(1311-06-03) The Temptation To Linger
Summary: Later in her first visit to the Rose Sauvage, Iphigénie becomes acquainted with the Second of Thorns.
RL Date: 06/06/2019 - 08/06/2019
Related: Follows on from Shame Optional.
iphigenie raphael 

La Rose Sauvage — Night Court

A huge hearth of black marble, with gargoyles of stone adorning the mantlepiece, governs the foyer of the Salon de la Rose Sauvage, which emanates a certain dark air, the interior design of the more heavy sort, that could easily be encountered in a gentleman's club, especially with the dark cherry wood wainscoting used on the walls. Dark leather upholstery is predominant in the furniture of chaise longues, couches and long-backed chairs that are arranged in a half-circle, leaving space in the center for courtesans (or patrons) to kneel for an inspection. Three tall windows with circular stained-glass insets are framed by dark red curtains of heavy brocade, a few golden threads worked into the fabric catching occasionally the light of flickering oil lamps at the walls. The lamps light a pair of portrait paintings, of the two founders of the salon, Edouard Shahrizai and his cousin Annabelle no Mandrake, resplendent in their dark Kusheline appeal; and a cabinet in a corner, holding a number of quality wines and a flagon of uisghe.

The foyer has a high ceiling, and a gallery beyond a balustrade of dark teak wood, carved in the shapes of gargoyles. Sometimes a few veiled creatures can be spotted up there, stealing glances at what is going on below; from the gallery, which can be reached by ascending some winding stairs at the back of the foyer. Beside the stairs leading up is a hallway on ground level, leading further into the building to where the offices of the leader of the salon and his two Seconds can be found, along with the two wings of private quarters for roses of Mandrake and Valerian canon.

The skirts of a gown not black as it may appear at first glance, but a red far darker than wine, caress the staircase leading down into the salon of the Rose Sauvage and fan out to drape four or five steps luxurious behind their owner as she essays a slow descent.

Elderly, stately, straight-backed and strictly-corseted, she clasps in her left hand — as if it’s just something she happens to be carrying about with her — the shaft of a silver-topped ebony walking stick. But her right hand never leaves the bannister, sliding down with each step and clutching anew. She is pale beneath her maquillage, her features tightened into a mask that would perhaps conceal her pain were she anywhere but in a house of connoisseurs. Her head is carried high, in a cloud of soft white hair; her gaze is subtly lowered beneath her lashes, green eyes fixed not upon the salon she has almost attained, but the dark hem brushing her leather slippers, the stair carpet underfoot, the next step and the step after that.

It is before the true flowering of custom at the Rose Sauvage, but the doors are open. At this hour, it is often regulars who appear, looking for their particular favorites, or a pre-arranged assignation. A sharp-faced nobleman, for instance, is whispering into the ear of a Red Rose, his hand fast around her wrist. Raphael, on the other hand, is currently at greater liberty, standing beside one of the imposing leather armchairs rather than occupying it. He is making the occasional glance toward the pair on the other side of the room, but the patron must be known here as even to the eye of an experienced courtesan he betrays no particular ill ease at the games they play. The sound of rustling fabric slipping along stairs is plenty to draw his attention in the other direction, and he turns toward the stairs, for once not already knowing who he expects the skirts to belong to. Seeing this unfamiliar person descending from the pure world of White Roses above, he pauses to observe a few details before taking further action. Through a ring on his belt is thrust the handle of a reduced cat with five tails.

Details. White silk gloves, spotless. Silver adornments, polished to a high shine and glittering in the light cast by the chandelier above her. Slippers, sensible and flat. Jaw, unclenching as her feet arrive at last, one after the other, upon level ground and she takes as deep a breath as steel boning will permit her. Eyes, well-lined by the passage of years and very green, flicking up at last to survey the salon and its denizens. Cane, claimed from her left hand by her right, and planted properly at her side. Lips, a red lighter than her gown, curving ironically as she glimpses the scene unfolding between the sharp-faced nobleman and the willing captive kneeling at his feet — then, when her wandering gaze arrives at Raphael and she sees him returning it, forming the inaudible but unmistakable word: “Monsieur.” She inclines her head, a slight nod.

Since the woman is unknown to him and yet attired so very finely, Raphael makes her an abbreviated sketch of a bow, implying respect if not deference, a gesture carefully cultivated to fit perfectly among a Thorn’s pieces in the game of the power balance. “My lady,” he replies, much more audibly. “Have you found our elusive White Roses in their solar? This is just the season for them.”

