(1311-06-12) Tea and Buns
Summary: Nicolette continues her rounds of the Avenue de Kusheth, by taking tea amongst Iphigénie’s several thousand other little friends.
RL Date: 20/06/2019 - 21/06/2019
Related: Shame Optional, The Blooming of a White Rose.
iphigenie nicolette 

A Carriage

Soon after the newest White Rose returns to her salon after the unfurling of her petals at the hands of Jacqueline de Morhban, she learns that her second assignation is already bespoken, by another Kusheline lady: Iphigénie nó Valerian de Maignard.

To give her a little respite between these early, eye-opening adventures, the date agreed is the 12th; and on the 12th she finds the contract prepared, a perfectly standard agreement for an afternoon and evening's companionship outside the salon, without a single clause added, subtracted, or modified to taste. Somehow it already bears the lady's signature. It awaits only Nicolette's own, witnessed likewise by her Second in a ritual still unfamiliar. At the appointed hour, promptly, a carriage awaits her too.

It's an opulent conveyance, though none too new. Dark reddish-brown wood, well-kept and well-polished, with upholstery of burgundy velvet just beginning to show wear. Curtains of the same rich cloth are bound back from the windows at either side by golden ropes with flourishing tassels. The coachman and the lackey who hands her inside are dressed smartly, in hard-wearing black cloth accented with House Maignard's other hues of dark red and gold. Iphigénie is sitting in the soft darkness within, having come in person to collect her little friend. Ramrod straight, as always, strictly corseted beneath her dark gown; her hands folded in her lap, encased in white silk, till one of them lifts and follows her smile to meet Nicolette. "Good afternoon, my dear," she murmurs, patting the adept's own gloved hand where she sits beside her: "Are you comfortable?" And then gathering it to be so, she takes up her walking stick and taps the carriage's farther wall, just beneath the driver's seat, to signal their readiness. The horses' hooves sound; the wheels begin to turn over the Night Court's smooth cobbles.

Amidst all the black, red, and gold, Nicolette in her snowy white stands out like a sore thumb. Veiled, gloved, and cloaked in the same pristine colors of her house, she makes a striking appearance even before she stands beside the carriage men. Once she steps inside the carriage, her eyes round in surprise at the sight of Iffy in person. "Mademoiselle!" she chirps, as her cheeks pinch with the unrestrained mirth of her smile. The white rose seats herself, and then smiles fondly to the woman at her side.

Her dress look chaste enough until the moment she sits, and the skirts settle upon her legs. It isn't as opaque as it seemed before, and it would be easy to make out any detail where fabric meets flesh. For her part, the young White Rose maintains a blissful ignorance of how exposed her skirts make her. Her own hand comes to pat against Iffy's own in an eager return of affection. Once the carriage sets into motion, the brunette grows bold enough to wrap her limbs around Iffy in a chaste, gentle hug.

"I had heard that my second assignation was already decided upon. It was something we spoke of, so I'm relieved that it came to be. Do you have plans for the evening?" As the young woman turns to face her evening patron, her knees settle feather-light against Iffy's leg.

It may be the 'Mademoiselle' that paints Iphigénie's lips with such a wry, fond, tolerant smile; or it may be the embrace she sets her stick down again to return, placing a careful arm about the girl's shoulders to hold all that youthful softness briefly against her own more ascetic figure, rendered unyielding by steel bones. They separate; looking over Nicolette's pristine whiteness she does indeed see more than she expected of an Alyssum — and that's amusing too, when combined with the girl's apparent ignorance of just how she has been dressed for the occasion. No novice's robe, this. "One or two," she confirms with honeyed indulgence, making a mental note to discourage Nicolette from sitting down in front of the workmen presently inhabiting the Maignard house; "one or two… Ah, we've arrived."

For hardly have they passed through the Place des Mains d'Eisheth and the Grand Plaza beyond it, than the carriage slows again. The lackey hands down the lady and then the courtesan into a broad pale colonnade lined with shops, and dizzyingly redolent of the baking of breads, pastries, sweet cakes… "I thought," explains Iphigénie, who while the carriage moves on (it's such a busy street) indicates with a lift of her stick the opening doors of Marsilikos's finest bakery, "you might like to choose the cakes for our afternoon tea, my dear."

