(1311-05-04) Keep Still
Summary: Somewhat the worse for wear after his duels on the Day of Camael, Étienne d’Arguil is ushered by a charming lady into the clutches of a truly sinister chirurgeon… (Warning: Some blood, definitely.)
RL Date: 04/05/2019 - 14/05/2019
Related: Takes place during Dorimène’s absence from this scene. Refers to Counting Ten and Day of Eisheth: Performance Contest.
dorimene_npc etienne emmanuelle 

Tournament Field — Eisande

The wind billows pennants and banners as far as the eye can see, here. The terrain is generally flat, with some signs that areas of the plain might have been built up to help flatten it— one corner in particular overlooks a steep downward hill. The plain is partitioned off by fences into walkways and competition grounds, and in the middle of each set of fences feet have long worn away the grass, leaving the centers of each area naught but earth and dust, all the better not to accidentally trod in a hole and break oneself.

On the western edge of the field a huge mass of stands has been erected out of fresh beams of wood, all redolent of pine and of cedar, nailed in place with giant iron stakes and sturdy enough to stand firm below the mass of humanity which moves onto and off of it every day during the tournament competitions. Opposite the stands are the brightly colored pavilia, each with its banner waving overhead, where the competitors of each family might store equipment, rest and prepare. In the middle of the pavilia is a raised stand where the Duchesse, her family, and invited VIPs may sit under a canopy of their own and watch the games from closer to the action.

The voices of the crowds rise and fall with each ebb and flow in the combats honouring Camael on this, his own day. Everyone in Marsilikos who can be there to enjoy the spectacle, is, and so the shady tree-planted avenue behind the noble stands and the ducal box is deserted, but for servants passing to and forth carrying refreshments for highborn onlookers… and a slight woman in a plain gown of black linen, standing in shadow with a Mereliot guard at her side, anticipating the arrival of her carriage from the paddock nearby where such vehicles await their fortunate owners' pleasure. Close to, she's hardly a day over twenty and solemn in her appearance but not severe. Her lovely pale face is innocent of paint, her sapphire eyes are slightly downcast; she holds a posy of snowdrops clasped in her white-gloved hands, bright against the darkness of her dress.

Étienne is limping this way in dusty, dented armor. He staggers along, trying to look cheerful but in obvious pain. As he gimps up to her he double takes, then draws back in alarm.

Dorimène's clear blue gaze lifts at the distinctive sound of a man moving toward her in armour; and then when she takes in the prospect Étienne presents her keen mind draws several conclusions in the time it takes her lungs to summon a single breath. Her eyes widen; one pale hand detaches itself from her posy and hovers, elegantly poised, almost as though it might reach toward him. "My lord, are you quite well?" she wonders, in the same mellifluous and beguiling accent he heard so much of at Cereus House on the Longest Night. Her delicate frame reorients itself toward him, quite directly. "Have you no one attending you?"

Étienne's visor is up. He gives her a sheepish smile. His voice is a dry rasp with a strong Azzallese accent. "My attendant never arrived from home and my friend was busy elsewhere. It's probably not that long a walk home." He looks at her as if he expects to be smacked on the nose. Blood seeps from one of the leg joins. "I fear I don't know your name, my lady."

The lady smiles and again lowers her eyes. What could be farther from a nose-smacking than such pretty manners, and the scent of fresh-picked snowdrops joined with Eisandine lavender soap—? "I am called Dorimène nó Cereus de Shahrizai," she answers, though he could surely have deduced some part of that from the sporty little black carriage approaching them now along the avenue, drawn by four magnificent dark horses and equipped with Mereliot outriders. "And you are Lord Étienne d'Arguil, no? You fought well, my lord; the vicomte de Chavagne is a challenging opponent… Would you allow me to offer you aid?"

Étienne attempts a creaky bow and gasps with the pain of trying. "It is a pleasure to meet you…” He gazes off in the direction of home, and rasps, "It is very kind of you to offer but are you sure…?"

"Of course," Dorimène answers at once, confident in herself, her eyes still resting in curiosity upon Étienne despite the distraction offered by the carriage pulling up almost within reach of her hand. Her mother keeps such a meticulous coachman. "I am going down into the city now in any case, and I think perhaps you would benefit from a chirurgeon's care sooner rather than later, my lord," she confides. The guard who has been waiting with her opens the door and folds down the steps, and she sees Étienne helped inside before mounting the steps herself with her skirts and her snowdrops held easily in the same hand. It's Emmanuelle Shahrizai's own carriage, indubitably; the onyx-studded black silk upholstery is unique of its kind. No doubt Étienne is well on his way toward ruining it.

