(1311-06-16) On the Familiarity of Bees
Summary: Iphigénie and Raphael meet again, this time in Raziel’s Sanctum, and find one another almost as intriguing as the books… Quite a compliment, really.
RL Date: 16/06/2019
Related: The Temptation To Linger, The Pleasure of His Conversation.
iphigenie raphael 

Raziel’s Sanctum — Grand Plaza

Pedestrian traffic flows past the tall, multistorey temple to knowledge without ever daring to glimpse within. Their loss proves the academic community of Marsilikos' gain. Watery light passing through greenish tinted windows throws a distinctly sylvan enchantment over the narrow ground floor. Awash in jade shadows, the built-in bookcases heave with the treasures of the deep and wide world. Volumes mass-produced by printing press in d'Angeline dominate the front shelves, a wild assortment of topics contained within some obscure system of sorting known only to the regulars. Herbalism and gardening stand abreast of architectural sketches from the City of Elua and Kusheline manuals on horse breeds.

A journey up the twisting stairs past the bric-a-brac acquired by years of travelers trading in their goods leads into the true heartland of wisdom. Candles set before stained glass throw rapturous kaleidoscopes of painted colour over a long hall. The open central aisle hosts low couches set back to back on woven Bhodistani rugs. The most treasured volumes — and hence, the most costly — occupy the floor-to-ceiling shelves overseen by the grumpiest of caretakers, an ill-tempered marmalade cat with his own stuffed chair that no one sits in.

The third floor holds a repository of maps and scrolls, aged texts too fragile to hold, and a bookbinding and mending service at a cost.

The summer sun beats down upon Marsilikos as inexorably as a Thorn at work; and beneath it Iphigénie nó Valerian de Maignard is slowly blossoming, her step lighter as after a three-weeks tenure in the city her explorations bring her over the threshold of Raziel's Sanctum, and into its greenish dimness redolent of paper and ink and knowledge if not forbidden then anyway oft discouraged.

Even when one's eyes have adjusted the place seems at a glance deserted, though how is one to know who might not be lurking amidst its avenues of shelves—? Iphigénie turns to the maid at her heels and with a low word she dispatches the woman to find a clerk; she will be here, or near enough. She looks about her again and comes nearer to a bookcase, casting her eyes over the spines of the texts upon it in in the hope of orienting herself in the absence of proper signage or even discreet little brass plaques… Her hair is greenish and pale, here, her silver jewellery muted, the creak of a board beneath her foot or her cane the only sound louder than the sway of her dark skirts as she examines another shelf, and another.

Raphael has already entered some time before, though he was not immediately visible from the entryway. He holds one bound volume in his left hand, spine against his palm, but looks as though he might be considering indulging in a second purchase after all. He is distracted, however, by the swish of a dark skirt, lifting his eyes to find that he recognizes the wearer. "Well," he says without hesitation, though his voice is soft in respect of the quiet books often seem to demand, "Good afternoon."

Iphigénie's long pale neck, bent in the regarding of a middle shelf, tenses and then straightens at the sound of Raphael's voice somewhere behind her, in an aisle she has yet to infiltrate. (The pleasant raising of fine hairs is fortunately a private matter.) As her head lifts she turns toward him, pivoting about her ebony walking stick. Her other hand is empty, her white silk glove spotless, though it won't be for long once she advances to picking up books instead of just trying to map them. "Monsieur Raphael," she murmurs, with rather a demure smile. "If we keep meeting so often I imagine soon I shall begin to see you in my dreams as well. But will you tell me, have you ever seen a clerk in this shop? They appear to be shy creatures, rarely manifest," she observes. Her smile turns wry.

"In that case," Raphael says, facing Iphigénie with a faint smile somewhere in his expression or perhaps his tone, "I hope my dream self will do honor to my waking self." Her question has him looking a little past her shoulder as though he might be so lucky as to see one pass by - but he does not. "In fact, today is my first visit to this particular book seller's, as I imagine it is yours, so I can't claim to know their habits, but I can confirm there is one at the counter just behind that section, there." He gestures with his chin. "I've just given him money for a volume, so he should be easy to catch if he hasn't scurried off. Shall I go and fetch him for you?" Presumably he surmises that he might be the faster to flush out the elusive quarry, without the cane.