The lady’s smile deepens, just perceptibly, as she looks Raphael over. Now that a conversation has ensued she takes a couple of leisurely steps toward him, her cane moving nonchalantly at her side, brushed from time to time by the heavy fabric of her skirts as her movement reveals again the true richness of her gown's narrow silhouette. “Yes, monsieur,” she agrees lightly. Her voice is low and melodic, flowing like spiced honey; her accent, unmistakably Kusheline. “I was advised that my first visit to your salon would hardly be complete without a glimpse of their solar, and their view down over the city— I’m so pleased I listened,” she confides.

“How fortunate,” Raphael says, “If they were disposed to bloom for you. Sometimes they are so shy that even on a warm day they can hardly be coaxed to put out a petal. Or so I understand.” There is perhaps a faint note of humor in his eye at that last remark and the pretense in it. “And now, will you join us for a glass of wine in the parlor?” he asks. “Or must we send you on your way immediately?”

A wry twist of her mouth as she nods suggests that Iphigénie appreciates the jest. She halts before him, just near enough that a waft of blood oranges and honey reaches him as well: a mellow, sweet scent just touched by bitterness. “The blooms shivered a little in the breeze of my passage,” she murmurs, “but I trust I left no petal bruised… Half a glass, perhaps,” she suggests, smiling, “I should be glad to take in such congenial surroundings, monsieur. You are,” and she studies him a little more directly now, curiosity though no challenge in her frank, intelligent green eyes, “a Thorn of the house—? Of course,” she answers her own question, nodding, “you could hardly be anyone else.”

Raphael makes a gesture for a Red Rose novice to pour wine for this guest, and extends a hand toward hers that he might guide her to a chaise where she could sit. Perhaps that extended hand is also meant to be of use should it turn out that she does not easily lower herself to sitting. “I am,” he says. “You understand us clearly though it is only your first visit. I am called Raphael. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” The Red Rose novice is attentive, ready to swoop in and serve the wine as soon as Iphigénie is seated, but not before.

“… My first visit, yes,” Iphigénie murmurs, wry again, and with a soft word of appreciation for the gesture and her stick secure in her right hand she rests her left upon the hand that Raphael offers. He may notice the bracelet wrapped twice round her wrist, its silver links reminiscent of shackles, its clasp a dainty padlock.

The most convenient unoccupied chaise happens to be opposite the portraits of the salon’s founders: that sight arrests her for a moment and she stares hard, eyes narrowed, before she remembers Raphael and her fingers tighten upon his as she lowers herself to her seat. Her body hardly seems to bend at all: it couldn't, could it, in such restrictive corsetry. Her hand slips away; she props her stick at her side; her right hand accepts the goblet, with a nod and a low, “Thank you,” to the novice, whose eyes she meets for an instant if the child’s head should not be too determinedly bowed.

Then, a sidelong glance to Raphael, and a nod to the paintings. “You're of an age to recall Annabelle, I think?” she suggests gently. “Is my memory deceiving me — or is that not an ideal likeness? I remember her with a stronger jaw, I think,” she muses, and raises a narrow-drawn eyebrow to solicit his opinion.

Raphael must note the bracelet, and in combination with this reference to the portrait, it is suggestive. His eyes show amusement at the assessment, but his reply, whether strictly true or diplomatic is, “It is too many years now since I saw her for me to say. I have seen the portrait more often, now.” Once he has seen her seated, he takes his own seat in an armchair nearby. “Were you perhaps close with her?”

Iphigénie raises her goblet not to drink but to inhale the wine’s ripe and earthy fragrance: yes, it's the same vintage she was offered upstairs. Thoroughly pleasant, but not so much so as to overcome her abstemious nature. She lowers it but retains it; her other hand essays a slight, graceful, dismissive gesture, her white silk glove flickering above a lap dark almost as sangoire. “Not close,” she says carefully, “I would not claim that. But she was a Mandrake in Elua in the years when I was a Valerian, so of course from time to time we met. I was aware of her venture in the south — but till a week past I had never seen Marsilikos,” she explains, rather apologetically, as if it were a personal failing of her own. “I too am pleased to make your acquaintance, Monsieur Raphael. My name is Iphigénie nó Valerian de Maignard.”