Bakery — Market Promenade

L'Agnacites hold with the truism the expression of art through food is a holy calling, and such a shrine pays homage to the creative spark. Gourmands worship at a marble altar groaning under a sinful array of glistening pastries and thin cakes. Offerings stacked in neat rows behind glass gleam bright as a raj's jewels: ripe cranberries and pomegranate seeds under clear glaze, clouds of pearly cream, ruby strawberries and pale jade grapes. Pale gold custard tarts and honey-drenched buns sit next to delicate finger-cakes dusted in cocoa and curls of shaved chocolate. Fruits of the season laboriously contrived into visual illusions transform humble apples into ladies' purses with aid of crepes, or create the famed dome of Marsilikos from apricots and oranges.

Senses besieged from every direction find no relief. Colourful cream-filled macarons whet the visual appetite as the scent of fresh-baked breads stir out from the ovens from the pre-dawn hours until mid-afternoon. Seating is sparse, merely a few wooden benches to the front. The long, narrow shop is dominated by display cases and the odd bottle of fruit wine and sherry mounted upon a shelf for an afternoon aperitif. Plain white walls graced by sconces overflowing in seasonal flowers hardly detract from the baked goods for sale, and the narrow shopfront windows allow light to pour in.

<FS3> Nicolette rolls Composure: Good Success. (7 3 1 8 6 6)

Nicolette cherishes the moments that Iffy holds her, and releases with great reluctance. One of her hands makes its way slowly down the length of her patron's arm until her gloved fingertips play gently across the cool metal looped about the woman's wrist. There, her fingers linger, idly brushing and caressing across the ornament. That touch lingers a moment and then continues on to repeat that tender dance of affection across the back of Iffy's gloved hand. Contact breaks when Nicolette brings her hand up to cover her mouth, but she fails to stifle the suddenly drawn breath.

The carriage stops. "Oh, what a delight. That's such a marvelous treat, Lady Iphigénie, thank you. Aren't I supposed to be the one serving you?" There's a knowing smile slanted back at Iffy, but the blush on Nicolette's cheeks speaks of a raw, sincere flattery at her patron's gesture. When the carriage opens she gingerly eases herself out while aided by one of the men in black, then waits dutifully for Iffy to be helped similarly. Side-by-side, the pair walk into the shop of treats together. At once the scent of cinnamon and bread and fruit and sugar sweeps over them, and Nicolette lets out a soft sigh.

Only now does she break from her partner and patron so that she might scope out the sweets imprisoned in glass. One by one she goes through, oohing and aahing at the fruited pastries and puffy little morsels. When she arrives before a display of buns glazed with sticky honey and sugar frosting, her step falters. For a few brief moments she stares meaningfully at the morsels before turning to Iffy with a sweet, innocent smile. "What sorts of treats do they like in Kusheth? They all look good to me, but I can't pass up these I don't think."

It's like cuddling up with an affectionate kitten, then setting the tiny beast loose to stalk some toothsome toy in imitation of the true huntress she'll be when she's grown— Iphigénie follows unhurriedly, her stick performing its usual office in encouraging other patrons of the emporium to give her a wide birth. In full daylight her gown reveals itself to be the same one she wore when first they met. Her skirts sway gently with her slow steps; she comes to stand just near enough to Nicolette that heavy dark red skirts mingle with diaphanous white. "In Kusheth," she answers, inclining her head toward the adept's and pitching her voice just loud enough to be heard over the chatter of customers and shopgirls around them, "our palate inclines more toward the savoury, or the highly spiced… but sometimes I do like a little something sweet," she confides, smiling crookedly down. "We shall have your honeyed buns, my dear, and a more Kusheline sweet if such can be found."

Then her gaze lifts to the other side of the counter; she has no difficulty catching the eye of a serving girl and commanding the required buns, and whilst they are being set aside she conducts a brief, courteous interrogation on the subject of certain heavily spiced cakes that go by several different names in various provinces of Terre d'Ange. They are discovered under yet another soubriquet, and added to the haul. Nicolette has the basket to hold, then, whilst Iphigénie's lackey goes in search of the carriage.

