(1311-05-03) Observing Forms
Summary: Denise nó Rose Sauvage pays a tentative call upon her cousin and neighbour, Emmanuelle Shahrizai.
RL Date: 03/05/2019
Related: The First Roses of Springtime, One Hand Giveth, The Other Taketh Away.
emmanuelle denise 

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.

The first time Denise Shahrizai nó Rose Sauvage essays a call upon a certain illustrious neighbour who, at last, in the spring long months after her retirement from Mandrake House, has entered into the social life of the House of Wild Roses, she is turned away at the gates on the grounds that the lady is passing several days in the country. The time of her return is uncertain.

Later, when the springtime is more advanced and the southern sunshine is beating down hard upon the cobbles of the Place des Mains, she calls again and after some small rigmarole with guardsmen in the blue and yellow tabards of House Mereliot she and her chaperone are shown through a bleak stone courtyard redolent of wormwood and up the front steps of the redoubtable Maison Sanglante. How many people was it, whose lifeblood was spilt in the foyer of this house and down these very steps, within living memory—? The number alters depending upon who tells the tale. The heavy ironbound door shuts with a resonant thud behind the two women; and for five or ten minutes they are left alone upon the scene of that famous crime, covered over now in dark marble and converted into a chamber honouring the Lord Punisher as manifested in the form of Emmanuelle nó Mandrake de Shahrizai.

A discreet door amongst the frescoes (its position is betrayed only by its iron handle) opens to admit a man whose physiognomy suggests his own Shahrizai blood. He's in his middle thirties, clad in black silk with long blue-black hair braided after the frequent fashion of the men of that house — when they are in favour with its dextrous and beneficent ladies. He welcomes Denise after the fashion of a servant rather than a kinsman, with deferential words and a courtly low bow somewhat belied by his chiseled profile and his arrogant eyes, and establishes her in a small adjoining chamber where a low table between two black leather sofas is already laden with a low copper bowl of unseasonal fruit — plates, knives, black linen napkins — a decanter of cognac left open to breathe and two bell-shaped snifters to pour it into. His upraised hand warns the chaperone against following: for her, a hard wooden bench is soon set against the wall on the far side of the Kushiel chamber, opposite the open door of the receiving-room. Her charge will never be out of her sight, but out of her earshot—? Naturally.

If braving the intimidating aspect of the house and its sinister reputation is a first test of sorts, Denise seems to master it quite well. The dark chamber with its Kusheline frescoes draws all of her attention as she waits, and the knowledge of who the current owner of this locale is seems to work rather more of an impression on her than the rumors of its bloody past. The young adept has dressed to fit in with the decor: she wears a dress of dark blue silk, so deep that it easily passes for black at first glance. It covers up her back and the unfinished marque upon it, but bares plenty of pale skin otherwise. It is also clear that some form of corsetry is worn beneath, and rather tightly laced, by all appearances. The man coming to greet her gets the full attention of her bright blue eyes, the juxtaposition of Shahrizai features and a servant's demeanour sparking all manner of curious speculation in the young woman's gaze. By now she has begun to show just a hint of nerves, her shoulders squaring as she follows the man into the chamber, studying the food and drink without touching anything.

The oddly servile Shahrizai gentleman withdraws, leaving Denise to her contemplations; minutes later, the door through which he departed opens again, and the crisp music of boots upon marble signals the advent of Emmanuelle herself. Above their soft leather lent sharpness by stiletto heels and steel-capped toes, the erstwhile Mandrake Dowayne wears a sleeveless shirt of wine-red silk tucked into breeches of sturdy rather than sensual black cloth. Absent such stringent tailoring as she normally affects her shoulders reveal their squared-off shape, and her pale arms a musculature formed for power as well as elegance. Her figure offers nothing feminine to the eye: only her usual blatantly masculine note, stretching taut her breeches and offering challenge or promise or threat, however an onlooker may happen to interpret it. Dangling from the lower piercing in her left ear is a large, lustrous, creamy-white pearl; otherwise her only jewels are an accompanying pair of diamond studs. Her hair is worn in a plain blue-black chignon. Her blue-black tresses are pulled back into a plain chignon, threaded with white hairs she's far too arrogant to bother disguising.

She comes to an unhurried halt in the doorway with her feet solidly planted; her cologne wafts ahead of her to meet Denise where she waits and to fill the receiving-room with the resinous, leathery, musky notes of its fragrance.

"Cousin," she intones, in that deep uisghe-voice of hers she never came near enough for Denise to hear at the party. Then after that single formal word she quirks her boldly-drawn dark eyebrows, and continues in a husky drawl coloured by amusement in its darker hues. "You will forgive me for receiving you in so public a chamber, where as a rule we put the people we don't like. You understand, your chaperone is not someone I know — thus, this compromise."

