(1311-07-08) Not Too Sweet
Summary: Raphael comes to tea in Iphigénie’s garden, this time bringing paperwork of a most promising nature. (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 07/07/2019 - 11/07/2019
Related: On the Familiarity of Bees, Enlightening Afternoon, Stepping Toward.
iphigenie raphael 

Garden — Maignard Residence

The garden is girded by a high wall of plain grey stone, lined with trellises which climbing roses and honeysuckle are being trained in the strictest Kusheline style to ascend. It is chiefly laid out as a parterre in which beds of colourful flowers are separated by low, angular, meticulous box hedges and raked pathways of dark gravel, about a bronze fountain celebrating a Maignard ancestor.

The spreading canopy of a mature elm tree provides shade over a small lawn and its own more haphazard growth of bluebells, crocus, borage, and nasturtiums, arisen during years of neglect, kept because of their great interest to the plethora of bees whose buzzing sets the air aquiver as they partake of their floral feast. Their home is a neat stack of wooden hives in the far corner beyond the elm, amongst bushes of lavender and fennel, rosemary and sage.

Spaced along the house's rear façade three sets of heavy dark doors lead into chambers well-lit by mullioned windows of thick, distorted glass.

The garden of the Maignard residence is as ever balmy and bee-beset, the next time Raphael comes to call upon its present mistress. The usual furnishings are set out beneath the elm tree, though the rosewood table is stripped of its cloth and showing heavily carven legs. In lieu of the tea service suitable to the hour it is laid with a lap desk (small, and battered round the edges in testament to its suitability for travel) and various books and papers. Iphigénie occupies the sofa, sitting sideways with her feet curled up and a small leatherbound volume forgotten in her hands as she gazes across to the farther side of the parterre, where Nature has yet to be fully subdued. Several men are engaged together there in heavy pruning and in loading a wheelbarrow with refuse. One, a particularly musclebound specimen, has left his shirt draped across a hedge; the resultant display of hard, tanned masculine flesh is understandably arresting to certain eyes.

Absent corsetry, clad in a loose and flowing garment of pleated burgundy linen with full sleeves gathered at her wrists, she's comfortably nested into cushions instead of sitting upright enough to teach a ruler its business. The gown's neckline — low, for her — reveals sharply-defined white collarbones, the silver chain of a hidden necklace, and a suggestion of a plain white linen undergarment that has strayed beyond its bounds while she relaxes. Perhaps too there is less kohl shadowing her wide green eyes, which aren't so absorbed in the garden and its minders that they don't flicker toward the house's back door as soon as her visitor from the Rose Sauvage emerges to make his way across the lawn. She glances once down at her book, takes something from the table to mark her place, and sets it aside to wait tranquilly for Raphael to reach the table.

Raphael has been polite enough to write ahead, and to show up at the time he suggested in his note. Tucked under one arm, he carries a leather folio stamped with the thorny rose. He steps out of the house, noting the changes: removed cloth, writing surface at the ready, workmen in view, relaxed wardrobe for his hostess, then inclines his head. "Good day," he says. "We are favored with fine hot weather again, just to your taste."

"Monsieur, good day — I hope you aren't sweltering too much," murmurs Iphigénie, smiling up at him with sympathy tinged by whimsy. Close to, she looks perhaps a little tired. "It would be a rare afternoon that could please us both, wouldn't it? Rare, but perhaps not impossible…" A thought she leaves hanging between them for just a moment, before she nods to the folio in his grasp. "Of course you are as good as your word. Will you take tea, or something cooler?" This question asked for the benefit of her maid, who followed Raphael to hear it answered.

"Luckily I rarely rely on the weather for my pleasures," Raphael replies with a smile, presenting the folio in front of him. He unspools the cord that secures it, and opens it, showing the contents before laying it in front of his hostess, closed again. A document has been prepared in duplicate — tidily written, both copies in the same hand. But he shows them from such a distance that they cannot be read. "I know you mentioned that you yourself would prefer not to read the document in advance," he comments, by way of explaining why he has closed the folio again. That much established, he nods his thanks at the offer. "Had you something chilled, I would not refuse it."

