(1311-08-07) The True Pull
Summary: Iphigénie calls on Philomène in the infirmary, well after the latter’s confinement therein has begun to wear upon her…
RL Date: 16/08/2019 - 17/08/2019
Related: Variant Passages, the Incident at the Palace plot in general.
iphigenie philomene 

Infirmary — Marsilikos

Situated within the beautiful greenery of the gardens of Eisheth, along the coastline not too far from the harbour and in view of the Citadel that guards the entrance to the port of Marsilikos, is the infirmary, a one storey building of white stone and simple architecture that has been enhanced with classical elements, as if inspired by the buildings of ancient Hellene culture. Traces of columns, half-worked into the walls can be found on all sides of the infirmary. An archway frames the sturdy oak door of the entrance, white stone worked with impressive masonry skill into a bas-relief, depicting a female in robes holding a roll of bandages and a vial of sorts to the left and a male healer to the right with a scroll in one hand, while the other is lifted in lecturing gesture, as if he were giving a medical diagnosis.

The hall beyond is agreeably cool during hot summers and kept warm in cold winters, through a large hearth that governs the center of the long wall to the right. It is here in this hall that the majority of patients will be treated immediately, and so there are a number of curtains that divide the space into areas with cots. In times of need, the space can be stacked up to hold two dozen beds. The vicinity of the gardens allows for the soothing tranquility of nature to become part of the process of recovery, chirping of birds, wisps of casual conversation reaching those inside through the line of arched windows that sit higher up at the walls. It also serves a source of lighting during the day, whereas a number of oil lamps at the walls are lighted during evenings and nights.

Close to the entrance, there is a door to the left that leads to the infirmary's office, where records of patients are being kept, along with other book keeping of supplies and the like. Another archway opens from the hall into a hallway, where secluded rooms are provided for harder cases, long-term treatments and those of higher standing and the wish for more privacy. These chambers are plain yet well kept, immaculately clean, with sheets of the more comfortable beds being changed regularly. In each chamber, an arched window offers light during the day, and a pair of two chairs offer seating to healers or the occasional visitor a patient may receive.

Not Philomène’s first visitor of the day, nor even in a high-necked dark green gown her most austerely dressed, Iphigénie Maignard arrives in the warmth of the afternoon preceded by a flushed acolyte and followed by a maid carrying a wicker basket of fresh summer fruit.

She stops on the threshold of the sickroom, her heavy skirts still swaying with their recent movement, and smiles inquiringly at Philo. “I hope I don’t disturb you, vicomtesse—?”

The acolyte flicks her a doubtful look, and straightens some things needlessly.

It would appear that Philomène is starting a collection of modestly dressed older women. If by a collection we mean two, that being the sum total of what we might loosely consider to be wellwishers of the female persuasion who have come to visit. Today’s visitor, though, perhaps to the shock and astonishment of the reddened acolyte, is actually greeted with something resembling both courtesy and pleasure. There’s a smile - a real, actual, genuine smile, for the first time this week, perhaps, since the poppy has been reduced and is no longer prompting such uncharacteristic things - and the recovering vicomtesse lifts one hand from the bedclothes to greet her visitor. “My dear Lady Maignard, not at all,” she insists. Her voice remains somewhat quiet and subdued in volume at least, but there’s still a hint of the old bite returning. “I assure you, a disturbance is exactly what I need.”

There’s another half smile, this one a little more self deprecating, as she lifts in the other hand as though to demonstrate how she’s been passing her time, a particularly well worn and thumbed copy of a religious treatise. Well, this is the temple of Eisheth. What else would one find lying around and provide to an incalcitrant patient? Philo is unamused by her diversions, but helpless to do anything but grasp at anything she can, of course.

Yes, even at the height of summer Iphigénie is tightly corseted and covered to her fingertips, her ankles, her unadorned throat— she’s immaculate, cautious, slow-moving as in answer to Philomène’s greeting she steps into the room, aiming toward the better of two chairs. “Then shall I sit with you for a little while?” she suggests lightly. “Nadège, you may put that down,” she adds to the maid at her heels, without turning. There ensues a power struggle in miniature, the acolyte reaching out her hands to resist the maid’s attempts to promote another rearrangement of the table by the bed, but then surrendering to a Look. The basket is deposited.

