(1311-07-06) Difficult To Place
Summary: In the gardens of the Rose Sauvage Iphigénie meets an unusual plant and then an unusual person. (Warning: Slightly mature content.)
RL Date: 04/07/2019 - 06/07/2019
Related: Cultivation, and Stepping Toward (it’s the same novice, he’s having a tough week).
iphigenie philomene 

Gardens — La Rose Sauvage

The gardens of La Rose Sauvage offer a different ambience and atmosphere than that of the more oppressive and richly ornate salon. Tall casement windows spill out onto a paved area which gives way to neatly arranged flowerbeds, where a predominance of roses pay homage to the canons encompassed by this salon. The paths are of a dark granite grey which have softened over the years by the encroachment of mosses and lichens, with smaller paths winding off through the beds. It's here along these secluded paths that arboreal areas and private nooks might be found, and where privacy is granted to those that seek it through flowering hedges and curtained awnings.

A fountain plays at the centre of the garden, the copper figures of two nude women, long since mellowed to a soft verdigris, spill water from shells into a pool at its base. The main pathway through the garden leads to a terracotta tiled courtyard that sits towards the farthest end, the walls here flanked by creeping ivy which cloak the walls in scarlet and orange during the autumn months. An oiled silk awning hangs over the courtyard to give shelter from both sun and rain, and oil lamps light the area when evening falls.


An hour before noon; and the walled gardens of the Rose Sauvage are already awash with midday light. Iphigénie has come earlier than intended, simply to enjoy the heat of the southern summertime in precincts so well-watered and green, so thriving and rose-fragrant.

The sunshine is slowly, pleasantly baking her within the heavy matte black cloth of her gown and the severe corsetry beneath it, as she strolls along dark granite paths that grow narrower the deeper they wind; her swaying skirts just touch the tops of sensible flat black leather shoes, and brush now and then against an ebony walking-stick the silver head of which is held (though she hardly seems to rely upon its support) in her right hand. Most people would be seeking the shade at this hour, but she has a habit of avoiding it. From time to time she pauses, to admire a handsome bloom or to compare a half-known flower with her recollections of the enormous botanical tome currently sitting on her desk at home. She is eyeing a plant each growth of which has seven dark green, jagged-edged leaves, and which seems out of place here, when she hears another step upon the path and shifts one foot, her straight-backed and wasp-waisted figure turning toward the sound in case it’s the young men bringing her chair…

It isn’t. Her green eyes grow wider and turn inquiring. “Good morning,” she murmurs, in a low and melodic Kusheline accent that flows like spiced honey along the path.

In deference to the bright sunshine, Philomene hasn’t bothered to button the top of her delicately embroidered if faded riding jacket, white collar of her shirt beneath untucked to give the back of her neck some protection from sunburn and both sleeves rolled up as though ready for manual labour. And perhaps she is, for as she limps her way determinedly closer to the area of the garden with the peculiar plant, she hikes up the baldric she’s for some reason chosen to wear and unsheathes not a dagger as one might expect from the well-worked scabbard, but a pair of secateurs. These she flips in her hand as she eyes the unexpected fellow morning stroller in the garden, giving the other woman a long look over, then a slow nod of greeting.

“Good morning, my lady.” There’s a slight pause before the ‘my lady’ as she takes a guess at the social class of the woman in question. Probably here as a patron, given that she’s certainly no novice and Philomene hasn’t seen her before. And that cane looks to be real silver.

Glancing down at herself and realising that perhaps her own outfit gives no such clues, she offers, “Philomène de Chalasse. My plant, I think?”

“… Of course,” agrees Iphigénie, for she can hardly claim otherwise. She takes a step back from the hemp, if that is indeed what it is; and she inclines her head of softly floating white hair toward the salon’s new gardener. “An unusual choice, I thought,” she ventures. “The Rose Sauvage typically has use for hemp only when it is harvested, twisted, and well-conditioned.” Her eyes are alight with a curiosity as vivid and as green as any of the foliage.