Étienne is in too much pain to resist being bundled, especially by someone so charming. "Your seats!" He insists that they at least help him off with his tabard, so they might spread it inside out for him to sit on. Once they are on their way, he says softly, "You look like her, but you're completely different, aren't you?"

By means of two or three incomplete sentences breathed out softly and allowed to trail away beneath Étienne's own reassurances — and the gestures of her hands and her flowers — Dorimène contrives simultaneously to convey that Étienne's care for the upholstery is quite unwarranted, that she is grateful to him for it nonetheless, and that she is perhaps just a wee bit surprised and enchanted that he should be so considerate as to think of such a thing in his state.

Then, sitting across from him as the wheels begin to turn, she clasps her posy to the slight swell of her bosom and lets out a handful of notes of sweetly musical soprano laughter. It appears he has surprised her a second time. "Oh, you mean…? I suppose we are, aren't we? But mothers and daughters are often quite different, you know." She studies him, her pink lips almost but not quite smiling. "When you looked at me so I wondered whether you might have been a patron of hers," she confides, "though now I think… perhaps not?" she guesses gently.

Étienne holds himself carefully, wincing at every bump, but transparently happy to be sitting down. He nods, "It is true. Only my sister Claude is like my mother in temperament of the three." He shakes his head, "She doesn't much like me, I think, and I'm not inclined… No, never a patron of hers. You startled me is all." He blinks at her slowly with those ridiculously angel kissed eyes, long black lashes fluttering, "I'm not very good with… well, people, really." Another sheepish smile shows off good teeth.

Close to, reflecting upon her at length in the afternoon sunlight spilling through the carriage's windows as they descend into the city of Marsilikos, the resemblance may appear to Étienne a little less acute: Dorimène has a more delicate nose than Emmanuelle's magnificent patrician beak, and her expression as she considers these confidences given in exchange for her own is so gentle and so serene that she seems no simulacrum, but her own person whole and entire. "Oh, do you have sisters?" she inquires, interestedly. "I have one of each, a sister and a brother — but I haven't seen them in so long I'm sure they've grown a great deal since."

Étienne tries to lean forward in his eagerness, but thinks better of it, wincing, "I have three younger sisters and a brother. I miss them too. It's been half a year. What are yours like?”

"Well," breathes Dorimène, considering the question, "they are both quick and clever, and they both have fierce, quicksilver tempers they haven't quite learnt to govern… They are near to one another in age and they went to Mont Nuit at the same time, so they have all kinds of private jokes together," she smiles again, but puckishly now, "not all of which they like to explain to me, I being the eldest. We share our lady mother's colouring but in some ways we do take after our different fathers," she explains. "What are yours like?" she asks then, companionably. "Have you all the same blue eyes, as we do?"

Étienne seems delighted, picturing them. "Agnès is next after me. The… shape of her face is like father's, where mine takes after mother's. She loves riding and hawking and anything outdoors. Really her hair is lighter than mine, but not as light as Claude's, who has father's eyes like I do, but is otherwise very like mother. She's good at embroidery and accounting. Antoinette is… eight. She has father's eyes too." Something in his tone suggests that while he loves them all dearly, this Antoinette is his favorite, even though he says the least about her. “Orland is just leaning his letters. I think he's going to have father's coloring and mother's face, like I do."

The flow of blood from the wound in Étienne's leg has had time enough to reach the carriage's ebony floorboards and render them perilous; Dorimène, distracted for a time by their talk, happens to glance down and grow sober again at the sight. She lays down her snowdrops beside her on the black velvet seat and produces from a pocket beneath her gown a large handkerchief of white silk edged with a narrow border of black. She folds it several times and then, bending forward, lifts her sapphire eyes to Étienne's to implore him: "Do let me—?" And, if he should accede to her appeal, she ties the handkerchief snugly and with care around the wounded part of his leg, to soak up some part at least of the blood lately spilled (though she doesn't know it) by her own brother-in-law. "You sound a very pretty family," she offers as she knots the corners together. When she straightens again her previously pristine white gloves are smudged with red. "Will you see them soon, do you suppose? Or do you intend a longer absence from your home?"

