(1311-05-14) Beaten Paths
Summary: Afternoon tea and family business at the Maison Sanglante.
RL Date: 14/05/2019
Related: Previous scenes with these characters; also, Wild Rose Considerations.
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 and its pool, several old stone planters growing earthy-scented mandrakes (and a single cutting of oleander flowering pale-pink in their midst), 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.

In return for a uniquely sweet gift sent to Kushiel's scion on Kushiel's day, Raphael receives not a letter of thanks but another of her usual curt little invitations to tea, in which not a single word is squandered.

The afternoon hour named is one at which the Rose Sauvage is rarely busy. Next door, the inner courtyard wherein the tea table has been laid is lazier still, sun-warmed and peaceful, so much so that the baby in Emmanuelle's lap appears to be fast asleep and drooling slightly upon her lavender silk blouse. She at least looks up at the sound of Raphael's steps approaching through her black and golden sitting-room and favours him with a wry smile, before crossing the red curve of her lips with an upraised finger to enjoin him to a suitable quietude.

Their chairs are positioned differently today; the empty one awaiting Raphael is facing directly toward a stone planter full of flowering mandrakes, at the heart of which is a transplanted cutting of pale pink oleander.

Raphael arrives at the appointed hour in charcoal broadcloth and undyed linen, and moves through the now-familiar home without particular delay to find the courtyard presenting the finest possible late-spring scene. The baby, perhaps, he had not expected, but as his hostess suggests quiet, he obliges, taking the seat that is meant for him and looking from the baby to the oleander where it blossoms among the mandrakes. He tips his head back slightly and turns his palms up in appreciation of the sunlight.

The child is half a year old and pale as any other Shahrizai lady: kept beneath the silk awning's shadow to protect her translucent skin, but warmed by her fluffy pale blue blanket and her grandmother's encircling arms. Emmanuelle has been sitting still for some unknowable length of time and she continues so, drawing breath in a shallow rhythm calculated to lull the tiny person whose dark head rests so trustingly upon her bosom. She employs this quiet time in studying Raphael minutely where he sits across the table from her in a like stillness. His garb and his posture; and his eyes, which she meets for a long while. At length her lips part to exhale a wry admission, pitched so low only acute Mandragian senses might be relied upon to discern it: "I don't like giving this one back."

Raphael lets his gaze fall where it may after he is finished his contemplation of the sky. Of course he has no shyness when it comes to holding and returning a gaze. But he looks also on the fine courtyard that surrounds the plants, and his attention returns to the peaceful babe. "A charming child," he agrees, keeping his voice soft so that he shall not be the one to wake it. "And we've not met before. How old?"

"Seven months," confides the grandmother in a matching tone; "it was she who brought me to your shop in the winter." A beat. "Though with Eisheth's blessing, my kinswoman Laure will provide us with a fresh one in a couple of weeks' time." She quirks her eyebrows, obviously amused by the prospect.

"How fortunate to have such a family," Raphael replies. "I am only sorry I hadn't more on the shelves for her when you paid your call. And where does this Laure reside? Will the children grow up together as cousins?" He contemplates the folds of the child's fingers and the direction in which her hair grows.

Fortunate, yes. Emmanuelle inclines her head in agreement. "Laure joined my household some months ago, though her duties as vicomtesse will draw her back to Kusheth eventually… If it lives," she mentions coolly, "the child will probably be fostered here. We have not settled all our arrangements."

The blanketed bundle in her lap chooses this ominous moment to emit a small, sleepy, undeniably aggrieved noise, and Emmanuelle takes her chance to uncross her legs and shift the baby's weight. "Ah, there we are," she drawls, speaking to Raphael though her eyes are upon her grandchild. "She never sleeps long at present, night or day. She's lost her father and her milk teeth are coming in. A difficult time," she confides drily. "You take her and I'll pour the tea," she suggests; and as she rises from her chair she finds a handkerchief that slipped down between them during their long cuddle, and employs it to dry the infant's mouth before confiding that cosy albeit fractious parcel into Raphael's keeping. He at least is to be spared damp splodges upon his shirt.

