(1311-04-22) The Virtues of Necessity
Summary: Desarae pursues her financial studies with the palace’s resident Bryony.
RL Date: 22/04/2019 - 28/04/2019
Related: A Letter to Leonard, An Unlikely Amanuensis, 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 next time Desarae Mereliot calls to see Garance nó Bryony, most of the furniture has been moved out of the main room of her suite — in lieu of which, it seems full of people. She is shown inside not by Blandine, but by a girl of about the same age with curly dark hair and a ready smile, who announces her to the others in clear and confident accents.

The incumbent deputy treasurer of Eisande is also today the incumbent of her broad mahogany desk, sitting in the leather chair behind it dressed in a modest gown of buttercup-yellow linen. Her bandage is gone. In its place she wears a pair of delicately-wrought gold-framed spectacles, set with large round lenses of glass smoked to a shining blackness. Her sightless eyes thus offer no windows upon her soul, but display to others the reflection of their own. She’s laughing mellifluously, courtesan that she is; she catches herself and exclaims, “There, monsieur, we have sat talking so long that I forgot the advancing hour. May I make you known to my loveliest pupil? Lady Desarae, this is Jehan-Renaud Marcotte, of the House of Mercury: quite the cleverest banker in Marsilikos, as those who don’t yet see soon shall.”

The man seated across from her rises and sweeps a suitable bow to the Chavaise heiress. He’s in his late thirties or early forties, attired for the season and in sober good taste: he’s good-looking in an ordinary, d’Angeline way. “My lady, it is an honour.”

The young woman who answered the door meanwhile returns to Garance’s side of the desk and resumes fussing with a set of dainty golden scales. The desk itself is casually littered with papers, purses, a velvet-lined red leather box before Garance, whence must have come the scales. They’re in the style of her hourglasses, the central pillar twined with sage leaves. The fourth party to the current transaction is standing behind the chair from which Monsieur Marcotte arises, with a leather document case lying open on the corner of the desk nearest him. His hands are clasped behind his back. Courteously, less floridly, he echoes his master’s bow.

“… And now we must make haste,” decides Garance. “Calinthe, is all well?”

“Yes, mademoiselle,” the curly-headed clerk confirms. And she removes the marked iron weights she was using to calibrate the scales and places an ingot of gold in one pan instead. Slowly, she adds fragments of iron to the other pan, and the balance shifts.

Desarae has come furnished with her own entourage; a maid to carry three volumes of what look to be financial ledgers, and her grey-garbed Cassiline. The room feels suddenly that much smaller, though Desarae is quick to rectify that since she directs her maid to set her burden down before dismissing her. She wears a spring green gown of silk with silver threadwork, and silver combs secure her hair where one of her maids has meticulously styled it into an elegant chignon for today's meeting.

"Monsieur Marcotte." Desarae dips her chin in an acknowledgement of the introduction. "How lovely to meet you. That is quite the reputation that Mademoiselle Garance has bestowed upon you. Perhaps it shall be my pleasure some day to find out the truth of it." A glance is allowed to the others there present, and the smile with which she'd greeted Jehan-Renaud is shifted a fraction to encompass them also. "Mademoiselle. Monsieur." Finger pleat together before her, and she directs her gaze towards Garance. "I see you are not dallying in your recuperation, mademoiselle. I expected to find you laid out in your bed still. But hush me, I can see that you're busy, and so I'll explore your collection of books whilst you finish this business before commencing with ours."

The clerk Calinthe, less dreamy and more conscientious in these matters than the acolyte Blandine, reports to Garance in an undertone whilst adding ever-smaller tidbits of iron to balance the ingot: “The lady’s maid brought three ledgers and put them on the sofa. She has gone; the Cassiline looked around and now he is standing just inside the front door.”

Garance’s smile doesn’t waver as she inclines her head toward the latest source of Desarae’s voice. “Oh, please stay, my lady,” she invites. “The business is only my own, and as you heard the beginning of the tale it seems only fitting you hear the end. Come and stand beside me for a moment, and I shall explain to you how reckless I’m being with this bill of exchange. You see, because I require the funds so much sooner than the date originally agreed upon with my banker in Elua, and the bank will thus have use of them for a lesser period of time, I must accept a certain negotiated discount upon the sum payable to me here in Marsilikos…”

The scales being now in perfect alignment, Calinthe clears her throat and pronounces to all assembled the weight of the gold. “That agrees with my receipt from Madame Grès,” Garance confirms serenely, and the ingot vanishes from one clerk’s keeping into the other’s. Calinthe confides the weights to the compartment in the red leather case whence they came, and the scales after them. For naturally the clerks, kept on their feet all this while, see to such tedious little matters on behalf of their respective and comfortably seated principals.