“This particular… race? No, that’s not the word. This type anyway, has a few other useful properties beyond rope,” Philomene explains courteously, flexing the secateurs once or twice because it’s an automatic reaction when one has them in one’s hands. Like tongs. You always have to test tongs by dinging them together a couple of times, like for some reason they wouldn’t work if you didn’t. Who knows.

Her other hand runs lightly over one leaf, then under and along to the stem, checking it for who knows what. “It has certain pain relief properties, dried and smoked. Or the resin added into… well, whatever. You’re a botanist?”

Iphigénie’s gaze flickers toward the snip of the secateurs and the flash of their blades in the sunlight, then again to the chiseled features of the Chalasse lady wielding them. “Not at all,” she disclaims smoothly. “But I take it you are, my lady? … I must admit I’ve never known a healer to offer hemp as a palliative,” she goes on, courteous in her curiosity.

"An enthusiastic amateur," Philomene counters, reaching into the centre of the plant where a quick ‘snick, snick’ of the secateurs decapitates the top few inches so the leaves first droop and then begin to fall. “I’m certainly no healer.”

Those top few juvenile leaves are gathered and set to one side as she eyes the plant to see where else it would most benefit from a little encouragement. “The thing is that unlike most herbal remedies, this one is easily prepared, easily administered, and requires no more talent that being able to use a tinderbox.” She pauses, allowing, “Or a candle, I suppose. The only real downside is that it does tend to slow one down.” Another swift snip and another few leaves fall. “You notice it when you go to burn the fields after a harvest,” she’s happy to explain. “The workers in the fields will be useless for anything else that week, but you’ll never get any fights.”

Another patter of footsteps, approaching along the same path as Philomène offers her panegyric to the plant, resolves itself into a pair of boy novices: one with his arms wrapped for dear life around those of a well-stuffed chair removed from the salon (and with the handle of a black silk parasol hooked over its back), the other following behind more slowly because he’s hampered by the responsibility of a small table and the silver tray on top of it and the silver goblet, beaded with condensation, standing upon the tray. Their concern to please, writ plainly upon lovely features they haven’t quite grown into, marks them as Red Roses yet to bloom rather than Thorns yet to prick. From Iphigénie they receive a casual glance which hardly seems to take them in; she lifts her left hand to indicate, imperiously, a rose-fragrant clearing on the other side of the path. The silver chain bracelet wrapped twice about her thin wrist comes out of her shadow and rises into the sunshine, to gleam blindingly bright.

“You may put them there,” is her firm but not unkindly instruction, as she takes a step toward Philomène and out of the way of the boys and their burdens. “… It slows one down,” she repeats, “in what sense? Ah, forgive me,” and she offers the younger woman a rueful dark red smile and then her name. “I’m Iphigénie Maignard; how do you do?”

“How do you do,” comes the automatic response, more a reflex than anything else as Philomene’s attention switches to take in the chair, the tray, and the subservient lads. Her jaw briefly tightens and she snaps and locks the tools of her morning’s trade, sliding them back into their sheath. Where her intention had been to kneel down and begin seeking out weeds beneath the plant, she stubbornly now remains standing, stooping with an awkward amount of effort to collect the fallen leaves and roll them together. “In the sense,” she explains as she straightens, fixing her gaze on the other woman, “that one might spend hours under the influence of the smoke doing nothing but wondering at a single blade of grass. Or lying back, staring at the stars and imagining that they’re nothing but fiery balls of gas, millions of miles away.”

“You speak as though you may have had occasion to partake,” suggests Iphigénie, refraining from attributing her guess to the limp, or the stoop, or the lines of pain briefly but all too apparent upon that magnificent jaw. “I wonder,” and she eyes the leaves in Philomène’s hands, “how do you find it compares with opium? Has it the same— habitual quality?” she inquires delicately, and then looks away to where her chosen furnishings have been arranged for her, the chair in the sunshine and the goblet of chilled milk mercifully in the shade. Her bearers are standing side by side with their hands behind their backs and at least one of them, poor lad, confronted by two commanding older women, one with edged weaponry, is experiencing an unfortunate breeches-related situation that’s turned his ears pink faster than sunburn ever could.

