(1311-04-26) It Isn't Time For Breakfast Either
Summary: In which Philomène d’Aiglemort’s sex life is the subject of an unusual amount of discussion; and she pays Emmanuelle Shahrizai a compliment. (Warning: Hello, there, mature themes.)
RL Date: 26/04/2019 - 28/04/2019
Related: Creditably Matched, Nothing Comes Free, Needful Adjustments, It Isn’t Dinnertime, It Isn’t Lunchtime.
emmanuelle philomene 

Grand Plaza — Marsilikos

No humble, cobbled, crowded town square, this: the grand plaza of Marsilikos gleams, a true centerpiece of a wealthy, international port city. The marble tiles of the square itself are fitted smoothly together, alternating white and greyish-blue with obsidian equal-armed crosses inset at the intersections. Four raised planters, ten meters square, offer cool travertine seating around swaths of raised ground, grassy and tended in all seasons with foliage best beautiful and suiting to the weather, positioned in each of the corner quadrants of the square, and, in the center, a concrete-laid pool is lined with marble, into which four ichthyocentaurs are pouring cool, clean water from carved vases of striking white marble. On a pedestal half-hidden by the winding tails of the ichthyocentaurs is an ancient obelisk, one solid piece of red granite, imported with great expense from Menekhet, mounting twenty one meters into the sky and casting a winding shadow around the corners of the plaza as the day progresses.

On the western edge of the square a grand marble stairwell overlooks the port and the harbor below; to the north, two strips of marble extend far between the stoate pillars of the marketplace, embracing a well-cultivated spina of greenery.

Dawn’s rosy-hued fingertips have just begun to caress the Grand Plaza’s tremendous expanses of pale marble — likewise, the brushes and the mops of street-cleaners working hard to ensure the city’s most expensive mercantile precinct looks nice and pretty for the well-to-do nobles and courtesans and merchants who will throng it later, at a more decent hour.

They don’t much trouble to get out of the way of Philomène de Chalasse, despite the limp. Alone and unescorted and twenty years behind in any conceivable fashion she hardly looks to merit it, and she’s not exactly going to ask people doing a useful job to stop and pay due deference to her own physical frailties, is she? But it just so happens that the best path available to her this morning is via an area where the marble is dry underfoot instead of slippery and the cleaners are by unspoken agreement just… working round that planter, just for now.

“I know that gait,” a voice calls out — female, probably, but as deep as it’s dry.

Round the other side of the planter, screened by spring greenery from Philomène’s view during her approach, sits the slight and immaculate figure of Emmanuelle Shahrizai. Her black leather coat is unbuttoned over snug-fitting black breeches and an embroidered waistcoat in shades of violet and silver-grey; she’s wearing those sensible flat black riding boots again, her legs outstretched and her ankles crossed and her spurs glinting in the early sunlight. Her man Baltasar is standing by but otherwise she is alone. She is not smiling, as a person might when coming upon an acquaintance unexpectedly: her eyes are cold and blue and critical, as much so watching Philomène pass her here as in making her parade through her chamber.

By contrast, Philomène was, right up until this moment, looking rather pleased with herself as she tramped her way along the marble street with her heels clicking down in that odd, distinctive rhythm. I mean, why not? It’s a lovely day, or will be one as soon as the sun finishes its lazy business of getting up for the morning, it’s dry, she hasn’t yet walked far enough for her leg to be screaming out in pain, and she’s cheerfully looking forward to a slice of pie when she gets back in, served by the untouchable vision of Camaeline loveliness that is Brigitte.

The carefree amble through the plaza is halted, along with the pleasant humming under her breath, when she’s addressed. Shoulders go back. Jaw sets. Eyes narrow and swing over towards the owner of the voice, along with a response of, “I know that voice.” She lifts her chin vaguely in greeting. “Lady Shahrizai. Up early for breakfast, is it? Couldn’t sleep? Or finally heading home after an evening putting people through the torture of your company?”

<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Empathy: Great Success. (3 8 1 1 7 6 4 7 7 2 7 4 1 1 6)

Emmanuelle uncrosses her ankles and draws up one foot and then the other, and plants them solidly upon the marble in order to rise. “It isn’t time for breakfast,” she opines mildly.

