(1311-07-23) One Firm Invitation
Summary: Philomène pursues her acquaintance with Iphigénie’s bees. And, uh, their landlady. Sure. Right.
RL Date: 20/07/2019 - 24/07/2019
Related: Not Just Useful, But Ornamental, It’s the Bees.
iphigenie philomene 

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.

Once again a polite, if terse, note has been delivered to the Maignard household, requesting and desiring the use of the garden from 8 until 9 the following morning. The note is signed with an elegant 'Gueret' and a roughly stamped bull, the ink slightly smudged where it hasn't been given sufficient sand or time to dry before being folded and delivered.

It should come as no surprise, then, that on the very dot of eight, with the ringing of the temple bells still echoing in the still air, Philomène arrives, dressed in her delicately embroidered if drab outfit of tired brown riding jacket and breeches, tall boots still shined enough to reflect the morning light. No counting necessary today - she's done the maths in advance now and merely needs to count the laps to meet her target - which means that she greets the bees politely on the first stretch of her walk, hands folded behind her back.

By the time it's nine, or close to it, she's extolled the virtues of a single gold standard for trading with other nations, recognised the necessity for bonds and bills of sale in a single comparable currency, and is still debating with them (arguing both sides of the case, given that the bees' contribution to the conversation is a somewhat unhelpful buzz) how the printing of such bills might inflate or deflate the value of bullion.

A handful of minutes shy of nine o’clock — forgive them, they haven’t an accurate timepiece — the Maignard minions issue forth from the house laden with the usual furniture, which they arrange beneath the elm tree. They studiously ignore the visitor.They’ve been told.

Before they’ve completed their task, and whilst Philomène is circling back from the far corner of the parterre garden to take her leave/make her escape, Iphigénie appears in the central doorway: her plain long black gown flowing severely over her corseted figure and her hair more than usually dressed, a cloud sculpted by skilled hands into elegant white waves. Stepping out into the garden she sights Philomène coming toward her and smiles easily, coming nearer followed by a lackey burdened with two solid square parcels wrapped in dark cloth: which she could hardly carry herself, given that in one white silk-gloved hand she holds the strings of a dark red velvet bag, and in the other the silver top of her usual ebony stick.

“My lady Chalasse — I wondered if I’d see you,” is her greeting, delivered with a confident dark red smile. “Good morning. Will you take tea, or must you be away—?” Her eyebrows lift inquisitively at this last, but she scarcely seems eager to chase Philomène off.

The moment the lackeys appear, so Philomène’s walk becomes slower, more steady, and more deliberate, all the better to disguise the discomfort that a mile on her game leg will produce. Thus when Iphigénie makes her presence known, it’s not wholly unreasonable that the Chalasse stops where she stands, granting the other woman a warm smile, rather than continuing on and demonstrating that rather pronounced limp in front of Company.

“Good morning, my lady,” she greets cordially, glancing to the furniture provided. Enough for both of them, she notes. “I’d be honoured to join you for tea, thank you. I’m afraid that the expected shipment of pigs has been unavoidably delayed so I’m not able to offer you the bacon I promised this week. I do hope you might forgive me? Next week, however, I have faith that we should have some cured and ready for you.”

“Then let’s sit, shall we?” Hardly an invitation to be refused on bloodyminded Camaeline principle, when it comes from a lady rather more senior and leaning even now upon her cane. As they go on together, trailed by the lackey and his parcels, Iphigénie assures her visitor: “Your kindness will be just as welcome next week, my lady, and one does understand that not all things in heaven and earth are susceptible to easy arrangement… I hope you have had a pleasant walk?” she wonders, as she settles herself — with a lackey’s aid, and a couple of subdued pops from her knees — in an armchair by the table. The same lackey accepts her stick from her hand and props it safely against her chair’s arm; in answer to a look from her and a slight gesture, all that she requires to issue a command, the other lackey deposits his heavy bundles upon the end of the sofa nearest her. They withdraw, discreetly.

“I have,” Philomène agrees absently, taking a moment to steel her expression before she makes her slow and careful way over to the elm tree and the furniture there. “And you’ve had a successful morning…?” she queries in return, giving a small nod to the bundles at the other end of the sofa while she lowers herself delicately to sit. Only once she’s bum on upholstery does she relax a little, shoulders falling a scant half inch and the effort draining from her strained muscles until she almost, almost, looks comfortable.

Iphigénie lowers her gaze to the linen-draped table before her and she smiles secretively.

“I had an opportunity this morning to purchase at auction an excellent set of books concerning Eisandine common law and its derivations,” she admits; “I think I told you,” and she looks frankly at Philomène and smiles, “I intend to take my lady niece’s former caretakers to law, regarding their lack of true care for this house.” She glances higher, toward the rooftops, then down again at her parcels. “Rather cheaper than retaining the services of a professional advocate,” she observes, and her gleaming green eyes lift to meet Philomène’s. “More amusing, too.”

