(1311-04-21) The Danseur in Harbour
Summary: The return of a prodigal danseur to his partner of ten years past. So much has changed — but the kernel of their dispute remains between them.
RL Date: 13/03/2019 - 25/03/2019
Related: None.
chimene stephane 

Salon — Ducal Suite — Rousse Residence

This expansive salon is paneled in soft grey boiseries with dainty and understated details picked out in fresh white, and many mirrors embedded in simple gilded surrounds. Crosshatched parquet underfoot is executed in rare amber and golden hardwoods, and polished to a glorious beeswaxed sheen; overhead, there hangs a large crystal and gilt chandelier surrounded by four smaller satellites, capable of providing a ferocious blaze of light on evenings when the mirrored and gilded candle-stands placed here and there are considered insufficient.

Opposite one another, set in the walls to the left and the right as one enters from the landing, are two sizable fireplaces in blue-veined marble, and above each a painting by a master of two centuries ago: views of Namarre as it was then, of old Courcel castles long since abandoned and gone to seed. Chairs and chaises the clean lines of which are gilded and upholstered in smoke-blue silk form strictly symmetrical arrangements in association with occasional tables. In cool weather these are centered upon the fireplaces. When it's warmer they migrate toward the four pairs of tall casement windows framed by smoke-blue silken drapes which open upon a broad white marble terrace leading down into the gardens.

Doors likewise to the left and the right of the salon open into two sets of palatial private chambers, for the use of each half of a married couple.

When the Danseur makes port in Marsilikos early one morning in spring the Rousse officials who are the first to board her, have been charged with a certain urgent responsibility.

They don’t know why — at least, presumably they’re making their own guesses. There’s a man aboard, one Stéphane nó Eglantine, who might now be going by another name, but the physical description of him is quite thorough and of course a former courtesan of Mont Nuit does stand out, even after so long… Whatever his own plans, he’s seen off the ship before any other passengers, before a single ounce of cargo; and he’s put into a carriage which has been idling dockside since the night before, the coachman relieved by another at dawn.

He’s deposited in the courtyard before a palatial residence in the city’s noble quarter, at this hour clean and quiet and cool. What little luggage he has vanishes into the house even before he’s got across the threshold himself: he’s escorted by that chief Rousse official before whom the ship’s captain bowed so obsequiously, past liveried lackeys, up stairs, through a spacious foyer directly above which serves as an antechamber to the principal apartments.

She’s waiting by the windows, at the far side of the salon.

The drapes are drawn back to allow the morning light to filter through, in lieu of any other lighting but that given by the fires in the twin marble hearths opposite one another. The grey boiseries are soft at this hour, the crystal and the gilt scarcely shimmering.

When she hears the doors flung open by her servants’ hands she digs her well-kept fingernails into her palms, closes her eyes against the light at the other side of those large and expensive panes of glass, and takes in and lets out a breath before she turns around.

Perhaps at first glance she’s the same woman she always was: unusually tall, unusually lean, long in every limb and dignified in her carriage. Her gown is of dark blue silk, its perfect cut and unrelieved plainness speaking to anyone raised in the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers of astonishing expense, flawless taste, the care of the most skillful of servants— especially when she moves, when the soft sighing fullness of her skirts makes itself gently apparent to the eye, a hint of white lace below her hem flashing very bright in the half-lit chamber to which she has had him so peremptorily brought. She still moves like the dancer she was or she is, her feet finding their way so delicately in flat silk slippers dyed to match her gown, her hands lifting…

But now there’s a glitter of jewels upon her fingers, which there never was before.

Her lips part. She only says, “Stéphane…?” As though, even with him there before her, it’s hard to believe: her clear hazel eyes are wide with an interest she can’t hide.

While it might have been more prudent to travel under an assumed name, the former courtesan’s sheer vanity prevents him. He is still Stéphane nó Eglantine who was once the toast of Terre d’Ange and he’ll be damned if he’s going to hide that away even if there might now be few who would remember him, save this woman who’s had him brought here.

But then this woman has always been the other side to his coin, even after ten years estranged. They share the look of long limbed elegance, the movements that can’t help but be graceful, the straight backed posture and the years of hard work and training that have made them second nature. Where Chimène’s hair and clothes are dark, so Stéphane’s hair has grown paler in the time in warmer climes and his snugly tailored outfit is an almost too brilliant white, piped with gold trim. The years have been rather good to him, age maturing his features from the precocious boy that he was to a handsome man, the lines of a life spent without some of the easy comforts that he’d come to expect actually rounding him out.

He’s not daft, of course. When the liveried Rousse man singled him out on board there was only likely to have been one hand behind it, pulling the strings, but he was expecting to be lodged for an evening, perhaps, and then escorted to Nice. Certainly when he was shown into the salon, Chimène was the last person he expected to see there waiting for him.

It only takes him a moment to regain his composure — balance always did come naturally to him — before he’s able to offer that same old smile, a little more tired these days but still the same Stéphane. “Chimène,” he offers in response, matching her tone exactly. “If I’d known you were here, I would have brought you peonies.”