She has with her an ebony cane topped with a silver fish, its purpose not utility but sheer swank; she clasps it in a red-gloved hand and swings it idly at her side as she prowls toward Philomène. The details of her garb resolve themselves into a greater richness. One earlobe is pierced through by a diamond stud, the other boasts the matching diamond above a dangling black pearl. “Look at that jaw,” she marvels, her eyes narrowed against the light; “for a moment I began to think you’d finally got yourself laid— and yet,” she drawls. “Or is that the errand you’re upon now? You’re hours too early for me,” she points out, referring to their standing appointment for the middle of the day on Fridays, “but there may be someone still up next door.”

“The day I decide to come to you for bedroom gymnastics is the day we have to tie down our Gueret pigs to keep them from flying away,” Philomène insists stiffly, although her pace does slow a little as she approaches rather than continuing on past. While some might wonder if it’s out of politeness that she slows, the cannier observer might instead notice a slight shift in her gait and a look of concentration on her face. No, it’s not courtesy, it’s that she’s making sure she’s walking in the manner prescribed by her chirurgeon. “And perhaps I ought to remind you that I’ve been married twenty five years and have managed to squeeze out three daughters in that time. I assure you, no matter what you might think, there have been no miraculous virgin births in l’Agnace. We’d have made some sort of announcement if there had, I’m sure.

“I’m on my way to walk in the damn rose gardens,” she tells the other woman, shooting her a glare as though daring her to assume otherwise. “As you and your type tend to be asleep right now and I get the place to myself.” She touches her hand to her jaw, instinctively making as though she’s going to crack her neck, then eyes Emmanuelle again and lowers her hand. Look at that jaw indeed.

The cannier observer falls easily into step with the subject of her own scrutinising gaze. “Ah, yes. Visiting the Night Court first thing in the morning, to be certain that one will not meet any courtesans. It’s that kind of remark, my dear vicomtesse, which invites the supposition that perhaps you don’t know how carnal matters are by custom arranged,” she drawls, extracting a pair of smoked-glass spectacles from a pocket of her coat and shoving them into place upon her nose and over her ears with a one-handed gesture eloquent of practice. There, that’ll teach that garish ball of light in the sky to keep rising before she’s even at home and in her bed.

“You truly aren’t a patron of the house? That does surprise me,” Emmanuelle muses on; “I should have thought that a quiet evening with a Red Rose who’ll do whatever they’re told to do and keep silence about it afterwards — an opportunity to release the tension and the aggression that keeps your musculature in a constant state of rigidity as you battle your own instincts, day in and day out — to do so in your own way and in your own time, the expectations clear on both sides and all debts paid on the spot, and you free to walk out of the chamber and think no more of it, without risking the vulnerability inherent in forming a true connexion with another hot and beating human heart… I’d imagine that to be much to your taste, vicomtesse.”

“I’ve yet to find any of them to my taste,” Philomène allows after a moment, shaking out both cuffs then adjusting the lapels of her jacket. “Everything’s an extreme with the Night Court, and that’s not my style.”

She limps on a few paces more in silent contemplation rather than immediately refuting everything that Emmanuelle’s said. Really, if more proof were needed of just how mellow she apparently is this morning, it couldn’t be clearer. Perhaps she’s back on the poppy. “The Red Roses are far too obsequious, kneeling and bowing and thanking you like a helpless puppy…” She wrinkles her nose a little, pressing her lips closed. “Have some fucking self-respect, I always think.”

“When next you call at the Rose Sauvage at a civilised hour,” Emmanuelle suggests rather blandly, “you might ask for the Red Rose named Clara. She is fully marqued,” that is, no longer a debutante of sixteen, “she likes to make things with her hands — she sketches, embroiders, and so on — and she answers back as much as even you could desire. A bottom, of course, but not a submissive. Perhaps because she is Camaeline born? Her father is a Valliers,” she drawls, and one fingertip gloved in red leather adjusts her smoked spectacles so that she might give Philomène a pointed sidelong glance over the top of their lenses. “I do tailor to fit, vicomtesse.”