Étienne gives her a smile full of sunshine and dimples, "You really are very kind. I appreciate all you have done for me." The smile dims, "I write them about anything interesting that happens, but I intend to stay longer. I suspect by the time I do go home they'll have found a husband for Agnès and sent her off…. I do hope whoever they find won't take her too far from her hills and that he's kind and… right for her."

Dorimène listens and nods, with a wistful curve to her unpainted lips. "I'm sure your parents will try hard to make the best choice for her," she suggests gently, "and that along one path or another she will find Elua's blessings."

Étienne nods, "I hope so. I'm supposed to be looking for myself of course, but right now it's more important to find Symon someone right for him, and… Nevermind. Do you miss them? If they are in Elua, I mean."

"Yes, I do, sometimes," Dorimène allows, then adds virtuously, "but for now it is perhaps better not to rush off to Elua and interrupt their training — and in a few short years they'll enjoy the same freedoms I do and we may see one another whenever we wish…" A new personality having appeared in Étienne's narrative, she inclines her head and inquires after him with the same mild but genuine curiosity. "Symon?"

Étienne blushes prettily, "My friend, Symon de Perigeux. Once he has the right betrothed he'll help me look." He says very earnestly, "It's important to find someone who really suits him. Someone sensible and patient and good at accounts who likes him and who he likes back."

Such a lot of personal affairs to confide to a stranger — Étienne's hopes for his own marriage, for his sister's, for his friend's — but how often, really, has a Cereus flower the opportunity to speak alone with a young man who isn't bidding fair to trip over his own tongue? Dorimène is just glad that she isn't alone in a carriage, inching forward through a slow and sticky bit of afternoon traffic near the heart of Marsilikos, picturing over and over in her mind's eye her brother-in-law and then her favoured patron fall each onto one knee before the Camaeline onslaught… Courtesan that she is, simply attending to someone else's needs provides a kind of release from her own troubles. "I see," she agrees gravely, nodding to Étienne. "But have you not a sister with some skill at accounting? Perhaps…" Her words trail softly away as she shrugs a shoulder. "But I'm sure if the match were eligible for her," she adds, an apologetic note entering her tone, "I should hardly be the first one to suggest it, my lord."

Étienne says gently, "She's fourteen and he's twenty six, plus the difference in our stations. I wish he could marry Agnès though. She's almost as good at household management and she's kind and likes animals, but it won't do. He's heir to Perigeux, and she's the daughter of a cadet branch of a minor northern house, and she'd hate leaving her hills and cliffs and he… belongs here in the south and needs a clever wife of his own station." He says with real sorrow, "It won't do. It'll be even harder to find someone for me, I think." He blinks again, "But here I am babbling on about myself. Did you have fun today? Have you gone to many of the contests?"

The lightning shifts in Étienne's logic, the details of which are none too comprehensible to one who knows him so little, perhaps remind Dorimène of her own clannish younger siblings— she nods and then nods again, and murmurs such courtesies as "Ah, I see" and "Of course you must be right" and "I'm sure, in time…" Her encouragement is calculated to keep him speaking freely of what pleases him, in the hope that perchance their talk is taking his mind off the wet handkerchief bound about his leg, and the steady welling of blood beneath it. She's already debating the sacrifice of a petticoat as she answers: "Just today's contest. I was away from the city, but I happened to return in time for it; and because I'm acquainted with one or two gentlemen whom I knew intended to pay homage to Camael today, of course I was curious to see… Have you been attending all of them, my lord? Or—" That puckish smile again. "Taking part in all?"

Étienne smiles, "As clever as you are kind and beautiful, I see." He very carefully doesn't look down. Sometimes it is better not to know. "I didn't fall of my horse in the dressage and I didn't embarrass myself at the archery contest. I thought I was doing pretty well today until Lord Aidan got his second wind. The poor man lost his brother. I hope pounding me into creamed beets at least cheered him up some. I honestly thought he'd go down after the first three hits, but he's much better than he showed in his first bout."

The compliment passes over Dorimène as the sweet nothing it is, acknowledged only by a tiny smile which appreciates his graciousness without descending into false modesty via any sort of disclaimer. "Of course on such occasions it matters less to win, than to honour the Companions with the gifts at one's command, and with a sincere heart. In that it seems you've been acquitting yourself well, my lord," she assures Étienne warmly, "whether or not you happened to take a medal for your efforts."

