(1311-06-04) Excellent Crust
Summary: Aurore and Raphael discuss the branching paths of their lives, one of which has led them together into the company of some very fine pies.
RL Date: 04/06/2019 - 07/06/2019
Related: Previous scenes with these characters; also, The Festival of Lights.
aurore raphael 

A Completely Made-Up Place

Raphael has agreed to accompany Aurore for another meal, and has suggested a humble establishment with which he is familiar. He leads the way across town again to a street not far from the butchers' guild where they once dined together. But this time he heads toward a smaller building, which appears to be a baker's shop. There are only two small tables with stools arranged along one wall, and the other side of the shop features baskets of baked goods, a counter, and a large oven tended by a tall woman with strong arms. The way her face creases and the gray in her hair suggests an age of about fifty. "Marny," Raphael greets her warmly. "Would you warm a couple of pies for us? Whatever you think is best today." Marny gives a cheerful affirmative, though she does take a moment to take in Aurore's gown. This isn't one of the shops nobles come to in person terribly often.

Aurore follows with real interest and a certain eagerness to see what hidden culinary gem he is about to reveal to her. The bakery wins a warm approving smile as the smell reaches her nose. She is all anticipation. Marny's response to her gown earns another bright smile and an encouraging nod. "I have every faith in his good taste," she gestures towards the Thorn, "and am sure whatever you pick will exactly fit the occasion, mistress."

Marny is quick to smile and short one tooth, but it's not too close to the front. She picks two tallish hand-raised pies from under the counter and sticks them in the right part of the oven that they'll warm up without drying out. Since the oven is already hot, the smell of warming pastry and meat soon wafts forth. In the meantime, Raphael gestures to one of the small, rough tables, and sees Aurore seated before he sits as well. "She won't disappoint you," Raphael promises.

Neither the lack of tooth nor any of her surrounding seem to dent the noble's equanimity. She sits at the rough table, twitching her skirts artfully into place, as if this were a grand hall somewhere. She flashes Raphael a smile, "They smell wonderful, I'm sure she won't."

There is something slightly dimmed in Raphael today, or slowed. It is perceptible just now as he smiles and settles into his chair in a pose that is both comfortable and stable. "I've wanted to thank you for your support in recent months. It has been tremendously helpful in my reaching my new position, an honor I feel very fortunate to have after having left the salon and only now returned."

Aurore studies him, "I very much wanted to congratulate you on what I feel is a deserved promotion, but…" She touches the back of his hand and studies his face with some concern, "Is anything wrong, Rafe? You don't quite seem yourself.”

Raphael banishes the shadow in his expression instantly when Aurore calls attention to it, readjusting his expression just that little bit to bring it back into tune. Only after that is there a moment of consideration and decision, where he must again deliberately lower the professional mask. "I apologize," he says instead of a denial. "I intend for us to celebrate. But I did travel two days ago to Béziers and my mind is still somewhat there. Or elsewhere. As a result."

Aurore's clever eyes spot the raising and lowering of the mask. Her lip quirks up in acknowledgement of both the internal struggle and the implied compliment. When he explains the reason for it, she is all concern for him. "Did you know the victims?'

"Not at all," Raphael replies, "Though I believe the young heir to Chavaise spoke to me while I was there and I am sorry I did not make her a better answer. But in fact I was there for myself. To light a lantern." He stands up and goes to the counter. "Marny, would you fetch us wine?" he requests. "Plain cups are fine." A coin deftly produced from a pocket is placed on the counter and Marny picks it up, turning to go and do what she's been asked. Raphael returns to the table then.

Aurore's eyes go wide, and she is visibly mortified at her own lack of tact. When he is resettled she murmurs in a voice that won't carry, "I'm sorry, Rafe. That was thoughtless of me. Would you rather talk about it, or be disrtacted?"

Raphael smiles a little, but not performatively, watching Aurore for a moment. "I don't like to see you embarrassed," he says honestly, before considering her question. "I don't know what I'd have to say. Grief is… There were hundreds of people there with their own. Most of us know what it is in some way. But at the same time it is difficult to express." His tone is soft but even as he says this.