She pushes her spectacles higher again and surveys the path before them into the Place des Mains. “If you avail yourself often of the gardens you ought to pluck the occasional bloom. Or were you under the impression that the houses of the Night Court are run as charities?”

“Maybe if they’re so damn hard up they can take a donation,” Philomène counters, taking a deep breath as she awkwardly twists her way down a set of three steps on the path, that being the boundary that separates the plaza from the Place des Mains. “I shouldn’t have to take a courtesan out of fucking courtesy.”

There’s a little hiss from her as she lands on her bad leg on the lower step, slightly misjudging the distance with the distraction of the woman walking beside her and talking. “And shouldn’t you be berating me for doing anything at all that stops my fucking leg hurting? Booze is bad, but sex is fine? How does that work, then? What about the poor profit margins of the breweries?”

Place des Mains d’Eisheth — Marsilikos

Even if usually referred to as Place des Mains, the full name of this square is actually Place des Mains d'Eisheth, and it has earned it for a reason. According to legend, Eisheth herself once descended from the heavens to save an ancestor of House Mereliot, who had collapsed right here in this spot, shaking with a heavy fever. When Eisheth placed her hands upon the lady's shoulder and forehead, a light and warmth emanated from them that pulled the disease out of the Mereliot's system, and she came to, refreshed and as healthy as she had ever been. To honor this tale, a 12 feet tall statue has been erected in the center of the square, a depiction of the patron of Eisande, clad in wide flowing garments, with her hands outstretched to dispense her blessing and to apply her powers of healing. Both the statue and the pedestal she stands upon are of white marble, the pinnacle oeuvre of a local master stone mason who managed the rare feat to have features of d'Angeline beauty chiselled with striking realism, high detail there in delicate fingers and the fall of the garment.

Four avenues of cobble stone are crossing here: The road to the northeast leads away towards the Noble District, another road heads southeastwards, winding higher upon the rising terrain towards the Dome of the Lady; a third in northwestern direction leads towards the town square with the harbor beyond, and a fourth can be used to reach the Night Court of Marsilikos, through the impressive red sand stone archway that looms to the south.

Thus they attain the square to which Eisheth came down from the heavens and her descendent Emmanuelle from Mont Nuit — Philomène stumbling and her chirurgeon stalking, near enough to provide a steadying hand but of course doing no such thing.

“You enjoy use of the salon’s gardens as a courtesy,” she corrects her in a mild and tolerant drawl, “which I can only imagine you have returned in no way, shape, or form, monetary or otherwise. I would draw your attention to the same imbalance in politesse were I indeed the former owner of a brewery, listening to you boast of using its premises as a social club without paying your way by putting down coin for the odd barrel of ale. It may be that the salon’s present leadership is content to have you sponge to a degree — but you’re well aware that that’s what you’re doing, calling the tune you will without tossing the piper a single sou. If you didn’t know you wouldn’t be so defensive in speaking of it, would you? No matter how much you like to argue, and to express your disdain for Naamah’s service, which is of course a great deal. You wouldn’t behave so in a brewery. But where courtesans are concerned—? Companions forfend anyone should suspect your interest, or your occasional envy of our lives.”

“You must be awfully tired, Lady Shahrizai,” Philomène counters easily, “with just the sheer number of conclusions you like to leap to. It’s true I’d have a damn sight more respect for a brewer, but they’re a hard working profession with a useful output. Tell me again what your profession provides to feed the masses?”

She limps on another pace or two before turning on her good heel to confront the woman square on. “I’ll remind you that I pay my debts. You get your share for poking me and prodding me, and they’ll get theirs for letting me in the damn gardens. Neither of which is anything to do with getting laid.” She jabs a finger at the other woman’s embroidered waistcoat. “The Chalasse are farmers, and we pay in something far more fucking useful than a roll in the hay.”

<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Composure+Presence: Great Success. (7 2 5 1 7 3 7 7 4 6 3 6 8 4 3 1)

When Philomène pauses so does Emmanuelle; she stands poised with stick in hand and eyebrows fractionally raised above the silver rims of her smoked spectacles.