“You both may go,” she states with gentle formality, and as they evaporate gratefully back whence they came she looks again to Philomène, her green gaze frankly intrigued.

Philomene unfastens the small pouch at her side, but before she shoves in her roll of leaves, she peels one or two off and holds them out to Iphigenie, a brow raised. “Dry them. Then put them into a pipe and smoke them. See for yourself,” she offers with a casual shrug of her shoulders, sunlight catching on some of the delicately stitched embroidery there.

“The poppy is… a different sort of relief,” she considers, running her tongue over her teeth. “It has different properties, not least of which the desire to obtain more, and the rising tide of unwellness when one cannot. It’s distinctly more problematic when one lives in the middle of the country. Hemp is far milder. More like a slow release of one’s concerns and pains than a sudden burst of euphoria, if that makes sense?” She shrugs again, taking her time now to roll down her sleeves and carefully button them. The sun might not be what turned that boy’s ears red, but for sure it’d do something to her exposed arms given half a chance, as she’s reminded by the other woman’s parasol.

Iphigénie’s patch of sunlight in the clearing across the way is no uncivil distance from Philomène and her bushes, and when she’s accepted the offered leaves with a murmur of, “Thank you,” she steps off the path and onto the grass beside her chair. She props her walking stick carefully and precisely against it, the chair’s back holding it safe against the risk of a fall, and claims her parasol in its stead; the leaves she deposits for the nonce next to her goblet.

Her knees betray their stiffness as she lowers herself into the chair’s well-upholstered embrace; her upper body hardly bends at all either, confined by so many steel bones.

“I have never seen a whole world in a blade of grass,” she offers, “but you and your rare variety of hemp do make me curious, my lady Chalasse. I’ve no taste for poppies save as table decorations in their season,” she confides ruefully, “but my bones do ache.”

Philomene allows her expression to soften for a second or two in sympathy, but then her sleeves are buttoned and she lifts her chin again, switching on that careful neutral expression with which she faces the world as a whole and which has, among other things, garnered her a somewhat chilly reputation. “I find the warm weather helps,” she mentions, folding her hands behind her back for a moment before thinking better of it and instead reaching into her inside pocket to withdraw her battered old copper flask. “The hemp, provided you don’t intend to do much else that day. Or the most traditional option?” She unscrews the lid of the flask and offers it over with a raised brow.

<FS3> Iphigenie rolls Perception: Great Success. (5 3 5 8 7 6 1 3 6 3 8 8 2 4)

That fleeting glimpse of fellow feeling isn’t lost upon Iphigénie, even if she is in the same moment opening her parasol with brisk, white-gloved hands. Whatever chill may follow upon it fails to daunt her as she sits in her patch of blazing afternoon sunshine, in her heavy and high-necked black gown, with her parasol’s shadow just contriving to encompass her white head and her translucent, lightly-powdered Kusheline complexion.

“Yes, I moved to Eisande for the climate,” she confides softly, and passes her parasol’s handle into her left hand in order to receive the flask into her right. Philomène isn’t to know that she takes hardly a taste of it, enough to wet her tongue but nowhere near enough to foster any sudden bloom of intoxication. “Thank you,” she says again, inclining her head toward the other woman as she returns the flask, with a trace of red paint now upon it. “Last winter was a difficult one in Kusheth,” she adds; “in l’Agnace too, I believe. I hope you were spared it.”

“It’s been trying,” Philomene allows warily, wiping the rim of her flask with the edge of one thumb so the paint transfers in a vivid smear to there instead. She takes what is a somewhat more substantial swig from the flask, then the lid goes back on and it’s tucked away. “Still, we’ve made it through, the new piglets are growing well and southern trade is looking distinctly rosy.” She absently runs a hand through her hair to keep it back from her face as the heat continues to increase, leaving a pinkish smudge on her forehead from her accidentally painted thumb.

“And now, if anything, I find the heat too oppressive here.” She gives a self deprecating smirk. “It’s a truth that perhaps we’re never happy, hm? The Aragonians pause in the middle of the day for a light nap, all work stops. Of course they’re not hard working like our own people, but one does have to wonder if they have a point.”