The notion of spiced buns has Nicolette's head on a swivel, turning this way and that for any sign that the deceptively colorful treats might be harboring a sharper secret. Finding no sign of their inner Kusheline in the way they're displayed, at least, she resigns herself to Iphigénie's care, which turns out to be the smart move because the morsels are produced shortly after. "In the countryside we ate oat cakes and crushed nuts bound together with honey." The brunette falls in line with her silver-haired patron as the two meander about. "In the summer and autumn, when fruits were cheap, we would have pies. Strawberry pie was my favorite. I think it might make me miss my family if I had it now."

Nicolette's blue eyes flit up to take stock of the woman who commands her price for the evening. To an outside observer it might look like a doting white rose bashfully peeking at her chaperone, but the younger woman searchingly peers at the elder's face. "I like sweet things, but I think that too much sweet can be cloying. It's best when you mix it with something that can be spicy, like cinnamon. The two make a marvelous combination together. I can't say that I've had something spicy on its own, so perhaps that will be something to try one day."

No coin changes hands and no prices are spoken aloud to sully Nicolette's ears, there being a Maignard account to which Iphigénie puts down the cost of their treats. "I prefer rhubarb as well, in a strawberry pie," is her considered answer, as with a hand at the small of Nicolette's back she redirects her charge toward the entrance whence they came; "it gives it some bite," she explains drily. "You shall try one of my spiced cakes this afternoon, my dear, and we'll see how it agrees with you. It's a taste I understand can be acquired." And there's a glint of mischief in her eyes as she glances along the promenade for the approach of her carriage, which soon enough gathers them up again into comfort.

Ever the bastion of modesty, Nicolette turns so that she might curtsey her thanks to the shopkeep and other bakers once the goods have been bundled and handed off. While it's a gesture of ladylike courtesy, those behind her at the carriage are treated to a decidedly immodest display when the woman stoops low and plucks her skirts forward. The garment frames the back of her legs for a fleeting instant, and the material does its job in leaving little to the imagination.

"I'm always open to try new things. The freedom granted ever since my debut has been a boon, even though I haven't exercised it too thoroughly." Nicolette seats herself inside the carriage, and offers a hand to help Iphigénie in when she makes her own debut. "There are so many new flavors to enjoy, like spiced cakes. Rhubarb is one I haven't had, but if it has a bite I think that I might enjoy it, especially with something as lusciously sweet as strawberries."

"Perhaps if you visit me again, we might arrange a pie," suggest Iphigénie, smiling, as she passes up her cane into Nicolette's waiting paw and accepts the lackey's aid in joining her inside. And for the rest of the journey she keeps their talk upon sweets, Kusheline and otherwise, teasing her little companion from behind a mask of gravity and a tone of voice which yields nothing to humour.

Maignard Residence — Noble District

(desc sort of still in flux)

The Maignard residence is the smallest of the six great houses in the Avenue de Kusheth, and all of a piece behind its protective wall of plain grey stone. The lackey alights first, to aid the concierge in opening the heavy dark wooden gates for the house's present mistress, and then to hand down the ladies directly onto the steps which lead up into a portico of the same forbidding stone. Iphigénie makes genuine use of her walking stick as well as her lackey's arm in affecting this particular passage: Nicolette still has the basket.

Then double doors of dark wood open for them, into a spacious square foyer with a floor of pale stone and walls decorated with scenes from the lives of Blessed Elua and his Companion angels. At the back, at both sides, matched staircases painted black rise into the house’s upper reaches. There is no furniture, beyond a couple of small armless chairs standing self-consciously in one corner; but scaffolding has been erected all round to allow repairs to hard-to-reach places: the cornices, the half-columns of tarnished gilt separating one scene from another, the masonry high on the inside of the front wall. Its higher reaches are occupied by three workmen, a pair on one side and a singleton across from them, who all look up (well, look down) at Iphigénie's entrance and utter a chorus of: "Afternoon, milady."

"Good afternoon," is Iphigénie's courteous answer as she nods one way and then the other; "and how are we progressing?" A maid appears; she signals for Nicolette to surrender her delicious burden into the domestic's keeping.

Nicolette dangles her basket from one arm, clothed in long gloves, while the other toys with the bottom hem of her veil. Her eyes flit up toward the workmen lingering above, and she flushes prettily at their greeting. Although it was certainly meant for the matron of the manor, the younger of the pair nonetheless provides a demure greeting of fluttered fingers, before chastely averting her gaze with a turn of her head.