Philomène leans in to pour today’s tea, guest or not, raising a brow as she goes to add honey to her hostess’s cup as though to ask when to stop. “I think an argument might still be made for the horsewhipping,” she notes with dry amusement, but nods. “However the option of bringing the law to bear might result in a more long term solution. I assume you’ve presented yourself to the duchesse?” One cup of tea down, she moves to pour herself a rather more modest one. Black. Bitter. As expected of Philomène.

Iphigénie has the excuse that she is still taking off her gloves: she yields her hostess’s prerogative to Philomène with a graceful gesture, and continues slowly unbuttoning.

“The consequences of a whipping would be brief,” she agrees drily, laying aside one white silk glove, “and those of the law will assuredly be longer.” The other. “Thank you, my lady,” this with a nod to the tea intended for her. “I have not presented myself at the ducal court; it is hardly my natural milieu, at my age, and I don’t see the need to bring my own domestic matters to broader attention. I can speak well enough for myself, and then it will be settled.” She’s sanguine about it; in well-kept bare hands she lifts her cup and saucer and drinks, gratefully.

Philomène absently picks a burr from the skirts of her short jacket, watching Iphigénie thoughtfully as she speaks. “She’s a useful ally, nonetheless,” she presses, her own tea balanced on one knee for now while it cools. “Should the opportunity arise I’d be very happy to present you to her.” She gives a half smile, lifting one shoulder. “I rather like her style, too. I suspect you’d get on.”

This Iphigénie considers duly whilst taking quick small sips of her too-hot tea. Then, her cup already half-emptied, she lowers it and shakes her head. “I appreciate your kindness; but I think in such an instance,” she apologises, rather gently, “I am scimitar enough to swat such a fly. I am used to dealing with legal matters for my late husband and my late brother,” she explains matter-of-factly; “and, then, I think it more proper to allow one’s case to succeed absolutely upon its own merits, without any suspicion of interference from high above.”

“There’s no joy in an unfair victory,” Philomène agrees, quietly amused.

She takes up her tea for a sip, closing her eyes for a moment to savour the taste. “Although I had meant more as a courtesy to her than in order to call upon her for aid in your domestic matters. This is, after all, her city. I wouldn’t walk in your garden without sending word that I intend to be here, and then thank you for the privilege.”

Her hostess likewise enjoys a moment of tea and quietude.

Then she breathes out and lowers her cup and murmurs: “My niece possesses the freehold of this house, and by her leave I enjoy an absolute privilege within these walls. As soon as my health permits me to take a real part in the social life of Marsilikos, you may be certain that I shall pay a call upon Her Grace and do all that is suitable. But until that time should come— my lady, I must insist upon my discretion, and my quiet life. They suit me the best,” Iphigénie explains, her emerald eyes fixed upon Philomène’s, “of all my present possibilities.”

“Until that time should come,” Philomène notes, her thumb absently running along the rim of her cup, “should my intrusions in your garden be unwelcome, do please let me know. I can understand well the desire to be left to one’s own devices and not to be forced to entertain. On the other hand if your health allows and you felt the urge, do please feel free to call on me. I don’t recommend the afternoons as I tend to spend those on horseback, but early evening I am generally at home.”

The second tray then appears: not tea but breakfast itself: Iphigénie’s boiled egg, her simple pastries. No grapefruit today. Perhaps they are in short supply.

“… You are most welcome, my lady,” she says gently, still holding her visitor’s eyes with her own ironclad green gaze— ironclad, that is, when she wills it, as now she does; “but I think you understand, I prefer one companion over twenty.” A dish here, a dish there, and then her servants withdraw over the flower lawn and into the house after their usual custom.

Settling back with her tea cradled in both hands, Philomène gives a little smirk at that. “I’m not certain I could name twenty people I could stand to be in the same room as,” she admits. “Certainly not all at the same time. Perhaps when I was younger…” But then she pauses, considers, and shakes her head with a laugh. “Ah no, I think when I was younger I would simply have demanded they leave and fought them if they didn’t. Tact never featured particularly strongly in my early education, alas. Swordsmanship. Riding. Yes. Tact, no.”

“… I can imagine,” and there’s a new teasing note in Iphigénie’s voice as, her own stipulations accepted, she applies herself to the acceptance of Philomène’s implicit kind. She takes another mouthful of her tea and then puts down her cup, and takes over pouring liberally for them both. After a long walk her visitor surely needs it, doesn’t she? And she knows she does. “I don’t mind frankness,” she admits, her bright green glance taking in Philomène’s expression before lowering again to the tea she is pouring; “at my age, I am glad to save time.”

