(1311-06-04) Opening Doors
Summary: Emmanuelle calls upon her niece and sometimes pupil Ortolette, for a discussion of debuts and debutantes which all too soon is interrupted by another… (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 09/06/2019 - 17/06/2019
Related: Chromatophoria, Red Rose Debut.
emmanuelle ortolette 

Ortolette’s Chamber — Ducal Palace

A dark and somber, sober chamber, slight and tall-ceilinged, trapezoidal in shape with a long slivered edge that curls slightly along an outer wall of the wing's external architecture. One window in the far recessed corner is often as not curtained in dark blue to match the thick, lush carpeting and the costly bedding which mixes sateens and velvets for a luxurious experience to anyone lying abed. On the wall to one side of the bed is a low chest for a modest wardrobe, stacked on top with bottles of unguents and elixirs, a regular little pharmacy, with stacked washing-clothes and an ewer of icy water and an ewer of heated water always kept on offer, along with corresponding basins of Ch'in porcelain, white with blue dragons delicately painted upon them.

In the acute corner near the window a writing-desk has been appointed for Ortolette to take her correspondence, when she's sufficiently capable of being thus seated. Beside the table is a little bit of joy, a tiny sparrow kept in a cage hanging from a little stand. Otherwise she takes her correspondence abed, with a functional little lap-desk on oaken arms sitting perched firmly over top her legs as she sits up, with a gleaming lamp set in sparkling crystal overhead. The wall opposite the bed houses tall mahogany bookshelves and Ortolette's smattering of historical, political and economic treatises, as well as her prodigious collection of operatic libretti, most illustrated and beautifully bound, some signed by important casts who have premiered or made famous the opera in question. Perhed high up atop the bookshelves, the top few shelves of which a servant would have to climb a ladder to access, is an oddity: what seems to be the top part of a human skull, missing the lower jaw, sitting staring off of a corner of the bookshelf, looking over at the wall above the wash-station.

In the event it's the fourth day after the lady Ortolette Mereliot astonishes the Rose Sauvage by winning the debut of their newest-blooming Red Rose, that her aunt Emmanuelle comes up the hill again to call on her, wearing a light summer tailcoat of violet linen over her usual snug-fitted black breeches and high boots, and carrying her chirurgeon's bag.

"… It's as hot as Lord Kushiel's summer house in here," is the first remark she passes upon entering her niece's chamber, before setting down her bag on the end of the bed where it has rested so many times before and stripping off her coat. Presumably she would know.

She turns to M. Girard, Ortolette's constant attendant, who just admitted her: she passes him her shed outer layer with a raised eyebrow which suggests, yes, it's not a Cassiline's usual duty, but what the hell else is she supposed to do with it—? Beneath, a black silk shirt the short sleeves of which reveal pale arms and a musculature formed for beauty as well as strength, and a silver pendant sitting at the hollow of her throat in place of a cravat. Her hair is plainly dressed in a blue-black chignon, and at each pierced earlobe she wears a small stylised mandrake blossom executed in highly polished white gold, with a marquise-cut amethyst dangling below the one on the left. She has not had these baubles long but they’ve become as habitual in the summer as her golden cravat pin in the likeness of Shahrizai keys is in the winter.

"Well, my dear?" she inquires of Ortolette, looking to her with arms folded and blue diamond eyes glinting in cool appraisal. “Did your victory agree with you?”

Girard, for his part, is accustomed by now to his duties extending past the usual course of those laid out for his order. He has had to learn the negotiation of an invalid's chair over all sorts of obstacles, he has learned more of medicine through sheer osmosis than many in their first years of ardent study have even assumed, and he is handy in a pinch to help his ward with her various habitual ailments, at least. To take hold of a coat above and beyond that is hardly anything at all, and he accepts it with a gracious nod of his head.