Aurore's lip twitches, "And I don't like missing a dance step when I should know better." Her gaze flits across his face, "Especially, for you, I think, especially with strangers. This is something we share."

"I'm sure our upbringing had many similarities," Raphael says by way of agreement. His gaze wanders briefly. "As you can imagine, I have often put my feelings aside since I have returned here. But. The city is also full of reminders of our young days. I hope that…she would understand what I have been doing, rather than…" As Marny delivers an open bottle of wine and two cups, he trails off. She lets them know the pies will be ready soon.

Aurore's tiny smile is full of self knowledge, "I suspect so too." She flashes Marny a polite, social smile and thanks her as she serves them. She waits still wearing her polite social mask until Marney is out of earshot to turn back to him. Her fingers touch the back of his hand when she next meets his eyes, "I'm sure that she would. If she loved you the way you love her, then she must understand you. Most of all she'd want you to live and live well. You'd die if you weren't occupied and useful. No one who cared about you would want that for you."

It is clear through the feel of Raphael's hand and the look in his unfrozen eyes that he does not find it particularly easy to listen to these supportive words without either pulling the mask back up or looking away, but he seems to make the conscious effort to avoid either tactic, keeping his eyes effortfully on Aurore. He responds to her logic with a nod. "She did," he confirms, and pours the wine for each of them. "I am not in doubt." He clears his throat. "And in fact I have been occupied. My return has been more successful than I expected. I thought I might have to wait longer to get the position. But fate smiled."

Aurore withdraws her hand to take up the wine, and follows his turn of subject effortlessly, "Shall we toast your success then? I really do think you are the best thing that could happen to the place. You'll be able to better institute a stricter training regimen.”

Raphael lifts his glass and smiles at Aurore. "I hope that is so," he replies. "Though of course I can only handle the Thorn matters. But some of our novices are coming along. Their final few years before debut are critical. It is easy to develop arrogance as a young Thorn, and terribly dangerous."

Aurore touches cups, "To your ascendance and to an excellent relationship with your White Rose counterparts."

Raphael narrows his eyes with a smile of appreciation. "And how is your boy? Did he enjoy the festivities? I certainly made the most of them, though I attended none of the competitions."

Aurore brightens, "He had a wonderful time. I couldn't attend everything, but his tutor took him to the ones I couldn't attend. He particularly liked the horses and the dueling one. I fear he's not much for poetry. He loves your gift by the way. He's been playing larger battles with blanket and pillow foot hills. You made an impression, you know.”

Raphael drinks from his cup, but it is evident that he is listening with satisfaction. "I am glad he was able to enjoy them fully," He replies, nodding acknowledgment as he sets the cup down. "And glad if his games please and challenge him. I admit I am fond of children."

Aurore smiles, "I can tell, and children have an instinct. You're welcome to visit him if you like. Take him out on a walk or the like if it suits you. It might be good for him to spend time with a good man who isn't a tutor or arms instructor. Our household is mostly women, after all." She sips her wine, “So what are your plans for reforming things now you're the new broom?”

Raphael nods his head once. "Perhaps I will," he says, not quite committing, though his tone is more positive than not. As for reforms: "A fine question," he says. "I ought to have a well-considered answer, yet things moved somewhat more quickly than I anticipated. One change I hope to make is more directed training for Thorn novices particularly in reading patrons. I am setting them exercises in observing and evaluating their guesses about patrons' tastes. There is a certain air of superiority Thorns are prone to acquiring which I hope to prevent in this new crop of novices. I wish them to know that they are Servants first, not to be taken in by their own performances of their roles."