“Of course,” Raphael responds, as though this reply and her introduction clarified everything. “We are fortunate to have you visit us, then. How do you find the city? Will you be staying with us long, or visiting only briefly?” Two questions are about as many as he can ask at once in good taste, so he contents himself with that much and a smile, eyes following her gesture and noting her untasted goblet before returning to her green gaze.

Thorn though he is, Iphigénie’s eyes meet his easily. “I am settled here, I believe, for a year… The Companions will decide that for me,” and her head’s next tilt achieves a whimsical angle, and she takes at last a sip of her wine. “I have hardly found the city at all,” she admits, setting her goblet aside; “I have had much to do in opening my family’s house here, and when an idle afternoon came to me of course my first thought was to see the Rose Sauvage… Three canons beneath one roof,” she murmurs, “to me it’s extraordinary.” She shrugs her thin, sloping shoulders. “… Tell me,” she suggests, still gently, “how strict is the separation between one bed of roses and the other—? I have met today several young buds who seemed at first acquaintance neither Red nor White, but…” And she lowers her voice and pronounces this secret observation precisely, with amusement in her regard. “Pinkish.”

Raphael’s expression perhaps shares with Iphigénie a certain amusement as he meets her gaze. “Between Thorn and Roses it is absolute. Among our blossoms there are certain hybrid varietals. More just now, I think, than I am accustomed to, but for those who appreciate the mixture I think it is a strong point of the Marsilikos system. Of course some of our Roses adhere most strictly to one canon or the other. And Thorns are Thorns.” He glances at the ceiling: “Do our pink blossoms please you, or do you prefer the traditional colors?”

“Thorns,” echoes Iphigénie with a slow curve of her lips, “are Thorns…” And when he glances up she answers his question first with a shake of her head and a lowering of her own eyes, to where her gaze not coincidentally brushes over the reduced cat at his belt, an implement obviously suited for use despite its present status as adornment, perhaps badge of office. “It is not my own taste I seek to please,” she murmurs; “that would pose rather more of a challenge…” A second sip of her wine, and then she looks up from the goblet to Raphael’s face. “My consort joins me in a few days’ time,” she explains, “and I am seeking a little gift to welcome him to Marsilikos. I find myself wondering whether the notion of a pink rose would amuse him — at the very least,” she adds, with a conspiratorial green glint in her eyes, “a trembling young innocent would provide him with a change from me.”

“Ah,” Raphael replies, as her remarks bring the pieces of a larger picture together. “Of course. Our Nicolette, whiter than red, debuts very soon, and our Lillian, more red than white, has only just stepped out into the world. If youth and trembling are desired, I can recommend each of them as possibilities.” His gaze follows from his guest’s goblet to her wrist, up the arm, over the throat, and back to her eyes, where it hardens along with his smile. “Do you wish him to return to you sated, or appetite only whetted?”

The slope of Iphigénie’s shoulder and the line of her arm still show the grace of a night-blooming flower; her long pale throat is thoroughly characteristic of the blood of the angels. But the sinews visible above the high, modest neckline of her gown suggest lingering tension and lingering pain, even as she lowers her subtly darkening green eyes beneath Raphael’s now-implacable gaze. There’s a glimmer of silver, too, implying a trinket worn privately on a chain beneath her garments. “He is difficult to sate for any length of time,” she confides, smiling slightly to herself, as well a Valerian might; “but the right gift will surely tend toward it…

“I did meet that Alyssum child you mention,” and she looks up, nodding. “The sweetest bloom I've come upon in your garden today, and possessed of what I suspect will prove a remarkable imagination…” For a moment her tone turns distantly professional: an experienced Servant of Naamah calculating a debutante’s prospects. “I could almost see her heart beating each time I spoke,” she murmurs, and relinquishes her goblet again after another sip. “But, novelty aside,” and as she clasps her white-gloved hands in her dark red lap her attention returns to Raphael, “of course it is amongst your Red Roses that we will hope to discover a friend whom we both find sympathetic, someone to enliven our stay in your city… however long it may be.”

Raphael takes note of the strain before his eyes return to their Valerian guest’s. But after holding there, he makes an open gesture with his right hand and glances across the parlor. “So many excellent possibilities,” he says. “From our newest Lillian to our Second of Red Roses, Séverine. I imagine we can suit your precise tastes with at least one of our blossoms. I think it would be impossible to find them dull should one’s desire be sharp.”

