(1311-04-30) To Light A Candle
Summary: Afternoon tea and dissection at the Maison Sanglante. (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 30/04/2019
Related: Previous scenes with these characters, but also Hellebore and The Least Sexy Striptease Ever and It Isn’t Time For Breakfast Either and Cultivation.
emmanuelle raphael 

Courtyard — La Maison Sanglante

The labyrinthine dark and frescoed passageways of the Maison Sanglante debouche at length into a small sitting-room wherein each piece of distinctly upright furniture is black-lacquered and elaborately gilded with, at the farthest consent to comfort, a seat of woven cane. One wall of it consists entirely of a trio of wide pairs of glass doors which open outwards, shadowed by black-lacquered shutters which open inwards, and shielded by floor-length drapes of soft black velvet (in winter) or black tussore silk (in summer) edged in gold-embroidered Shahrizai keys.

Beyond is a rectangular courtyard of centuries-old, weathered stone: surely one of the house's original features. To the left its longer side is formed by a high wall of stone, set into which a niche houses a stone statue of Eisheth. From her open hands water pours down into a half-circle basin where water-lilies grow. Beyond the opposite wall to the right runs a corridor lined with black-lacquered shutters of the same make but half-length, often left open. At the courtyard's farther end the same arrangement of floor-to-ceiling windows and shutters gives onto a palatial bedchamber, into which the corridor also leads in the end.

The courtyard has no permanent features of its own besides the fountain, several old stone planters growing earthy-scented mandrakes, and a solidly-built whipping-post set deep into the mossy flagstones just outside the bedchamber. But furniture may easily be carried out into it by servants.

Ropes run overhead, along which a white oiled-silk awning may be drawn in wet weather, or lanterns of coloured glass on dark evenings.

A terse note from Emmanuelle postponed their meeting for a handful of days: the single scrawled sentence of it confided as little of her reasoning then as her cool Shahrizai eyes and her firm handshake do now, before she leads Raphael on pilgrimage down a stairway of broad stone slabs to the subterranean playground wherein she receives certain fortunate patrons.

For the convenience of today’s visitor — a fellow professional, sure to take an interest in all the arrangements — torches blaze merrily in iron sconces throughout this suite of chambers decorated in the starkest Mandragian style. Their light falls upon bleak bare stone, iron rings anchored deeply between its blocks, and vast hearths left cold at this season. Two crosses stand opposite one another, of darker wood than the one in the jewel-box above. The display of instruments is less comprehensive but notably more severe, whilst others are concealed in a heavy ironbound cabinet from which they might be brought forth to provide the occasional jolly surprise. For Raphael, Emmanuelle opens the cabinet whole and entire. She also points out a number of her own ingenious modifications to the time-honoured articles of furniture one would suppose present in any such dungeon, as well as in any Shahrizai home.

Her personal collection of instruments of torture with more truth in them than pretense, is a legend in certain circles, understood to be on permanent loan to Mandrake House. But some small portion of it is present to be admired by the visitor and explicated by his hostess, who grows quite animated when discussing the provenance of each piece and the circumstances under which it is known to have been employed — by barbarian foreigners, in the main, though it can’t be denied that the great Kusheline nobles of days past (her own ancestors) had a fine taste in dealing with rapists, murderers, and other such scum of the earth.

Behind every door there’s a surprise. Isolation chambers affording differing varieties and degrees of discomfort; whole separate dungeons decorated according to particular themes, a miniature infirmary very like the one upstairs; and, of course, at the heart of it all, a retiring-room for Emmanuelle herself, exquisitely paneled in dark wood and equipped with a comfortable sofa, a dressing-table, a privy, and quantities of her own garments. Spare boots, too.

“… I’m sure one or two possibilities will suggest themselves to you,” drawls Emmanuelle at length, leading Raphael upstairs again and thence into her other set of private chambers, where all her courtyard doors stand open upon this warm spring afternoon.

It is here that they are to take tea, civilised creatures that they are. The white silk awning is drawn halfway across the sky to lend shade without diminishing light; the table is laid with white linen and silver and some of that blue and white porcelain Emmanuelle likes so much; the dainties tend more to the savoury than the sweet, though fresh fruit abounds and there’s a fléchette laid at each place. But the sandwiches already have their crusts cut off.

Emmanuelle turns her chair briskly around and sits down astride it. She’s wearing breeches of sturdy dark cloth tucked into flat-heeled black riding boots, and a smoke-blue silk shirt with a button or two open to hint at a complex necklace of steel and sapphires beneath. “I do enjoy seeing you with Samanthe,” she muses, pouring the tea, “and how little she can hide that, after all the vows she has made to me, she finds you irresistibly attractive.” She nudges Raphael’s cup and saucer across the table to him and raises her own in a toast or perhaps a salute. “To the squirming, red-hot shame of it all,” she proposes, quirking her eyebrows.

