(1311-06-06) Somewhat Raw
Summary: Raphael and Philomène find themselves in conflict again, this time about the very nature of Naamah’s service.
RL Date: 06/06/2019
Related: The Festival of Lights.
philomene 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.

Raphael is standing in one corner of the room with several of the older Thorn novices, ranging from a girl of fifteen or sixteen to a few boys somewhere in the range of eleven to thirteen. He is looking at something written on paper. "Relatively well-observed," he remarks, "He does indeed enjoy being trod on. But I call that very poor penmanship at your age. You must each learn writing as one among your many charms. A strong master ought not to have a weak or wandering hand. Improve it. And burn all your observations in private, since they may contain rather sensitive information." He folds the paper and hands it back to one of the middle boys. "Now today, as you know, is laundry day, so waste no time. Stained sheets are revolting, so I don't want to hear a single complaint from a patron. Dismissed to your duties." The adolescents hurry off to the hallway.

It's been a relatively peaceful few weeks recently, without the scowling figure of the Vicomtesse de Gueret darkening the doors of the Rose Sauvage. Indeed, the gardens have been left untramped and the small shrub, planted last time she was here, has been left relatively untended. But luckily for everyone, this morning she's decided it's time to resume her patronage. The door opens, and the tell tale scuff and thump of her walk makes it quite clear who's entered, even if one's attention is still on chastising adolescent novices. If one should happen to look over, however, she's back in her old, comfortable brown riding jacket, with a low slung leather satchel across her body that swings against her as she limps forward into the foyer. She waits, allowing Raphael to finish his business before interrupting him with a nod of greeting and a quietly murmured, "Raphael. I hear congratulations are in order?"

"I would not reject them," Raphael says, turning to acknowledge the Vicomtesse with a smile and those words. "Have you been traveling? You've stayed away from us for a little while. I hope nothing is amiss with your swine. Will you have tea, tisane?" He gestures to a seat in case she may be road-weary.

Philomène shakes her head, waving him off with one hand. "Merely seeing to business, nothing as exciting as travelling, I'm afraid. My mornings have been full of merchants, slaughterhouses and shipping arrangements, and you know I don't like to intrude on your domain here when there are people around. Present company excluded," she adds with a somewhat tired smile. "How about a nice cup of tea and," she adds, looking down to unfasten her satchel, "a bacon buttie? Gueret wheat, Gueret pigs. An Agnacian delight in every way. It's not quite a celebration cake for your elevation in status, but it's the best I can offer. I don't have a tame patisserier."

"We're not people, we are courtesans," Raphael replies with a note of humor. A gesture summons from a corner a Red Rose novice who was not dismissed with the Thorns to laundry duty. "Tea for us both," he tells the girl. "On a proper tray." She goes off to the kitchen and he meanwhile takes a seat in one of the leather armchairs after setting a table between it and another chair so that they might share the common surface for breakfast. "On the contrary," he says. "I prefer pig to cake."

"You, at least, I'd class as people," Philomène insists, easing her way over to the other chair and lowering herself carefully into it, face frozen in careful non-expression as she does so. Only once she's seated does she resume digging in her bag, producing a parcel of greased paper tied with string, which she sets down on the table between them then nudges over towards him with two fingers. "But I reserve the right to withdraw that compliment if being a second means you're too busy now to shoot the breeze with me of a morning. One of those," she notes with a nod to the parcel, "has got a plum chutney in it, too. If you happen to be a fan."

"I don't appear to be," Raphael replies dryly. He reaches back and draws a knife from a sheath at the back of his belt, since all right-thinking people carry knives. With this, he snips the string and unwraps the paper. "A good complement for bacon," he opines. "Shall we split this one first?" A gesture with the tip of the knife to the one he thinks has the chutney.

Philomène flicks a small smile. "I won't object, certainly. The breakfast of champions. I don't know what they tend to feed you here, but you'll never want anything but this bacon again now, I'd lay good money on it." She closes the flap of her satchel again before reaching into her inside pocket for the battered copper flask. This she absently passes from hand to hand as she waits for the man to cut the sandwiches and for the tea to arrive to go with it. "So what does being the Second entail, anyway?"