Her own cup is similarly replenished. She adds a taste of honey, swirling within her cup a silver spoon not filled but only coated with the sweet offerings of her bees.

“I shall bear that in mind,” Philomène replies, nodding quiet thanks for the top up of tea. “Brutal honesty is the order of the day.” She glances to her hostess, raising both brows for a moment as though in challenge, before her expression warms to something of comfortable self-deprecation. “Of course, given half a chance I’ll turn anything into an argument, so do also stop me if I take it too far. I’ll at least leave my blades sheathed and rely on my tongue these days.”

On which note Iphigénie — whose sense of humour is mischievous at the best of times — decapitates her boiled egg with a single swift tap of her silver spoon. She was looking at it, but her eyes lift quickly to Philomène, lively and clever and very, very green.

“I too rely upon my tongue,” she confesses, “in so many respects.”

“To talk to your bees,” Philomène suggests, meeting the other woman’s eye and flicking a very slight smile before she takes a sip of her tea. “To taste their efforts. And to converse, no doubt, with your single companion over your twenty?”

That seems invitation enough; Iphigénie, delving into the softer and more delicious parts of her egg, ventures: “With a single companion above all, for it is in solitude that one might hope to discover the true flavour of a sympathetic soul.” She takes a generous mouthful of yolk and white together and then, the tip of her tongue just barely scouting her painted lips for fragments, she regards Philomène with an eyebrow raised and her cup of tea now in her hand.

“I’d argue adversity,” Philomène decides after a long moment’s careful thought, fingertips tapping on the rim of her cup. “Adversity rather than solitude. Shared adversity brings out the… the… what’s the word I’m looking for? The meat of a person. If you want to discover the true flavour of a companion, take them with you to war, either literally or figuratively.”

“… Figuratively,” Iphigénie breathes out— amused, but kindly so. She takes another spoonful of the rich and nourishing contents of the eggshell before her, and runs the tip of her tongue over her lips. “But I understood that you were not a patron of the Rose Sauvage, my lady?”

Philomène smirks, shaking her head. “I’m an odd anomaly, I know. I’ve little interest in the Night Court, short of trade and business dealings. When it comes to looking for a companion, I’d rather an honest rejection than an agreement for money and some sort of contracted friendship. If I wanted a contracted lover, I have a husband for that.”

Whilst eating her egg, whilst delicately scraping the inside of the shell with her silver spoon and savouring every taste of it, Iphigénie listens and nods quite seriously. “It is not always a simple division,” she suggests, “between what is done for love of a patron versus what is done for love of Naamah; but I must admit that in my own dealings with courtesans who sought my patronage, I have never pressed, only sought what is most freely given. It takes longer, to be certain of an affinity or of its lack— but I find,” she smiles slightly, holding Philomène’s eyes as she sips her tea, “the time is not squandered, if it leads to a real pleasure later on. But if that is not your taste— my lady, I’m sure you’ve no lack of opportunities,” she conjectures.

The Chalasse sets down her tea and moves again to pour for the pair of them. Apparently they’re taking it in turns now, with neither willing to give up the role to the other. “My ‘opportunities’ these days,” she notes drily, “are primarily pig or grain related. Neither of which tend to provide the sort of adversity to truly get to know anyone. Most of the courtesans know better than to try, and those who don’t…” She sets down the teapot with a solid thump on the table. “I’ve no interest in a night of fumbling with some youngster who couldn’t give two shits whose bed they’re sharing. If they don’t know me and I don’t know them, I’d rather read a nice book and have a cup of tea.”

She raises one eyebrow, then shrugs as she settles back again. “Well? Are you going to tell me I’m a heretic?”

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Religion: Amazing Success. (1 5 7 8 5 7 1 2 8 7 6 8 2 7)

Just now Iphigénie’s dark red lips are pressed together, but in an expression of suppressed mirth. Another taste of her tea is required before she speaks, lowering cup and saucer again to the table. She seems to be aiming at solemnity but falling a measure short. “I think, my lady,” she teases, “that you are in fact unusually devout— you love as you will, but only as you will,” she stresses gently, “and that is the gist of our Blessed Elua’s teachings.”

She quotes a lengthy passage from the scriptures, in Hellene and then in d’Angeline, choosing her latter words with the air of one translating off the cuff: the truth of it simply spills from her tongue, richly and sweetly, ancient poetry in a Kusheline accent with a touch of Elua about it. To love as one wills, to remain loyal to a love purely born in one’s heart, to settle for nothing less— that is the message at the core of what she speaks, slowly but with unimpeachable confidence, her voice rising and falling to make prose into poetry but her large and intelligent green eyes holding Philomène’s with quiet determination to be heard.