Raphael has undoubtedly taken great interest in his tour, meeting his host's expertise and rare holdings with a number of questions that might be of interest to professionals in their line of work. He is naturally most appreciative of the wonders of Emmanuelle's subterranean kingdom. But he is also perfectly amenable to taking a bit of tea in a courtyard on a lovely spring day.

"And to its irrepressibility," he agrees, lifting his cup and taking a sip from it. He smiles. "Though of course her interest in me as a novelty is nothing to her abiding devotion to you. An association for so many years is testament not only to your skills but to your vast creativity."

Emmanuelle receives the compliment with a precise inclination of her head, behind which Baltasar has today pinned a simple blue-black chignon. Her black pearl earring wavers, softly glowing, against the paleness of her skin: above it is a sapphire stud, the mate of which glitters alone upon her other earlobe. The second piercing on the left is new, since last they met.

“Were I inclined toward the arts of the Bryony,” and she studies him across the silvered rim of her cup, “I might wager that there is more to it than novelty. I have an idea— an idea only, an impression received from her conduct,” she stresses, returning her cup to its saucer and lifting one finger to warn her colleague not to run on too far ahead, “that she had an eye for you, once upon a time, when you had eyes for no one but your patrons and Sylvie. I may be wrong.” Unspoken, but in the warm spring air, is the knowledge that she is rarely wrong in such matters as this. “But we might coax some admission out of her, don’t you think?”

Raphael must notice this additional ornament, but he says nothing of it for now, instead responding to this wager of Emmanuelle's with a look that has both amusement and gentle warning in it. "As an amusement we may play on it," he agrees. "Though of course it is no more than that." He sips on his tea. "I heard a vicious rumor about you," he says, humor glittering in his eyes.

"A little wish come true for her, perhaps," Emmanuelle posits, nodding, "but neither at the time nor in the manner she might have preferred…? But how else do wishes ever come true?" she drawls, and her broad red mouth smiles whimsically for a moment until she parts her lips to take another sip of tea. Then, once more, her eyebrows lift. "Oh? An old one or a new one?"

"We must always appreciate what we get of what we want," Raphael agrees, then smiles as he pivots back to the other matter: "To me it is new; to you it may be old. I heard that you were a cobbler. How do you answer the charge?"

Emmanuelle sets down her tea. Then, draping her arms across the back of her reversed chair, she breathes out a few slow, restrained, husky notes of laughter. “You’ve been limping round the gardens with the Vicomtesse de Gueret,” she diagnoses drily. “Now, there is a woman who would always rather curse the darkness than light a candle.”

"Yes, but she curses so fluently," Raphael replies, smiling over his cup. "You in particular. So she must have a certain liking for you." Not a mysterious conclusion to anyone who knows the lady in question. "I cannot imagine she is the most docile patient a chirurgeon could find."

That observation vis à vis the vicomtesse’s affections also happens to amuse Emmanuelle, though more quietly. “She does keep coming back for more,” she drawls, inclining her head again and giving Raphael a slight, wry smile. “Of course there is very little I can tell you of that. I might simply mention that I don’t stipulate for docility in my patients,” she confides, leaning her head nearer as she picks up her tea again, “though I usually receive it ere long.”

"As I would expect," Raphael replies, and it is his turn to set the teacup aside. "In fact, she is making us a small present of some herbs, and I understand I have you to thank for that. She claims to be revolted by our canon, though obviously not its practitioners, and therefore I doubt she would like to pay an assignation fee." Even if she could. "But a gift in kind is perhaps good for the pride of us both."

“… Yes,” muses Emmanuelle, no more than very mildly surprised that Raphael has either heard the tale of her blunt remonstrances or pieced it together for himself; “I thought the vicomtesse might feel better in herself if she could be needled into finding a means of paying her way. The economic argument, with her,” her gaze flicks up from the teacup in her hands to Raphael’s face and she drawls, “rather than the religious one, unseemly as it is to frequent a house dedicated to Naamah, use it freely for one’s own private purposes, and yet pay no homage — only I imagine frequent and varied insult — to our Bright Lady and her servants. Still, if some homage is paid— it does as you say benefit all, and it is a deal more than nothing.”

Raphael chuckles. "Certainly not the religious," he says. "She is lately in a mood to throw all the priests in a much less enriched dungeon than your own. Or at least she pretends to be for the sake of debate. Her favorite sport after riding." He inclines his head to Emmanuelle. "Yes, I knew it must have been you, to notice the gap and be so direct as to correct it. I doubt there are many from whom she will brook correction."

“Oh,” drawls Emmanuelle; “priests now, as well as courtesans.” She claims the silver teapot, holding it through a folded linen cloth to protect her hand from its heat, and refreshes Raphael’s cup and then her own. “Perhaps,” she adds, glancing up as she resettles the teapot upon its stand over a flickering candle-flame, “the reason she returns to me is that up to a point I do humour her passion for debate — but not always, and not when she takes an absurd stance and argues purely for argument’s sake. I doubt there are many either who refuse to indulge her when she knows she’s just being a shit.”