“On that point, monsieur, I shall take your word,” murmurs Iphigénie, inclining her head deferentially even as some mischievous thought curves her lips into a deeper smile. “And any advice it may please you to offer… “ Her gaze follows his, more slowly, to the chamber’s other inhabitants and the little games of dominance and submission taking place as they flirt with one another, and with the idea of an evening’s pleasure. “A pale pink debutante may be very amusing for a change,” she murmurs, keeping Raphael in her peripheral vision, “but in the longer term I imagine we will seek a certain degree of experience, of flexibility… My consort was once a Mandrake,” she explains, “and he does not lack for a sharp edge.”

Raphael’s slow nod suggests that he had anticipated this possibility, one of two likely scenarios given what has already been suggested about her consort’s tastes. “You would find Séverine tremendously refined and resilient,” Raphael predicts. “Her skill should satisfy even connoisseurs such as yourselves. Of course, as Second she is in great demand, but I can imagine that for such a well-versed pair as yourselves she may be able to find the time. Though naturally I couldn’t speak for her,” he acknowledges.

“I am patient,” Iphigénie says softly, nodding. “And I imagine,” this as she turns a wry look upon Raphael, “I could offer a proposal that would spark a Valerian’s interest. Perhaps when next I visit I shall see if I might have a word with your Séverine.” She unclasps her hands and rearranges them differently in her lap, the silver shackle bracelet glinting against her white silk wrist and the darker cloth beneath it. “You, monsieur, I imagine are the Second of Thorns—?” she wonders, raising her narrowly-drawn eyebrows to underline her question.

Raphael lifts his eyebrows in response, not just mirroring, but intrigued by the guess. “You imagine correctly,” he confirms. “Do you guess based on my age, or something else?” His tone and expression suggest he will not be offended by any particular reply. His gaze drops to her bracelet before lifting to her face. Is the obvious glance intended as an acknowledgement of what may be a deliberate gesture?

It may have signaled only a change of direction in her thoughts; but when Raphael glances at her bracelet Iphigénie does likewise, adjusting the set of it with a fastidious fingertip and thumb, placing the silver padlock just so inside her wrist. “You were the first to move to greet a stranger, who as far as you knew in that moment had come seeking the White Roses rather than your own canon,” she explains, and looks up to meet his eyes again; “you speak as one familiar with and concerned with the whole salon; you are intelligent; you are not young; you are not Jacques Verreuil. Who else could you be, monsieur, but the Second—?” she asks reasonably.

“I can be no other,” Raphael acknowledges with a note of humor. “Your observational skills do not fail you in the slightest. Though two weeks ago, they might have.” He smiles. “I think it profits most to greet the strangers first of all. The regulars, after all, are in a pattern of return. But I would hope that a lady of your taste and refinement would leave only wanting to come back to us. After all, you suit the scene well.” A vague gesture that bares the palm, left one this time.

Two weeks ago. Iphigénie’s brows lift again. “Then yours is a recent appointment, monsieur—?” she inquires delicately. “Though you do yourself,” and she mirrors his gesture, accompanying it with a faint smile, “suit the scene to perfection.” Lowering her hand back into her lap she adjusts her bracelet again, then clasps her hands firmly together.

“It is,” Raphael confirms. “Though while my duties have changed, my treatment of our guests has not.” Another smile appears, though it like the others lasts only briefly. “I certainly hope that I suit. Even if I was absent for a time, I was after all brought up here. I can think of no other place at this date where I would be more sure of my belonging.” He gestures to her glass. “Will you have a little more?” he wonders.

Iphigénie glances at her hardly-touched goblet; then the lines about her eyes deepen as she smiles across at her host. He’s caught her. “Probably not,” she admits, “I drink very little. But I didn’t wish to answer your hospitality with a refusal, monsieur, when this is a place where I too have felt a sense of belonging,” and her gaze flicks across the chamber, taking in once more its severe luxuries, “albeit something evanescent… The temptation to linger in your company was far too great, when I am alone in the city,” and she gives a disarming shrug.

“How considerate,” Raphael replies. “But in truth, you are our guest. I should not be offended by your honesty.” In saying that, his eyes are less icy than they sometimes become. “I can say that you are welcome to linger whether or not you indulge in our wine. After all, you only enhance the scene. I have not even spoken to you of our Thorns. Though perhaps you are well-stocked in that respect.”