Then dark eyebrows groomed more daintily than her mother's, though with no less precision, rise together in guileless surprise. "Oh," she murmurs, more softly still. There's a hesitation, scarce perceptible, before her words resume their smooth and lyrical soprano flow. "You fought Lord Aidan Delaunay? I think perhaps I left the box a few moments in advance of that bout, my lord," she admits. "I should not be surprised that he rallied in the end," she offers, blaming her momentary uncertainty upon a cause adjacent to the truth: "though Eisandine he was born of a Basilisque mother, and through her blood he is a Scion of Camael."

Étienne nods, "That's how I feel about it exactly." He nods, "He fought me after he defeated my Baphinol cousin, which means he'll be fighting either Drake or the lady… What was her name? Anyway, he really did rally at the end and acquit himself beautifully."

“Lady Jaide Ferraut, I think—?” offers Dorimène diffidently, with a courtesan’s memory for names and a Cereus’s knowledge of the noble stud-books of Terre d’Ange. “A daughter perhaps of the comte of that house… My lord, would you favour me by closing your eyes for a moment?” she wonders. Her slight and apologetic smile invites him to indulge her odd little wish.

Then while they’re halted by traffic he’ll hear a rustle of linen and silk upon the seat across from him; and when she murmurs, “You may look now,” he’ll find her hands again addressing his wounded leg, this time to unbuckle the relevant piece of his armour and to twine about his still-bleeding wound a lengthwise-folded petticoat. The garment is of white silk, embroidered with a scattering of Cereus blossoms in thread-of-gold— exquisite work, as any brother of sisters ought to discern. Over any objections, she ties it snugly in place.

Étienne nods, "Yes! That was it." He's still a little stunned from his battering and the blood loss from his first bout isn't helping. He looks curious, but trustingly obliges by closing his eyes. He is that sort of lad. Given permission he opens them again, and is almost immediately distressed by the sacrifice of her petticoat, "Oh! But that's good silk! And really fine and expensive embroidery! You'll ruin it!" His exposed calf is well-muscled and shapely.

"I have many petticoats, but you've only two legs," is his nurse's gentle rejoinder, delivered as she ties a prudent second knot in her undergarment donated to replace his bloodied greave. She smiles another of those faint Cereus smiles. "One can never expect a pretty trifle to last forever, my lord — one can only hope that it will endure long enough to serve its purpose, and to please."

Étienne smiles down at her, bemused, "I suspect you are terribly good at your calling. You are also extremely kind." He is quite pale and trying so very hard to hid how much pain he is in from her.

Dorimène hardly possesses her mother's instinct for gauging a man's pain— but she supposes it must be rather more than he likes to show before a pretty woman, and so she exerts herself as only a daughter of Mont Nuit can to keep him distracted with easy talk and a sense of his own interest and importance in her eyes. She draws out of him a recounting, blow by blow, of the three duels he fought — even the two she saw from the ducal box, she seems delighted to hear over again from his perspective, with his greater knowledge of the subject — the third, his bout with Aidan Delaunay, reduces her to a wide-eyed and fascinated silence… And then the carriage halts in the Place des Mains, before a forbidding grey stone wall set with wrought-iron gates the pattern of which incorporates gilded keys.

The door is swiftly opened, the steps swiftly folded down. Dorimène alights with her snowdrops to find those gates already unlocked and yielding to her passage; to the Mereliot men on duty guarding the house and the others who accompanied the carriage she issues sweet-voiced but sure directions, with all the natural confidence of a young woman arriving in a place where she stands as heiress. The lord is injured; he can walk a little; he must be helped up the steps and into the house at once. What she doesn't do, is ask the lord if he would like to come inside — but, to be fair, he never gave her his own direction, only surrendered to being swept along wherever it might please her to convey him.

For all his naïvete, the d'Arguil heir knows perfectly well what she's doing and keeps trying to turn conversation back to her, though he always yields in the end to her deflection. He does his best to be charming despite the increasing signs of strain. He does pick up on her interest in the third duel and does his very best for her there.

Etienne fails to realise where he is, at first. Everything stiffened during the ride and he's rather dizzier than he was when he sat down. All of this makes decanting himself from her rig rather a torment, and it's hard for him not to cry out when he moves wrong. So it is, he is swept along into the place he would least want to enter.

He knows what she's about; she knows he knows; and yet the game still plays out in the time-honoured fashion, with the lady's will prevailing.