“I am tired,” she counters, “because I’ve had a shit of a long night,” though in lieu of the drawn expression Philo has glimpsed before upon her painted features at this hour of the morning, she seems almost to be… smiling at the other woman, without any apparent regard for the touch of that impertinent and accusatory finger, “and now it seems that despite your own many and fruitful years of matrimony I must explain to you where little farmers come from, and how few of them would be tilling Chalasse soil were it not for hay and the desire to roll in it. We cannot live by bread alone, my dear vicomtesse, and how many of us would desire to—?”

She shrugs; her black pearl earring sways with a tilt of her head. “Besides being an amusing way to pass the time and the only means by which every hand, no matter how humble or inept, may hope alike to grasp at immortality, fucking is excellent exercise — in moderation — the benefits of which I well know you were feeling until the very moment when you heard my voice call out to you,” she judges, and now amusement sardonic but genuine shapes her broad red mouth into a wry curve. “I do enjoy producing so pronounced a reaction with so little effort, vicomtesse. Come in for ten minutes and I’ll crack your back,” is her suggestion, accompanied by an imperious gesture of her cane toward her own wrought-iron front gate, which Baltasar has gone on ahead to unlock and hold open for his mistress and her companion. “Unless you don’t feel you can deny yourself the anticipation of my company later on in the day?”

Ready to fight her corner, and when is she not, the flash of belligerent fury in Philomène's expression is suddenly defused by that admission and the smile. There's bewildered recognition, instead, of just how ridiculous she looks, squared up with eyes blazing and that particularly fine jaw set, and she lowers her finger and then her hand to her side.

“Fuck a duck, you're good,” she allows grudgingly, exhaling upwards to blow the fringes of her blonde hair, catching bright in the early morning light. “I can spot when I've been played like a prize fiddle. This round to you, I think.”

And then, rather than scowling at the Shahrizai or readying to stab her (and let's face it, these were both valid options on the cards), instead she mirrors that wry smile, stretches her hands downwards and flexes the fingers, and inclines her head. “I'll take your kindness, thank you,” she agrees, hand briefly touching the gates as she steps through. “If you don't object to pressing my spine instead of my buttons for a bit? It has been making significant difference.”

The addition of smoked lenses makes scant difference to the inscrutable nature of the Shahrizai eyes behind them. “Better,” Emmanuelle agrees gently, “than you’ll ever know.”

And with a crisp and courteous nod of acknowledgment to her visitor, she steps past her and leads the way through her grey stone courtyard redolent of wormwood and up into the house. The gate-guard locks up behind her and Baltasar — has the man got wings? — stands to attention holding open the great iron-banded portal into her Kushiel chamber.

La Maison Sanglante — Place des Mains

Directly abutting the walled compounds of Marsilikos's Night Court, and running in fact for some distance behind the Salon de la Rose Sauvage, is a house which boasts a far more modest frontage upon the Place des Mains d'Eisheth. Its name derives from a violent incident in its past; previous owners tried to redub it in the public mind, but the present ones embrace the term. By their design its three-storey façade of grey stone is shielded at street level by a high and forbidding wall of darker stone, into which is set a pair of intricately-wrought iron gates taller than any man who may ring the bell at their side. Kept locked, their curlicues of black iron are enlivened by a pattern of gilded keys.

Between the outer wall and the house stands a small stone courtyard lined at either side with wormwood trees, which impart a bitter and aromatic fragrance to the air within it. From it half a dozen stone steps rise to heavy doors of dark and ancient oak, studded with black iron and hung upon baroque hinges of the same; these open into a large, square, windowless chamber, occupying the full width of the building and yet higher than it is wide. At each side of the doors is a console table of dark purple marble veined with black, bolted to the wall above a pair of elaborate gilded legs and beneath a matching and equally baroque gilded mirror. There are no other furnishings. Sparse lighting is provided by candles in iron sconces bolted to pillars of the same purple marble, which pass into shadow on their way to support the vaulted ceiling overhead.