Then it seems Garance’s signature is required on several documents, each of which the banker’s clerk presents to her in turn— and each of which she then places before the eyes of the heiress to the marquisate of Chavaise, the duchesse d’Eisande’s own prized and petted niece, ingenuously explaining to her what it is and taking her through the figures and phrases which ought to be inscribed upon it. Mirabile dictu, the text agrees with her narrative. Calinthe provides a quill dipped in black ink and Garance signs her name, three times, flawlessly.

The final courtesies are extensive, as is only to be expected; the banker and the deputy treasurer clasp one another’s hands with every indication of great fondness; the future marquise receives her due in every respect; and then the Mercury contingent extricates itself whole and entire, Garance dispatching Calinthe to escort the others from the palace precincts and to go down into the city and deliver a letter and a purse to the lens-grinder M. Duvernay.

Her chambers are suddenly quiet — and in that quiet she admits her tactics straightforwardly to Desarae. "I hope you don't mind that I kept them till you arrived, my lady. I doubt the House of Mercury would cheat me — but they would scarcely risk doing so with the next marquise de Chavaise as witness. Any paper that was not what it ought to be would have vanished from my desk under the pretext of a clerk's mistake… and you may take it for granted that a broadening web of Eisandine bankers will hear now that you are taking counsel from a Bryony, and that it would be unwise to practice upon your youth and inexperience in financial matters."

Whilst it cannot be said that Desarae fully understands the legalities of the paperwork as placed before her, no evidence of that fact is to be found on her face. Hands knotted at her back, she gravely witnesses the signing of the documents, and nods amicably to the departing contingent once all is concluded.

"I was given to understand that in matters of finance, none come close to the Eluan-trained courtesans of House Bryony, and this I've now witnessed. You are exceptionally clever, mademoiselle." Released of her requirement to hover at Garance's shoulder she steps away, and the quiet rustle of her skirts and the placement of her slippered feet upon the floor are audible enough that the other woman will be able to track her movements across the room. When she speaks again, it’s from close to the window upon which the tulip in its blue and white pot is displayed. "I feel ill-prepared to take the reins of Chavaise on reaching my maturity next year," she confesses. "But then, there's no law that I must, and I can happily retain the services of my Regent incumbent whilst I prepare myself further." Her eyes fall on the ledgers she's brought with her. "As we discussed the last time I visited, I have brought last year's ledgers from the marquisate with me, and whilst I trust implicitly the work of my cousin, I need to better understand the intricacies of the taxes and how he records them."

“Exceptionally careful, perhaps, now that I must be,” allows Garance with a rueful quirk of that most mobile corner of her rosebud mouth. “And unnecessarily suspicious, I fear. There were no wrong papers in evidence, nothing signing away my substance; and I think in crafting my spectacles Madame Grès favoured me in her measure as well as her speed— she is a money-goldsmith, you see," she digresses with tutelary zeal, "not just a jeweller. I chose her to do the work for me because I know she would like a contract to mint coins for House Mereliot." She smiles faintly. "She is pleased with her opportunity to ingratiate herself with me. The House of Mercury is pleased that I have returned gold to their coffers. Bankers don't care for goldsmiths," she explains. "They take it as a personal affront that so many people would still prefer to see their savings melted down in a goldsmith's vault, rather than invested and put to work. I must admit I see it the same way: I never like to see specie sitting idle…

“So much of the business of finance or of government is about pleasing people, or at least persuading them that they are pleased when one has in fact had the better of them and one would like to have it again another day. And that, one with your training knows as well as one with mine,” Garance insists with an easy confidence intended to reassure. “The instinct is surely there. The rest can be learned, well enough that the prospect of your checking up on them will keep your retainers every bit as honest as you would wish them,” she says seriously.

“Eisandine tax policy has been rather a hobby of mine lately and I’m fascinated to see what you’ve brought me — Chavaise is a part of my remit too, you know, as a part of the province itself… We may speak as freely as you will, now that I’ve sent my spy away. But if you wish for wine, my lady, I’m afraid you’ll have to pour your own,” she apologises. “I’d only spill it.”