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 guardsmen lend strong hands and strong shoulders to get Étienne down from the carriage, through the bleak stone courtyard beyond those glimmering gates, and up half a dozen steps; Dorimène flits ahead upon dainty slippered feet to see that the door is open, the candles lit, a place waiting for this unexpected visitor.

When Étienne is half-carried across the threshold she is just turning in the doorway of the receiving-room which adjoins the Kushiel chamber, her small hand in its bloodstained white glove resting upon the frame and her unpainted mouth broadening into a smile as she lifts her other hand to beckon: "In here," she directs, it being a rare circumstance for guards in House Mereliot's employ to enter this stronghold of House Shahrizai. The present pair may well not know the proper place to set down their burden without her to show them — or else they may simply get their first look at the artwork, turn tail, and run… She stands aside, one arm lifted in a graceful arc to indicate the most suitable sofa for Étienne's repose: herself a Kushiel stepped down out of one nightmarish vision or another, clad all in black and ushering Étienne into his own special hell.

In he goes, like a lamb to the slaughter. "How odd to find more northerly architectural taste here, so close to the Night Court of Marsilikos…. It's very elegant inside, isn't it? Oh!" Those angel kissed eyes go wide when he realises just what the mural he is gazing at depicts.

Then he looks really alarmed, but seeing that struggling is no use, gives up thought of flight, "At least put something down so I won't ruin everything with blood and dirt. She won't be pleased as it is."

"Yes, my grandfather did retain a handful of the house's original features — but for the rest we favour the Shahrizai taste," Dorimène explains as Étienne is manhandled like a sack of potatoes (a leaky sack!) past several notable examples of that taste, which will in all probability insinuate themselves into his memory and recur from time to time in the form of gruesome nocturnal visions…

From the hands of another guard who has followed them inside she claims Étienne's already soiled tabard, which she shakes out and bestows upon the sofa designated to receive him, flitting lithely to and fro amongst guards and servants without so much as a brush or a bump to justify her murmured pleas to be excused. To a maid whose plain black gown seen in a composition with her own reveals the exquisite tailoring and phenomenal expense of the latter, she gives another soft-voiced order: "Please fetch hot water and a basin, towels, and a fresh cake of soap. And see that my lady mother is notified that I have brought her a patient." To the guards she adds a firm and courteous dismissal: "Thank you for your help. I may send down if we require you again when Lord d'Arguil takes his leave."

Then a twirl; and she perches like a hummingbird upon the very edge of the opposite sofa, next to the snowdrops she set down there when first she came in.

"You mustn't worry," she encourages Étienne warmly. "My mother is an excellent chirurgeon — and you do need one, you know. I'm sure she'll give you embroidery as pretty as my petticoat," she promises, teasing him with a puckish small smile.

Étienne calls after the guards, "Wait! I could use a bit of help with my armour. I'm clothed under and it's… not as comfortable as it was when I put it on this morning." Indeed the pigeon style breastplate is very dented at center. Looking to Dorimène he pleads with his eyes, "Will you… stay?" It is a bleat from a lamb who senses the butcher coming.

Lamb to lamb, one of them at least purely devoid of fear, Dorimène looks into Étienne's eyes across the expanse of polished table between them and answers with an easy: "If you wish it, my lord." And then with a beckoning hand she underlines his words, and calls back a guard to assist the patient in doffing his dented armour. While the men tend to that she strips off her bloodied gloves, revealing delicate white hands with unpainted nails — and a ring set with a large marquise-cut sapphire the very hue of her eyes, which till now was turned toward her palm to display an unsullied smoothness of white kidskin.

They make a pile of his armour and its principal underpinnings, on the easily scrubbed marble in the foyer rather than the carpeted floor of the receiving-room. The two maids who come with the accoutrements Dorimène commanded detour around that small martial debris-field; she sends them away again and with her own hands folds a towel and places it on the table, to receive the foot and the ankle of Étienne's wounded leg. They've just rearranged his limb when crisp bootheels sound in the Kushiel chamber, each echoed by the soft musical jingle of a spur.

At once Dorimène straightens, smiling, hands clasped before her.