His word is all that's required to set Iphigénie's maid into motion again.

Rather than peer at the documents he displays to her so briefly, the lady herself watches Raphael's hands. "Do make yourself comfortable, monsieur," she suggests, gesturing as he shuts the folio; and then she makes herself perhaps less so, uncurling her legs from the sofa (pop, pop) and planting her narrow white feet amid the cool long grass under the table. Sitting instead of lounging she seems more herself: straight-backed and a little too thin, though the lines of her body are softer beneath that draped linen. "Yes," she agrees. "The suspense of such an encounter is not something I'd wish to forego… but I daresay you've read it," and her eyes flick up to his, "and now you know all my body's secrets."

"Of course I have read it," Raphael replies, "In my capacity as Second of Thorns, I read all such documents that touch on my canon. But," he says with a small, hard smile, "It is a long time since I was so green to think that a document such as this can reveal all one's secrets."

"Mmm," muses Iphigénie, as she begins to straighten her books and her papers— her crabbed handwriting is much in evidence, in the Hellenic alphabet as well as the Tiberian, "perhaps it will transpire that I've one or two Monsieur Lefebvre has yet to confide to parchment for you." Some of the papers go back into the drawer of her lap desk; others are arranged in a pile beneath books she stacks in order of size. "I'm sure he'll join us to review the documents," she looks past Raphael and nods to her gardeners — from this angle, the one who doffed his shirt is revealed to bear a marque inked into his sun-bronzed back — and then meets his gaze again with her eyes dancing and a puckish smile upon her painted lips, "as soon as he has enforced the absolute and unqualified submission of those weeds."

"Ah," Raphael says, turning to follow his hostess's gaze and note the marque thus revealed to him. "A smith and a gardener in one. Terribly convenient, I should think." Especially since he is a Mandrake in the bargain, Raphael's eyes seem to say as he brings his eyes back to Iphigénie's. "My privilege to meet him."

From somewhere unseen Iphigénie produces a smallish, reddish, greenish apple, which she buffs absently against her sleeve before setting it upon Raphael's folio, directly over the emblem of the Rose Sauvage. "He enjoys it," she agrees mildly, without specifying which 'it' he might find so pleasurable. "And I rather think he has been looking forward to meeting you as well, monsieur.”

Her maid returns with a flagon and two goblets upon a tray, all three chilled and fast beading with condensation in the summer air. She sets one goblet before Raphael and the other before her mistress and pours out, unmistakably, mead: but this variety much lighter in hue, and dry rather than sweet, though with a complex floral bouquet and a faint honeyed quality which lingers upon the palate. It's as crisp and refreshing as the Rose Sauvage's own sparkling white wines.

"Thank you," Raphael says, to his hostess rather than the maid, reaching to take the cup. "And yes," he replies with an amused smile at Iphigénie's remark, "A man shaped like that, if not a soldier, can be presumed to love his labor." He tastes the mead and lifts his head again. "And what were these bees raised on?" he wonders.

"It is the same honey," reveals Iphigénie simply, "but younger and less fermented. Golden still," and there's a dry note in her honeyed voice as she tastes her own dry and honeyed liquor. "I'd forgotten," she offers to Raphael, between sips, "that I had any left." A slight lift of her eyebrows; then, sighting her consort coming rapidly nearer along the parterre garden's raked gravel paths, she sets down her goblet and folds her long-fingered hands in her lap. "… Marius Lefebvre nó Mandrake," she pronounces; "Raphael nó Rose Sauvage." And if she appears pleased with her company, as she glances from one to the other— well, how not?

The much-heralded consort to whom she has sworn herself is a man something over six feet in height and, at close range, patently even more passionate about his labour than he appears at a distance. He's beautiful, as any son of Mont Nuit must be beautiful — Raphael's age or a few years younger — with eyes curiously distant and cool for their brown hue, and wings of white in his black hair. He wears the latter long and pulled into a tail by means of a leather thong. His black cloth breeches sit low on his hips. Like Iphigénie he's barefoot; unlike her, he's perspiring freely in the July heat, glistening all over in the sunshine. His handshake, offered at once to Raphael in tandem with a confident and considering gaze, is firm but not extravagantly so: his palm is work-roughened, far from the pampered silkiness of the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers. "Iphigénie," he drawls, his gaze fixed upon the other man's, "has spoken well of you." His other hand is already claiming the apple — tossing it in the air — catching it, so that he might take a generous crunching bite as soon as he's spoken.