Aurore she doesn't seem to expect a commitment. It's a thing to think about seriously. It's a responsibility as well as something he might like and a Thorn out with some noble child even with a governess in tow is a whole can of worms. So she just leaves it as an offer to be taken or rejected without distress either way on her part. She leans forward, interested in his training program, "That sounds a very good start. It's so easy to get caught up in one's… legend, to think we are our masks, but in the long run it is helpful to have a part of you always aware that these are just games we play, even if the blood is real as in a duel. Real arrogance instead of feigned is just so obviously dangerous in your vocation." She meets his eyes, "I think that's part of what makes you so appealing. You have a fundamental self knowledge most people lack, and a sense of humor about…" She makes a graceful gesture, "The nature of humanity, maybe. It's not detachment, because you are very much a part of humanity." There is a flicker of something in her eyes, "I suspect if I didn't laugh at myself, I'd be insufferable."

"Dangerous," Raphael agrees. "And also tremendously boring." He allows a smile at that, or perhaps it is at Aurore's compliments. "I do think that life without humor is both insufferable and artificial. Though I am serious about a great many things."

Aurore smiles back, "You are most definitely not boring. You are right, of course. It becomes a one note performance. How much better to use the whole instrument even if some notes are only the occasional accent." She nods, "Oh, someone who takes nothing seriously is also one note, just in a different register. Piffle is great fun, now and then, but it's like chantilly. There is not substance, you can't live on it, and it melts away if conditions are not perfect."

"Something we know well, living next door to the Lis d'Or and being visited from time to time by our Orchis cousins," Raphael jokes in reply, drinking wine again. "I never have overheard anything about the missing grain, by the way. But I hope your investments proceed well even so."

Aurore's lips quirk up, "Amusing now and then, but…" She leans towards him, and with her voice lowered says, "My people can find nothing. It's infuriating. The have melted into the night. I did so want to help her, she's the only one of my extended relatives I actually like, besides my son."

"She tells me she's producing very fine pigs this season," Raphael replies, perhaps in the interest of balance. "I set a great deal of stock in a fine pig. I was killing one when Edouard first found me, you know. Fortunes can be changed by fine swine."

Aurore says, "So are we. The weather's been excellent and the foraging first rate." She sips, "Thinking about it. I admit that you were handsomest in those leather trousers from when we went masquerading as clods, but I think I like that mental image of you as a boy with the pigs, because I can imagine the whole arc, like an arrow loosed true at a target. All the qualities to make the man, in embryo, and a life exactly right to to make the best of them. Somehow I think you'd like the child I was not nearly as well as I'd like the lad you were. What was it about the butchering that made him think you'd suit?"

Just now, Marny delivers the pies, hot and steaming, clattering down a bit of cutlery and two wooden plates as well. One is perhaps pheasant and the other beef and kidney. She is discreet enough not to linger, though Raphael passes her a smile before she goes back to her counter to roll out dough. Raphael regards the utterly undecorated pies with satisfaction, though he waits for Aurore to take the lead in selecting which she cares to take, or to try first. "Well, as I recall it," he says, "Though of course I was but a boy of eight, I was sitting astride the pig sticking it to bleed it into a bucket. I had a thin knife and was doing the job as my father had taught me, when his lordship came by and stopped to watch me, which did not concern me since I had my task to do. I was of course a boy of eight, so I did not think of what it might mean that he should be looking at me while I did my work. He said the pig wasn't making noise. I said 'If you stick the knife in just right, it goes down quiet and don't make a fuss.' He said, 'What happens if you stick the knife in somewhere else?' 'Then it screams,’ I said." He smiles, his matter-of-fact tone, so close even to upbeat, perhaps a mirror of what it might have been then those decades ago.

Aurore smiles up at the server, "Thank you, Marny. These are perfect." She flashes Raphael a quick smile, "Shall we each have a half? One for the lad and lass we were and one for the people we turned out to be?" She starts to cut, not as deft as the butcher boy, but with hands long versed in culinary and pharmaceutical knife work. She pictures it, smiling, "Bold and sure and knows anatomy well. Certainly there are worse uses those qualities could be put to… I wanted in, you know, and chose my house. Patronage won me my place, just as patronage got me out.”

Raphael obviously quite likes Aurore's phrasing, and he nods. "Let's, if both appeal," he agrees, pushing his plate forward so as to be easier to serve. "Yes, I expect there might have been," he says. "What made you want to be there?"