She who prompted the struggle meanwhile leans her weight upon her stick as she settles into the chair nearest the bed, and sighs as she smooths her skirts into a more perfect order. Her green eyes find Philomène’s. “My lady, they tell me you’ve been here a week… I didn’t realise,” she admits softly; “when I didn’t see you I imagined you had been called home to Gueret.”

“That would at least have been a less ignominious story,” Philomène admits, letting the treatise fall back to the covers without even bothering to mark her place. She leans back against the headboard, chin lifting as she steadies her breathing and prepares to spend the next few minutes at least in speech, and she’s spent enough time these last few days trying to force out words that she’s well practiced in the position and force to give the least discomfort.

“Dropped by a Skald barely more than a damn child. I’m slow,” she confesses, expression darkening. “But at least I had the balls to stand up to the bloody creature and not just stand around tutting, as though that’ll do anything.”

Iphigénie reaches instinctively toward the book, to examine it— she has just picked it up in silk-gloved fingers when Philomène’s words briefly arrest her motion and draw her gaze. “A Skald—?” she echoes then, and draws back with the book half-forgotten in her hand. “In Marsilikos? Has an armistice been declared?” she asks the other woman seriously.

“Of course not,” Philomène snaps back without thinking, irritability winning out over the fact that actually she rather likes this woman who’s come to visit. She wrinkles her nose, then tries to ameliorate her tone somewhat. “I just mean that if it had, we’d have had bells, fireworks, everything to announce the victory. No, it was a bloody spy.”

Iphigénie is unflappable, at least, in the face of her new friend’s vehement rejoinder; her chin lowers in a slight nod of agreement that yes, of course, it would necessarily be a victory, with Blessed Elua and all his angels on one’s side… A movement by the acolyte draws her eye and she turns toward the girl; “You may go,” she states, with Kusheline firmness that is soon obeyed. Then she looks again to Philomène, inclining forward. “I gather there is more to the tale than Monsieur Raphael knew,” she says slowly, considering each word, “when he came to tea with me yesterday. He told me only that you were injured and resting safely in the infirmary. My lady, will you tell me what happened? Or do you prefer not to tire yourself with speech?”

Philomène gives an unladylike snort, followed by a faint tightening of her features as that puts an unexpected strain on still healing areas. She exhales again to steady her breathing, fixing her gaze on Iphigénie. “What happened,” she explains carefully, “was that there was a Skald, with a blade, lurking outside the palace. I aimed to deal with it before it caused any more mischief, but…” She gestures vaguely to her still bandaged chest. “I’m slow. Out of practice. I should walk less and fight more.”

Or perhaps leave quashing the Skaldi menace to the young and able-bodied; but Iphigénie, gravely listening, forbears to overexcite the patient with any such insult. “A Skald,” she marvels again, resettling the book upon her knee. “And the palace guards did nothing?”

“From what I gather, the palace guards stepped in when I went down,” Philomène admits, pressing her lips together. “I assume that they had seen me and thought me well up to the task rather than interrupt.” She makes a noise of frustration, gesturing again to her most recent injury. “I suspect I’ve got old while I wasn’t looking, and I don’t like it one bit. But I imagine that’s not what you wanted to hear.” She exhales, touching a hand to her forehead. “I’m sorry, I was supposed to be training your gardener, wasn’t I?”

When Philomène indicates her bandaged chest Iphigénie tilts her head and gives a low ‘mm’ of recognition more than sympathy — and co-operates in changing the subject away from elderly madwomen lacking self-knowledge. “Think nothing of it,” she says then of her potential gardener; “you haven’t incommoded me at all by your injuries, vicomtesse, I wish only that I had known in time to visit you sooner. Infirmaries are tedious places, aren’t they? Particularly when,” she holds up the book, gesturing with it, “they give you nothing better than this to read. I believe it to have been a classic of seminaries everywhere in its day — but that day has passed. I wonder, had you given some offense to the healer who chose it for you?” she teases gently.