Raphael cuts the victim in two, cleaning the blade on one corner of the paper. "That sounds very dangerous," he says, sticking the knife back in his belt at just the time the tray arrives. The novice bows her head as Raphael lifts the paper sling-style to make room for the tray, then plucks out the halves they've selected and places them there instead, bundling the paper around a now-smaller cargo and setting it aside. He gestures to dismiss the novice, since there is no hope that her presence would delight Philomène. "A great deal," he says, setting a cup in front of each of them and pouring the tea, the Vicomtesse's first. "Primary responsibility for the education and training of Thorn novices. The planning of Thorn debuts and showings. And most of all, the review of Thorn contracts."

"Then perhaps your past two weeks haven't been entirely different from my own," Philomène notes, giving a small nod of thanks for the tea. "Only you've been negotiating for human meat instead of swine." She casually unscrews the cap of her flask, pouring a generous measure into her cup before offering it over, a brow raised in question. "Fatten them up until they're ready to be shown off, and then make sure you've got a ready market for them, hm?"

"Depending," Raphael replies. "Our market is possibly more complex, since this patron wants fat, that one lean, and the third one wants only the finest trotters. And of course I never had to teach penmanship to a pig." He accepts her offer wordlessly, dosing his own tea perhaps more because he wants to confirm whether Philomène is back to spirits than because he particularly wants it. The flask is capped and set down on the tray.

"Or perhaps," Philomène counters, taking up her tea to cradle in both hands and flicking an easy smile, "your broader market is easier to please, as you've a different little piggy for everyone who wants one. I'd never have figured penmanship into your business, though. Next time I need a secretary to help draw up a contract, should I come and ask for one of your little pigs?"

"You could," Raphael replies, "Though I think you'd find their rate rather dear for clerking." He lifts the cup to taste the tea and what is in it. "Courtesans are excellent at contracts, of course. And I have had to become more expert than ever. In everyone's. And of course," he says, setting down his cup and lifting his half of the shared sandwich, "I've raised my own rates again."

Philomène takes a long sip from her own tea, closing her eyes momentarily as the added brandy as well as the warmth of it begins to loosen some of the pain in her joints. "Because," she can't help but goad, releasing her cup with one hand so she can claim her half sandwich, "when one is called to spiritual work like yours, it's important to charge the buggers through the nose for it."

"Because," Raphael counters, after chewing his mouthful, "If I do not find some means of narrowing my list of patrons without diminishing my value to the salon, I will likely have a heart attack and die on top of one of my patrons. Which," he adds, picking up the tea cup again, "Is bad for everyone's business except the undertaker's. How are your treatments going?" Philomène is, after all, the one who started the needling.

"If you do die on top of one of your patrons," Philomène assures him loyally, "I'd say nice things about you at your funeral." She pauses for a bite of her sandwich, perhaps to avoid answering the question long enough to come up with a suitably witty answer, but alas one can only chew for so long. "It's been agreed," she eventually offers, the words drawn out as she considers them, "that there's nothing more she can do for me." Not technically a lie. It'll do. "I probably shouldn't be entirely surprised, only shocked that she was willing to try as long as she did."

"Thank goodness," Raphael says. "The rest of them might still be gagged, after all." He narrows his eyes slightly at this explanation. "Nobles always know just exactly when to use the passive voice," he says, as if in praise, and briefly goes back to the sandwich. "The bacon /is/ delicious, isn't it."

"I'd thought your patrons were bound to use the passive voice," Philomène retorts, but lifts her sandwich, bites taken out of it and all, in recognition. Yes. She's proud of her bacon.

"That is why I recognize it so well," Raphael answers, pausing for a smile before he goes back to the sandwich. Which he really does seem to be enjoying." But when he puts it down next he looks a little more serious. "You always needle me for the matter of my price," he says. "So how do you think I ought to ply my trade, then? Make an orderly line of patrons for a copper a throw? Would that be more in line with piety as you see it?"

Philomène actually takes her time to think about her answer, sipping from her tea as she considers. "I think what I find objectionable… no, that's not the word. It's not objectionable, merely jarring. What I find jarring is that juxtaposition of spirituality and profit. What we have is neither one things nor the other here. If taking a patron to your bed is your duty as a pious man, then why should money be the barrier? On the other hand, if it's an honest trade, the same as growing wheat or raising pigs, then why claim it as a spiritual duty?" Her thumb absently runs around the rim of her cup as she thinks. "If you were to put me on the spot, to set up an entirely new system that fulfils your duty to praise Naamah and still pays the bills, I'd nationalise it. Nobody can expect you to cater to every individual in the country, so the opportunity to patronise a courtesan should be drawn at random, or on a strict rotational basis, with the courtesans. Then the houses should be paid a flat rate by the crown, that in itself covered by a tax on all eligible adults. A rich man is no more spiritual than a poor man, so why should a fellow with more money have more opportunity to spend time with you and yours?" She smirks, shrugging a shoulder. "Everyone pays a flat rate or a percentage according to their ability, and everyone has equal chance to seek you out. Then I'd stop needling you. About your prices, anyway."