"How else," Iphigénie murmurs, the loft of one narrow eyebrow similarly suggesting amusement. "… Ah, that would be very kind of you, monsieur," and she inclines her head in deferential courtesy to this man so much her junior and commonborn. Half grande dame, yes, but half courtesan still and a Valerian withal. "I sent my maid in search," she confides, "but I fear the poor woman has lost herself in the stacks, and I must confess that so far," she lifts a pale gloved hand toward the shelves whence she came, "I can't understand the order."

"There is a great deal of ground to cover, and one hates to disturb the head clerk if there are floor clerks available, but under the circumstances…" For his part, he either pretends not to notice the former courtesan's deference, or else that he finds it natural, though he takes no excessive liberties beyond his omission of titles. "It seems to me that the further in one goes the more rare or unusual the materials become, but I confess I haven't thoroughly grasped it yet, myself. There was another bookseller's I went to once or twice as a young man, but it seems to have gone. Just a moment," he says, and moves off in search of that clerk, with whom he returns in short order.

In fact with the chief clerk as well she is courteous and mild: looking into his eyes with her own gaze wide and green and inquiring, introducing herself as Iphigénie Maignard de Rothéneuf, and seeking his aid in obtaining as soon as might be a comprehensive guide to the flowers of Eisande. The dimensions of the volume need be no impediment, for she does not intend to take it out of doors; it must have coloured drawings, in plenitude; it might be in d'Angeline or Hellene— "Or Tiberian," she suggests, to broaden the possibilities; "I'm sure I could puzzle my way through." The pictures, after all, are the heart of it.

Whether it's the pleasure of finding a home for so expensive a tome — there are one or two like it upstairs that just haven't been moving — or some enchantment conjured by Kusheline charm, the other side of the coin of Kusheline arrogance and just as devastating in its way, the man can hardly bow low enough in his haste to climb the stairs on the lady's behalf and fetch her ideal botanary. She surveys his retreating figure and, carrying her chin subtly higher now, turns again to Raphael, who in the technical sense hasn't been eavesdropping because he is perfectly, obviously, boldly present. "My late husband and I shared a library," she explains in an undertone, "and of course now it belongs to our son and his wife. I brought so few books to the south with me, that I begin to feel the lack."

Raphael looks satisfied to see the clerk hurry off with a suitable volume in mind. And it is true that he has not stepped away to offer the lady any privacy in her request, nor does his expression or posture suggest that he ever considered doing so. "Ah," he says. "Travel with books is cumbersome anyway. But a new volume or two for the new scenery will surely improve matters. You have a particular interest in horticulture?"

On which note footsteps herald the return of Iphigénie's maid, a sober woman of Kusheline aspect and middle years, chivvying another, younger, considerably more nervous clerk. Iphigénie bestows an apologetic look upon Raphael and a faint smile with it, and turns soothing words upon the boy. How glad she is that Nadège found him. What a marvelous establishment, and how fortunate he to know its ways. Could he perchance discover for her somewhere amongst its riches— And she lists one title in Hellene and two in Habiru, and their authors. Oh, dear. Just when the lad was recovering his colour. Perhaps he might show her to the theology shelves? They are upstairs, are they? "If you have pen and paper," she suggests, without glancing again at his inkblotched hands, "I will write them down for you. Perhaps at the counter?" She nods in the direction whence Raphael produced the senior clerk, and then looks back at the junior specimen with an unmistakable command in green eyes which but a moment before held only gentle curiosity.

The possibility of Raphael continuing to lend his deeper notes to make their trio a quartet, is suggested by Iphigénie stepping across the aisle to explain, in a confidential low voice, before attending to any more of her book-business: "Monsieur, I keep bees." As the honeyed scent of her well implies.

"Ah," Raphael asks, as though that made a great deal of sense. "And have you traveled with a colony, or do you have to go through the business of establishing one here anew?" he wants to know. "I wonder how they would keep their bearings if they were to be moved."