Her large but graceful feet eat up the parquet. Suddenly she’s there, looking into his eyes, resting a hand upon his arm an instant before she leans in to press a kiss to his cheek. She still doesn’t paint: her lips are her own natural soft pink, and leave no mark but the invisible.

Then she stands back, though her hand remains to make sure of the continuing reality of him.

“I hate peonies,” she says first of all, helplessly sincere, absolving him. “… I had your letter last night,” and, this close, she looks like it: thinner and more tired than he knew her, with faint dark smudges beneath each eye in token of a restless night. The sleekness of her hair, too, lends her an ascetic look: she used to wear it down most of the time, but now it’s parted in the middle and gathered into a severely plain dark brown chignon. “I thought…” Her hand tightens just slightly — and then, by an effort, it loosens again. “Well, how was your journey? What would you like first?” she asks simply, chin lifted. “Wine, or a bath, or something to eat?”

His hand comes naturally to rest on hers. Perhaps once his hands would have gone to her waist, but it’s been a long time and that time and distance have rendered him more reticent, more tentative. After all, last they spoke to each other this close the words were not particularly kind. Perhaps it’s that thought that prompts him to point out softly, “You’ve forgiven me, then? I’m not sure I’ve yet forgiven you.”

There’s another of those sardonic smiles and his hand matches hers as she squeezes. “I was expecting to find an inn for the night, a bite and a change of clothes at least before I saw you,” he admits, “I must look a state. Wine? It’s been a long journey for sure.” Both the literal, recent trip on the Danseur, presumably, and a more metaphorical one.

His smile widens, face softening considerably. “Chimène, you’ve barely changed a bit,” he lies. “It’s… I can’t describe how wonderful it is to see you again. In the flesh. Here.”

Chimène is hanging on fairly capably, behind that Courcel mask she always did have in reserve for when she might need it, until— he tells her it’s wonderful. As if she didn’t know. However much of it is a falsehood, passes by her even though in another way she does know the truth.

“I didn’t think of forgiveness,” she admits, her eyes welling with tears which don’t quite fall. “Hasn’t it been long enough that we might begin again—?” And she looks away and her hand lifts from his arm, her fingers curling up into his, to lead him with her to a sofa drawn up close to the fireplace on the right-hand side of the salon. Wine is waiting, silver goblets encrusted with gems, a silver platter of unseasonal fruit, pastries fresh and still warm from the city’s finest bakery, all that a visitor could hope to find during such an interview. Warmth. Luxury. Surfeit.

Chimène sits on the edge of the sofa, straight-backed and tense, still bringing Stéphane’s hand along to lead him down next to her… And then, as soon as they’re sitting side by side, she lets go in order to pour the wine, to offer the fruit, to tend to him, to be the consummate hostess her birth and breeding and tuition and position and dignity, do all of them dictate.

“We can,” Stéphane offers guardedly. “We might… if you can honestly tell me right now that this,” to which he accepts his wine and uses it to gesture around the room in general, the fruits, the pastries, a roll of the eyes upwards to the painting over the fireplace, “was all worth it?”

He hesitates, taking a breath and a sip from his drink as he marshals his thoughts.

“But we’ve had this argument, and you’re as stubborn as a mule, and you’d lie to me anyway. Oh, but Chimène, remember how we used to be? How the world used to look at us? We had everything.”

By then Chimène has her own goblet in her hands, and she drinks thirstily before setting it down with a beautiful and arrogant gesture. “Was what? Worth what?” she demands of him, with her eyes suddenly dried by fire. “Worth— postponing, by a year or two, what was inevitable anyway? What happened to you as well? … It would never,” and her voice softens again, “it would never have lasted much longer than it did. Nothing like what we had then ever does endure. The difference between you and I is that I never let myself suppose that it might.”

“The difference between you and I,” comes the counter, and it’s an old argument that neither of them could ever back down from in the first place, “is that you chose to give it up. For this. For wine and pastry, and exotic fruit, and the adoration of hundreds of simpering sycophants for the sake of a stupid word in front of your name, instead of… of everything.”

There’s that same frustration in incomprehension of why anyone would deliberately choose to eschew their passion, amplified by the fact that between them they were the best. It’s not anger, however, the time for that has long passed. He sets aside his wine, reaching to grasp her hands. “Don’t you remember how it was? Is all of this worth even a single day of the pair of us, dancing? You gave it up,” he adds, tone bewildered, subdued, and betrayed, “for the sake of raspberries out of season and a painting of yourself next to your ancestors on the wall.”

Her hands escape his before he can even get hold, her long white fingers with all their richness of jewels springing away and her too-thin frame stiffening as she rises again onto her feet and takes a couple of swishing, full-skirted strides away around the table.

Then, standing by the fire, her long half-bare arm extended and her wrist resting beauteously angled against the mantel, she chokes out the words without looking at him. “Do you think a day passes upon which I don’t remember? But if all you have to give me is reproaches for what was never my own choice, then I don’t know why you wrote to me, or why you’re here in my house, or why you’d speak to me at all… You must choose,” she demands suddenly, turning around in a swirl of skirts which pass so close to the fire they almost catch alight; “whether you’ll let it be, or you won’t. I won’t hear it again after so long, when it’s so fruitless.”