Raphael takes this in quietly, sipping tea. "We recently had our festival days," he observes. "One day in honor of each of the Companions. For Anael's Day there was horse racing. Suppose there was a purse of gold offered the fastest rider on that day, as I imagine there was. Did you complain on that day that the money there invalidated the honoring of a Companion? If one of your farmers prays at Anael's altar for a good harvest in the hopes that his grain will make his family wealthy and comfortable, does he blaspheme?" Raphael sets down his cup. "I think your plan would be unpopular with the majority of the nobles. Perhaps what you really want is to dissolve the nobility. What I have earned in this salon," he says in a tone of more intense seriousness, "Allowed me once to do what I cherish in my life above all other things. What I have earned since my return has gone mainly to craftspeople, to shopkeepers, and to the Temple. When I die, it will all go back into this salon and pay for the upkeep of the next generation picked from hither and yon, perhaps even from among your farmers. Which is its own form of lottery, perhaps."

Philomène holds up a finger. "I should have objected if in order to compete in the horse racing to honour Anael, one had to pay an entrance fee," she corrects. "Because that would prevent those without money from honouring the Companion. Do you see the difference? I object to any barrier between a person and their spirituality, whether that's money or something else. Spreading the cost among everyone would doubtless be unpopular with the rich and popular with the poor. It's just that in general the rich have louder voices." She smirks. "Nobility has nothing to do with it. I don't object to you earning a solid wage for your work, Raphael. A man has to eat, and make a good life for himself. Why would I begrudge you that? I object to the claims that it's all to honour Naamah, while in practice it's all only for the rich to honour Naamah." Once again she takes a sip from her tea, watching him over the rim. "Are your prices there to balance demand, or are they there to make sure you earn an honest wage for your time? Just because three or four people will pay a huge fee, does that mean everyone else ought to, so those three or four don't monopolise your time?"

"No," Raphael replies. "I am the servant of Naamah, not my patron." He sits back and sips his tea. "How many would you have me fuck per day, then? If the wage is set by the crown, then surely it would be the crown who chooses the hours and days I work and not myself. The crown would perhaps wish that I no longer choose whether I will serve a patron or not, to ensure fairness by taking away any potential favoritism. The crown, if it were paying us, would surely determine how many hours or days a Red Rose gets off to heal after she's been horsewhipped by an energetic farmhand. Do you think the crown would've given me three days' leave last week so I could—" He breaks off, finding his tone growing harsh and his body leaning forward, and presses his shoulders back again to the leather, sipping from his tea. After a moment, he says in a much gentler tone, "A curious proposition that would undoubtedly eliminate some unfairnesses while perhaps introducing others."

"Surely," Philomène notes mildly, "as the servant of Naamah, you'd choose to honour her as often as is reasonable for you? If you'd need a quota set by the crown, perhaps this isn't your calling after all? You tell me. What would be a reasonable amount of work you'd expect to do, and what would be a reasonable salary for the year? So you can take your three days off - it's not as though you have a harvest to bring in before the weather turns, so you have the luxury of choosing when you work and when you don't, so if you need a rest you can have one. Take it as an average across a full year. If you want to spend three months fucking every hour of every day, then a full month with no patrons at all that's your prerogative. A straightforward salary from the crown would give you the flexibility you want, not take it away."

"I know you are being amusing, but I do not find it so," Raphael replies, though softly. "It is not a matter of quantity at all, and it shows how badly we would be misunderstood by outsiders if you think it should ever be considered in that way. What you are saying could perhaps make sense for a blacksmith shoeing horses; to me it is the rankest nonsense." He does seem, by now, offended and not playful in the least.

"Quite the opposite, I'm deadly serious," Philomène insists, pressing a fingertip down against the table. "Taking a patron should not be a transactional affair, like buying a pig or shoeing a horse. You should be able to take the patrons you want, without getting to the end of the month and feeling forced to take a particularly rich one just because you've bills to pay. Raphael, you know I like a good argument but no, this isn't just me being obtuse for the sake of it. You asked me why I needle you about your price, and you asked how I'd rather see the system work. And because I'd like to consider you a friend, I've been absolutely honest with you. If it's not an answer you want to hear then perhaps we ought to agree the subject as completely off limits, because I'm not going to lie to you if you ask me."