“I might forgive the Aragonians their tendency toward lassitude — I would not care to work in such heat either,” Iphigénie admits, “but to sit in it, in so fragrant and well-tended a garden, I find very pleasant.” She gestures with vague grace to her present situation. “I hadn’t realised till I came to Marsilikos a month ago or so, how seldom in recent years I’ve felt truly warm.”

Her gesture finishes with a dip into a pocket beneath her plain black gown, from which she produces a clean, folded white linen handkerchief. This she offers to Philomène between silk-gloved fingertips. “I’m afraid,” a gesture toward the Chalasse’s face, though her apology contains the seeds of amusement, “you look as though I’ve been kissing you.”

Philomene looks for a moment as though she's not going to accept the hanky, eyeing it and bristling slightly, but a glance to her hands confirms the lip paint and she takes a guess. She gives a noncommittal noise of either thanks, irritation or constipation, you choose, and takes the crisp white cloth.

"I'm not one for sitting in general," the Chalasse admits, dabbing at her lips and all around that magnificent jaw to begin with, then removing the hanky from her face and raising an eyebrow in question. Fixed? "Given half a chance I'll ride. Or take a walk. I can't bear being stuck in one place."

White hair floats about Iphigénie’s face as she shakes her head, and traces with a fingertip in the air a line across her own forehead corresponding to the red smudge upon Philomène’s. “You touched your hair,” she reminds her gently. “Given half a chance I’d ride too,” she adds wryly, “though most of my time now is spent sitting in a chair, or looking for one… There, that’s better,” she judges; “you’ll give rise to far fewer rumours as you go about your day.”

"If that's the only rumour floating around about me today I'd be shocked," Philomene notes with a wry smile, folding the handkerchief carefully and holding it back out to the other woman after cleaning off her thumb. "But at least a rumour implies that people are talking about you, hm? Better to be gossiped about than forgotten entirely."

She gives a nod towards the chair. "That's a permanent thing, then? You have my sympathies. They tried to tell me once I'd have to sit in a chair the rest of my life. I told them what they could do with that idea."

Sympathies which Iphigénie acknowledges with a slight lowering of her gaze and a wordless nod, as she receives the handkerchief and sets it down next to her hemp leaves.

Looking up again she points out to her defiant interlocutor, absent any regret or rancour of her own: “The pain in my bones worsens with the passage of each winter — that is simply the nature of old age. I feel unusually well in Eisande, and perhaps better yet if—” She glances sidelong at those leaves. “If I try your hemp. But when I can save my strength, yes, I do.” A beat. “You make me wonder, my lady Chalasse, to what rumours you expect to give rise.”

Philomene laughs quietly and folds her hands behind her back. "Oh, I don't doubt the usual rumours about how I drown puppies in my spare time, and use my evil eye to sour milk, that sort of thing," she suggests cheerfully. "Combined with whatever rumours one would expect of a woman who spends almost every morning coming here for an hour. A considerable appetite, presumably, for one or other of the pleasures on offer." She shrugs amiably. "The endless gossip over which of the poor courtesans has to therefore deal with me. May I join you this morning? It's really too hot to walk, I shall have to come earlier tomorrow."

“Please,” says Iphigénie simply, glancing to the stone bench sited at an angle to her own well-cushioned seat. “We ought to have sent the boys for another chair,” she says sympathetically, as her eyes travel back to Philomène’s face; “I suppose they brought in the cushions when it rained last night…” She lifts a perfectly-plucked eyebrow to invite the other woman’s opinion, or just her agreement. “I did not think that, you know,” she adds, purely as a point of interest. “An hour in the morning, nearly every morning, doesn’t suggest a penchant for the pleasures of the house: you’d have to be as rich as a Bryony and have the stamina of an ox as well as the fleetness of a racehorse,” she comments, drily amused, “and then someone besides the plants would have to be awake so early to receive you.”