That also provides her ample opportunity to drink in the decor, which makes her eyes shimmer with awe and brings a soft, "Oh," to her lips, though it shares equal parts uncertainty and awe. The stone façade had been less of an interest to her — though she did give it one glance, and a small knowing smile — but the insides are something that halt the movement of her slippered feet. "You're redecorating?" she wonders aloud.

Her blue eyes shift toward Iphigénie to see if she plans on leading Nicolette anywhere in particular. If not, the younger of the pair makes her way alone, her head turning to regard the scenes upon the walls, and the keen observer might notice that it's the ones depicting Naamah that guide the angle of her head, even as her lips veil her true intentions. "Shemhazai. Camael. Kushiel." She pauses a moment, then hurries to Iffy's side with the frolickful gait of a young lamb. "I wonder if the Camaelines or Siovalese have treats. Books for the latter, I'll bet, and likely something… earthen. Candied nuts. But the Camaelines… hm."

Laying her wondering aside, she glances toward the lonely chairs gathered in the corner, and then back to Iphigénie. In a low whisper she states, "I'm tempted to split up my bun and share it among the workmen. They look so busy."

As she lays her lingering thoughts of treats aside, she lays the actual basket of treats into the hands of the maid servant. She dips her head, smiles sheepishly, and for a moment she watches the woman depart with an unstated curiosity.

Iphigénie listens to the senior mason's report of the last few hours' progress, whilst her eyes follow Nicolette's to that scantily-clad Naamah bewitching with a glance of her own a rather Kusheline-looking King of Persis… She speaks a few words of encouragement to the man, and comes unhurriedly to join her scampering lamb. "Remember that joie comes from flowers harvested in the high meadows of Camlach," she points out; "the Camaelines infuse it also into fruits and berries. The only dessert that gives me a bad head the next day," she confirms wryly. Then, in a voice lowered in the hope of defeating the foyer's propensity toward echoes, she ventures: "I think perhaps we ought not to interrupt them. Besides, I don't know yet if my consort intends to join us for tea. We may," she meets Nicolette's eyes and smiles sweetly down upon her, "require your buns for him."

She opens one-half of the double doors between the staircases and ushers the girl through ahead of her into another large empty square room on the walls of which the lives of the Companions continue in new episodes. Doors stand already open into the third and final chamber in the sequence, in which the angels create their earthly paradise in Terre d'Ange: their exploits are well-illuminated by light from high mullioned windows set into the house’s back wall, at either side of the heavy black doors which give onto the garden beyond.

Girded by another high plain wall of grey stone this little piece of paradise is orderly and angular in some sections, with dark gravel paths neatly swept; other quadrants remain overgrown and chaotic as if some gardener has been colouring outside the lines. Flowers are everywhere, some new-planted in neat beds and others growing up haphazardly from the grass surrounding a mature elm tree. Beneath its arching branches a table has been set out and the maid who took custody of the cakes and the buns has just finished arranging them on blue and white Chi'in porcelain plates, amidst all the other accoutrements of afternoon tea. Beside it stands a sofa upholstered in smoke-blue velvet and just big enough for two, and a matching chair, all from the same suite as the orphaned chairs in the foyer. An unusual number of bees are in evidence, buzzing about, partaking of their own floral feast.

The mention of the consort brings Nicolette's gaze keenly onto Iphigénie, though her blues twinkle with a mingling of humor and understanding. "I hope he or she doesn't mind that they're so sweet, but I suspect that they'll have a quick remedy for that. I know little of spicy foods, but from what I gather, those who enjoy them keep a bottle of pain close at hand. And if nothing else, they can always take a bite of your spice cakes and let it mix with the honeyed buns. The flavors go strikingly well together… or so I am told." Despite the clarity of her voice and the evenness of her tone, the mention of her buns going to another still brings a pink hue to her cheeks. Poor Nicolette has to briefly avert her gaze to gather herself.

As they pass through the portals, one after another, Nicolette finds herself walking closer to Iphigénie's side. Perhaps it is the touch to the small of her back, or the natural tendency of lambs to flock close to others, but she nearly huddles against the Kusheline's hip by the time they enter the garden. "Should your consort arrive, how should I address them? Some prefer titles more authoritative than Lord or Lady when in the privacy of their home, and lambs should always heed the wants of wolves." Her head dips downward in brisk deference, but the sound of buzzing hooks her attention and lifts her chin.