Adopting Raphael, already a bona fide customer, as her guide toward the counter Iphigénie falls into step with him and together they precede her present pair of attendants. "I traveled neither with books nor with bees, monsieur. But doing without so many favoured companions—" Her consort, too. "I found it less of a privation than it may seem, for I saw more of the countryside out the windows of my carriage than I should have done if I'd had a book before my face all the way," she confides. Her cane skims but lightly enough over the boards; she doesn't seem in particular pain today, as Raphael of all men must see.

"When I arrived in the city," she goes on, helping herself to what is usually the chief clerk's chair behind the counter — Kusheline arrogance is always an option; "I made inquiries amongst the purveyors of honey to the larger households in the noble quarter, and I was fortunate to— Yes, thank you," and this is to the clerk, as he apologises for leaning so close to her ladyship in order to place quill, ink, and a half-sheet of clean parchment more conveniently near to her. She offers her right hand to her hovering maid to have the buttons of her glove unfastened, then passes the walking stick into her charge and draws off the glove herself and sets it to one side upon a stack of books which appear tolerably free of dust. Her revealed hand is long-fingered and never sees the sun; her nails are short and clean and unlacquered. She wears no rings. Her eyes lift to Raphael as she dips the quill. "The garden is overgrown," she murmurs on, "and I don't recognise half the flowers in it. I'm curious to discover what diet I am feeding my little friends upon, and how when it comes my honey shall taste."

"I doubt a bee before your face would have done you any better," Raphael says, but in a smoothly agreeing tone that makes the humor as dry as the pages of the books they pass among. For his own part, he stays on the public side of the counter - perhaps a former shopkeeper's respect for boundaries, or perhaps he doesn't like to crowd his noble acquaintance and the clerk who are already close together - but is just across from Iphigénie. "How does one attract a new colony? Do they always appear when offered appropriate architecture?"

Raphael's remark sparks a smile from Iphigénie, and she nods her acceptance of the justice of his remark. Then she looks down and addresses herself to the parchment, slowly and carefully, her poor penmanship disguised to a degree by these foreign alphabets — only to reveal itself, in transliteration, upon the next line.

"… Sometimes one bee before one's face," she murmurs, "is a scout, who if he admires one's architecture and arrangements will bring the next day a dozen of his friends to make judgment of their own." She pauses. "And the day after that a hundred. It is like any relation, in that one may lure them by offering what they find charming and delicious. But if lures alone prove insufficient, or if one simply feels too urgent a hunger for honey, one may approach someone blessed with a surfeit of such lovely and useful creatures and make financial arrangements to appropriate their company for one's own." She glances up across the counter again at the Thorn, her elegant long face arranged in a deadpan expression but her eyes lively with a mischief she allows just him to witness before she bends studiously again over her list. "Such was my expedient, monsieur, I admit it."

Raphael had perhaps not expected the poor penmanship. He is only glancing, of course, hardly snooping. It could be that the line that deepens between his eyebrows has nothing to do with the hand in which the retired courtesan writes. Even if the two are related, the expression is gone as quickly as it came. "The bees indeed sound more familiar than I might have expected," he replies, a smile now much more clearly in evidence than anything that goes before. "It sounds as if you are already benefiting our city," he remarks. "And I suspect you find the city agrees with you in return."

"For all that, if mere gold should summon bees unwilling to a place they do not care for, they will not long remain. That is why it is so important to speak sweetly to them each day, to be sure they feel appreciated," Iphigénie murmurs, with a somewhat whimsical smile up at Raphael. "But my new colony seems content in Marsilikos — and so am I, monsieur, so am I. I go out walking every afternoon in the sunshine and make all sorts of plans." She lays down her quill. Turning to the clerk who has been unable all this while to decide how near to her he ought to stand, and who has stepped away and stepped back half a dozen times as though improvising a minuet, she entrusts him with the page and a final word of explication: "And the last is not the original text, but any commentary you might have dating to the fourth or fifth century. I don't recall which one I am thinking of, but I think I should know it if I saw it again."