The light is, however, sufficient to permit examination of the frescoes which cover walls and ceiling alike from a height of perhaps four feet off the gleaming black and purple marble floor. An artist of great skill and anatomical knowledge has limned a series of scenes of Kushiel chastising sinners. Those who come to him for succour are shown enduring remarkably detailed torments before being transfigured by the raptures of his love… or, possibly, hers. In some panels Kushiel is a man and in some a woman, in others an unmistakable hermaphrodite: in all these incarnations the Punisher is depicted with the lean figure, the austere profile, and the hooded blue eyes of a lady who resides beneath this roof.

On the back wall this unconventional masterpiece is interrupted by the outlines of two single doors, and the elaborate black iron handles attached to each. The door on the left leads to an intimate receiving-room wherein a pair of studded black leather sofas frame a low, well-polished mahogany table. In here the walls are covered in frescoes of the Kusheline countryside, from the same brush.

In the middle of the otherwise empty chamber a woman is kneeling abeyante, with her auburn head bowed and her hands clasped together over her heart. The thin lilac satin of her gown drapes with elegant fidelity over her pleasantly ripened feminine shape and outlines her parted thighs; her skirts are spread out behind her, aglow in the candlelight, pristine, innocent of a single crease. When she hears Emmanuelle’s distinctive stride approaching across the polished floor of black and violet marble she trembles, once. But she holds her position as she has long been trained to do and her eyes rise no higher than her mistress’s riding boots. Philomène has seen her before in this house, but only the colour of her hair testifies to it.

“… Although,” Emmanuelle goes on mildly, as Baltasar shuts and locks and bolts the front door, sealing off the Maison Sanglante once more from the world beyond its elaborately adorned walls, “I do not play the fiddle.” She holds out her cane and the redhead’s arms flow open, one graceful hand rising to grasp it. “Only,” and she shrugs off her heavy leather coat and more or less drops it upon her human coat-stand, “the violoncello.” And she turns to glance at Philomène and to give her another wry smile as she pulls off her smoked-glass spectacles.

“I should have guessed it,” Philomène muses, although she rather deliberately avoids paying any attention whatsoever to the redhead kneeling there. “Like a fiddle but bigger, deeper, more expressive and,” and she holds up a finger, flicking an amused smile, “all this from between one’s thighs.”

“Touché,” drawls Emmanuelle, with another crisp inclination of her head toward Philomène, “again, vicomtesse,” she points out, referring to their earlier moment in the square. “But don’t forget too that the repertoire is endlessly variable,” she opines as she folds the arms of her sun-spectacles and tucks them into her coat-stand’s other waiting hand. Then she unpins her tricorne hat and affixes it to an auburn head in lieu of her own. “Shall we?”

In their long stroll toward Emmanuelle’s copper-ceilinged chamber of a thousand and one tortures Baltasar walks ahead with his ring of keys, soaking up the clear-voiced meditations upon household matters she utters as she strips off, unhurriedly, her fine red calfskin gloves.

She begins with, “Having given due consideration to the question on my way home I believe that I should, after all, prefer the salmon en croute,” then moves on to nursery arrangements she has charge of during the implied absence of her daughter Dorimène. For one thing, having seen Philomène earlier than arranged she intends to sleep in and receive her grand-daughters at a later hour. She concludes, “I shall have my bath in the courtyard today. The morning is growing quite warm enough for it, don’t you think?” This, unimaginably, is a question addressed to the no-nonsense, hard-living Chalasse vicomtesse at her side, whilst Baltasar hurries ahead to draw back curtains, light candles, and otherwise prepare the jewel-box for such untimely use.

Philomène barely glances to the windows even as the curtains are drawn back. There's still the faint hint of a smile on her face as she considers for a moment based on her walk thus far. “Depends when you intend to bathe,” she allows, already beginning to unfasten the buttons to her jacket. “Its warm enough right now, but we'll have a heavy burst of rain in… I'd say probably two hours? The pressure's falling, can't you feel it?”