Within, Ortolette is dressed against the heat — or, undressed, really, in only the thin straps of a sheer white nightie over her shoulders, and the nightie itself only descends partway to her knee. She is above all of her blankets, and her lap-desk is mounting her in bed; she seems lively of spirits and is doing some work via correspondence with a frisky pen. She looks up with some imperious tip of her chin to see who is being announced— but, on seeing that Emmadame is announcing herself, which is Emmadame's right, as it is a right which belongs to only a rare few others, she blooms into that too-big smile she sometimes gets when she is affected by actual happiness. It is neither demure nor elegant, but on occasion it does arise, as now, sort of goofy-looking and totally off-brand. Still it speaks more to her mood than words might do, though she adds words, anyhow. "Oui, Emmadame."

Emmanuelle enjoys that smile, on the rare occasions when she can prompt it — teaching her niece to braid a whip, for instance, proved similarly enchanting — but she is experienced enough in the treatment of eighteen-year-old amour propre never to acknowledge it, or to tell Ortolette how much she looks like a daisy opening in the sunshine. "I shall be tedious," she drawls, uncrossing her arms and coming to perch on the end of the bed with her back against one of its posts and one leg drawn up before her, "and inquire whether you have suffered any ill effects from your recent exertions— but if you give me your word," and her eyes meet her niece's steadily and with the utmost seriousness, "that you have not, I shall ask you instead," and as she lifts one boldly-drawn dark eyebrow a note of avuncular teasing enters her voice, "was the girl all you hoped?"

"My legs were badly hurting me afterward, but I was up upon them for quite some time," Ortolette reports as honestly and openly as ever, and, in a regularly Herculean show of strength, manages to lift her lap-desk from her just enough to slide out from underneath it and to sit cross-legged closer to the foot of the bed where Emmadame is settled. She must have been quite invigorated by her encounter with her very first Red Rose of her very own. "I felt so very much better in the morning, Emmadame. Even after she was from my bed. Oh, Emmadame, how lovely she was. How very wanting," she beams quietly, "Wanting of the most terrible sorts of things," she curls a smile of her own, less daisy-like, more of a snapdragon coil, just that degree more sharp.

Her aunt's chill gaze lowers to the lap-desk when it's in motion, inkwell and all; but she offers no aid. She looks up as it settles, studying Ortolette's movement as she edges closer to the font of all sadomasochistic wisdom. "There is a surprisingly tenacious assumption amongst the uninitiated that our kind enter into battle with our lovers," she muses, "to subdue them or to break them. With some, yes, the more quotidian patrons who call at Mandrake House or the Rose Sauvage once or twice in a lifetime to vary their diet of milk with a brief taste of cognac," a faint, fastidious narrowing of her eyes, "it is sometimes so. But you understand now in a way the texts don't convey," not one in the whole row of them, chosen by Emmanuelle and bound by Raziel's to blend into Ortolette's library, concealing their sensational matter beneath girlishly innocent covers, "the rare harmony of desires that may be achieved between two such temperaments… I cannot say I find anything terrible in that, my dear," she says gently.

"Yes," comes a sigh from Ortolette, a dreamy sort of sound some other young Ladies may make after a beautiful suitor. "I think that we recognized one another’s spirit even at the debut. I didn't intend to win — nor did I bid to win. I didn't quite mean for this to be the moment at which my tastes became clear to the city as a whole," her brow does furrow, there, a moment, but soon clears radiantly away again. "But I'm not sorry for it. She saw what I wanted of her, and she chose my bid, she must have done, from among those who had bid more. Perhaps I should be practical and think she only chose me for my name and my blood. But I think we had a… concurrence of thought… that ran that night into a concurrence of action which— which I won't soon forget. I'm sending her a gift, a remembrance."

“Customary," notes Emmanuelle with a crisp nod. Then she shrugs her shoulders and presses them back against the bedpost, obtaining from her spine a faint but satisfying click.