She sends him away with a smile broad and warm and yet unmistakably, regally dismissive — just in time to receive the chief clerk's fulsome apologies for his delay in attending upon her, and custody of the two enormous botanical tomes he has discovered upstairs for her consideration. The counter does duty again, for either of them would be too cumbersome to hold up for long. But the chief clerk orients each toward Iphigénie where she sits straight-backed and stately in his chair, and with one glove on and the other still off she begins to turn the pages.

Raphael gives very little attention to the clerk at this point. Iphigénie has him well in hand. Instead, he is interested in the lady herself, and her conversation. "Plans," he repeats. "For more than the flavor of your honey? It sounds as if you and the bees are well matched in your industriousness." He does now split his gaze between Iphigénie and the very interesting volumes that have been delivered to her, with their painstakingly painted illustrations.

Indeed Iphigénie is playing jeu de paume with the clerks, batting them to and fro about their premises, the chief clerk assigned now to producing a certain old-fashioned kind of prayerbook — in pale covers, if possible, suitable for a young lady. His air is one of feeling privileged to be entrusted with another such mission, after taking so long about the previous. And that secures her a moment of relative privacy with Raphael and her maid Nadège, and the work of one second-rate flower painter and another she's rapidly coming to admire.

"There, monsieur, isn't that well done—?" she observes, tracing the petals of a violet bloom with a gloved fingertip kept a fraction of an inch above the page to spare its whiteness. "… I can't imagine you pretending an interest you didn't feel in the least, merely in order to be polite to me, when so many other subjects might present themselves in lieu. Perhaps you would care to pay a call upon my bees, one afternoon?" she offers, lifting inquiring eyes to his face. "Or shall we ask next for a book about beekeeping, if such a thing can be had?"

Raphael takes his time to regard the violet and determine his opinion of it. He nods. "I believe it is," he says of the painted violet. "Although I have no skill in painting or botany to say so out of more than personal taste." His eyes lift to find Iphigénie's tinted the greener by the light through the shop's windows. "How could a courtesan of the Rose Sauvage fail to find interest in bees?" he asks rhetorically. "I should be happy to accept your invitation, if it isn't an imposition."

The violet remains uppermost until Raphael has looked his fill and made his pronouncement; then Iphigénie turns the page. "Well, quite so, monsieur… If it were an imposition I should not have invited you," is her prompt answer. She suggests a date and then, after a moment's thought, another one— "Perhaps when you've reflected you'll send me word if either of those days would be convenient for you," she suggests, neatly avoiding having to write a note to him herself about such arrangements. "… Your young Nicolette came to visit too, a few days past," she adds, "though I'm afraid I didn't return her quite unscathed. She was stung in my garden," she explains, with a merry light in those very green eyes. "Only a little prick — but," holding Raphael's gaze she lowers her chin as she confides the sordid truth of the encounter, "it did startle her." White Roses being notoriously delicate blooms, reluctant to surrender their nectar.

"There are people who make the most unwise invitations," Raphael observes. "Though I doubt you are one of them, so I might have saved myself the trouble in asking."

He looks quite pleased to hear that Nicolette has paid a call. "Ah," he says. "Only that. Then I take it your consort was not at home." A hard smile. "I hope she looks well in your garden. Young blooms do best in the hands of experienced gardeners." He lifts the book in his hand. "Now I'm afraid I shouldn't linger here any longer. But it was my pleasure to see you again. You will have a note from me soon."

This time, sitting beneath Raphael's adamantine smile Iphigénie chooses — away from the salon, and from observers before whom either or both of them might wish to put on an aptly canonical performance — not to lower her eyes, but to regard him with steady and scarcely-veiled appreciation of that talk so justly commended to her by certain ladies of the city. "Indeed, she was quite the little wood-sprite,” she confirms, “though perhaps,” and she taps the volume open before her, “a flower fairy, once order is restored…?”

And, as clerks descend upon her from all sides bearing the fresh treats she desired of them, she murmurs: “Good day, monsieur. I shall rely upon receiving that note.”

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