And then Emmanuelle Shahrizai appears in the doorway. Her black silk shirt is tucked into breeches of black cloth sturdy rather than sensual, and which appear to have been welded together rather than merely sewn. Her cravat of the same silk is pinned in place by her usual golden Shahrizai keys; she wears a sapphire stud in her right ear, and in her left a matching stud above a large and luminous white pearl left to dangle. Her maquillage might have been painted upon stone rather than flesh. She surveys the scene and then drawls to Dorimène and Étienne both: "You're fucking kidding me." She unhooks a thumb from her breeches and points at her daughter: "I could have aborted you," she reminds her coldly.

Dorimène lowers her eyes and falls into a curtsey of inexpressible elegance, one hand clasping her dark skirts and the other unfurling like a flower at arm's length. "Emmadame," she murmurs, all gentleness and respect.

Étienne is in a grubby gambeson over a sweated-through linen shirt and trousers. It turns out his ribs are bad enough he needs help with the gambeson too. His right arm is bruised shoulder to fingertips and the hand is swelling. It seems like he took all his damage on the right. He looks even more sheepish as he realizes the extent of the mess he is making. This lamb is terrified.

He actually tries and completely fails to rise for the alarming arrival of the dreaded Emmanuelle Shahrizai. "I'm so sorry! I tried to talk her out of it, but she's very hard to say no to!"

The wounded man's effort to show respect in his own way does nothing to ameliorate Emmanuelle's current mood. "An inherited trait," she drawls, baring her teeth at him in a glacial smile. She's already pressing her cufflinks into her daughter's hand and rolling up her sleeves; she sits down next to the abandoned snowdrops and leans forward with her knees wide apart against the low table and her favourite auxiliary part unmistakable in between. Like Dorimène's her skin is stunningly translucent, blue veins visible almost to her elbows. She commences to scrub her hands and her wrists in water hot enough to turn her pink instead, cleaning beneath each black-lacquered nail, doing a thorough job out of habit.

Meanwhile the fresh young Kushiel perches upon the arm of the sofa next to the painted elder Kushiel, and elucidates Étienne's situation. It seems that while she was coaxing out of him those detailed accounts of his duels, she was making an exhaustive mental registry of the wounds he took and their severity and the order in which they came to him, which she recounts now above the sounds of scrubbing and splashing to the chirurgeon she has enlisted in his care. "… I kept him talking all the way here from the tourney grounds," she concludes demurely, "and though his narrative was not always organised, and sometimes he assumed I must know things I could not have known, I think that is just his way, Emmadame, and no true sign of a concussion. He is not confused in the essentials."

On which note Baltasar Shahrizai — who once conducted an inebriated Étienne from a harbourside cookshop via an urgent alleyway to the inn where he was staying, and put him to bed — leans through the doorway and deposits a large black leather bag with two brass clasps atop it, which Dorimène hurries to open.

Étienne blushes to his ears at the sight of Baltasar Shahrizai. “I hardly got dinged to the head at all, honest. I'm… always like this, yes." He's aware that he's owning up to always sounding vaguely concussed and not particularly bright.

"Mmmhmm," agrees Emmanuelle, eyeing the wounded limb displayed upon a towel on her table, as she dries her blushing hands with another towel just like it. "If you'll relieve him of your lingerie, my dear," she drawls, "I'll see to the leg first. The threaded needles are in—" And she directs Dorimène to the correct place in her bag and the pair of them converge upon him from opposite directions.

Dorimène sets an opened tin next to the washbasin and perches on the sofa next to the patient, heedless of the risk to her gown; and she begins to unmake the knots she tied earlier in her petticoat, and in her handkerchief beneath it. Emmanuelle comes round the other way and sits down upon the table itself, next to the leg which is at present and in her eyes Étienne's most interesting feature. By the time Dorimène has laid bare the source of all that seeping blood she has a wet soapy cloth ready, not painfully hot but comfortingly so, with which to clean the area around the cut as much as may be needful to determine its dimensions. "… Not too many stitches," she murmurs, more to herself than to Étienne; then, with a sideways glance at Dorimène, she observes: "You've returned early."

And the Cereus is the last of the three of them to turn pink in some part. Roses bloom high in her pale cheeks. "… The heat, Emmadame," she murmurs.

Étienne says, "He got in over the greave. Honestly, it's the ribs hurt the most." He is watching Dorimène blush, but has enough sense not to ask which of the combatants she is attached to. Instead he ventures to Emanuelle, "Cousin Boniface was there. I'd not met him before. He… didn't seem to be particularly martial."