Expecting to have had to argue rather than be agreed with, Philomène is naturally thrown. She’s stunned into silence as the scriptures are quoted, translated, and examined in theological detail, which for anyone who knows her is a rare thing indeed. The initial surprise turns to wariness, and then to suspicion, before the strength of conviction in Iphigénie’s words convinces her that perhaps this isn’t some sort of trick, but merely a new way to interpret the holy words that actually suits the Chalasse rather well.

Tea is drunk. Tea is topped up. Not even thinking, as she’s so absorbed in listening, Philomène even claims a pastry (a cheese one, but even so) and breaks off pieces to nibble on. Proof that she does eat, after all!

“And yet,” she finally interjects, licking a crumb from thumb and forefinger, “where does duty fall into that? If I were to love only as I will, for certain I wouldn’t have three fine daughters to continue the line.”

Iphigénie looks steadily into her visitor’s eyes. “Perhaps… my lady, you must forgive me if I cut too close to be the bone,” she suggests, her voice steadily and gentle and smooth as honey no matter what words her lips may form, “when you yourself inquired: perhaps your love was for your house, your name, your family, your reputation, your posterity. My late husband and I managed well enough in the bedchamber,” she admits; “but we would not have raised three fine sons, if we had kept always to loves purely personal and private and carnal.”

“So a love of things, tangible and intangible, is equally as valid?” Philomène asks, exhaling briefly. “A love of family, perhaps. Of reputation… well, perhaps less so. How about simple love of money? Is that still holy and blessed?”

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Religion: Amazing Success. (4 1 7 7 7 2 1 7 1 7 8 1 5 5)

Her hostess smiles — but slowly, as if she’s heard this one before, isn’t surprised, isn’t perturbed. For she isn’t. “What is a genuine love,” Iphigénie says softly, setting aside her eggshell and taking a warm pastry from the basket, “your own conscience will tell you. You’re only asking someone else in order to make mischief, to amuse yourself and to sow confusion when, in truth, I think you know what is right and what is wrong. They are not abstract ideas,” she posits, opening her croissant and smudging bitter marmalade across its insides; “they are choices we all must make, each and every day, and— I believe you must choose right more often than not, my lady Chalasse,” and she pops a piece of croissant into her mouth.

“It is highly possible,” Philomène allows, an easy smile settling on her face, “that my genuine first love is to argue and make mischief. But your point is noted. Honesty, at least to yourself, is vital in these things. So perhaps we shouldn’t judge others when their own loves are different to our own?”

Iphigénie smiles and takes her turn topping up the tea, though it scarcely needs it: a few drops here, a few drops there, to keep their cups replete.

“For us all to share the same kind of love, would be absurd and impossible,” she suggests, settling the teapot again. “But, as we all have our own particular loves, so we must find within ourselves compassion for those whose loves are beyond our most personal and visceral understanding… A sincere and consenting love has always its own beauty and grace, whether or not one can imagine oneself within its sphere,” she says seriously.

“In the same way that I can appreciate the sweetness of your honey, its flavour and what it does to food or drink, while personally I’d rather my tea without,” Philomène notes practically, nodding thanks as she takes up her tea to enjoy, unsullied by bee vomit. “Clearly,” she adds drily, “I’m sweet enough.”

“Ah; but you’d rather do without… what?” Iphigénie pursues, the knife in her hand neatly slicing off a portion of croissant which she lifts then to her lips snd eats. When no answer is immediately forthcoming she adds: “Or what would you have it with—?”

“I,” Philomène responds, cradling her tea in both hands now, “would rather go without than have my tea in any way other than strictly how I like it.” She eyes Iphigénie. “And the same applies for most things in my life. Tea is not the only thing about which I am particular.”

She pauses before finally relenting, “You do provide a fine brew, though. Perhaps you’ll be disappointed when you come to try the poor offerings of my house, but I shall do my best to provide.”

Across the table, eating the last of her soft warm fresh croissant smeared with marmalade, Iphigénie smiles and takes another bite and swallows and says, “I’ll come and call when you give me a firm invitation, my lady… I think it is no sin to be particular,” she suggests gently, “but the sign of a soul which has not surrendered its high hopes.”

“Well holding on to high hopes and expecting joy sounds like a foolish thing to do given the practicalities of life,” Philomène notes, taking a sip from her cup and watching Iphigénie over the rim. “But then surrendering anything has never been a talent of mine. I’m a d’Aiglemort, after all. It’s not in our vocabulary.” She sets down her tea, and adjusts her cuffs, one at a time. “Tomorrow, then. One firm invitation. For supper. I’ll provide hemp and drinks and we can make an evening of it.”

A moment elapses — but a brief one; an instant, a breath — before Iphigénie at her side of the table smoothly allows, “I should be honoured, my lady, by an invitation to your house.” She looks into Philomène’s eyes, her own glinting with interest. “Provided it is understood that I have not yet surrendered anything, even in an expectation of joy.”

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