Raphael looks amused. "She goes easy with me now on the subject of courtesans," he says. "Possibly because I grew very heated with her on the topic, once. So I suppose you and I are, unsurprisingly, similar in that regard." The corners of his mouth turn up again. "I believe that is her affinity with our canon even if she does not recognize it. We are versed in setting limits."

“You know I rarely grow heated in debate,” Emmanuelle mentions. “Perhaps,” and she lifts an eyebrow, “my most infuriating quality—?” Yes? No? She leaves him a moment to consider, but soon pursues her own line of thought. “Given that the opposite of passion is not ire but indifference, I wonder sometimes whether the vicomtesse realises how much of herself she gives away… Tell me, have you had her views upon the Valerian canon?”

"It is not usually my way," Raphael says, perhaps admitting a certain amount of embarrassment to Emmanuelle that he would not permit others to detect. "I was somewhat off keel. We were in the gardens of Eisheth and there was a certain flower in bloom…" He doesn't follow the thought but instead moves to the other topic. "She has told me that she feels they lack self-respect," he answers.

At that hint of floral incitement Emmanuelle’s eyelids lower infinitesimally, though her gaze still rests steady and blue upon Raphael’s face. “Yes,” she agrees with mendacious mildness, “that does appear to be the view she has formed through long personal acquaintance and much intimate conversation with our red-petaled colleagues.” A slight shake of her head dismisses the misconception. Then she lifts her cup and breathes in the fragrance of her fine black Ch’in tea. “That one, I did not debate,” she confides; “that morning I told her I would give her ten minutes, and ten minutes she had of me. I’d been working all night,” she explains, “and as I was coming home I came across her in the square, on her way to the Rose Sauvage.”

"I disagreed with her," Raphael replies, "Though we did not discuss it at length." He picks up his cup of tea. "Although I thought it was unfortunate, since she had only just been introduced to Séverine, who I think does have a great deal of dignity. But to the vicomtesse, resistance is pride and submission is always disgrace. It is battle logic. She tells me I would not be suited to battle." This last he says with a certain sense of humor.

“Yes,” and Emmanuelle puts down her tea and steeples her hands, her wrists draped lightly across the back of her armless chair, “battle logic,” she echoes pensively. “I have seen that in her also. Fight, always, every time, with all one’s strength, and never a moment’s hesitation before one enters the fray — fight, and lay down one’s life, rather than entertain the possibility of gain by other means, or of a redefinition of victory in terms other than black and white.” She pauses. “Such an ethos may suit the rank and file, but I cannot see it being of much utility to their commanders,” she drawls. “But tell me, how is the dignified Séverine?”

Raphael smiles at the question. "She would, I think, be pleased if she knew you asked. I am going to meet with her soon about the vicomtesse's plant. Baptiste is always much engaged with contracts, and it seems a smaller matter than necessarily requires attention from Jacques." He sips his tea. "I do not yet know her well, but that may be partly deliberate. I have a sense that if we become better acquainted she may like to practice our arts together, as it were, and I have not decided whether that would be entirely wise."

Then Emmanuelle is quiet, indulging in a moment’s contemplation.

“… Do you recall,” she murmurs at last, “when we were all serving together at the Rose Sauvage, it was widely supposed that Samanthe and I were fucking night and day? … Not so,” she explains, with a slight and cryptic red smile. “Of course our friendship was not perfectly chaste — but we allowed the assumptions to grow wilder and wilder, for we each had a certain lustre to lend the other. We held greater sway over the imagination of Marsilikos together, than either of us might have done alone. You also,” she suggests carefully, “may find particular benefits in a closer association with Séverine, be it private or public. Though that will depend upon your plans for the future, if and when you should form them.”

This all occasions a much longer silence than might be expected for Raphael to consider these things. At last, he must say something. "I confess I still find it difficult to conceive of a future," he says, expression hardened. "Yet he who does not think of the future one day finds himself living in a present of someone else's design. It has been a great temptation not to care. And yet, when I consider where I would like to see the salon years from now…"

“… You think it may be wiser,” deduces Emmanuelle, “to light a candle before darkness falls.”

She pauses; she tilts her head, her black pearl gleaming. “Of course you have built a life for yourself twice before — I can only imagine that writing a third chapter in accordance with your own liking is an ambition well within your natural reach. But if it happens that I can be of aid to you again in the future,” remarks Edouard Shahrizai’s daughter, proffering a plate of sandwiches, “I hope you will not hesitate to call upon me, Raphael. Try one of these,” she advises, and smiles coolly across the tea-table. “The cucumber does crunch so beautifully.”

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License