"You recall I was also the second daughter of the duchesse d'Eisande," she points out. "At the beginning of my time in Naamah's service I was often chosen for the same reason — but if the door opens to you, the fuck does it matter why someone first turned the handle?" she suggests practically. "Use the advantages people can apprehend, then build upon them with those they can't. Your intelligence, your subtle touch, will set you apart soon enough. I wouldn't have devoted so much time to your instruction in these last months if I hadn't sincerely regretted not having you as a novice in my house."

"And it never galled you? It might have galled me— but, then, I suppose a certain feeling of gall might make the course of such an assignation all the more sweet to run," Ortolette considers, sitting with a slouch to her back which she straightens out when hearing the click from Emmadame's own. She clutches her hands in her lap. "I would have been a poor novice, indeed. But I'm honored you think of me so, Emmadame, and I do believe I sent the Roses back a new adept having done very well by your teachings, nor having done them any disgrace in my enacting of them," she goes on, in a voice small but earnest, reverent of the things passed down to her, but neither intimidated by them. "I want to lie down; will you stay and tell me the story of your own debut again?"

"At that age everything galled me," the Mandrake drawls, deadpan. "Very well; but then you must tell me something more of Lillian's. I want to know if you have any questions, any doubts — we none of us are infallible, least of all in the beginning."

She rises and circles the bed away from Girard as he comes forward to get the lap-desk out of the way of his diminutive charge; and when Ortolette has made herself as comfortable as such an invalid can be she stretches out next to her on the other side of the bed, propped up against the head of the bed now, her figure boyishly slim and boyishly equipped. Two small women, one dark and one light, Emmanuelle kindling with her quiet words a brighter reflection of her own intense concentration, in the daisy-face resting upon the other pillow. It's not a story for Cassiline ears; it never has been. But she trusts that from the corner of the chamber where he is so apt to sit until needed, he can scarcely hear her deep murmuring.

"As you know and you can imagine," she begins — her own 'once upon a time', "debuts attract in the main seekers after youth and novelty, whereas Mandrake House's committed patrons often rate experience more highly than a flawless young body," she confides drily. The latter, she has not possessed since before her first child was born: the lack has not proved notably hampering to her rise through Naamah’s service… "But as I was the daughter of a sovereign duchesse, and as I was by then known to be a Scion of Kushiel, naturally I inspired curiosity in various quarters during my last months as a novice. Instead of being shown off in the salon I was kept out of sight; and during that time the Dowayne discussed me with certain long-term patrons of the house and invited them to lodge their initial bids with her in writing. When the evening arrived I hosted an intimate supper for the five who offered the highest sums for the privilege of my debut. They attended in half-masks and chose botanical soubriquets for the occasion, though I daresay some of them may have recognised one another regardless… The fare was light but immodest — truffled quails à la moelle, on canapés of toast spread with butter flavoured with sweet basil — early asparagus no thicker than an artist's brush — ortolans à l'Eisandine…"

And so on and so forth: she indulges in a longish recapitulation of the dishes served and the accompanying wines, each of which seems to have left an indelible imprint upon her — though, as she reminds her niece crisply, "Of course I myself did not partake of the wine.” A lesson well drummed-in by now, the need for sobriety in those who would wield whip and knife and needle. “We sat at a round table to make conversation easy. I guided our talk about the nature of dominance and submission — the exchange of power between individuals — the cleansing power of true penitence — the mythology and the reality of Lord Kushiel, his centrality to House Shahrizai through the centuries — certain Bhodistani rituals — one's memories of scent and taste and how tenaciously they endure…" As she herself has just demonstrated, again, though perhaps she owes some of her fluency to Ortolette's taste in bedtime tales.

"Thank you, Girard," with whom Ortolette is on a first-name basis that goes one way in public and the other in private. She is always very polite with him — well, past polite, she deeply cares for him, as he for her, their bond as Cassiline and Ward long tested in the fire of her disability. "You may stand outside, if you would like— or else call the guard to my door and have your afternoon. I will nap after Emmadame is left," she explains as she moves herself slowly on one hip, snaking with her legs and using her arms to draw her along to a nice spot to curl up all little spoon against Emmadame, a sweet-eyed nod of her head in a promise to tell more about Lillian's debut evening once the story is told. But the story, she intends to enjoy, a contented, wide smile on her face — her eyes close, but she does not sleep. Nor does she interrupt the story to confirm as much, but her facial expressions make it clear that she's listening.