“I’ve been a model patient,” Philomène genuinely believes, shaking her head. “But the temple is short of acolytes and they’re very busy, from what I can gather. I did ask for paper and ink to put forward a few organisational suggestions to improve their efficiency, but it seems to have been forgotten about.”

Yes. It’s very inefficient. So very few minutes anyone seems able to spare for Philomène. Must be because they’re so busy. And the inexplicable way they always attend in pairs. Again, it’s just not a good use of limited resources.

Little by little the picture limned in broad strokes by the healers’ reactions to the name of Philomène d’Aiglemort de Chalasse, is coloured in by that lady’s very words.

“I see,” says Iphigénie diplomatically. “Of course the main temple in Eisande must be responsible for providing healers elsewhere in the province when they are needed; and there has been such a spate of shipwrecks from the summer storms… A difficult time of year, I imagine, for Eisheth’s order. Have they said how long they expect to keep you here, vicomtesse? I must admit,” she gestures, “it looks no trifling wound.”

“Trifling wounds wouldn’t have knocked me down,” Philomène reasons, reaching back to adjust her pillows, as though beating those into shape might substitute for beating anyone else into shape. “The chirurgeon insists I’ll be here another three or four days. I will not,” she adds with absolute certainty. “If I stay here much longer I’ll go mad.”

She pauses again for breath, frowning as the tiniest acts fatigue her. “Your girl. Is she still available?” The vicomtesse arches a brow and peers over to the white haired woman. “If I can convince these prison guards that I’ve a maid at home, I might have a better chance of escaping to freedom sooner.”

Iphigénie’s private opinion is that a feather might knock Philomène down, if wielded with sufficient force and at the right moment; but that too she keeps to herself, just listening, and narrowing her eyes slightly at the younger woman’s growing fatigue. It hasn’t even been a long conversation, yet, and there she is looking as if she’s been in a whole other fight…

“My thief, Caroline—?” she asks, by way of clarification. “Yes, I think so,” she admits. “You’re quite right, my lady, you would be wiser not to go home by yourself to an empty house. I am not certain she’d be a better nurse than she would a gardener, but if you were willing to take her on I might lend you my Nadège for an hour or two each day while you’re recovering your health. She knows a certain amount,” her mistress explains drily, “regarding the care of invalids.”

Meanwhile Nadège stands against the wall with her hands clasped behind her back and absolutely no expression upon her pale, personable Kusheline features.

The very word is enough to have Philomène exert herself to sit further upright, to fix on her face that neutral expression that hides whatever she might be feeling. Sure, her skin is still not exactly a healthy colour, and her voice is still crackly and soft, but she’s for sure going to pretend the hell out of being made of steel. Or iron. One of the two. “I,” she insists slowly, “am not, and will never be, an invalid.”

Eyeing this rather pronounced reaction she’s provoked Iphigénie turns her head a few degrees to the side, and raises her finely-drawn eyebrows. “My lady, I may have chosen too frank a term,” she says slowly, “but I hardly suggest your present state to be a permanent one. On the contrary, I submit that the swiftest means of reversing it is to allow yourself to accept a little help, in these present days, as surely any soldier must after taking such a wound.”

Philomène takes a moment to exhale, shoulders lowering a little from their defensive posture and her chin lowering from that proud way she has of jutting it forward when challenged on… well, frankly anything.

“I have never taken help easily,” she admits in what may be the understatement of the century. “I prefer to rely on myself than other people, but if your Caroline can push a broom around a floor and top up a glass and turn back a bed, that might be about enough to convince these gaolers that I can leave, and I’ll swallow my pride for that much at least.”

Again, she shifts the pillow behind her, finding no position in which it’s comfortable, which can only be expected after so many days in the same bed. “You don’t find it the same?” she queries, flicking a quick glance over to the other woman. “When people look at you as though you’re less than them, because your legs don’t do as they should, or your lungs are pierced, or you can’t keep up any longer in a fight? To admit that they might be right and ask for help? It’s… it’s so incredibly galling.”

