(1311-06-29) The Gifts of Other Lands
Summary: André’s wanderings through the streets of Marsilikos bring him to La Perle Noire, to sample its proprietress’s soon-to-be-famous Ephesian coffee.
RL Date: 29/06/2019
Related: None.
safiye andre 

La Perle Noire — Grand Plaza

The face this establishment shows to the Grand Plaza is a window display of coffee beans in a fantastic blown-glass vase, against figured silk which changes with the seasons; and a pair of heavy oaken doors guarded by a swarthy, bearded, well-muscled man in Ephesian costume, who bows patrons out of Terre d'Ange and into a foreign land redolent of fine coffee and tobacco, lit by countless candles suspended each in a gleaming glass lantern from a ceiling that billows with ruby-red silk and cloth of gold. Layered carpets of many colours, intricately woven and warmed in winter by a hypocaust, soften the music of pipes and drums and mandolins that filters through this sanctuary of civilised pleasures. Here a friendship might be forged or renewed, a deal struck, or the whole day simply whiled away in Eastern opulence and ease, amidst the red and the gold and the smoke.

In the middle of the main lounge is a raised circular stage upon which an horologist's glass marks the lapse of two hours between performances by Ephesian dancing girls, or minstrels singing joyously in the tongue of that land, or even a local d'Angeline bard telling tall tales. Low tables of dark wood radiate therefrom, surrounded by lounging cushions and richly-upholstered divans; the outermost are set in alcoves which may for privacy's sake be screened by shimmering silken curtains. If one desires amusement, one may summon at any hour alluring dancers whose brass finger-cymbals chime to accent the undulations of their hips. If one wishes to smoke, one may command a water pipe. But the true business of the house is the coffee. Perfumed young men in loose trousers and embroidered tunics move to and fro like angels dispensing this liquid mercy: strong, fragrant, frothing kahve, brewed cup by cup from the fine-ground black pearls of Ephesium, served in elaborate copper vessels beside tall glasses of pure spring water and plates of esoteric and delectable foreign sweetmeats.

Several sets of doors at the rear of the lounge lead away to the kitchens; to a stairway ascending toward smaller chambers which may be reserved for private parties; and outside into a courtyard, open in fair weather.

Behind a black marble façade in the Grand Plaza an Ephesian coffee-house has in recent weeks begun to take on form, colour, fragrance, purpose.

But a wandering foreigner lately come to Marsilikos isn't to know the establishment is new as well and not formally open, when one balmy afternoon his eye is attracted by the figured silks billowing in the ground floor's small, high windows, and his ear by a tendril or two of Eastern music escaping therefrom. André finds the oaken front doors unlocked and unguarded; and, in the candlelit coolness within, a trio of girls dancing in a slow, sinuous circle upon a raised stage, their backs to the musicians in the centre, their midriffs bared by gauzy silk costumes which leave the rest to the imagination and yet invite it to run wild.

The only other person present is a woman rather their senior, modest and matronly in silks of burgundy and saffron and gold, who at the sound of the door looks away from the stage and then rises from her divan to greet André. "My lord," she says pleasantly, her speech as much as her face proving her no d'Angeline; "welcome to La Perle Noire. I regret we are not yet prepared to receive you."

Andre stares at the dancing girls for a while, not really noticing anything else, such as the emptiness of the place or the older woman rising to approach him. So he jumps a bit when she's suddenly at his side and speaks. "Oh?", he remarks, her words having a hard time circulating through a brain currently occupied by gawking at the girls. "Oh." There, they finally made it through and he manages to even look at Safiye. "But the door was open and I heard music and… well, this place looks very interesting. What is it?", he asks, apparently not willing to beat a hasty retreat.