She gives a casual shrug. “But I suppose you'll be wet anyway in your bath, so it's entirely up to you. It'll be off and on then until this evening, when the onshore wind should take the clouds away and it'll be a cool night.” Yes. Apparently she's the d'Angeline Michael Fish.

Her jacket is peeled away and she stalks over to deposit it quite carelessly on Emmanuelle's bed. Her arms stretch briefly and languorously up over her head and she glances back to her hostess, a brow raised. “What are the chances of a cup of tea this morning, Lady Shahrizai? And as you've made your opinion on microeconomic transactions clear, I can of course offer to pay you for it.”

The chamber is flood— well, barely dampened, in fact, by such morning light as has infiltrated the high and narrow courtyard beyond the glass-paned doors. Still, the women can see what they’re doing and one another, as Emmanuelle’s black silk coat — more sensically embroidered, and of course far sharper in its cut — joins Philomène’s upon the richly-draped bed.

“I understand that rainwater is a boon to the complexion,” she drawls, unbuttoning her matching waistcoat, “but in two hours’ time, vicomtesse, I hope devoutly I shall be asleep. You yourself will not be here long enough for tea to be brewed and served and partaken of,” she explains to her visitor, that figure she gave of ‘ten minutes’ having apparently been in earnest.

Baltasar emerges from the infirmary, having shaken out a fresh sheet and draped it over the table therein, in time to help her out of her waistcoat and receive certain directions relating to its care. “There is blood here, and… here,” she points out fastidiously. Then, glancing up from the first of her patients to meet the other’s eyes. “Perhaps you might try next door. It isn’t as though Night Court servants have at this hour of the morning any essential tasks to perform which can’t be done later in the day, when the salon is thronged with courtesans and patrons.”

“And take advantage of their hospitality when I've no intention of, how did you put it, plucking a bloom?” Philomène counters amiably, limping over to the smaller room unbidden as she untucks her plain white shirt tails from her breeches preparatory to sliding herself up onto the table. “I'll walk, take a bath, then head home,” she decides, settling herself in and for once placing her hands at her sides instead of having to be manhandled. “See if I can get a cup of tea in then before my guests wake up.”

Another low word with Baltasar about the waistcoat (and the salmon); and Emmanuelle follows her curiously willing victim to the altar upon which the slaughter customarily takes place.

She’s in shirtsleeves herself by now, costly black silk crumpled from having been on far too long and marked by darker patches under her arms. The familiar warm and resinous scent of her cologne is for once adulterated by sweat. The perfect maquillage, the gleaming black chignon, the coats and the embroidery and the smoked spectacles and the manly swagger, were this morning concealing just a soupçon of exhausted and imperfect humanity.

She deposits her cufflinks on a shelf occupied in the main by jars labeled in abbreviated Tiberian, and briskly folds up her sleeves. “I still feel I need another scrub,” she drawls, and steps past the obediently prone Philomène to her washstand. Pouring water into the basin (alas, only lukewarm) she introduces her hands and her forearms to a fresh cake of Eisandine lavender soap, and does from habit a very thorough job. “Guests? Do I take it you’ve more than one lover imparting that spring to your step and that jaunty set to your shoulders?”

The Chalasse snorts a little laugh from her tabletop, head turned away so she can only hear and not see the scrubbing. “I say guests and you immediately assume lovers,” she notes with quiet amusement. “I thought the entire point of me being here every week is to put a spring in my step, is it not?”

She props herself up on an elbow for a moment, turning her head to observe her hostess before settling back down. “I have two, occasionally more, guests. An old friend of the family, her companion and partner in crime, and then whoever or whatever they choose to bring home of an evening, and if you saw some of the costumes you too would be uncertain whether they're whos or whats.”

While the words might be chiding, the tone is light and somewhat fond. “They bring a certain amount of cheer to the house, perhaps you ought to borrow them. A few peals of laughter instead of screams, hm? And I'm sure if my redhead were asked to act as a coatstand she'd find it a hoot, not the oddly uncomfortable spectacle you have in your lobby.”