Raphael reaches forward to meet this handshake in a similar way. "She is kind," he says. "And we have been glad to have her visit us at the Rose Sauvage. I am pleased to meet you. I hope you do not mind my taking advantage of your hospitality while you have been at your work." This is offered as a pleasantry; he does not by any means seem actually concerned.

Releasing Raphael's hand Marius flicks open the folio and turns it upon the table, further away from Iphigénie's eyes— "The hospitality," he points out absently, "is not mine." And without sitting down he reads over the document and compares the two copies of it, in between crunching his way swiftly and methodically around his apple. A huff of laughter escapes his nostrils. He swallows. "Accurate," he drawls, glancing up at Raphael and tapping a paragraph the inclusion of which he himself insisted upon, on the basis of his long experience of the lady in question. It would appear the Rose Sauvage chirurgeon has an amusing turn of phrase.

Iphigénie's gaze, normally so fond of Raphael's composed features, is playing meanwhile about her consort's sweat-slickened physique: but when he utters that pronouncement she, not knowing to what it might refer, lowers her eyes to her mead. She picks up the goblet and takes a small sip. Is her velvety powdered complexion a tad rosier than a moment ago—? She puts down the mead again and busies herself with her lap-desk, flicking open the cap of its silver inkwell and placing that and a fresh unsullied quill close to the folio and to Marius’s hand. Were it not for her years and her dignity one might suppose this a species of girlish fidgeting.

“Yes… yes,” and hard upon that second yes Marius Lefebvre reaches for the quill provided as thoughtfully as the apple, dips it, and signs his name twice in a flourishing hand. He passes the quill without another word to Iphigénie — the gesture seems to contain a command — and spins the folio toward her side of the table. Then he helps himself to one of her papers, from underneath the stack of books, to conceal the text of each copy in turn from her eyes.

She signs her own name much more slowly beneath his, her right hand taking care to form each letter legibly and well. Between one signature and the next she looks up at Raphael, to see if he’s watching her— but her demeanour is sober now that she’s attending to business, and so her gaze flicks swiftly down again to the second half of her task. Marius presents the papers and the quill in turn to the Rose Sauvage’s appointed representative, for his endorsement; when Raphael has signed, and Marius would claim one copy from the folio, Iphigénie leans forward with one hand lifting to accept it in his stead.

“You’ll get apple juice on it,” she protests mildly.

This seems fair. He shrugs and takes it only to pass it on to her. She folds it in half without betraying the least hint of curiosity, tucks it into the drawer of her lap desk, and turns the key that sits waiting in the lock. “Will you stay for tea?” she inquires then of her consort.

Marius narrows hie eyes slightly. “No, I must bathe—”

And Iphigénie’s widen. “Oh, before the—”


This display of marital telepathy concludes with Iphigénie gazing frankly up into her Mandrake’s eyes. “I don’t want to go,” she confides, and catches her lower lip between her teeth.

“Then I must have commanded you to continue your day of rest,” Marius drawls, “in consideration of your parlous health.” He takes up her mead and enjoys a healthy swallow.

Iphigénie beams up at him. This is plainly the answer she expected and desired. “And I,” she purrs, “must remain obediently at home, Monsieur.” The title has a subtle capital ‘M’ attached to it, absent from all her courtesies to Raphael. “I’ll see you tomorrow, shall I?”

There’s a tease in the archly-phrased command and another in the pledge of obedience: it’s an old routine, and the same conspiratorial smile tugs at both their mouths. Then Marius restores the goblet and the apple core to the table and places his hand upon Iphigénie’s shoulder and leans down, to whisper something into her ear or perhaps to kiss it. His marqued and muscled and glistening back blocks Raphael's view of all but the extraction of a folded white linen handkerchief from his back pocket… Behind the shield of his body Iphigénie exhales a luscious and involuntary sound of pleasure more suited to a bedchamber than a tea table; and as Marius straightens he offers her the handkerchief with a courtly bow. "Until tomorrow, my lady," he drawls. In his mouth the title is possessive, caressing: as a king speaking of ‘my kingdom’. He runs a hand over her loose, fluffy white hair whilst inclining his head correctly toward Raphael in farewell. He stalks away across the flowered lawn toward the house. He doesn't look back.