Raphael takes a moment to pass what Emmanuelle has said back through his mind to try to match it with what he's heard around town. If he'd attended the duelling contest he would have undoubtedly understood the state of things more clearly. At the same time, he accepts the baby. While he has a general fondness for children, he does handle the child with that extra bit of cautiousness that gives away that he has raised none of his own. Settling it against his own chest, he looks to Emmanuelle rather gravely. "You must forgive me," he says. "I hadn't realized… That is why I never said anything about it."

The baby is not happy per se, but at least she isn't shrieking or attempting to escape Raphael's uncertain hold; Emmanuelle, with one eye upon how he handles her precious progeny, stands by the table (it's a relief to have unfolded herself from that chair) replenishing her own cup with plain black tea and preparing her visitor's the way she knows he prefers it. "I absolve you of your guilt, my dear," she drawls. "There are so many Delaunays I can't imagine the Comte Abdicataire has even noticed he's missing one. My daughter's consort," she clarifies, "was Victor Delaunay, who managed last month to get himself murdered and shoved into a thicket of hawthorn in the Bois d'Aubagne. I never liked him," she says frankly. "Will you have an éclair," she wonders, unfolding the linen cloth which has been keeping warm an array of pastries, "or only the sandwiches today—?"

Raphael closes his eyes briefly as Emmanuelle fits the events together for him. "Yes, of course," he murmurs. "How is your daughter managing?" he asks, and he shakes his head at the offer of pastry.

Emmanuelle flicks the corners of the napkin back over the pastries, and drinks half her cup of tea before putting it down and reclaiming Raphael's burbling burden. "They were not on the most ideal terms of late — you'll keep that under your hat," she drawls, as she lifts the baby up into her arms; "she would not like anything to be known to his detriment. He was still the father of her children. It's her girls' future she's mourning more than her own." Sitting down she slips off her wrist a plain cuff bracelet of beaten gold; she presents it to the baby, who then grows silent save for some enthusiastic slurping and gumming. It's a favourite pacifier, apparently. "She's been asking a lot of questions about her father, finally," adds the matriarch of this small transplanted Shahrizai clan, looking up; "not all of which I am inclined to answer, as you can imagine."

Raphael nods once to confirm that the intelligence will not be repeated. He gives up the child and reaches for the cup of tea instead. "That is a great deal, all at once," he says. "It must be difficult for you both." He does not ask directly about this information Emmanuelle is disinclined to offer even to her own daughter, though the way he watches his host implies a certain curiosity.

The blue baby blanket requires adjustment; freeing a small pale paw that has got itself tangled, Emmanuelle regards Raphael with a raised eyebrow. "Perhaps not so difficult as you may suppose. Dorimène's father died before she was born — lending me a rare understanding of the position of a young mother who must raise her children alone after losing her first love under unusual circumstances," she drawls, her painted features arranged in a deadpan expression. "I know I mentioned him to you once — the man I don't discuss unless I must, though thank fuck it's growing easier with all the practice I've had lately. Curious, isn't it, the way history repeats itself in families—?" She gives an arid chuckle.

Raphael draws his brows down a little as he watches Emmanuelle and her granddaughter. "Does not the understanding perhaps make it all the harder?" he cannot help wondering, though he sips his tea after asking that question to avoid saying anything more in that direction. "Does it?" he asks about the repetition of history. "I can't say I have much experience. But I'm sorry if I'm only adding to this pressure to speak of what you would rather…" he doesn't find the exact wording he wants for such a delicate subject, so he simply concludes: "Rather not."

"A beaten path is easier to walk," Emmanuelle disagrees simply, "whatever its length." She bounces the baby in her lap, eliciting a gurgle of pleased surprise. "As for me, the value my experiences have for my daughter at this time gives them a new value for me as well — unexpected, at this late date. And so we are not as miserable in this house as others might have been after such a loss," she drawls, turning another wry smile upon her visitor, "though neither Dorimène nor I felt inclined to attend many of the recent festivals. We kept vigil together on the Day of Kushiel, however, and the next morning I found your gift and saw it planted here. Thank you," she says at last, "for so deft a kindness."