Desarae nods, and after checking the labelling on each of the ledgers, selects the uppermost of the leather-bound tomes. "If only I, too, felt that tax policies were a hobby to be indulged in." There's a wryness to her voice that will be easily noted by the Bryony as she brings the ledger over to Garance's desk and sets it down upon its edge. “And I’m not much in the mood for wine,” she apologises, whilst drawing a chair closer for herself into which she subsides. "This volume covers the months of January through to April of last year, and is subdivided by my vassal vicomtés and respective baronnies."

She pauses, and the tip of her index finger briefly traces the tooled leather cover as a glance is given Garance where she sits. "If you don't mind me saying, I think your spectacles are inspired, mademoiselle." She doesn't elucidate further but returns her attention to the ledger, that finger which had been playing upon its cover, slipping now beneath one edge to open it at the first page. There, neatly scribed are the names of the two vicomtés; Cerdagne and Toulon, and beneath Cerdagne the baronnies of Béziers and Carcassonne, whilst Narbonne and and d'Aubagne are listed beneath Toulon. A soft breath filters through her lips.

"The vicomte de Toulon is to marry soon," she quietly notes. It's as if realisation has struck upon seeing the names of her vassals where inked on the page. "Companions, I suppose that
I shall have to think of a suitable gift for his wedding."

“Well,” Garance temporises, “the nature of an acquired taste is that it can be acquired… Oh!” And she laughs, and pushes her smoked glass spectacles higher upon her nose with a careful fingertip just learning the gesture. She’s had them only a handful of hours. “I’m glad you like them,” she says simply; “sometimes one must make a virtue of necessity, no?”

Under the desk she slips her feet out of her shoes and rubs her stockinged feet against one another, flexing them comfortably. “A few weeks ago I could have read everything and answered any question,” she sighs lightly, “but now— well, whatever you tell to me I shall try to recall, my lady. Or if you have any particular questions, we might begin with those and perhaps I could help you to look up the answers. Or— the vicomte de Toulon, that’s Marco Mereliot, no? Quite a young man, as I recall?” She smiles slightly. “As he’s your vassal I think an improving gift might be in order. How studious is he, by nature? The wedding is at least a month away, if I remember rightly— time enough that you might obtain an attractively illustrated manuscript of some volume of Eisandine history or folklore, if you think it would suit.”

"Marco Mereliot. Yes." Desarae confirms for Garance. "He's twenty, or…" Her eyes narrow as she considers. "Perhaps he's one-and-twenty now. He studied in Caerdicca Unitas, though I couldn't attest as to whether he's studious now or not." Green eyes glint their amusement. "He is known as Lord High Slut amongst the courtesans of the salons, an endearment that was first bestowed upon him by the Second of Glycine. So perhaps not terribly studious?" Her shoulders tremble with laughter that she works to restrain — and when she fails to do so, she distracts herself with a turn of the ledger's first page. The next is neatly filled with Leonard's own hand; columns of neatly-scribed double-entry figures which appear to be the returns for Cerdagne.

"But I digress from the purpose of my visit today, and since I traded an hour of my time for a valuable one of yours, I really should start." One finger she places upon the headings to the left-hand side of the page, and with another she traces across the line whereon the taxes paid to Chavaise are recorded. These she reads to Garance, allowing her time between each to digest and absorb before moving to the next.

"An illustrated manuscript," she says after a few seconds, and as laughter once more makes itself known. "The Trois Milles Joies, perhaps?"

The vicomte’s soubriquet earns from Garance only an inquiring tilt of her head as she opens a drawer in her desk and produces the hourglass which measured, last week, Desarae’s term as her amanuensis. She handles it as tenderly as before, though she has learnt already a new confidence: one hand finds the edge of her desk and moves inward to ascertain the safest place for it, the other turns it over in the air and sets it down precisely where she intends.

The fine pale sands begin to pour. Garance echoes Desarae’s taxation figures back to her with the same unhesitating flow, sealing them thus in her recollections, until the thoughts of a sixteen-year-old confined with account books on a sunny spring day turn naturally wayward again. “… I’d wager that a young man who has made such a name for himself must have made a study of so classical a text as the Three Thousand,” she suggests, affecting to take Desarae’s idea seriously — though without forbidding the corner of her mouth its natural lift, “but perhaps he might not know the Log of Seven Hundred Kisses—? It’s a more specialised compendium, published I think chiefly for the Night Court in Elua. It would surely be an equal gift to the bride, especially if as I gather she is not d’Angeline by birth…

“But shall we try to be more studious ourselves, just for the hour’s duration, my lady? I hope I shall make our talk amusing to you in its own fashion — finance too,” the Bryony insists, smiling now like a kitten offered a saucer of cream, “is at its root a matter of choice, and of desire.”

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