Aurore does her best to make them equal, but there is always a slightly large portion, which she gives him of each, "They definitely both appeal." Once they are both served, she starts in on the steak and kidney, not bothering to pretend to not be hungry, though as always, her table manners are impeccable. She thinks her way through three mouthfuls before venturing, "I always had a drive that… made me want more. More than I had. More opportunity. More comfort. More pleasure. More security. More freedom in the end. I was a little older than you, though still young enough to be trained up. I looked around me at the various lives the women around me had and the only one that looked likely to get me the life I wanted was that of a courtesan. So I started looking into it. I was too young to really grasp what living under that sort of discipline was like, though I'm not sorry for my choice or the lessons I got there." Her lips quirk up, "I did warn you I haven't your vocation. You had something inborn, I think. All I had was a born deep hunger and the intelligence and focus to get me there." She has another bite, "I suppose this is blasphemy."

"Not blasphemy," Raphael replies evenly, cutting into the partridge pie without further ado. "If everyone were truly called to Naamah's service, the entire system would collapse. It is not a life meant for everyone." He tries some of the pie and seems to find it to his liking, though he knew he would. The pies have not only fine meats, but some vegetables as well, in a crust that is just about as good as this type of thick, strong crust can be. "Besides," he says, "I understand. I thought the idea of sleeping in my own bed, a feather bed, one day was tremendously exciting. Though I wasn't clever enough to look very far into the future until much later in life. I mostly saw just what was before me. So you must have been a smart young thing," he suggests, looking up from his plate to Aurore.

Aurore she sighs contentedly as she samples the partridge, "I really love the way a good crust soaks up the juice, but holds its integrity." She smiles, remembering, "And wasn't that first time lying down on a mattress like that the closest thing to heaven imaginable when one is young?" She was going to say something, she meets his eyes, "I had to be." Then she looks down, "If I tell you something in the strictest confidence will it stay under the strictest of seals?"

Raphael has a bite of the steak and kidney as well while Aurore is talking of the quality of the pies, and he nods, still chewing, at her assessment of the experience of first trying a fine mattress. But by her last remarks, his full attention is on her. He nods once. "I can promise that," he says solemnly.

Aurore smiles self mockingly, "You've likely guessed that the official claims about my background aren't accurate. I've made not attempt to hide it from you." Another bite, chewed slowly and swallowed. "I would have envied you your butcher shop when I was small. Regular meals, warm bed, if crowded. Security. I got…tired of having to fight with my wits or anything I had worth having, so I learned to think bigger. Plan longer. The… regularity of life as a novice was part of the appeal, at first, you know. I wanted so much for it to work out for me. I think… maybe I was too old, though not in years to really adapt easily to rule by another. I was too used to doing thigs my own way already."

Raphael nods at this intelligence, expression relatively neutral, certainly betraying nothing like shock. Then he seems to think it all over as he chews some more pie. "Yes, I was lucky in how I was brought up," he agrees, "Even before the salon. Many are not. But you understand, there are any number of people who grow up fighting as you did who do not learn to plan. So as much as it created, let us say, an incentive for you, there is still something in you that made you clever enough to think ahead." He pauses to drink wine, and refill both their cups. "But I do think it is easier, the younger you start. I followed rules well at that age. I can't recall truly questioning the way anything was done, I only wanted to do it right."

Aurore watches him from under her lashes to see his response. It being as she expects, she keeps eating. She smiles, "Not every butcher's boy could have made of himself what you have. I had inborn potentialities which i chose to develop. I think we are both like that. When luck offered something worth the having, we leapt, but there was far more to us than the nudges we were given along the way.' She nods, "The ones born to it have the easiest time of ll as long as they have the inclination for the life. I expect if I'd been discovered earlier instead of pushing my way in late I'd be an accountant somewhere instead of a Dowager Vicomtesse, but with a great deal smoother path to get there. In the end, that other woman I might have been isn't me, and I suspect we wouldn't much like each other.”