Sitting higher, Emmanuelle can from her vantage see at least the upper half of that smile, and then the familiar flicker of feeling and thought that crosses her niece's visage in its wake. It's flattering of course to be listened to so closely, though hardly unusual, Ortolette being a human sponge who not only listens but attends, and analyses, and considers, justifying any amount of time spent assuaging her mind's perpetual hunger… She shifts her hip an inch or two nearer so that she may preside more protectively over her little spoon; and she plucks at a few golden tresses as she speaks, smoothing them into place just so behind their owner's ear.

"You see," she goes on, "whilst other debutantes need only follow their patrons' lead, a Mandrake is expected from that very evening to compel and command" Her hand comes to rest warm and still upon Ortolette's shoulder, lacquered nails black against fair skin. "As Dowayne I found myself often delaying debuts rather past sixteenth natalities, to ensure my charges were truly prepared for the demands they were to face — and this," she smiles wolfishly down at her niece, "despite how practiced we Mandrakes are in making a good novice out of even so bad a novice as you might have been in the beginning, my dear… After supper, my guests were conducted to separate chambers, provided with parchment and quills, and invited to amend their earlier bids as they saw fit. One withdrew — I'd put him off," she explains, this being to her way of thinking one of the more amusing episodes in her tale, "and to this day I don't know what it was I said or did that lost me his interest. We never met again."

She clears her throat softly and muses on. "The others all offered increased sums — the highest of the previous bids was doubled by one who was determined to make certain of me that night. Diversions were found for the others, in such a way that none of them knew which of their late comrades I had for my dessert. The next day," she inhales, and the curve of her lips as she forms these words betrays an old and quiet satisfaction which never dies, "I woke up to a number of generous gifts as those three competed to be received as my second patron. My marque was not long in the making… A debut, you see,” an ironic note as she repeats this first principle Ortolette has lately seen well-proven, “is a night upon which to capture the imaginations of as many wealthy and jaded aristocrats as one possibly may. They desired a duchesse's daughter; that was what I became for them, more truly than I had been in childhood. When I needed that voice it was there in my throat. It always has been. It opens the door," she says again, "and then when one walks through, one may claim all."

Ortolette stretches her neck out and aside, languidly luxuriating in the grooming touch and, yes, drinking in the well-loved story to her marrow once more. The added touch about the worst of all possible novices makes her topmost eye peel open for a glimmering glimpse, but, still, she says nothing, only sending a faint wriggle through her spine to settle back in upon closing her eyes once more. Her mind is turning— when does it not? She wonders who will be Lillian's second assignation— how the new Adept will rank her in comparison to her second outing— whether she has truly claimed all— or left part of her still upon the table. She feels an unwarranted zeal of jealousy rising against this unknown person, rooted firmly in a sense of insecurity in her own fledgling capabilities— nor untouched by the charms of the newly blossomed Rose. "Did you end up with a favorite among the group, Emmadame?" she puts the cares that burn her back into the context of the story, so as not to change the course. "Or ever regret not choosing one of the others instead as your first?"

<FS3> Emmanuelle rolls Empathy: Good Success. (6 1 3 6 7 1 4 5 1 3 8 4 6 6 5)

And this is a chapter Emmanuelle has not confided before, saving it consciously or otherwise for its proper season. "Two of those four relationships became long ones," she grants, "one simple and one complex… In Marsilikos it is common to afford adepts a certain power of veto; in Elua, we take the highest bid," she drawls softly. "The choice was not mine but it was correct. To one who was in such need I had the most to give, even then." She pauses. "I couldn't count the patrons I've taken since — but I recall everything about that night. Your young rose will as well," she points out, rubbing Ortolette's arm with a gentle and soothing hand. "The flavour of one and the flavour of another—" She makes a low 'mm' sound. "It is fruitless to hold them up side by side and compare them. Each time one touches another soul so deeply, the alchemical reaction is different. I could not number them," she repeats, "but each of their names would leave a different taste in my mouth. Does that answer your real question," she teases, "or are we still pretending that it's my life that fascinates you so?"