Denise turns at the sound of those boots, drawing herself up, then relaxing her shoulders ever so faintly, possibly realizing she was letting the situation get to her. As the imposing and notorious woman makes her entrance, Denise lets her gaze briefly but frankly run over her, not bothering to hide her deep curiosity—after all, it would be the most transparent dishonesty to pretend she did not know who she was facing. Denise's lips curl into a faint smile, and she drops into a deep curtsey. Emmanuelle will easily recognize the Valerian training in that simple gesture, offering just a touch more grace and deference than the curtsey of some court lady might reveal. "Thank you for seeing me, Milady" she replies, somewhat more formal in her own tone. Her gaze briefly drifts toward the entrance but she nods in agreement, murmuring "The forms must be followed, after all…"

"… You and I," drawls Emmanuelle as she studies that impeccable Night Court curtsey from her vantage upon the threshold between the two chambers, "we both enjoy a little formality, don't we?" It may be a jest, a criticism, a compliment, a genuine question: her painted visage offers no explication of her words, nor do her cool Shahrizai eyes which are waiting for Denise's when she straightens from her curtsey and which gaze for a moment blue into blue, before she releases her and prowls round the table to her favourite of the black leather sofas.

She sits down, her posture still naturally and unconsciously masculine, her booted feet apart as she leans forward to take up the decanter of cognac. "You may sit," she adds to Denise, inclining her head toward the younger woman as the liquor pours fragrant and glowing into one of the ballons set out to receive it. She replaces the stopper in silence and slides the glass across the table to her visitor with two fingers tipped by black-lacquered nails. She looks up, again catching Denise's gaze with her own. "You came once before," she observes.

Denise does tense a little as she straightens up and meets Emmanuelle's gaze—subtly, but it's there. "Formality is but a kind of ritual, after all. And there is beauty in ritual, when performed with grace and thought." For all her signs of nervousness, Denise answers the question without hesitation, despite being unable to divine the full intention behind it. As she is offered a seat, she gives another faint smile and replies "Thank you". She heads toward the other leather sofa, sitting down and accepting the offered drink. "Yes" she replies softly, lifting the glass to lightly draw in the heady scent of the cognac. "In truth, I do not know whether I should apologize for intruding on you today or for not attempting to call on you earlier still… but I am certainly glad to make your acquaintance at last."

Emmanuelle sits back comfortably with her hands resting upon her thighs, and regards this Red Rose who has come to blossom for a span beneath her roof. Small temptations, perhaps, may be indulged even under the chaperone's eye, even with the table itself acting in a similar guise. "Go on, then," she drawls coolly. Her voice remains pitched very low, both to thwart eavesdropping from the foyer and because it is her own nature to speak softly. "Apologise."

Denise's eyebrows lift the barest fraction of an inch. Just as subtle is the hint of color creeping into her cheeks, if only at the embarrassment of having walked right into that one. A few seconds pass in silence as she digests the woman's words. Just possibly, there might be the ghost of a smile hovering about her lips, only for an instant or so. In silence, Denise sets the glass back on the table, the cognac still untasted. With a motion as graceful as her earlier curtsey, she slips off the couch, and kneels abeyante on the floor, briefly glancing up at Emmanuelle through her eyelashes. "I am… deeply sorry for having let anxiety keep me away, Milady. I can but plead you grant me the opportunity to earn your good graces…"

Blooming indeed. When the girl kneels in her pool of midnight silks Emmanuelle turns toward her a few degrees, adding the full weight of her gaze to keep that sleek dark head properly bowed before her. She watches, and she listens, weighing Denise's sin against her with all the gravity of Lord Kushiel himself.

"… Better," she purrs, turning wry. "Now. Why do you so desire to bask in my good graces, cousin? I have no longer any association with the Rose Sauvage."

Denise takes a deep breath, or as deep as the corset beneath her clothing will allow. She keeps her gaze demurely downcast now, but her lips definitely curl into a brief smile this time. "But hopefully you do not consider yourself retired from your family? There are not many Shahrizai in Marsilikos, and as my father has had cause to remind me, I have rather been neglecting my duty to be sociable on that side of things." There is a brief pause before she adds, a little more quietly "And I would hope as well that even though you have left the Rose Sauvage, the service of Naamah and Kushiel is still something we might share some insights on."