Iphigénie meanwhile (after drawing an uneven breath!) has dissolved into rich, honeyed laughter as she holds her lover’s handkerchief to her bleeding earlobe. She glances after him only to find her mirth redoubled by the very sight of his pantherine prowl.

Raphael stands nearby for the review of the documents with a granite smile, eyes first on the document, then on the face of this consort, and back on the man's hand as he signs. He drinks from his mead then sets it upon the table, clasping his hands behind his back as he regards his hostess next. Having witnessed both signatures, he may step forward and sign in a sure, bold hand. He leaves the folio with the salon's copy on the table, since he hardly need cling to it throughout his time here. As the conversation moves toward the personal, his gaze drifts and while he does not quite turn the other way, he does turn one foot slightly, opening his body out more toward the garden. It cannot be that he is uncomfortable with Mandragian intimacies, but perhaps he is politely offering some privacy. Or he may simply be disinterested in the romance. But he does return the nod from Marius, precisely. He offers no word in parting, since neither did Marius.

Marius goes into the house through a door somewhat to the right of the sequence of receiving-rooms through which Raphael has passed several times now. An instant later Iphigénie's usual maid appears, as though chivvied out. This changing of the guard obliges Iphigénie to gather herself again, though her voice remains coloured by amusement as she breathes out an absent, "Ah, Nadège," and supervises the pouring of another measure of mead into Raphael's goblet, then the gathering of books and papers atop the locked lap desk's slanting lid. They're soon spirited away, leaving the table bare of all but the goblets and the flagon of mead.

"This morning," the former Valerian confides to Raphael in a dry undertone, still pinching her earlobe between the folds of that blood-spotted handkerchief, "I mentioned that I enjoyed your talk, that I was pleased you were bringing the papers in person so that we might enjoy a cup of tea together as well. Monsieur Lefebvre asked me if you had that Eisandine drawl— I said, somewhat facetiously," she admits, "that you had indeed and you were coming to tea to delight my ears."

"I see," Raphael replies with his hard-edged smile. "And so perhaps he thought to beat me to the punch. It seems you have chosen for yourself a fine specimen of our canon," He praises, and lifts his goblet in a silent salute to that, and her kindness in providing another measure.

By a tilt of her head and a gentle nod, Iphigénie endorses Raphael's theory of the case: but then she murmurs without quite disagreeing, "Perhaps he chose me."

She lowers the handkerchief, examines the pattern of red smudges upon snow-white linen, and folds it a different way before lifting it again to her ear to test whether she's still bleeding. She is, a little. She seems hardly displeased. "The boy did bring my parasol, the other day," she remarks, "though at the last moment before I stepped into my carriage. He was quite out of breath."

"Oh, how lucky for him that he was in time," Raphael says in a rich tone of voice, no doubt envisioning not only the boy's relief, but his pains to do his duty, and the punishment that might have been in store for him had he failed. "Do you know, I suspect he will grow up all right."

"Whatever his errors he has a willing heart," agrees Iphigénie quietly; "and in his canon, willingness counts always for a great deal." A wry tinge to her smile suggests consciousness of her claims the other day about her own youth. "I let him carry my parasol again two days past—" When the papers ought to have been signed, had the chirurgeon finished composing his report. "He did very well."

The maid Nadège is returning, empty-handed but for a folded tablecloth, and with a watchful eye upon a strong young lackey carrying an enormous tea-tray.

"It appears to be tea time," Raphael comments dryly. But then back to the other matter. "Ah, did he indeed. Good to hear. If they can learn, and quickly enough, that is a great mark in their favor. Not that it needs my saying so." He drinks from the mead again. "Do bees learn, particularly?" he wonders. "Dogs do."