“It is galling, sometimes,” admits Iphigénie slowly, “when someone assumes my mind has gone along with my knees, or that because I was a Valerian I mustn’t have had a mind to begin with.” A quick loft of an eyebrow; she and Philomène have had this talk before. “But I don’t scruple to ask for help, vicomtesse— because I had that schooling. Courtesans of my canon accept fewer and less frequent assignations than any others,” she explains matter-of-factly, “because we require time for the wounds left by one patron to heal, before we may assign with another. Every young Valerian likes to pretend that she is invincible and she can bear anything,” she drawls, shrugging her shoulders, “but we are taught to be honest and humble, and to ask for whatever help we may need in order to recover our health swiftly. It is to no one’s benefit for one to rush back to the bedchamber before one is ready to serve again, or to compound injury with injury. To risk oneself foolishly, to get into difficulties that might have been avoided by a word in time— I always think of that as the surest method of proving one’s detractors correct. Nadège,” she adds, again without turning, “will you please assist the vicomtesse with her pillows—?”

And unless Philomène, in receipt of that thoughtful little lecture, should still desire to fight her off with her bare fists, Iphigénie’s maid will perform a minor pillow miracle.

Philomène always desires a fight. It’s the core of her. You could strip away skin, flesh and bone, and still at the very centre would be a very small, very angry d’Aiglemort with her fists up ready. The maid’s attempts are greeted with a pointed glare and a rearrangement of the pillows back to uncomfortable, if only to make a point that she doesn’t need any help.

“I’m no Valerian,” she notes unnecessarily, although with the way she does seem to insist on adding to her own pain just to assuage her own pride, one has to wonder if she missed her calling in life. “Humility doesn’t suit me. Nor,” she adds with a wry smirk, “do I think there’s any pressing need for me to return to any bedchamber any time soon. I’ll heal at my own pace, by my own hand, and I’ll do that a damn sight better from my own house. Please don’t assume that I don’t appreciate the offer, because I do, given that it is given from a place of genuine compassion and willingness to help, but…” She shrugs a shoulder, then winces a little as that pulls at the delicate arrangement of sutures.

“I am not the same as you. Nor am I the same as Lady Shahrizai, nor Raphael, nor my husband, nor my daughters. What drives each of us is different,” she endeavours to explain, voice low and words deliberate. “There may be some similarities but we can’t let that trick us into thinking we are all of a mind. You are a Valerian who can no longer work, and I’m a soldier who can no longer fight. There’s a similarity, which I think may have brought us together. You do understand the pity that is offered, but I don’t believe you understand exactly how… how… frustrating it is? Do I mean frustrating? It angers me. Offers of help… they also anger me.”

She takes a moment to look at the other woman frankly. “You have learned to accept help. I have not. I would therefore offer you help, but I do not have to accept yours when you offer it to me.”

The maid’s step forward is soon succeeded by a step back, and an apologetic glance at her mistress: what can one do, manhandle the invalid and her pillows—? Iphigénie answers by patting the air, palm-down, to release Nadège from that particular command. Then her hand settles again upon the tedious treatise in her lap and her eyes find Philomène’s, and she listens with care, opening a deep well of intelligent silence for the other woman to pour words into at her own pace, with what shallow breath her bandaging permits her to draw.

At length she lets out a held breath and another low ‘mm’ indicative of thought. “… I think it is natural to seek similarities that may bind — but illuminating also to define the differences that are always present between any two people,” she suggests. “You and I have a fascinating set of both, vicomtesse, and surely that is the true pull between us.” She pauses. “I too have faced well-meaning friends who see a twist in my thinking and consider I would benefit from twisting it back the other way to become more as they are. They don’t see how much less I would have accomplished in my life, not only in Naamah’s service but for my family and for Kusheth, had I not my…” Choosing her words she tilts her head one way and then the other and makes an amused noise. “My particular perversities. Sometimes I’ve untwisted to a degree,” she admits, “but only when the choice and the purpose were my own, when I judged it to be conducive to my ends and beneficial to my soul. We twist in different directions, yes, you and I. But if it serves you similarly well, my lady — you are the only judge of it,” she concedes, “and I shall discipline my habit of making unwelcome offers. It may,” a faint smile, “do us both good.”