For the second time that evening, a soft "Oh" spills past Nicolette's lips when she sees the fluttering yellow motes above the field of flowers. An urge races across her gaze, but a sharp bite of her bottom lip serves to smother that instinct, whatever it was and where-ever it came from. "I haven't seen so many bees since I was a girl. Your garden is lovely," she says. "Wild, yes. But I like wild. Something about the fear of your blooms being overgrown makes the blooms smell sweeter. Our garden was just a circle of stones beside a field, and so you just… accept that the wild will get in, and love it for what it is."

Well, wasn't Nicolette herself the first to propose a broader distribution of her sweets—? Iphigénie forbears to comment upon the sudden access of heat turning that white veil pink from the inside out; she only smiles indulgently as she guides the girl along with her, turning the handle of an outer door with the head of her stick rather than let go of this silky-soft little lamb who seems to be cuddling nearer for protection from all her imagined wolves, and the threat of a true one besides.

"My consort is not a lord; you may address him as 'monsieur'," she explains, surveying the girl as the girl surveys the garden. Her eyes narrow at that change in Nicolette's, at that breath which draws her veil more sharply inward and then somehow comes to nothing. "Now, my dear, sit with me," and she establishes herself on the nearer side of the sofa whilst the adept proceeds round it to the other side.

The elm tree's leaves waver in a soft breeze, moderated by walls; dappled light falls upon the tea-table and brightens Iphigénie's simply-dressed white hair. "The house belongs in truth to my niece, the comtesse de Maignard," Iphigénie goes on, moving the plate of honeyed buns nearer to Nicolette's own plate; "help yourself, my dear. It hasn't been lived in for many years, though, and any house that stands empty so long goes to seed… any garden, too, of course. It seems the caretakers have been doing very little for their stipend," she confides drily, and removes Nicolette's veil just as she did on the night of her debut, tidying her hair with the same delicate and fastidious gloved touch. "Since I arrived I have been putting things in order, room by room. The garden will take longer, for the growth of young plants cannot be hurried." As she speaks the maid pours the tea, removes the empty cake-basket, and withdraws from the garden, shutting behind her the door her mistress left open. They are quite alone now.

Perched alongside the elderly noblewoman, Nicolette crosses one leg over the other in a tidy way meant to preserve the modesty. In this skirt it has the opposite effect of baring the curves of her calves, and emphasizing the press of her thighs to one another. Instead of that, the brunette finds herself fretting over the gentle deveiling. Sheepishly smiling, she lowers her head so that Iphigénie might lift the diaphanous garment and bare the dark curls which so eagerly spill toward fingers to brush them back. Blue eyes flit up to gaze at the retired Valerian through a fringe of dark lashes, a new veil of less modest intent.

Afterward, Nicolette plucks the fingertips of her gloves and draws the long, elbow-length things from her arms at a bashful pace. Those garments come to rest atop her lap, followed by the gentle curl of slender, pale fingers about one of the tea cups. Nicolette looks at the young blooms in question. "Gardens are worth the wait. One day I hope to have a garden of my own, filled with beautiful flowers from exotic places. Until then I'll have to linger in the gardens that better men and women have sown."

A bee buzzes about their table as Nicolette reaches for one of the buns. Gingerly, she settles it onto a saucer, but each touch brings her fingers to her lips so that her pink tongue can wick away the sticky honey that lingers. Thanks to that it takes time to section the piece into quarters. Anyone who wants to partake in this bun will have to stomach the touch of her tongue by proxy. With the absence of others, Nicolette seems less skittish, but more avoidant of Iphigénie's gaze. Her movements come slower, as if every one was a reminder of her vulnerability that comes in being in a stranger's home with no chaperones about.

When she brings the sectioned bun to her lips, her gaze can't help but lift to Iphigénie. Nicolette dines on the treats bought for her by the matronly woman with the modesty one would expect from a White Rose who realizes her actions are an exhibition of sorts. After she swallows, she smiles and takes another sip of tea. Over the rim of her teacup, she says, "It was very kind of you to buy sweets for me. We don't have money of our own, nor the time to go shopping."