Raphael is not necessarily convinced by this adage, but he raises no explicit objection. "Well, it is clear to you now that I did not send it particularly out of condolence, but only in friendship," he replies. "Either way, I hope it cheered you. It looks very well among the mandrakes there. I hope it is not an imposition in the order of your space. I know that you do not choose the things that surround you by chance or whim." He acknowledges their curated surroundings with a gesture.

"On the contrary. It will look better yet," drawls this very particular householder, "with the new pale pink lanterns I have commissioned to light the courtyard for someone's natality dinner." Her eyes roll quickly up toward the ropes securing her oiled silk awning, where the lanterns too presumably will be suspended when the time comes; and down to Raphael again. The things one does for love. "And how do matters stand next door?" she inquires lightly, shifting the subject. "I heard nothing but good of the salon's celebrations of Naamah this year."

Raphael cannot help but smile at this idea of pink natality lanterns. "The color of it /did/ rather put me in mind of that connection," he says. "Have you any particularly interesting festivities planned?" He means, of course, that she intends to share, since it goes without saying that something interesting will surely happen. But her question to him meets with a pause as he drinks tea, then sets his cup aside. "The truth is that I have begun to make my presence known," he says. "I do not think the salon is in crisis, but there are things that could be better. We made a good contribution to the temple this year; a large part of it was donated from my own earnings. I do not know if Jacques understands what I mean by this or not, but that will only matter later on when it is time to seek an answer."

"I imagine I'll think of something," is Emmanuelle's deadpan reply.

She seems pleased enough then to take a mouthful of her own tea — leaving the saucer casually where it is and lifting the cup alone around the baby, her other hand clasping her close — and, having thus cleansed her sensitive palate, to speak of festivities more public though still to a degree select, and of what they portend for the future of the house next door. "I imagine he understands you're testing the waters," she suggests coolly; "if he doesn't, he will never admit that he didn't. You've decided, then? What timing have you in mind?"

"If he doesn't, then perhaps I will one day have his position," Raphael replies. "The timing will depend on what response comes of my first bids. It is a delicate matter, moving for a position that is already occupied." He drinks from his tea again, eyes casting toward the house in question. "I have no desire to sow chaos. If it is possible to wait for a moment in which it is natural rather than occasioning a showdown, I would prefer to do that. But I do not intend to wait forever. Time is not on my side in this case."

"Perhaps you shall," Emmanuelle drawls, quirking her eyebrows. A light reply, but not devoid of sincerity. Then she agrees with him, very softly, catching her golden bangle as it falls from her grandchild's mouth and offering it again for the same purpose. "For the house's sake such a circumstance is of course to be preferred. In this also, your conduct serves as a fitting model for the younger ones. Patience — but not infinite patience," and the ghost of a grin crosses her lips. "Naamah blessed the Rose Sauvage when she set your feet again upon this path."

"I hope it is so," Raphael answers, nodding his head once in gratitude for the compliment. "But yes, it is the sake of order in the salon that I am thinking of, and respect for the hierarchy. If it were a matter only of individual power I would not be concerned about a direct confrontation. As it is, of course there is a respect owing to the position and to the way things out to be done. But if you would like to discuss strategy…" he allows the invitation to open as he drinks from the tea cup.

"Yes," agrees Emmanuelle thoughtfully, giving the baby another little jiggle by means of a dark-breeched, high-booted leg. The ensuing gurgle of surprise is echoed by the clink of the gilded spur at her heel. "But it is helpful, to be sure, when the hierarchy deserves that respect, and when it is widely seen to be deserving, by those with intimate knowledge of the house and its traditions as well as by the dabbling patrons and casual onlookers whose understanding of our canon and its highest ideals is necessarily rather more limited."

She pauses.

"Of course at the Rose Sauvage my position was in a sense reserved for me, provided that I showed myself suitable for it over a certain number of years. I am not ambitious by nature," she confides — a rare admission for one of an ancient Kusheline lineage lately adulterated by ducal blood, "but I took on the rôle intended for me out of a sense of duty to my canon, my family, and the future we were all trying to build here together. Later on, at Mandrake House, matters reached a point at which I felt I could not continue unless I secured a place within the house's leadership… If you pour me another cup of tea I'll tell you how I did it," she offers him with a lift of her dark brows; "and you'll find that this new path of yours is another I've left well-beaten."

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