"I can improve your walk, to be sure. But it would require more effort than I am at present prepared to devote to you, to make you spring," Emmanuelle drawls. She’s employing a small brush with deft and scientific care to scrub the undersides of her nails without harming the black lacquer Baltasar lavishes upon them so tenderly each day. “… But someone has clearly undertaken the task and I think my assumption is not so far afield, is it?” Rinsing her hands, she goes on without waiting to hear Philo dodge the subject again. “I must admit that Mandrake patrons are often fond of costumes,” she muses, “as aids to phantasy. I might be certain of more than you suppose — mine is one of the two canons, Mandrake and Orchis, which embrace those desires Naamah’s other servants find too outré for their own quotidian sensibilities,” and, taking up a clean towel, she turns and leans back against the washstand to dry her hands.

“The whos, and the whats… You’ve seen my dog before, many times,” she teases; “and now you’ve seen my charming new bitch. Does she truly make you so uncomfortable? You haven’t heard a single scream within these walls, have you? I save those,” she confides, “for myself, to ensure they are truly appreciated.” And taking a step or two nearer as she speaks she then applies sudden and devastating pressure to the upper part of Philomène’s spine.

Opening her mouth to retort, no doubt some sort of smart-arse comment, the words are suddenly and irrevocably yanked away by the sudden click-clunk of her shoulders and replaced with a winded whistling noise. It's not a scream. Philomène does not scream. But it's not an intentional sound, and both hands shift to grip the table. Likely it's a good thing Emmanuelle remains to the side, too, as one foot automatically comes up to kick out and could have given an unwary viewer a nasty black eye.

She steadies her breathing, sweat beginning to prickle her skin even with just this first push, perhaps in anticipation of worse yet to come, but she won't be silenced entirely. “Your bitch,” she manages through gritted teeth, unpeeling her fingers from the edge as she awaits the next moment of pain, “disturbs me more than your knives or your whips could ever do.”

“Oh?” Emmanuelle wonders silkily, and the heel of her hand comes down again a trifle lower. “I shall be sure to tell her so. She has always adored to make an exhibition of herself.”

“Kneeling? Bowing her head? We're d'Angeline. It's not our way to bow to anyone.” Again there's a sharp intake of breath as Philomène's back makes those oddly satisfying crunches. “I can almost understand parts of your canon,” she admits softly, steadying her breathing once again. “Some sort of fight with the pain to prove you're alive and that it can't beat you. I get that. But just to… to give up? To let yourself be treated like that? It's disturbing to me, yes.”

“Of course you don’t understand the core of what I do,” says Emmanuelle easily.

Between the clauses of sentences constructed with her usual measured care, she continues her marvelous abuse of Philomène’s spine. Her own arms were aching before she even began — still, she gives no quarter. “You, who fight tooth and claw for every scrap of independence whether or not it is practical or useful; you, who in losing control of your own greatest circumstances have made controlling the lesser ones into a fetisch far beyond what any Mandrake would consider healthy; you, who struggle to accept kindness lest it portend the sinking of another hook into your soul… Of course you can’t imagine that there might be anything to gain from a consensual exchange of power,” she drawls, sounding unsurprised and wry; “of course you can’t imagine others doing for pleasure what frightens you to your marrow. No, I know very well what you’d be like, if you elected to embark upon such a battle as you suggest. You’d be of those uppity bottoms who turn to the Mandrake holding the flail and insist,” she lifts her voice to a mocking pitch, “‘no, not like that, you have to whip me the way I like.’” She inhales her own mild amusement. “… Turn onto your side.”

“There's enough fucking pain in the world,” Philomène argues, hackles rising again as the tone turns to mocking her. “Who the fuck wants to pay for more? And there are more than enough tossbadgers out there who'd try to take everything I have left, so am I fuck going to give it up.” She grunts, propping herself up on first one elbow, then rolls to the side as commanded. “You're absolutely right. I do see no reason for anyone to give up their self respect and lie down for one of your lot to treat them like shit. It doesn't frighten me. It fucking enrages me.”