"… It's hardly a Baphinol trait," in Emmanuelle's opinion, delivered absently as she selects a threaded silver needle from the tin left open for her, and another clean cloth to dab away such flowing blood as may impede her next task. Whatever views she may hold of this particular young half-Baphinol she hasn't hesitated or wasted a moment in attending to him. Even now her chilly Shahrizai eyes are fixed upon his wound as she informs her daughter, "You love the heat. You haven't had enough practice lying to me to begin at this late date. Keep still," she orders, flicking a glance up at Étienne's face to quell him suitably. The cloth rests soft against his leg; an instant later silver pierces flesh. Next to him Dorimène is terribly white, save for where she's terribly red.

Étienne tries to be still. His uninjured hand clenches as he tries and fails to hide how much pain he's in. "I did pretty well. It was a close thing between me and a man who went on to the final. I was doing pretty well in my second bout until I got dizzy and he got his second wind. You are… I wasn't expecting you to be gentle." he very politely pretends not to notice Dorimène's embarrassment and is trying to draw attention away from the question of her veracity or lack thereof, "I heard Jehan-Pascal did very well at the performance contest, but not the particulars."

Neither Étienne's comparative prowess, nor his subtle expressions of agony, nor her daughter's incarnadine hue serve to divert Emmanuelle's gaze from her sewing: she stitches up Étienne's leg as nonchalantly as another lady might work upon a tambour frame, plying her silver needle to and fro in a steady rhythm, her other fingertips resting just so to hold his sundered flesh together for each stitch or adjusting the bloodied cloth to catch drips. "… Did very well," she echoes, and makes a quietly displeased sound in her throat. "He won," she corrects crisply. "And I think you and I, Étienne d'Arguil," her voice drops into a yet more reproving register, "have already discussed the truth that no one in this world is all one thing or ought to be. For instance, even a child of Cereus House may know moments of timidity, in which her steel spine shrivels within her and she betrays her training and her blood by turning away from a task she has set herself. Still, it is her own matter. She is the one who must decide how long she will live with her fears, how far she will permit them to guide her actions and her eyes."

Étienne's eyes flick between the women. "Talk less; smile more. Right." He tries, though it is more a pained rictus than a true smile.

When Emmanuelle leaves off needling one of her companions to concentrate upon needling the other, so do they fall silent likewise: Étienne no doubt wishing he could go back to the men battering him with wooden swords in so uncomplicated a manner, and Dorimène's gaze lowering into her lap beneath the weight of her mother's cool words. Her hands rest one upon the other, palm-up, to keep from bloodying her skirts. The grip of her lower hand is tight about her upper hand, the sapphire in her ring digging into the softness of her flesh.

Suddenly she rises in a rustle of linen and silk and glides lithely round the arm of the sofa and its back; she hovers in the doorway, her hand again upon the frame, as she addresses a maid who has lingered in the Kushiel chamber against Emmanuelle's further requirements. "Go to my rooms," she directs, "and beg of Rosalie a fresh pair of gloves for me. The gloves with the keys at the wrists." And she rustles back to the other sofa, where her snowdrops are still sitting neglected, and perches there to scrub her own hands à la Emmanuelle. The high colour lingers in her cheeks; otherwise she seems now as calm as her mother, who affects absolute indifference in the pursuit of her needlework.

Étienne is indeed thinking how much simpler being battered to a pulp by men with swords would be. He is also rather wishing he were home being fussed over by Symon, but he was far too busy with social engagements today to watch Etienne fight, and the thought of trying to get his armor off with either no help or with Roberts's polite disapproval was an inducement to give in to the ministrations of the charming courtesan in the first place, before he knew who exactly would be tending him. He says softly to Dorimène, "I am sorry to have put you all to so much trouble."

Regarding him with a soft sweet smile, Dorimène answers for them both. "I hope it is no trouble for anyone in Eisheth's province to tend one who is in such need, my lord. I'm sure my lady mother understands entirely why I acted as I did."

"… Yes," drawls Emmanuelle sardonically, a moment later. And having completed the final stitch in her own signature manner and made a knot in the silk thread, she leans down to bite through it, very close to the skin. Her breath is warm; her teeth flash white between carmine lips drawn back.

<FS3> Etienne rolls Body: Success. (4 8 3)

Étienne grits his teeth, but manfully avoids crying out. Or just crying. He stays still until it is done. He takes a deep breath, "Is there anything I should do for my ribs?" Another slow breath, "I am glad my cousin won. Will his poem be published somewhere I might read it?"