"I think so," murmurs Iphigénie, taking up her goblet not to drink (privately, she's had enough) but to leave one less impediment to the unfurling of the tablecloth. Nadège moves Raphael's goblet and the flagon to one edge of the table, places the cloth, moves them again, and straightens the cloth so that its edges hang with an evenness and precision in keeping with the rest of the house's style. Then she begins to dispose the pastries, the sandwiches, the familiar blue and white Chi'in dishes, and all the other accoutrements of a pleasant afternoon hour.

Amid the soft sounds of crockery and silver finding their places, Iphigénie goes on. "They learn and they remember the way to congenial flowers and congenial situations— they learn too who is a friend to them. I was stung a great deal in our first days together," she nods to the hives in the corner of the garden, "but seldom since, whereas— I've had trouble keeping gardeners for long," she drawls, looking past Raphael now to Marius's late minions, one pruning her box-hedges and the other slowly piloting the wheelbarrow away round the corner of the house.

"I am surprised to hear that they can distinguish one person from another," Raphael replies. Once the table is set, he helps himself to a seat. "I have had novices struggle to remember the patrons' names even after meeting them several times." Not a problem he can sympathize with, evidently.

"The Valerian canon does foster a certain laziness in that regard — one can in a pinch simply call anyone 'master' or 'mistress'," muses Iphigénie with a faint smile. She measures fragrant golden-tipped leaves from the tin Nadège sets before her, and sets the infuser into the pot; Nadège pours hot water over them, restores the small kettle to the lackey's tray, curtseys, and shepherds him back into the house. The servants here never linger noticeably, or speak without need.

"But bees," and Iphigénie returns to her point, "distinguish very well. And I am careful to tell the colony about any new visitors I expect to receive, before they come into the garden— an old custom, surprisingly efficacious. You haven't been stung yet, have you, monsieur?" she points out, her eyes aglitter.

"Not once," Raphael confirms with a smile. "So now I shall know that if I am, I must have you to blame." That is of course said in jest. "Perhaps I ought to take care not to offend you lest you poison their minds against me."

"Well, perhaps that might be wise," Iphigénie agrees mildly, lifting an eyebrow at the Thorn in question, "if you intend to be a frequent caller, monsieur…? I won't pour you tea straight away," she goes on, "but I hope you will tell me if you come to feel cool enough in the shade that you would care for a cup."

"It is such a pleasant garden, now bound, as you once said, to ours at the Rose Sauvage, where I spend a fair amount of my time. And gardens are really the only truly bearable places in the summer. Aside from our Dark Room, of course, which is subterranean. So is there any reason I should not call regularly?" This challenge is aimed at his hostess accompanied by another smile.

With her gaze trained upon his Iphigénie answers without hesitation: "I see no reason at all, monsieur." But then the tea has had long enough, and it claims her attention in lieu of the Thorn. She inclines forward against the edge of the linen-draped table, and places the red-spotted handkerchief next to her plate in order to have both hands to remove the infuser, replace the lid upon the pot, and pour out her own cup of tea. "In a few weeks' time— perhaps not this month," she considers, glancing up again at Raphael's face, "but next month, surely, Monsieur Lefebvre will be away to Elua again on business. I imagine I might find myself longing for a little company during these long summer evenings."

Raphael drinks the mead instead of tea for now. "I do not think a lady such as yourself ought to face loneliness or boredom," he replies. "If you have no other company in mind to request from the Rose Sauvage, then I will have to visit you myself and provide that company."

"How kind you are to me, monsieur — so far," and Iphigénie chuckles softly. Her tea is too hot yet to drink; after a single sip to scald her tongue she puts down her cup and saucer again and leans her wrists against the edge of the table, her white hands clasped together and her silver chain bracelet shining in a ray of sunlight filtered through the vivid green leaves of the elm. "Then if I sought assignation with you, I'd find it—? What a comforting thought," she murmurs, studying him with her usual frankness and, it must be said, no trace of surprise.