"Few enough in Marsilikos," Emmanuelle agrees mildly, "and yet six gathered beneath this roof. Seven, when my father is in residence as well." She leans forward to collect Denise's abandoned brandy snifter; holding it cupped in the palm of her hand, to lend her own warmth to the liquor moment by moment, she swirls it a little and then presents it to her visitor. The delicate crystal rim of the glass presses insistently against Denise's lips, obliging her to take a mouthful and then another. "How far has your marque progressed?" the Mandrake wonders aloud, and the glass relents long enough to permit the adept to answer her.

Denise glances up in surprise as the glass is pressed to her mouth. Her lips part obligingly, and she takes two deep draughts of the cognac, her pale face flushing faintly as the fiery liquor flows down her throat. She gasps a little for breath at the reprieve, her tongue lapping up a stray drop of the drink from her lower lip. "It is almost finished" she replies, not without a faint tinge of pride in her voice. "I hope to complete it before midsummer…"

"Then perhaps by summer's end," suggests Emmanuelle, "you will have the leisure and the independence to pursue your social life as you— and your father," she adds drily, "might wish. You will be welcome in my house and in the company of your cousins here, when you are free to visit us alone." She inflicts upon Denise another bounteous mouthful of that rich, fruity, elderly cognac, almost too much to swallow; and then she withdraws the glass, taking a breath of its fragrance deep into her own lungs but setting it down untasted. "Until then, you understand that as we treasure our family," she explains in a gentle and tutelary manner, "we treasure also the privacy of the family life we live together within these walls."

Denise manages not to cough as another measure of cognac is forced down her throat, but it clearly takes some skill. She is fairly flushed by the time the glass is removed, her breathing coming in swift, shallow pants that put some strain on her corsetry. She blinks a few times, staring up at Emmanuelle. For a brief moment, her lips press together, before she gives another nod, still struggling a little to catch her breath. "Of course. I am sure something could have been arranged, but… it is a short time…"

"And, as you rightly remark, we must observe the forms." For the first time since she came in, Emmanuelle's red mouth curves into the suggestion of a smile. "Tell me, do you always lace down so tightly, or is that to impress me—?"

Denise flushes deeper now, the heavy gulps of cognac having loosened her self-restraint. "Beauty takes effort" she replies with a faintly wry smile of her own. "And a certain willingness to suffer." There is just a moment's pause before she murmurs "But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping to make an impression…"

The cognac has done no more than its appointed task. Emmanuelle offers such heady liquor to all her guests in the service of lowering defenses, dispensing with inhibitions, revealing unexpected truths… Besides, it's polite. "You hoped to impress me with your beauty," she agrees coolly, "and you take not only a justifiable pride in your appearance but a surpassing pleasure in that severe constriction which quite literally takes your breath away," she judges. "Encasing your body in steel boning makes you feel lovelier, more confident, more wholly yourself. Don't call it suffering, when you and I both know better. And don't ever try lying to me," she murmurs, "because it doesn't work." Her blue diamond gaze holds no challenge or reproof. She's only being equally truthful herself.

Denise takes a few more unsteady breaths, glancing down and ever so briefly brushing her fingertips along her flank, feeling the corset beneath. "It is perhaps just a touch more nuanced" she replies, though her tone is entirely deferential. "The exquisite sensations that pain can bring do not entirely mean that it ceases to be pain…" She looks back up, the flush returning to her cheeks as she admits quietly "But in the main, you are entirely correct, Milady."

"… I do adore it," drawls Emmanuelle, smiling broadly now, though her blue Shahrizai eyes remain so chilly that her humour may well be no more than skin deep, "when Red Roses come into my house and lecture me upon the nuances of our profession." She steeples her hands in her lap, across the casually unladylike gap between her thighs in their snug black breeches. "I imagine you know Clara well. She did the same, though sitting upon my sofa rather than kneeling at my feet. On the whole I prefer the latter."

Her narrowed gaze studies Denise frankly, each breath, each quiver, the strain of her present circumstances and how subtly in truth she shows it. "The aesthetic effect is charming, as well you know," she muses; "a kneeling Valerian adds to any chamber a work of beauty beyond the skill of any master craftsman but Nature herself. You are your art, my dear. You may tell your father you have done as he wished," she decides, rising smoothly onto her booted feet. "You are welcome here," she repeats, "though he is not."

Denise does her best to meet that fierce gaze, the flush never quite fading from her cheeks, a soft shiver running down her spine. The mention of Clara brings a faint smile to her lips, while the mention of her father does not perhaps cause quite as much filial outrage as might be expected. "Thank you Milady" is her only response, though her eyes speak volumes more, gleaming with an odd mixture of relief and disappointment at being dismissed. She rises to her feet with the same grace she knelt with, her motions precise despite the liquor she has drunk. Giving another curtsey, she murmurs "Until we meet again, then…"

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