Again Emmanuelle's eyes flick up to her patient's face. "First," she drawls, in the withering tone of one who can hardly believe she has to say it, "you should be patient." While she anoints another clean cloth with some pungent and stinging liquor removed earlier from his bag, and swabs his leg clean of the last traces of the blood he's shed in Camael's honour this day, and gives her bloodied hands another thorough scrubbing and enlists Dorimène to pour clean water to rinse them. "… Regarding the poem," she adds, across the washbasin, "that depends. Do you read Tiberian? The prose translation into d'Angeline loses the lyricism."

Étienne blinks slowly, "I don't, though I have a friend who does and was thinking of learning. It will be something to do while I recover."

"There; you have a project." Though his chirurgeon sounds indifferent to his project as she is to his plight, as she dries her hands again and withdraws from her capacious leather bag a fresh white linen bandage. She folds about half of it into a pad and places it against his wound, and wraps the rest of it about his leg with practiced hands and the aid of a few droplets of some sticky resin round the back to keep it from slipping downward unduly. "Don't take this off yourself," she warns him, in case he needs to be told that as well; "go each day to the infirmary at the Temple of Eisheth and they will see to it for you and make certain that your wound is healing as it ought. A donation to the temple's charities is appropriate upon each visit, though it need not be an onerous sum."

The maid appears in the doorway to proffer, curtseying, a pristine pair of white gloves upon a silver tray. Dorimène rises to claim them, already turning her ring to hide her sapphire in her palm. Whilst watching the proceedings with sympathetic interest she has returned to her natural hue, or near enough. "… Emmadame," she murmurs — softly, apologetically. "May I have your leave to go?"

"You may go," Emmanuelle pronounces without looking. She tears the end of the bandage and ties it just so, heedless of Dorimène's perfect curtsey.

Étienne nods, "I promise. Both not fussing with the bandage and the offering." He turns those big, innocent blue eyes on Dorimène, "Thank you. You really were kinder than I deserve. I really do appreciate it." His eyes go wide as he realises he's about to be abandoned to the non-existent mercies of her maman. A look of terror crosses his face, at odds with his calm bravery in the duel.

Dorimène's smile blossoms again, unpainted and subtle and sweet. "Of course, my lord. I hope you'll feel better very soon." But before his features suffer that brief contortion of terror she has already looked away, to meet Emmanuelle's eyes turning to her at last, blue into blue. "Thank you, Emmadame," she murmurs, and subsides into another, deeper curtsey.

Hardly has the Cereus fluttered away again to her bloodied chariot than Emmanuelle Shahrizai's hands are upon her hapless prey, lifting his sweat-dampened shirt to examine the state of his bruises first with her incisive gaze and then with silky manicured fingertips that just don't care how hard they poke and prod. "… As I supposed from the ease of your breathing, they're not broken," she declares after a few moments of playing scales upon his aching bones. She lets his shirt fall again to cover him and moves on to a similarly excruciating study of his right arm, touching him with no more feeling than if he were a side of meat.

"There's fuck all one can do for bruised ribs except take shallow breaths and try not to laugh," she muses, deadpan as usual. "I'll wrap them for you, but what you really need is just a couple of days flat on your back resting and eating soup," she pronounces. "You are young and healthy; your body will mend itself soon enough. In the meantime the pain of your injuries will act as a salutary reminder not to do anything bloody stupid before you've healed." She doesn't sound as though she'd have any great confidence in Étienne's ability to judge the merely stupid from the bloody stupid, absent the unpleasant corporeal hints she foretells.

Étienne says, "Lord Aidan really wailed on them. I admit I was concerned." He claps closed his mouth against the pain of her probing. "Thank you for checking. I will try to be careful." He takes a deep breath, "I really am sorry to have bothered you again. I didn't realise where she was taking me until it was too late. I did get them to put the tabard down first, but if… if I ruined anything, I will do my best to…. I'm sorry."

Her patient's flood of jejune assurances and apologies draws no response from Emmanuelle but a drawled, "Yes." And then, in her capacity as the woman who knows best what range of motion he's got left in his right arm and his odds of removing that odorous shirt on his own, she produces a small sharp knife which fits in her hand as if it grew there. She hooks a fingertip beneath the shirt's hem and, coolly raising an eyebrow, enjoins him once again to: "Keep still."

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