“Thank you, monsieur,” Iphigénie murmurs, “for reassuring me…” Another infinitesimal adjustment to her bracelet, and then she rests her right hand upon her left wrist, half-obscuring the silver and its shine. “… You’re asking if I stray,” she diagnoses, that hint of mischief returning to her vivid green gaze. “It has been known,” she concedes a breath later, “but rarely. Do you think I should, monsieur? What would you tempt me with, at the Rosa Sauvage?”

“Stray?” Raphael repeats, gaze roaming to the door before it comes back. “Not everyone would phrase it so. And of course I would never be so foolish as to blunder into giving a patron advice as to what is between herself and a consort. Or any other lover. Besides,” he says, glancing over his shoulder at the hallway where the Thorns dwell, “you must know very well what we could tempt you with, though not the names and faces attached. We have the young Danté, whose pride is in his skill with a rope and his balance of gentleness with the sharp. There is Baptiste, a bit more seasoned, who I think might be poised to seek more lasting connections… We have some young women, as well. And naturally myself.”

“… Danté Somerville?” the lady murmurs, recognising the description. “I believe I met him once or twice in Elua.” The fact she has no more to say of the young man, perhaps encourages Raphael to continue enumerating his list of treats. She nods slowly, and nods again. “I hope any of your Thorns is deft in balancing the gentle with the sharp — what is more devastating than that? But you saw me come down the stairs,” she points out frankly; “I need not tell you that my bones ache, and that of late my pleasures have become chiefly vicarious.”

Raphael shows either interest or amusement at hearing that his guest has already made Danté’s acquaintance. His own nod seems to acknowledge that the Thorn in question is not what is sought now. “Yes,” he allows. “I see that you are in pain. I admire also your handsome cane.” Since the subject is on the table. “You must tell me whether in the future I should send a novice to assist you on the stairs or whether you prefer to challenge them solitary.”

“Ah, you see,” agrees Iphigénie drily. “Then I have given a moment’s pleasure to a handsome man — a rare treat for which I thank you, monsieur,” she teases, without for a moment affecting to take seriously her own situation, or any amusement it may afford a Thorn. “One of your guards helped me up earlier,” she explains, more seriously now, “I thought it might be more appropriate not to encourage a novice from the lower floor to stray so high… It’s not usually this bad,” she shrugs, “but I prayed too long last night.” Her right hand reclaims her cane, and she offers it to Raphael head-first for his closer examination. “Since his retirement from Naamah’s service my consort has returned to his family’s trade,” she explains, “as a silversmith. This is his work; my jewellery as well. I shall certainly pass on your compliment to him.”

Raphael takes the cane in a sure hand, inspecting the head of it thoughtfully. “A fine trade for a Thorn,” he says, “And I can see he has taken it with exceeding seriousness; the work is beautiful.” Skimming an eye down the length of the cane, he returns it to Iphigénie’s hand. “Whatever you prayed for, I hope it goes as you wish,” he says, deliberately not going so far as to inquire with this new acquaintance.

“Thank you,” says Iphigénie simply: the details of her petition unsought and unrevealed, as is only proper between two so newly-met. “… You see he has a precise and delicate touch,” the silversmith’s consort agrees, receiving the cane and restoring it to its prior place against the chaise, “and he does like to hit things with hammers,” and for the first time Iphigénie laughs aloud, softly, fondly, the sound of her mirth as honeyed as her talk. “I’m sure you understand. Monsieur Raphael, I must take my leave,” and she meets his eyes easily, for she is speaking only the truth, “pleased though I am to have made your acquaintance… Would you do me the favour of sending someone to inquire for my carriage? I imagine it is close by.”

“Certainly,” Raphael replies, and calling the name of a novice, sends them out to fetch the carriage. “It has been my pleasure to make your acquaintance. I hope you will visit us again if you are long enough in the city. We shall fill your cup with something other than wine.” He gets to his feet and offers a hand. “I’m sure the carriage will be here presently,” he says.

With her cane already in her right hand Iphigénie places her left upon Raphael’s.

He might notice a slight increase in the tightness about her throat and her jaw as she rises, smoothly enough but by dint of considerable effort, her torso still unbending within its encasement of severe steel bones. For a woman she’s tall; still, her chin must lift and her face tilt upward for her to meet his eyes at such close range. “I’m sure,” she echoes; “and I hope we shall meet again soon, monsieur. It seems,” and she glances about the salon, before her eyes return to his and spark her smile, “Marsilikos has charms more than I knew.”

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