(1311-08-06) Variant Passages
Summary: Taking tea with Iphigénie, Raphael delivers bad tidings and collects a small gift. (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 06/08/2019 - 13/08/2019
Related: Other scenes with these characters.
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 invitation to tea is written in the usual terms and offers the usual choice between two dates, in consideration of Raphael’s busy schedule but also his pleasure in control.

When he’s shown into the garden he finds Iphigénie seated on her blue velvet sofa, before a larger table — a rectangle rather than a square — draped with white linen, though no tea things are yet in evidence. Several large leatherbound books are laid open upon it instead, their pages weighted against an insouciant breeze by such found objects as the ferociously loud little handbell often kept within her reach in case of need, a snaking silver bracelet stripped from her wrist and draped along the inside of a spine, and a bundle in the shape of a smaller book, wrapped in a square of flaming red silk with the corners tied together on top of it.

Her hair is a soft white cloud framing her face; a favoured and familiar gown of plain dark red cloth, fitted faithfully to her sleek corseted figure, is accented today by silver hoop earrings each set with a modest garnet the same shade as her painted lips. She’s writing; but at Raphael’s advent she looks up and gives him a restrained little smile, knowing that at such a distance he can see her face better than she his. Then she looks down, and hastens to complete her sentence and to begin tidying things away in the compartments of her lap-desk. She flicks shut the lid of her silver inkwell and fastens the catch, and her green gaze lifts again to meet his at a much more convenient range as he crosses the flower lawn to her. “You look well, monsieur,” she pronounces, her smile softening with that thought. “Good afternoon.”

Indeed, Raphael seems to have little trouble with his eyesight even now that he is in the range of age where many start to find their vision changing. He spots his hostess across the garden, but also spares glances for some of the plants, particularly those that have put out new blossoms since his last visit. “Good afternoon,” he returns when he is close enough. “As always, so do you.” He notes the earrings and nods to himself. “Your favorites?” he asks. “I didn’t ask before, but I suppose Monsieur Lefebvre crafted them. Is garnet your stone of choice?” He pauses long enough to take in the harmony of the stone with the color of her gown. “How good of you to have me again for tea.”

“Yes, Monsieur Lefebvre is responsible for my jewellery and its style,” Iphigénie murmurs, lifting her hand to her ear to touch a delicate silver ring and then her eyebrow at Raphael. “Plain silver, usually, but I’ve one or two more garnets besides those you’ve seen… My daughters-in-law have the family pieces and what gifts I received in Naamah’s service,” she explains matter-of-factly; “I rarely wore any of that anyway. Won’t you sit, monsieur? Our tea ought to come—” And there’s the lackey with the tray, sunlight glinting on polished silver as he makes his way across the lawn. “Very soon,” she concludes, smiling at the truth of her prediction.

Though it wasn’t a difficult one to make, given the servants were instructed to leave her to her work and bring her tea only when she had a guest to drink it with her. Her careful white hands continue putting away papers, marking places, closing her heavy legal texts: a scrap of parchment redeems her chain bracelet from its duties, but she has trouble fastening it about her wrist again. One link or another keeps escaping the little silver padlock.

Raphael takes his seat as invited, nodding his thanks and glancing toward the approach of the tray. “You are seldom idle,” he remarks, observing all these texts. “What work do I find you at today, I wonder?” His phrasing leaves a space for the refusal to answer without offending. Just after he asks, he reaches out his hands to take the bracelet if she will let him, so he might help her on with it. “May I?”

Iphigénie takes Raphael’s rhetorical question as a real one and answers it obligingly. “You might recall the state I found the house and garden in when I arrived in Marsilikos…” Turning to her left she yields her bracelet and her wrist to him without hesitation across the gap between sofa and chair. She places the little padlock open on the corner of the table, and then fishes a tiny silver key from the corner of her lap-desk’s open drawer and offers him that as well.

“… Thank you, monsieur,” she murmurs. “I took legal action recently against my niece’s caretakers to recover the wages they had done nothing to earn from her,” she goes on in an undertone, watching his hands at work, “and I’ve since become interested in the differences between Eisandine customary law and the Kusheline codes with which I’m more familiar.”

Meanwhile the books are gathered in at one end of the table, with the red-wrapped parcel on top; and the tide of afternoon tea rolls out luxuriously across the white linen cloth.