Ortolette registers a low amount of surl the next time she opens her eyes, which is— presently, as Emmadame accuses her of such disingenuity and she turns her topmost shoulder back toward Emmadame, the back of her head given further to her pillow and that dim look revealed. It's a sort of bashful darkness, like a ghost hanging just out of sight, somewhere, in a corner, gazing upon the living from behind a quantum of the abyss. "Your life does fascinate me, Emmadame— if I find lessons therein to guide me in my own, do I do you wrong?" she asks, a girl's voice badly matched to that ghost-like gaze. With some effort that little spoon's handle bends and she flips herself in two or three moments of struggle to turn over, having got quite comfortable, and to face Emmadame, instead. "But it is true, she has bewitched my thoughts, and made me feel the unholiness of jealousy, even without any true target for the feeling. Have you ever become jealous, Emmadame? Or how did you tame it, if you have?"

Her aunt meets that blossoming adolescent mood — in Ortolette’s own image, a thing of pallid petals concealing poisonous thorns — with a gentle but resolute refusal to retreat, or to indulge, or to be decoyed away to her own affairs. “She belongs to Naamah, my dear, not to you,” she reminds the girl seriously, for that is the core of it, “and you are too young and too green yet to judge where to bestow so much of your heart. Time will correct one of those deficiencies, but you yourself must attend to the other. Take her again if you must,” she allows, “but not till you’ve taken someone else. Ideally, several someones. If the connexion between you is a true one it will persist, and find its proper degree and proportion amongst the others; I think it more likely, though,” she says frankly, “that new passions will bleed some of the colour from the old.”

A familiar knock sounds at an unfamiliar door; and the very fact that Baltasar is come to interrupt so sacrosanct an hour of companionship and instruction, turns his mistress’s features to pale stone as she looks up from Ortolette to the source of the sound. “Shit,” she remarks softly, and she replicates her little spoon’s revolution — albeit less laboriously — and rolls straight off the bed and onto her booted feet to answer the summons in curtness and haste.

With the door cracked open they exchange a handful of words through it and Emmanuelle shuts it again harder and louder than she intended, as she hurries to reclaim her coat of violet linen— and then her chirurgeon’s bag, the horrors of which it seems her patient of longest-standing is to be spared entirely, today. Heedless now of wrinkling the cloth she slings the former over her arm and, taking up the latter, explains: “My kinswoman’s labour has begun.”

Ortolette listens more than she prepares any answer— the little pale petals collecting the rain and letting it soothe the angry barbs of her thorns from their current state, inflamed with passion for a little red bud just opened to the world. But if Emmadame says that it will pass, she has no doubt but that it will — and she can lie back and let her shoulderblades trace her opulent bedding, and merely curl out a smile of enjoyment, basking in the lingering afterglow of her first unsupervised session with one of the Roses Red. She may be just on the cusp of having something to say about the change in pitch at which her new and rather more pleasant fever is burning, but then there are presentations made at her chamber door, and soon Emmadame is on her way. "Fare well, and send word when the child is delivered, Emmadame; I will keep to my prayers," is all she has time to say.

No time has been lost since Baltasar conveyed the summons; Emmanuelle's hand is already upon the door, and she turns back to lock eyes with her recumbent niece only because the rhythm of her own heart disturbs her and before she goes out she requires the length of a few beats in which to draw breath and school it to calm. "… Yes, if you like I'll send an accounting," she agrees, "of who lives and who dies tonight. If we are not a house in mourning and if this fine weather holds you ought to visit us soon." A brisk nod; as far as she's concerned it is now a firm plan. "And we shall take up these threads again, my dear."

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