"I am not forced to do anything," Raphael replies a bit sharply. "This salon takes care of everyone in it. Everyone has a roof, everyone has meals to eat, no matter who they have or have not seen. You," he says, lowering his voice still more in volume even as the intensity rises again, "Do not know nearly so much about us as you believe you do. I think for someone like you to have the arrogance to believe that you understand our lives from the outside and to meddle with what we do would be an absolute nightmare for everyone involved in this system. It would be as disastrous to us as if I set out tomorrow to try to run your farms."

Philomène settles back in her seat, eyeing him impassively. She sets down her tea, then quite deliberately unwraps the second bacon sandwich, slices it into two, and slides the larger half over towards him. That done, she pauses, considers, then slides her flask over towards him, too. "I know very little about your life," she agrees simply. "Only what you've told me. I've always assumed that was intentional."

Raphael takes the flask, but only holds it in his hand for now. His eyes briefly wander as he perhaps thinks back over some of the things he has been saying. "With patrons I rarely say very much," he replies, "For various reasons. But you are…a friend. So I don't have reason to intentionally conceal anything from you. Is there something you're curious about?" He then does take a nip from the flask, sealing it again and setting it on the tray.

"Ah, I've managed not to completely drive you away, then," Philomène notes with a dry, humourless chuckle. "Can I quote you on that, for those who claim I'm too belligerent, that I'll die alone and friendless?" She shakes her head, claiming the flask back for herself for a momentary sip. "I'm curious why you came back here. You'd retired once, but then you came back. Running away or running towards? Did you come back to this life because you wanted it, or because you didn't want the alternative?"

"I can be cross with my friends," Raphael asserts, and he allows a small smile there. "I think I could answer that question in various ways." He glances across the parlor momentarily, but there is no one to overhear at this hour. "One reason is that I could not have continued in my previous profession. I was running out of time in Elua. This is a trade I know well and am skilled in. It could be said that I had few other alternatives. At the same time, I also believed that I owed a debt to Naamah. It is as a result of Naamah's grace that I was able to meet my wife in the first place. I never did as much to repay that as I might have, but I feel that in my work now, I can. That is why I make such large donations to the Temple and why it has been so important to me to gain this position of the leadership of my canon." Raphael explains all this quietly, much more calmly than he argued moments ago.

"She's been very kind to you," Philomène agrees, pressing her lips together for a moment as she leans across to claim her half of the remaining sandwich. "Perhaps that's where I've been going wrong all these years, hm? Not enough donations to the temple?"

A slight twitch at the outer corners of Raphael's eyes suggests that he may be trying to read this sudden agreement of Philomène's against the dispute they have only just had. But in the end he just reaches out for his half of the sandwich. And after a bite, his eyes warm again. "Well," he says. "Are you seeking her blessing?"

"Define 'seeking her blessing'," Philomène counters, taking a bite and glancing back to his face with a faint smile. "And aren't we talking about you, not me?"

Raphael smiles the more. "I'm asking if you're feeling sexually unfulfilled," he replies frankly. "But we can talk about me if you prefer. What else do you want to know?"

"If you're offering then know that while you're a lovely chap, you're really not my type," Philomène allows, amused. "What else… here, if through some sort of magic there were a clone of you, exactly the same in every way, and you had ten minutes to do anything you wanted, would you fight yourself or fuck yourself? Or… I suppose there are probably other options, but I can't think of them."

"I wasn't," Raphael replies, looking amused. "I can't imagine that I could be less suited to you unless I were a Red Rose." And the last question has that amusement bubbling into laughter. "Ten minutes really isn't long enough for a proper fuck or a proper fight," he opines. "But in thirty minutes I could probably manage to do both. Still, I don't think I'm really my own type. And I don't think I particularly deserve a beating. I'd be inclined to let me alone. Why, what would you do with yourself?"

Philomène eyes him reproachfully. "Oh, no question at all. I'd take the fight." She flicks a quick grin, peeling a hanging piece of bacon from the edge of her buttie to pop into her mouth and chew. "There wouldn't be anything like it. Exactly the same. The same skills, the same tactical knowledge, the same weaknesses. The only ever possible truly equal fight." She pauses to lick grease from her fingertips, noting with a quiet laugh, "Although a fight, interspersed with sex? Maybe that's the better option. The only way to make it better would be to do the whole lot on horseback. And follow it up with a bacon buttie."

