something about frogs, or it may be lizards, I think on the left-hand page? Frog is 'rana'," she pronounces, the word rolling off her tongue; "lizard is 'lagartija'."

"I do not mean to make you sad about first impressions," Symon says. "M…mine are usually terrible." He pauses thoughtfully, then admits, "I don't know w…where it came from." He is quiet, watching her memory working and her gestures. "Heavens, I b-barely read d'Angeline," he confesses, looking curious whether this Calinthe can read Aragonian, impressed that Garance can. "I hate to p-put you to the trouble. Only m…maybe it is a p-poor idea to keep it in the house if it is deadly. It m…might jump."

<FS3> Garance rolls Frogs: Success. (5 8 6 6)

"I know a little, mademoiselle," admits Calinthe, turning over pages.

"Oh, then you'll be able to find the passage," says Garance at once, sounding pleased, not to mention absolutely confident that said passage will turn up where she said it would. She understands Symon's concern at once: "Frogs do jump," she agrees; "if this is lizards after all I shall see if I can think of the right person to write to on François's behalf. There must be someone."

Calinthe's eyebrows rise. "Mademoiselle…? This says 'rana', four times," she admits, turning toward the bed and tapping the open book in her hand.

"Oh, how lovely," and then Garance is intent upon the recitation of several paragraphs of Aragonian, interrupting only twice to correct the girl's pronunciation. Her fastidiousness is absent-minded and passes no judgment. "… Well, it seems there is a yellow frog from which the natives of that place knew how to collect poison enough to kill twenty men," she observes at last; "and there is a red and blue and green frog," she beams into the middle distance as though she's just received an even sweeter bouquet of flowers, "which a member of the crew was foolish enough to touch, and his hand swelled up and he couldn't keep anything in his stomach for three days. But then he was all right," she insists.

Symon looks absolutely mystified by the witchcraft of multilingualism, but Garance will miss out on that. "Twenty m…men," Symon says. "Heavens. B-but. The frog that is like François is not so bad." He sounds cheered to hear it. "He is certainly not yellow." One thing that Symon is /not/ is color-blind. "Although that does sound unpleasant, I shall w…warn Étienne of it."

Symon has a skill! Yay! "There may be more than one frog in the world with those colours," muses Garance as Calinthe restores that somewhat exaggerated memoir to its appointed place — entre nous yellow frogs can barely kill ten men, and the frog-fancier on da Gama's crew was merely off his lunch that day, "but still, it would be wise for you to take care. Dull as life would be without a little risk in it, some risks simply aren't worth the taking… You might make sure your friend Catherine knows the tale as well, the next time you see her."

"Yes, of course," Symon agrees with Garance's sage advice, impressed and bewildered though he is that Garance even has the power to contradict something that is written in a book. "I will tell her also before she is in any danger. And my servant, I suppose. Though he will not like it. I think perhaps I need to give him a little extra this month." Roberts has had a great deal to put up with.

Garance nods her assent to this idea. "Whether or not François has discommoded him, he'll be pleased with your consideration," she agrees and lowers her voice as if to confide a secret. "I must admit, as soon as you go I shall offer Calinthe something from the basket you've been kind enough to bring me. She has only come to look after me for a few days— but she's doing so beautifully, as you see."

Whereupon the basket naturally becomes the focus of everyone’s attention, and its riches are explored and exclaimed over in a matter no doubt gratifying to the young man who relies so heavily upon its ilk when wading into deep waters. Calinthe’s service is rewarded; Garance seems delighted with the sweet things, though she doesn’t yet partake; she lets Symon go at length, reluctantly, carrying her regards to the most excellent François.

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