Sure also to enrage her, now that she’s got her renewed and realigned back so far up, is the casual swift competence with which Emmanuelle performs certain hip-related manoeuvres. It hurts; so what? She simply does it; and then with a brisk, “Other side,” she assists Philomène in accomplishing the necessary revolution. And again, that flash of constructive agony.

She turns her patient next onto her back and steps behind the head of the table to take her neck into her hands, exploring with oddly prescient fingertips the tension to be found there and in her jaw. “The wound in your leg is not the only one you received in your youth,” she begins. “And yet you often kept fighting afterward, didn’t you? That transference of pain into exhilaration is something many can accomplish to a greater or a lesser degree, and it is what some seek of my canon.” An abrupt sideways wrench. “Some cannot find true pleasure by other means — should they go without pleasure in their lives, merely because you have had enough pain in yours?” she inquires crisply, and does the same again the other way with Philo’s neck. Enough pain and more than enough, yes. “For others pain is a means to a more individual purpose, or indeed a sensation to be avoided whilst others more piquant are pursued. Tell me, vicomtesse,” she drawls, coming round the side of the table and taking Philo’s hand into her own. It’s no tender lover’s clasp but a businesslike grip which turns to a good firm pull upon each of her fingers and her thumb, calculated to produce a satisfying crack from each digit, in company with the sensation that they’re being yanked right off. Including, yes, the one which has known the touch of Emmanuelle’s lately doffed, discreetly bloodied violet and silver waistcoat. “Do you like to feel safe?” she purrs. Crack. “How often do you truly feel that you are safe?”

In a highly unlikely turn of affairs, Philomène actually remains silent during this new and inventive torture, her jaw working away noiselessly and that muscle giving away her tell.

“Honesty,” she finally reminds herself, meeting the Shahrizai's eye, unwavering even as each finger is yanked and cracked. “You want honesty. But it goes both ways. When did you ever look for safety? The last time I felt… safe,” and the word is pronounced with as much disdain as she can muster, “was lying, unable to move, with healers strapping me down so I didn't lose the leg entirely. Sure, I was 'safe’, but I'd say the most helpless and miserable I've ever been in my whole damn life. If I have my way,” she insists, flexing the fingers on the one hand now and offering the other, “I'll never be that 'safe’ again.”

Ah, how the d’Aiglemort beast has been tamed! How sweetly it yields up its other paw, without so much as being asked for it, and even knowing what will befall it in Emmanuelle’s merciless, silken, lavender-fresh clutches. … Though this time she proceeds more slowly, to ensure that her supply of Philo-fingers will last as long as it pleases her to speak. Of her gaze, of course, there’s always more than enough to go around. It’s as good as a pair of scalpels tipped with blue diamonds, incising each word she utters upon the other woman’s memory.

“Whatever it was you felt in those moments — I would not call it ‘safety’.” Crack. “In fact,” she drawls, “considering the proven incompetence of your attendants I should say you were in peril of your life without knowing it.” Crack. “Were I to paint a picture of ‘safety’ it would be a complex one, and I imagine I’d employ a slightly different palette for each person I intended to see it.” Crack. “But it would always begin with a place, or a situation, or a companionship in which one feels free to reveal every part of one’s own nature, knowing that one will not be shunned and one will lose no esteem thereby, but rather that one will be recognised, understood, and appreciated not for a mask one might hide behind but for one’s own fundamental and bone-deep truths…” she murmurs. Crack. Then, in the drily amused voice of expertise: “Of course such honesty leads directly to better sex; isn’t it more satisfying to know that one is desired for reasons true rather than false—?” Crack. “There,” she drawls, laying down Philo’s hand upon her white shirtfront. “Now you may point and threaten with all the flexibility of which your hands are presently capable. Baltasar will show you out.”

She turns upon her heel and the soft music of her spurs recedes across the outer chamber and fades away — and by the time her patient is dressed, her dog is there, waiting.

Through the jewel-box’s glass doors Philomène may glimpse an enormous copper bathtub already set out in Emmanuelle’s private courtyard and emanating tendrils of steam into dawn air still slowly warming. And in the corridor they pass a dark-robed maid coming the other way, securing with her pale clean hands the windows, the shutters, and her mistress’s solitude.

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