Safiye's warm brown eyes are alive with amusement as she comes nearer to her oblivious visitor. She imagines clicking her fingers in front of his nose to get his attention, as she would if he were in her employ, but of course that is not how one treats potential patrons of one's fledgeling establishment. One addresses them as 'my lord', even if they come so casually clad; one answers answers their questions with deferential courtesy; one tells them what one would have them tell their richest friends. "It is a coffee-house, in the Ephesian style," she explains, in her smoky, velvety voice flavoured with the accents of three countries, "though as you see the day of our opening has not quite arrived…"

Brass finger-cymbals like those of the dancers are fastened to her middle fingers and thumbs with fine leather thongs. They have been silent so far, but she has kept half an eye on the performance and now she chimes them to attract the girls' attention and calls out an instruction in Ephesian, which improves the lines of their shoulders in a manner perceptible perhaps only to her. Looking again to André she inquires: "You are perhaps fond of music, my lord?"

"Oh! Ephesium! I heard about these - awesome!", Andre declares, excitement perhaps preventing him from stringing together coherent sentences. Or the distraction of the pretty girls nearby. "We don't have them back home though. I saw similar in Carthage though. They're… wow.", he adds with a nod towards the girls, then cocks his head slightly at Safiye. "Would it be possible to get a cup of coffee though? I haven't had one since leaving Carthage. And yes, I like music. Do they sing?", he asks hopefully, looking at the girls again.

<FS3> Safiye rolls Investigation: Success. (1 3 4 4 3 6 5 6 4 2 2 3 8)

He seems confident rather than cowed by so opulent an atmosphere; the stitching of his garments is inordinately fine to Safiye's tutored eye; he speaks so well, and yet with an accent, that she's already mulling over what species of distinguished foreign visitor he might be, as she clasps her hands and bows over them. Perhaps even that young Flatlandish prince taken recently under the duchesse's wing? "Of course. It would be my honour to brew coffee for you, my lord. How do you take it? Very sweet, a little sweet, or—" She smiles. "Not sweet at all?"

"Oh that's awesome!", he declares, clapping his hands together once in delight. Her question promptly leaves him stumped though. "I… uh… I think it was rather sweet in Carthage. So… medium sweet?", he suggests and smiles, "Surprise me with your best offer, Ma'am." He's already eyeing the seating to find the best place to lounge in while watching the girls dance. "Is this all yours?", he asks while walking over to his cushions of choice.

"A little sweet, then," agrees Safiye, smiling as she glides in step with him as far as the inner ring of low tables and divans encircling the stage. The view will be superb from anywhere, such was her design. "I am the proprietress," she explains modestly; "my name is Safiye Hanim. May I have your name, my lord?"

"A pleasure to meet you, ma'am.", Andre smiles and bows to the woman politely, but not too deeply as befits their different ranks. "My name is André.", he first offers only, but then adds the full thing. "André Montford van Westerlo of Brabant. It's in the Flatlands.", he explains for good measure, having learned that the locals' grasp on geography is a bit shaky. He looks like he might have more questions for her, but as that would stall the provision of his coffee, he just sits on the divan now, reclining with a happy smile.

Safiye bows to him again over cymbal’d fingers kept silent by her experience and her will. The long golden earrings framing her face do however contribute low chimes of their own. "Lord André, of the Flatlands. Please enjoy our rehearsal," she suggests, gesturing toward the stage with a single graceful cymbal-clink for emphasis, "and I shall bring your coffee to you directly."

Another bow and she withdraws to the kitchens, where her most trusted cook is experimenting still with the manufacture of Ephesian sweets from d'Angeline ingredients. Her first words for the other woman, uttered in a blunt tone whilst she's tying a fresh white apron over her silks, are: "The Flatlands. Brabant," she repeats, savouring the word in all its promising foreignness. "What do we know of the place? There is a prince, rumoured to be a guest of the duchesse's— has anyone seen him, do you know? What is his face, his figure?" The unexpected bustle stirred by André's arrival, involves thus more than coffee beans and a cezve.