Raphael enjoys the sandwich while Philomène speaks. "You're obsessed with making things equal," he accuses lightly. "I think you'd certainly need more than ten minutes for all that. And I'm not sure how you'd stay mounted the whole time. But otherwise I agree with you. Sounds very exciting."

"It's less about equality in general and more about getting the challenge right," Philomène argues, taking up her flask again. The pretence of drinking tea is by now out of the window. Her tea remains in its cup, slowly getting colder. "I wouldn't fight a baby. Sure, I'd win, but I'd feel awful for it. But when it's even chances, and you're relying on being at the very top of your game to win? That's feeling alive. But not for you? All right, what makes you feel alive?"

"I can fight when necessary," Raphael replies. "But I'm not a soldier. In the same way, I feel at my best when I am doing what I do as well as it can possibly be done. When I can read someone just right, when I give them exactly what they need. Especially when it is a difficult case. There have been other answers at other times, perhaps, but that is my answer now."

"I haven't been a soldier for thirty years," Philomène reminds him, then adds more quietly, "But I had it taken away from me. Which makes me all the more determined to prove I can still do it. Does that make sense? I think if I'd grown tired of it I'd have been much happier to settle into farming than I ever was. Maybe I wouldn't have been such a little shit to Louis-Claude, too."

“Then I would argue that maybe you haven't stopped being one," Raphael returns gently. "Do most people - and I mean this question sincerely - grow tired of being soldiers before it kills them?" Having finished off the second half of his sandwich, he picks up a napkin from the tray and cleans his hands. First linens for the next laundry day.

Philomène gives a little nod, settling back in her seat and drawing her good leg up underneath her. "From my experience, absolutely. There comes a point where there's more grumbling about the waiting, or the marching, or the weather, or the nonsense and it all piles up too much to outweigh the rest. There are plenty of retired soldiers, my age or less. Death by old age is still more likely than death in battle. Humans are resilient little fuckers, we tend to get back up again."

"People retire from things without being tired of them," Raphael puts in, but he nods at the overall sense of what she is saying. Except the last remark, to which he questions, "Do we?" A long pause and then he nods again. "I must take your word for it. I spend most of my time trying not to kill people."

"Mm, me too," Philomène deliberately misunderstands, flashing a grin before wolfing down the last of her sandwich.

Raphael sits back again, watching Philomène eat. At last he cannot help asking, "Was it the power balance? With Emmanuelle?"

Philomène arches a brow. "How do you mean? The power balance?" She absently licks her fingers clean, then wipes them on her sleeve. "She claims she doesn't like conflict. I'd argue she likes to win, and when she doesn't, when she can't find a loophole to change the rules in her favour, she doesn't like a fair fight." She shrugs. "I like a fair fight."

Raphael nods at that reply. "So yes," he concludes. "Fair can be difficult. It comes with the greatest uncertainty of all. But I understand why the idea of fairness appeals to you so much, I think. Although I can probably also understand why Emmanuelle wants to have read the libretto before she sees the opera."

"At heart, she's a good woman," Philomène defends the Shahrizai. "But I'd have laid good money that one of us would have killed the other before the year's out."

"I like her very much," Raphael agrees. "And I think you are possibly right. I'm not asking in order to doubt the conclusion you reached. Only because I wanted to know."

"Ah, well, no doubt she understands your life far more than I," Philomène points out, uncurling her leg from under her, claiming her flask to put back into her jacket pocket, and generally readying to stand. It's always a bit of a ritual, making sure everything's in place before she even attempts to hoist herself vertical. "I'd be surprised if you didn't get on. I apologise, by the way," she adds with a casualness that belies the fact that yes, Philomène is actually apologising for something. She sets her jaw, takes a breath, and rises to her feet. "I hadn't intended to touch a nerve earlier. I have few enough friends that it seems silly to lose one just because I'm determined to argue over something that, yes, is none of my business."

"I am…not at my best today," Raphael replies to that apology, getting up after she does. "Visiting Beziers last week has left me somewhat…raw, you could say." He seems to intend to walk Philomène to the door. "You haven't lost a friend in me. Though if you start leading the crown to take over my world, then we might meet on the battlefield yet."

"There are worse ways to go," Philomène insists, taking a moment just to steady herself before she begins her distinctive limp for the door.

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