With care not to drop it — for it would be difficult to recover such a small key from the grass — Raphael accepts the key and locks Iphigénie into the bracelet once more. “I see,” he replies. “I cannot pretend ever to have read law or to know anything of Kusheline legal codes. My experience ends where courtesans’ and shopkeepers’ contracts do.”

He sits back again now that she’s secured in her jewelry, turning the key back over. “By the way, I had some news about the Vicomtesse de Gueret just before I set out. I think you’ve mentioned knowing her. It seems she’s had a similar trouble as I have. At least, I assume she met with a ruffian to put her in the infirmary. It’s a much darker story if it’s someone she knows. I’ll go and see her very soon to have the story from her directly.” He looks over at the arriving tea. “I hope I don’t ruin our tea in mentioning it, but it doesn’t seem right to conceal it, either.”

“… There is no reason you ought to know, monsieur,” Iphigénie points out mildly, looking up from her wrist to Raphael’s face, “not having lived in Kusheth. But I was used from time to time to help my late husband and my late brother with legal matters relating to their lands, and so I learnt a little. Thank you, monsieur,” she repeats, accepting the tiny silver key and the brush of fingertips which necessarily accompanies it. She affords Raphael a crooked smile in which he can surely read her amusement at being put in chains, even though she holds her own mean of escape and is tucking it safely away again in that corner of her lap-desk’s drawer.

Then as he relates Philomène’s misfortune her expression grows grave. “I had not heard tell of that, monsieur,” she says slowly. “The vicomtesse has missed two meetings with me, but I had reason to suppose she had been called home to l’Agnace at short notice… Perhaps it ought to have occurred to me to inquire farther into her whereabouts, but it didn’t,” she admits. “You did well to tell me; I must thank you for bringing me news of a friend, even at the expense of our tea.” Looking away now past the parterre garden, with a peculiarly brooding cast to her fine-boned features, she murmurs: “If you visit her before I do myself, will you please do me the favour of writing to tell me how she fares—? I should like to know more.”

Raphael himself cannot help but look satisfied to put the lady in her symbolic bondage, but the expression is muted given the grave topic that follows. “It’s possible that she was attacked on the road; I know very little but hope to learn more soon. I’ll write you about her condition. At the very least she is a tremendously tough woman. I am sure she will be bearing up as well as anyone could, if that is any comfort. Do you know her well?” he wonders.

The tea was already steeping as the lackey carried his tray across the flower lawn; with everything that’s needful arranged upon the table before her Iphigénie dismisses her servants with a look and removes the leaves with her own hands, preparatory to pouring.

“Do you think so?” she wonders aloud, supporting the pot carefully. “She struck me as having a brittle quality, for all her superficial strength. As though she’s holding on with both hands, and her teeth too… Perhaps I don’t,” she admits, “or perhaps I do.” Stirring the slightest possible taste of her excellent honey into Raphael’s cup, she muses, “How many meetings do you suppose it takes to know someone well, monsieur—?” This as her gaze lifts to meet his and she removes the spoon to offer him his cup and saucer with her usual grace.

Raphael’s head cants just a fraction. “Are you speaking of her body or her mind?” he wants to know. “For all that she is lame, I do believe her body is fairly strong, considering factors which she cannot change. Her feelings…are a different matter, perhaps.” The question seems to amuse him as he reaches out to accept this cup from his elegant hostess. “That depends entirely upon both of the people involved,” he says. “The Vicomtesse is terribly direct, so I would find it easy to believe that someone with particular interest in knowing her could learn about her quickly. However, I imagine there are yet people who have known her years and are not close with her.”

… Her body or her mind? "Oh, no, monsieur," and stirring fresh honey rather more generously into her own cup of tea Iphigénie shakes her head, "neither of those."

She looks as though she might say something more; but then she puts down her spoon, drinks deeply enough of her tea that she must surely have scalded her tongue on purpose, and changes the subject by shifting a few inches across on the sofa and reaching for that small parcel wrapped in vivid red silk, which has been sitting all this while in plain sight.

“A token only, monsieur,” she explains as she places it next to Raphael’s cup.