"I think they are sometimes too soft when they believe it is a life they are born to inherit rather than earn," Raphael mentions, but this does not deter him long from his pie eating. "I wonder, though," he says, "Just how different a man I would be as a butcher."

Aurore munches pie as she imagines that other Raphael, "You'd likely be just as clever and layered, but with less… polish. Is introspection an inherent trait of yours or a… side effect of the life you've lived." She is picturing him with children and a wife who lived, but she doesn't say it.

"I can't say," Raphael admits. "I cannot remember if I was particularly introspective before the age of eight. I don't think most are. I think… to have read books has made a difference with me," he says. "I don't remember my parents having any, though I think they had their own sort of intelligence."

Aurore says, "Books and intelligence don't necessarily got together, but I think… books encourage a different way of thinking, if the person is inclined the right way for it. Certainly there are brilliant people who never learn to read and dullards who can read, but don't think. For someone inclined to thought, though, they provide a scope native intelligence is unlikely to find on its own without broad travel and acquaintance."

"I think you're right in what you say," Raphael replies, going quiet to chew over some patridge and drink a mouthful of wine. "I suppose in the end we are each our path and the one cannot be separated from the other."

Aurore nods, "I can't judge which is the path more apt to lead to a well lived life, but then we can't really know the quality of life until we are at the end of it. I know I like myself as I am for better or worse, my… restlessness aside."

Raphael smiles at Aurore's self-assessment, dipping his head once in a nod. "You seem to have done exceptionally well at navigating," he says. "And I feel the same way, though I admit I often wonder about other lives and possibilities."

Aurore smiles softly, "Well, I certainly like this you. I'm not entirely sure what accountant me would have to say to butcher you outside of the usual transactions.”

"Probably not very much," Raphael agrees. "I think perhaps we both would have had less opportunity for conversation in general, in those lives. Therefore impoverishing the world." That he says with humor in his voice.

Aurore gives a mannish bark of laughter and has a drink of her wine. "There is a third me, of course. The one who never made it into a house at all, and likely would never have met you, travel being well beyond her purse.”

"And there are only these three of you?" Raphael wonders. "That is very tidy. But how lucky I have the you who can invite me for fine meals and conversation."

Aurore shrugs, "Oh there are likely more, including versions where I died of the sweat or burned up in a building or never married…. I think this is tidiest though, the two of us eating good pie and mulling over branching paths, knowing that we will sleep in soft beds with full bellies."

"Thank heavens," Raphael replies with the quirk of a smile, setting down his fork after having demolished his portion of pie. "I had to turn my bed in Elua over to the creditors."

Aurore says, "Thank heavens indeed." She studies him, "I'm sorry things were… so bad for you there. After. My life would be the poorer if we'd never met, but that's a small consideration compared to your loss. I wish… I'm sorry."

Raphael looks at Aurore, eyes narrowing somewhat, but his expression is warm rather than suspicious. "That is kind of you to say," he replies at last. "I am ordinarily a person to take action and know what must be done, but I admit that.. .in that particular case, I… completely lost my way. For a time. Thinking and planning became extraordinarily difficult."

Aurore places her hand lightly on his, "It's easy to lose your way for a while when everything crumbles around you, but you built something new and good for yourself once the fog lifted a little. That takes strength and resilience."

Raphael drops his gaze to look at her hand. It is evident that he is struggling internally with whether he wants to accept this praise and its tidy cordoning off of what went before, or not. He exhales audibly through his nose. "In fact," he says at length, "I think I've come back to where there is a structure I might lean on."

Aurore nods, "Sometimes a bone needs splinting until it's mended, but it'll grow strong again, and a plant sometimes needs a little scaffolding while it's growing. There's nothing wrong with leaning a little when you are weary, or finding comfort in familiar things when you are grieving. Knowing what you need and asking for it isn't weakness; it's a strength."

"Do you think it…" Raphael pauses to reconsider what he is about to say, looking to Aurore's face. The lines in his own face thicken between the brows and around the eyes. "I must admit it is the deepest grief I have known. I turn from it at times, but I find it is not gone, I am only looking the other way. I cannot tell when it will - or should - recede."