"My goodness, you're ruining perfectly good gossip with logical thought and common sense," Philomene points out drily, taking a moment to set her jaw as she lowers herself to the stone bench, sans cushions. Well, she won't stay that long so hopefully the cold stone won't do permanent damage. "That's hardly how rumours work now, is it?" The flask comes out again for a casual sip, then is held between both hands in her lap. "Oh no, the best rumours all contradict each other. Not only am I so rich that I can afford to be here daily, I'm so poor that I can't dress in the very latest frocks and gowns. Not only do I have legendary speed and stamina, but I should be given a cane to walk or forced to sit down all the time through bloody pity." The flask is tipped vaguely in Iphigenie's direction, a brow raised. Another? "Your excuse for being here so early?" she queries, interested.

Iphigénie accepts another meagre taste from Philomène’s flask, then conscientiously wipes the neck of it clean with the handkerchief already marked by her lip paint, before she passes it across to its owner where she sits on cold stone in the shade. Difficult to grow too warm there, one supposes. “Yours being to tend the hemp? I have an appointment later in the day to sign some paperwork,” she explains; “I came early to enjoy the gardens for a while first. The garden of the house where I live has ample charm of its own, I think, but I sit in it for so many hours each day that I like to give myself a change of view, and a change of fragrance too.”

"Mine being, provided I get here before the sun is too hot, to walk in peace for an hour," Philomene corrects, then pauses and allows, "… And yes, to check on my plants. Have you yet found Eisheth's gardens, my lady? They tend to be my other spot to get my mile in, but less so in the summer. Too many bloody people. But I imagine it would be fine to sit and enjoy the view over the ocean?"

A nod from Iphigénie. “I go often to Eisheth’s temple to see the healer-priests there — I think I know the place you mean, beyond the herb garden…? Yes,” she agrees, and reclaims her goblet to take another mouthful of milk, running the tip of her tongue cautiously over her upper lip before she lowers the goblet again “The colour of the sea here— so blinding a blue.” She sounds admiring; there’s a smile tugging at her lips. “I am used to seeing it from my windows in a darker hue, with more green in it and a palpable chill rising from the waves. For many weeks last winter our bay was frozen over, like a sheet of dark glass… In this weather such a pure blue, shimmering with heat, seems more akin to the core of a candle’s flame.”

The Chalasse arches a brow as she listens. "I had assumed, apparently wrongly, that all oceans looked like this," she admits, brow furrowing a little. "But then this is the only ocean I've seen. Camlach has beautiful lakes in the mountains, absolutely clear, crisp water, but nothing on this scale. And obviously our lands in Gueret are dotted with ponds and streams, but it's hardly the same thing. On the whole I think the mountain lakes are for me, not this sort of expanse that changes its mood more often than an Orchis changes clothes."

“You know Camlach well? … Of course,” and Iphigénie’s shoulders lower as she sighs, “you must. I hadn’t quite placed your accent,” she admits. “I think,” and her green eyes narrow as they rest upon Philomène, “you make a habit of being difficult to place.”

"I hardly hide it," Philomene notes with amusement, taking a last swig from her flask before tucking it away. "Look at me. I've the height and the blonde hair. Where else could I possibly be from? The only habit I have is picking a fight, and if that doesn't pin me down quite definitely as a d'Aiglemort then I don't know what does." She sets her hands either side of her on the bench, face adopting a perfectly neutral expression as she levers herself upright. Apparently she doesn't want piles after all.

“You and I are almost the same height,” Iphigénie murmurs, “and in my youth I was an inch taller and had golden-blonde hair… and I’m from Kusheth,” she reminds the other woman drily, as if the intensity of her gaze had failed somehow to underline her surname. “But it wasn’t that, that I meant. Thank you for the leaves, my lady d’Aiglemort de Chalasse, and for the diversion. I hope your mornings here continue fine and fair — though perhaps not so much so as today.”

"I think technically the leaves belong to the house," Philomene argues, never quite able to leave without debating something, "but you might thank the elusive Jacques. Or Raphael, now he's apparently important." She gives a small dip of her head. "Have a fulfilling day, my lady." And with that she begins her determined limp away, taking the longer way round the garden partly through stubbornness and partly to remain in the shade as much as possible.

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