Stéphane rises when she does - he has to, he’s her mirror image, after all - and as she offers this ultimatum unconsciously echoes her pose, his own long fingers resting on the mantelpiece at the other end like some long forgotten barre.

“I’ll still never understand,” he admits candidly, offering over his unoccupied hand in an elegant gesture of truce. “But I can let it be. It’s been a long time. Just tell me that you’d make the same decision again, if you had to choose today. Then I’ll let it be.”

<FS3> Chimène rolls Composure+1: Good Success. (2 2 8 2 1 7 2 4 4 1 2 6 1)
Chimène spends 1 luck points on Holding it together.
Chimène rolls Composure+1: Great Success. (7 1 8 4 1 4 8 8 4 5 2 6 8)

Chimène glances away toward the salon’s outer doors. Then as Stéphane comes nearer her head, still held high and proud, turns a few slow degrees and her gaze lifts through her long eyelashes into the chivalric playground of the ancient Courcel estate depicted masterfully in oils over her hearth. She affects at first not to notice the man or his hand; she shows him only her profile, her regal features carved from ivory, her swanlike throat rising from shoulders left bare by her plain blue gown. When she looks to him again it’s from behind a pale and smooth and genial mask, limned with a faint smile of apology for her distraction. Only someone who knows her body so intimately in every inch might distinguish a residual tension, held in check.

“… Yes, it has been a long time,” she agrees in a particularly airy soprano, as her hand lowers from the mantel to clasp its mate at her waist. “But I am so pleased that you came to see me, Stéphane. Of course I have had chambers prepared for you here, for as long as you wish to rest from your journey — but you must tell me what else I might do for you, to aid you in your return to Terre d’Ange. Have you any particular plans?” she asks encouragingly. For rather than answer his question she has elected to overlook its ill grace, to play the hostess, to play the princess. Or is it playing, when for a decade’s span this has been her life?

Not for a moment do the man’s pale eyes leave her, taking in every movement, every gesture, every twitch of every muscle and every tiny sign of tension, well hidden as it might be. His hand remains outstretched, a perfectly formed curve from shoulder through to wrist that’s automatic now after years of training, only lowering a few seconds after she speaks to him and it’s apparent that there will be no truce today.

“I’m more than grateful that you’d take me in,” he admits, that hauntingly familiar old half-smile tugging at the corner of his lips once again. “I’m not sure that I even know anyone still in Terre D’Ange these days, not that I could call on and have… well, this,” He gestures widely with one arm. “No questions asked, a room, even a welcoming committee fresh off the boat. Would it be very rude of me to ask for more?”

Well, yes — but it’s a little late now for him to come over bashful about it.

Chimène’s smile doesn’t waver. “Why, is this the first time I’ve heard you underestimate your charms—?” she teases coolly. “But why don’t we speak later, when you’ve rested? You can tell me all about it, then, and your adventures since last we met.”

She comes nearer in a soft waft of skirts and tucks her bejeweled hand through Stéphane’s arm, leading him away from the warmth of the wine and the fire and toward the double doors to the corridor. Her spine is, as ever, tremendously straight, and her poise absolute. Her dark head, just below his paler one, inclines slightly to present to him a visibly listening ear as they walk together back across that expanse of polished parquet. “I’m engaged to attend an old friend’s card-party this evening, but perhaps we might have supper afterwards…?”

They fall quite naturally into step as they walk, the taller man glancing aside to her as he inhales and does his best to identify the scent. It’s not familiar, but then neither are the surroundings, the only thing that hasn’t changed except to grow a few years older and pick up all the cares of those years being the woman at his side. Except even that’s a lie. She might be a completely different person altogether, even if her features are the same.

“Once I’ve bathed and made myself presentable,” Stéphane suggests, his hand lightly touching her knuckles. “And, naturally, returned to my usual wholly charming state so that I can overestimate my abilities as usual. I’ll see if I can find a bottle of a decent white for a little nightcap..?”

The touch is of necessity a brief one; Chimène inhales, and then without quite seeming to hurry about it she lifts her hand from his arm and draws open both doors. The two footmen Stéphane saw coming in are still at their posts, matched in height and breadth and wig.

“Will you please show Monsieur Stéphane to his chambers?” Chimène inquires of one. It hardly matters which. It’s hardly an inquiry, either. Without waiting to see her servant turn and bow to her she looks to her guest and speaks over the man’s melodious Eisandine murmur of, “Very good, milady,” her own cosmopolitan accent rising crisp and clear. “You’ll find your breakfast waiting,” she assures Stéphane, smiling tranquilly, “and I shall look forward to demonstrating to you the excellence of our cellar. We have such excellent wine country here in the south.”

Training overrides familiarity as he offers polite and effusive thanks, the requisite short bow and smile that he’s relied upon to get his way so much in more recent years. But then would it have to override familiarity? Is there anything still familiar about Chimène?

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