"I expect you would," Raphael replies evenly, "though I rarely make promises to patrons, prospective or otherwise. The young ones I send away and have come back to beg my favor, but we have no need of testing whether your interest in the sharp is sincere, have we." He drinks from the mead again and then sets it aside, turning a new scrutiny on Iphigénie. "It is rare for me to visit a new patron at her home," he remarks. "So if you seek to summon me, you must be content with whatever…accessories I bring along. Although I rather suspect that if I had need of borrowing anything, you might oblige me."

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Presence+Composure: Great Success. (7 2 8 5 7 3 2 8 3 8 2 5 2 3 4 1)

The Thorn’s intent gaze finds his hostess unruffled by the turn their talk has taken, though the same can’t be said of her hair after its encounter with a strong Mandragian hand. She’s not sitting quite as straight as a quarter of an hour past, her posture wilting a little to match the suggestion of weariness he may have noticed already beneath her good humour. Smudges of dried blood still mar the lobe of her ear and her throat below it.

“If such a visit would be an exception to your custom, then I'm honoured you’d consider it, monsieur. You've read enough to gather," she smiles faintly, "why at the end of such an evening, I might find it desirable to be already at home and in my own bed, without a carriage ride ahead of me. And in my chamber, of course,” she confirms without a trace of coyness, “I have a chest of aides d'amour that are my property rather than Monsieur Lefebvre's, and so are used only for me— though some of them," she concedes, "not lately.” A beat. “But whatever you prefer I'm sure I would find pleasing, monsieur. Mine or your own. The rod is of less moment,” she points out gently, the voice of an experience even longer than his own, “than the hand wielding it.”

A certain satisfaction glints in the Thorn's eyes and he nods once. "My chamber is somewhat spare whereas I imagine yours is already configured to your greatest comfort and pleasure, yet still suitable for sharper games. So it will be my pleasure to call upon you here. I think we can look forward to entertaining one another immensely, should it still be your wish when the time comes." Only now does he turn his eyes from her face, as he makes a gesture. "I'll have the tea."

Iphigénie's back straightens again as she reaches for the teapot. She's swift to pour for him and sparing with the honey, no more than the discreet taste of it he seemed to find palatable the last time he took tea here under her elm tree. "You know I enjoyed the games we've played so far," she murmurs. "To worship Naamah together will be sweet, I think — of course, not too sweet." À la the tea, which she stirs for him till the honey dissolves obligingly from the spoon, then presents to him with the grace which never leaves a courtesan of Mont Nuit.

"But we'll keep the sting," Iphigénie agrees drily. She pours another drop of tea for herself and holds the cup between both hands, considering Raphael across the rim of it as she drinks slowly and deeply of her afternoon elixir. "I imagine I'll call at the salon later in the week," she mentions, "in quest of another diversion for Monsieur Lefebvre. I'm afraid I was mistaken in the last one— we both found her a little tedious," she confides, smiling crookedly at the memory.

"Oh, how disappointing," Raphael says in a mild tone, drinking from his cup. "We'll have to send out a few with a bit more personality next time. Though I am sure it is difficult to please such well-honed tastes. Any qualities I should watch for in finding a few girls to recommend? It is girls particularly, I assume?"

After another mouthful Iphigénie puts down her cup and steeples her hands upon the edge of the table. "Yes. Boys are a degree less convincing as substitutes for me," she explains candidly, "and when we are together that is usually the idea in our minds… If you could find me amongst your roses," she teases. "she would surely prove ideal. But perhaps you don't know me well enough, yet."

"Ah," Raphael says, with good humor, "This is one of those little traps, as dangerous as a woman asking a man to guess her age." He shares a playfully reproachful smile with Iphigénie. "I cannot promise we have your equal, but I will see just how much personality and cleverness I can detect."

You evade it neatly, monsieur." Iphigénie inclines her head toward him in tribute to such deft and gentlemanly conversational footwork. "Though I offered it not as a trap but as a truth — one cannot expect to find pleasure by dissembling about its very nature. I assure you," she says gently, "I try always to be frank."

Raphael drinks from the tea again and nods once at all this frankness. "Then perhaps you should come by and we can have a look at the candidates. They can make their best attempts at being engaging and you may test how close they are able to approach you."

"… Another game," deduces Iphigénie, and a smile teases at her lips. "Very well, monsieur; I shall accept your invitation and your advice with pleasure."

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