When Raphael unknots and unwraps red silk the texture of which is familiar to his touch he’ll find a book bound in sturdy dark red leather. Opened, it will prove to be a volume of scripture, bilingual in Habiru and d'Angeline, a text long favoured in Kusheth though it's part of no authorised edition elsewhere. It isn't inscribed, but if he flicks through to see what it is his eye will surely catch upon a passage about halfway through — most of one page, and part of the next — marked by being boxed in by three narrow parallel lines drawn close together in blood-red ink. It tells of Naamah’s daughter Mara, sired by a convicted murderer, who became Lord Kushiel’s handmaiden: the strength of her devotion to him, her service given purely for service’s sake without hope of reward, and yet the surpassing pleasure she found in her suffering. Toward the end it’s quite racy, if you like to read about demi-angels giving themselves without reserve or hesitation to the needs of a higher power, and bleeding, and weeping.

“Spiritually, she does not appear to be strengthened by much faith,” Raphael further answers, but that is as much as he will say now on the subject, since this object being presented to him warrants full attention. He brings it near and handles it carefully, unworking the knot with a quick gesture or two. He looks up from the wrapping to make eye contact that expresses his recognition of the garment. This wrapping is then set aside so that he may peruse the volume, nodding once when he recognizes what it is in general, and once more when he finds the marked page, which he spreads apart with the fingers of one hand so that he might read the boxed-in lines. Only when he’s done that does he look up again. “My first time reading this exact text,” he says. “How fine of you to share it with me in this way.” He smiles. “I find it very meaningful, thank you for choosing so thoughtfully.”

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

The first time Raphael looks up he finds Iphigénie with her hands clasped on the edge of the table, smiling demurely upon his discovery in the moment in which she knows his hands must have made it. The second time, when their eyes meet her shoulders lift and lower and she sighs lightly. Mmm. “Monsieur, how pleased I am that you like it,” she murmurs. “It is not easy, you know, to choose a gift for a gentleman who knows so well not to be dazzled… I did think you might like to meet that passage we discussed,” she admits. “It is an interpretation we appreciate in Kusheth, though it has found little favour elsewhere in recent centuries.”

And for a couple of minutes she indulges herself by elucidating the history of how this particularly Kusheline text has come through time’s mists, and its scrupulous preservation for eleven hundred years by the clerics of the Isle des Tombes. “… Nearer the beginning I think you’ll find another variant passage you might appreciate,” she suggests, and her voice subtly deepens and grows sonorous as she recites to him in d’Angeline a few lines— and then a few more, a Mandragian point of view upon Naamah’s liaison with the King of Persis, his submission to her whip and his unexampled joy therein. Again it’s more cruelly sensual than the standard edition; but Raphael must have heard it in his youth, in a Night Court salon established by two Shahrizais. It’s perhaps a little much for afternoon tea. Or is it?

This narration makes time for Raphael to enjoy a bit of the tea he’s been served. He flips toward the front to see whether he can spot the passage she quotes when she brings it up, glancing between words and his reciting hostess. “To be honest with you, it’s been many years since I’ve heard anyone tell that scripture,” he says when she has finished. “Although I’m sure it is still told more or less that way to the novices when they are given their religion lessons. It is fine to hear it aloud.” He closes the book and sets it aside, wrapping it loosely again in the garment it came in. “You have a fine memory for holy word.”

Beneath Raphael’s words Iphigénie breathes out an understanding, “Ah,” and she nods along as he explains. “A patch of Kusheline soil, transplanted to Eisande— how better to grow strong and healthy wild roses?” she suggests, bringing her cup to her lips. “I see why I felt so immediately at home under your roof.” She drinks deeply, to wet her throat after so much talk, and adds modestly, “Some things become lodged in one’s memory through custom, monsieur, and when one is reminded of them, there they are.” An inclination of her head toward him, as she reaches for the pot to pour tea for them both, names him the reminder.

“… Of course the original volume crumbled to dust long ago,” she adds, “and no one knows now who wrote it, or how it came to Kusheth.” She pauses to attend to honey-related matters, on second thoughts leaving Raphael’s cup alone and sweetening only her own. “The textual tradition associates it with the cult of Mara. My favourite theory,” she confides, “is that the author may have been Mara herself, telling of her mother’s earthly life and then her own— or that perhaps it was written by a woman who knew her particularly well. I think there is a certain feminine quality to the Habiru prose, and to some of the perspectives it records… Of course,” she acknowledges, shaking her head, “I must own to my prejudices.”