Iphigénie removes her own shorter gloves and tucks them and the veil away between herself and the arm of the sofa, and unfolds a linen napkin for her own lap and then one for Nicolette's. Her revealed hands are long-fingered and never see the sun; her nails are short and clean and unlacquered. On her left ring finger she wears a narrow silver ring patterned rather like the braiding of a whip…

“You'll have a great deal of money of your own in the next few years," she prophesies, "though of course at first it will vanish on marquist's fees… I did think buying cakes might prove an amusing new experience for you," she admits; "another of the many you've had lately," and she favours the recent debutante with a wry smile as she helps herself to a fragment of the dismembered bun, and tucks it betwixt her lips to chew with a thoughtful expression. "Sweet," she agrees, speaking directly to Nicolette, and then her tongue flicks over her forefinger and thumb before she wipes some lingering stickiness (and lip paint) upon her napkin and takes up her cup of plain black tea with which to wash it down. A moment later she adds, "But the taste of the honey is lacking a little, I think, in complexity. The bees must have made it upon a diet of very few different blooms… I wish I might give you some of the honey from my bees in Kusheth; they live largely upon the nectar of wildflowers, so close to the northern sea that there's a touch of salt in the sweet. And then we age it to make mead, and it grows all the more flavourful with time. I keep bees, my dear," she explains with a ghost of a smile, "and that is why you see so many of them at home here."

"One of many," Nicolette echoes, as her gaze tastefully averts only after watching Iffy indulge in one of her own honeyed buns. "And hopefully the start of a good many new experiences." At the topic of complexity, her gaze flickers back to Iffy and she lingers long on the woman's words. She weighs them, considering each possible meaning, as she takes another sip of the tea. "I've little experience in the complexities of honey, but it seems to me that too much complexity can be a bad thing. I think I'd like to sample some of yours, if you would permit me, so I have a measure by which to gauge the others. A means by which I can separate the artfully complex from the cluttered."

As she speaks, the buzzing bee finds its way down to her hand. It walks along her slender, pale finger, and tastes about her knuckle for the mixture of honey and saliva. Blue eyes focus rapt on the fluttery-winged insect as it wicks up the sugary morsel with its long tongue. A flutter and a hop later, and it lands on her forearm then prances about. A soft coo escapes Nicolette, and she lowers her head so that the bee is at eye-level, studying the little creature with innocent curiosity.

"How did you get into bee keep—" Maybe it was the rush of hot breath across its body, or the sudden nearness of her face, but the poor bee startles and tenses as if to mount. A moment later it plunges its abdomen toward her arm and embeds the stinger into her flesh, while flicking its tiny legs. Nicolette startles and utters a soft sound of surprise, and the bee takes off, ending itself and falling onto the table. The young adept stares at the bee a moment, then at the stinger embedded in her arm. Even detached from its host, the venom sac throbs with life as it pumps poison into her arm.

Alarmed, Nicolette looks to Iffy with wide eyes. "I'm sorry about your bee," she says at once, more fretful over the poor worker's fate than her own. She holds Iffy's gaze just a moment, as if seeking guidance, before her blues affix themselves on the stinger dangling from her arm, circled by a growing red spot. "It looks…" She trails off.

"I brought mead with me," murmurs Iphigénie, "in case I might wish to offer it as a gift; but no fresh honey…" Enchanted by the communion between adept and bee, she takes another sip of her tea and sets down her cup as quietly as she can, lest she disturb the tableau unfolding by her side. But then, how cruelly is Nicolette's innocent fascination rewarded—! Knowing so well that sudden, fierce, throbbing burn Iphigénie lets out a soft, "Ah," of sympathy, but sympathy mingled with a vicarious pleasure that sends the slightest shiver down the slopes of her shoulders… In that moment when their eyes meet, she looks more amused than anything else by the suicide of her little striped minion, and its sequel. She takes hold of Nicolette's wrist, long fingers curling firmly about its slenderest point, and with the thumbnail of her left hand scrapes the stinger briskly and unhesitatingly away. Not a pleasant moment, to be sure, but better than leaving it in. She deposits the stinger in her saucer and says reassuringly, "Only a little prick, my dear — in a day or two you won't feel it at all. Come into the house and I'll wash it for you."

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