<FS3> Safiye rolls Politics: Great Success. (8 5 7 1 5 5 4 2 2 8 5 8 4 8)

Several minutes later — but how does one count time, when the girls are still dancing — she returns to the lounge bearing a tray, and kneels across the table from André in order to serve him with palace-trained grace. A wrought copper cup of strong, smooth, foaming, cardamom-fragrant coffee; a tall glass of pure spring water; a few pieces of rose-flavoured Ephesian delight, cut only a moment ago from the latest and most promising batch, set upon a dainty plate. "Only a little sweet, my lord," she reminds him softly; "I hope it will agree with you."

Andre has been so absorbed in the dancing and the flirty looks by the girls that he didn't notice the passing of time. Yet he brightens further when the coffee and sweetmeats are brought to him. "Oh, how excellent! What are these?", he asks curiously at the sight of the sweets, but doesn't wait for an answer to pop one into his mouth curiously. Which brings forth a delighted "mhmmm!" as he chews… and chews. He clears the palate with some water before dedicating himself to the coffee, which is equally enjoyed. "So what brings you to Marsilikos?", he asks curiously, "Did you sense a gap in the market?"

"It is called 'lokum' in our tongue," Safiye supplies obligingly, still kneeling there with her hands clasped in her lap (no cymbals now) and smiling as André's expression is transformed by the taste; "or, sometimes, just 'Ephesian delight'. We make it usually with rose water, though there are other flavours… My cook is preparing now a batch scented with orange-blossom," she confides, to the son of one of the wealthiest dukes in a land whose coffers have in recent generations grown full to bursting with the profits of their trade. Then, modestly: "It is less calculated than that, I'm afraid. Perhaps I hope there will be a market, when more have come to taste our coffee and our lokum… And you, my lord?" she inquires politely, as if it were no more than ordinary social curiosity. "Perhaps let it cool a little more," she suggests, nodding to his coffee-cup.

"Oh, you can be sure I'll be a regular here and taste all your variations of …lokum.", Andre assures her brightly and nods in agreement to letting the coffee cool a little, having nearly burnt his lips on the first sip. "Me? Well, I noticed a serious shortage of fried potatoe sticks here.", he replies to that question and chuckles softly, "It may not sound like much, but believe me, everyone who comes to our ports absolutely loves them. Perhaps I should open a stall here." Growing a little more serious, he nods. "Our tapestries and lace are famous, I was hoping to find a market here. People love prettifying themselves and their homes, do they not?"

"My lord, we shall look forward to receiving you again, as often as you choose to honour us," Safiye assures him with a warm smile; and then, because he seems inclined to exchange more than one or two rote pleasantries with her, she shifts her position slightly to lean upon one hand and ease her knees. At a touch of her other hand her full-skirted silk gown fans out, her dark reds and golds picking up the rich hues and the stylised designs of the carpets surrounding her. "And if you open a stand to sell… fried potato sticks," she repeats, the deepening creases about her eyes betraying her enjoyment of the phrase, "I shall look forward to those too." And then this silk-draped proprietress of a silk-draped coffee-house agrees, "Yes, I am sure you would find a market anywhere. I met in Elua a lady with a beautiful collar—" She traces the imagined line of it upon herself — her own neckline being rather lower and filled with an elaborate necklace of semi-precious stones set in gold, "That was I think Brabantish lace. We all admired it very much," she assures him, lowering her hand again into her lap.

"Indeed, lace brightens many a garment and many Flatlanders have adopted it as a standard fashion. We've been exporting it to Alba with some success as well.", Andre replies and eyes the dancers thoughtfully. "You know, I think the semi-transparency of lace would make for great outfits for your ladies.", he suggests and returns his eyes to Safiye: "Would you like me to bring you some samples? The Flatlandish merchants here have a few." He tries the coffee again, which has now cooled off enough to be actually enjoyed and mhhmmmms again. "Excellent, Such rich flavours.", he smiles, "It does wake a man up too."