“Having no Habiru myself, I will take your word for it,” Raphael replies, inclining his head. “But of course we must be told something of the bedrock of our canon if we are to embody it,” he says. “How could a true Thorn be nurtured if he had not heard the details of the ecstasy the King of Persis received at the end of Naamah’s whip? Is it told differently in Elua, I wonder? I admit I never thought to question that, thinking only that each canon will have its own tradition.” He sips from the refreshed tea and regards his hostess in the meantime. “You have a certain scholarly nature,” he mentions. “I read books but I cannot say I have pursued many textual histories myself.”

“As a child in Elua I learnt the same version; but in those days the Dowayne of Valerian House was Kusheline by birth,” Iphigénie mentions, “which may have made a difference in the house’s religious teachings… But of course novices aren’t taught that no text survives a millennium without its share of accidental as well as deliberate alterations, that each era has its own fresh translations informed by its own concerns and opinions, that as each canon interprets Naamah’s story differently so does each religious order view holy scripture through the eyes of its own tutelary angel.” She gives him a wry smile. “It wouldn’t do to encourage such questioning of holy authority, would it? That makes a better hobby for the old than the young. We already know how little we can be certain about in life — and we have far too many free hours.”

“I agree that it is not necessary to begin with doubt and confusion,” Raphael allows, perhaps taking a slightly more conservative tone, although he can appreciate the humor in the last part of what she is saying, and he does smile. “I’m not sure I would say I have too many,” he replies. “Between the contract reviews and the novice training and the contracts I do take myself, I find I have just enough time to recover myself before I must do it all again.” He makes a gesture at the garden. “And you of course have been busy seeing to the restoration of this place…”

Iphigénie shakes her head again. “Ah, monsieur, you mistake me. I referred only to my own years — I’ve had ample proof lately that yours have not advanced far at all,” she drawls, with mischief glinting now in her eyes as she regards him across her teacup and pauses to take a sip by way of punctuation. “Though if you are hinting that you know not when you might have the leisure to visit me for something besides a cup of tea—” She restores her cup to her saucer and sets it down, with a light sigh which implies the inadequacy of such pleasures. “That I should regret, monsieur. I might have had a new flower to show you, too.”

Raphael lets out a brief laugh. “I believe you’ll find that they advance at the same speed as everyone else’s,” he replies, “But I hope the accumulation of years comes with commensurate benefits for us both. I see no reason why we should not continue to discover what those are.” His eyebrows loft slightly as he picks up a cup. “I would certainly consider an afternoon with you worth sacrificing a day at the baths for, even should my schedule be that tightly packed.” He sips the tea. “You know how much I appreciate your botanical gifts. How could I turn down the revelation of a new flower?”

“… Of course,” Iphigénie confides in a lower voice, “I haven’t entirely made up my mind where it would show to best advantage, in a garden with which I’m already well satisfied.” She glances about as if weighing one option against another, and shrugs elegantly. “Perhaps if you were to name a date, monsieur,” she suggests, “you would spur my decision.”

“Well then,” Raphael says without hesitation, “We ought not to delay long since I believe you are not entirely certain how much liberty you might have. Let us say the day after tomorrow if you have the time. We are lucky that your private garden is equally pleasant by rain or shine, so we will not need to consider the weather.” He looks satisfied to have a firm date on the table. “Terribly kind of you to receive me again.”

The next things on the table are papers Iphigénie draws out of her lap desk. Coy, she isn’t. “I had these copied from the other one,” she explains simply to Raphael as she sets a matched pair of contracts before him for his expert review, “to save your time and your hand, monsieur, if you were so good as to arrange a date with me. Perhaps you would fill it in as you wish—?” she suggests, a fingertip drawing his eye to a small gap left in each document for the purpose. The penmanship is far tidier than her own, the wording correct. “Unless there is anything you would alter?” she wonders aloud, her eyes wide and green and inquiring as they meet his.

One corner of Raphael’s mouth curls at his hostess’s boldness. “Tremendously thoughtful of you,” he replies, lowering his gaze to review the two documents for accuracy, despite his trust that she would hire the finest of copyists. “I consider the document fine as it stands,” he replies after taking the appropriate time for review. “And I suppose that since you have had it copied as it was, you feel the same way?”

Her tea temporarily forgotten, Iphigénie sits with her hands clasped in her lap and watches Raphael read over every word of this sacred bargain to be renewed between them. When he looks up and addresses her, she seems to return from some small private reverie: “Quite the same, monsieur,” she answers serenely a moment later. “Quite the same.”

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