Aurore smiles sadly, "Grief isn't a thing that dances to a measure or stays a set span like an unwelcome guest. It will take as long as it takes to grieve her and you loved each other long and well. It will take as long as it takes, I think." Her unlined face shows empathy, but no pity. "If it would help to speak of her, I'll listen. If you wish for distraction, I will try to give you that, one friend to another."

Raphael leans his forearms against the edge of the table. "I think it is… remarkable, in some ways," he says, "When two courtesans can come together with nothing false between them." He drinks again from his cup and refills, topping Aurore's as well should there be room.

There is room and she nudges her glass closer in anticipation, "I think it is a rare and precious thing to have a friend like you. I'm not used to… this sort of intimacy with anyone. I am used to keeping my own counsel and relying on no one but myself. It is oddly freeing."

Raphael looks thoughtfully at Aurore a moment. "I suppose we have that in common," he acknowledges. "Every courtesan has a public face, after all, which demands consistency." He circles the base of his cup with both hands. "To be honest, I can hardly remember what I've told you of her already. It seems my mind easily goes blank on that subject."

Aurore sips her wine, "Almost nothing, really. That you were wed and lived in Elua… something about a shop, and that she died."

"She was called Sylvie," Raphael says softly, to build at least beyond that. "Her canon was Eglantine. A sculptor and carver. She had chestnut hair and golden brown eyes."

Aurore's lips move in the syllables of her name. "The soldier you carved. You learned from her?"

"Yes, that's true," Raphael admits after the briefest hesitation, as though he worried he might lose something in giving up the information. "But only to a certain degree. Naturally I can't do what an Eglantine could."

Aurore's lip twitches up, wry, "Can any of us. I like to dance, but I've not the grace of one of theirs, and I think no amount of practice could have made me so."

"No, indeed," Raphael sighs, smiling wistfully over the rim of the cup he drinks from. "We made toys for children. Wooden ducks, spinning tops, little boats. She carved the most exquisite faces for dolls."

Aurore nods, "I can picture you in a shop full of excited children, all those wonderful toys around you and you both…. I can picture it."

Raphael heaves out another sigh, but he nods. "I suppose that is what it was like," he says. "For a while. So that is… Well, at least you know more than three things."

Aurore nods, "I know more than three things. Do you… want to talk about what happened, or is that a conversation for another day.”

Raphael considers this before allowing, "She was ill for a long while. Ultimately it couldn't be helped." It is a guarded version of the story, perhaps, but something.

Aurore nods, thinking of the many things it could be, and making a particular, grim guess. "Some things can't no matter how hard the healers try. At least she died in the place and with the person of her choosing." She is thinking of her mother, who very likely didn't.

Raphael clears his throat and nods. "Yes, well. Thankfully," he says, and that seems to be about as much as he can tolerate of this for now. He changes his position on his chair and says, "Really I should have invited you to take this food somewhere with a fine view like the Gardens of Eisheth. They ought to be in full bloom by now."

Aurore follows his turn, not wanting to harm, "Shall we finish here and go? I do love plants of all kinds. You can show me the best views?"

"If you like," Raphael agrees, sounding pleased at the idea even if it was his to begin with. "Do you know their names? I only know a few." He finishes the wine in his cup. He's had more than he would ordinarily indulge in, but no more than half the bottle, so he appears in no danger of disgracing himself.

Aurore finishes hers, "Their names and generally what they are cultivated for. I was a city girl, but I loved the gardens and I made a study of them once I got my letters." She rises and waits for his escorting elbow, her smile genuine in that rather regal face.

Raphael stands to give Aurore his arm, leaving another coin on the table. "Thank you, Marny," he says on their way out. And to Aurore, "Very good. Then you'll have to teach me at least one I do not know today."

Aurore will, of course send him his full fee, plus extras and wine from the cellar she's starting to build. She calls, "They really are some of the best pies in Terre d'Ange." She takes his arm, "Happily. It's good mental exercise for me and a pleasant way to pass the time.”

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