The musicians, at an unspoken command from Safiye when she was leaving the lounge to make André's coffee, segued into a longer, more sensual piece; the poor girls have been on their slippered feet all this while, arms twining, hips undulating, one with milk-white skin, one a light honey-brown, the third magnificently dark. Their mistress's eyes follow the visitor's towards them, hers narrowing as if imagining their charms veiled by Brabantish lace— in fact, assembling a list of corrections she'll save up to give to them later, when the prince has resumed his wandering. "That would be very kind of you, my lord," she murmurs. "I can almost picture it," and she meets his eyes again seriously, "though I could see more clearly if I had the cloth… It is an unusual idea," she temporises, "but are we not here to discover the gifts other lands might offer us—?"

"Well, your country sure has some gifts to offer.", Andre blabs out, eyes on the girls once again, before his pink sunburnt face reddens even further, "I'm not sure poor Brabant has the same kind of delights. But I will see what I can do and bring you some lace, as well as samples of our goods. Apart from a few rich port cities, my home is rather poor and agricultural. What we have - fried potatoe sticks, cheese, meat, vegetables - doesn't really travel well." He finishes the small cup of coffee and mhms. "We have been experimenting with a bean similar to the coffee bean. It is called cocoa and when mixed with our milk and cream, turns into something nearly as delightful as this.", he explains, nodding towards the last bit of lokum, before picking it up to eat.

"Ah, the cocoa bean," says Safiye, as if greeting an old friend; "the d'Angelines brew from it a drink many of them take in the morning and call 'chocolat'," she pronounces tenderly, the sound of it like velvet in her mouth. "In Ephesium we say, 'çikolata'. I hope one day I may try it prepared in the Flatlandish way… Do you know of the Great Exhibition that is to be held in a few months' time, here in Marsilikos—?" she asks him suddenly. "I wonder because it seems you are already a fine ambassador for the Flatlands and its exports, my lord."

"Yes, we are aware of that drink.", Andre confirms, a slight frown appearing on his features as he contemplates the competition, "However, chocolate in edible form, rich with the fat cream our Brabantish cows give - I dare say, it's a delight far beyond the drinkable sort.", he insists, then hms when she mentions the Great Exhibition. "I did hear of it but I hadn't thought… hmm…" The frown deepens while he forces the brain into action and think. "I suppose it would be a great chance to introduce Eisande to our fried potatoe sticks and our cream chocolates. I'll have to ask my Dad to send some people down who know how to prepare these delights. And send more lace as well."

That a young man who wandered in off the street alone and unescorted, and introduced himself without naming a title or a purpose is now considering taking responsibility for his country's representation at a fair of international significance, doesn't seem to surprise Safiye in the least. "The solid bars of chocolat that are shaved to brew the drink are by themselves too bitter to be served as a sweet with coffee," she muses, gently indicating with an upturned palm the empty plate next to his cup, and by extension the custom which requires it, "but made already with cream, as you suggest—? My lord, I wonder," she confides, and favours him with a mysterious smile. "Knowing both as now you do — how do you imagine it might taste, your chocolat next to my coffee?"

"I think that is a splendid idea!", Andre agrees happily, "We were struggling to pair the sweet creamy chocolates with something richer to offset the flavour and your coffee would be perfect. We should indeed. Aren't you glad now I walked into your establishment?", he grins and suddenly appears to be itching to go…. somewhere.

Taking her cue Safiye arranges her skirts; she rises as André does, to escort him away as courteously as she greeted him. "Very much so, my lord. Today was a gift," she assures him, "but in one week more all shall be in readiness here, and I hope we shall often have the privilege of entertaining you as a customer. Perhaps you'll bring a little of your chocolat one day and allow me to try it, mmm? And perhaps we may see the Flatlands meet Ephesium to the delight of all."

Then the peripatetic princeling is away into the sunshine, leaving only the grounds in his copper cup and a considering glint in Safiye Hanim's eye.

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