“Well, a challenge is always good for the soul, from where I stand,” Philomène insists with a quick, amused smile. “I think,” she posits, “that the issue always arises when one tries to distill a person into a few preconceived notions, hm? I’ll admit that my ideas of the strength of Valerians has been challenged, and for the better, through speaking with you and enjoying your company. But you’re not a Valerian. You are Iphigénie Maignard, a former courtesan, a lover of honey, and order, and a mother, and a frustrated keeper of lazy gardeners, you’re a scholar, a philosopher, a lawyer… there’s more to everyone than a single word, especially when that word fits so unusually.”

She touches her neck briefly, cracking it with an audible pop. “You could say the same of me, of course. A farmer with no land here, a trader with little to trade, a soldier who can’t fight, and a wife who has not a smidgen of interest in men. And so what am I? Invalid? I won’t accept that. Stubborn old fool… well, it’s a fair assessment, but it’s not the whole picture, you see what I’m getting at?”

“Oh, on the contrary,” says Iphigénie again, shamelessly appealing to the patient’s taste for debate, “it is a word that fits me unusually well, in the bedchamber in particular. We might say, one is not always in a bedchamber— and yet there you will find also the ideas of order, of service, and of devotion, that have governed all the rest of my life. There is more to anyone than a single word,” she echoes, “but if I am an arch, built up of all those myriad blocks you mention and the others you haven’t yet seen, that is my keystone. Absent my Valerian training and my perverse Valerian soul, I could never have borne such weights as I have done. Perhaps your keystone,” she suggests gently, and generously, “is your independence, vicomtesse. You would naturally not wish to allow some other stubborn old fool to chip away at it, mm?”

“Only under my own instruction and guidance,” Philomène allows, giving a small laugh which causes her to have to concentrate more fully on recovering her breath rather than arguing further. Probably a mercy. “But then,” she finally resumes, “perhaps that’s why the city life suits me so ill. Too many people who all want to do their own sculpting. Your bedchamber contains order, service and devotion, and mine remains empty, for my own independence and peace of mind. Or,” she admits, “because I’m too perverse to keep anyone there for long.”

Which is rather what Iphigénie was saying about the circumstances under which she, too, might bend principles— but rather than hammer home her point, she waits patiently until the coughing subsides and Philomène has breath to finish making her own. She contemplates passing her the glass of water from the bedside table but refrains even from that impertinence.

“You don’t like to be tied down, I understand that,” she agrees sympathetically, and then tilts her head and teases: “Perhaps you ought to try doing the tying, and the sculpting too.”

Stubborn she may be, but she’s not altogether suicidal. Philomène does take a moment or two to reach for her water, cradling it in her hands after she’s taken a sip. “I’ve always preferred a fair fight,” she points out, shooting the woman a sidelong look. “Equal terms. Or something resembling them. You can consider that another important block in my own arch.”

“I was jesting, to a degree,” Iphigénie admits, who has a puckish smile waiting to answer that look, “but now I feel bound to inquire again into those preconceived notions of yours, my lady. I have never felt unequal in the bedchamber or in any serious relation outside it,” she says simply, “and anyone who tried to make me feel so, was a person I swiftly dispensed with. Different, yes,” and she raises a scrupulous and discerning white silk finger, “but never unequal. I think if you consider that someone like me could not live or love on equal terms with you, that says rather more about you than about her, doesn’t it—?” she suggests gently.

Philomène once again shifts her pillows, this time to something resembling exactly what Nadège did earlier, but this time it’s on her terms. “My preference,” she replies easily, “for a fair fight does indeed reflect on me and not the company I choose to keep. If I would not enjoy being in that position, I will not put anyone else in it. I don’t have the talent for reading people. So if I have no interest in being sculpted into whatever form is required, so I won’t do the same to a woman I respect enough to take to my bedchamber.” She holds up a hand. “You think I insult you and your canon. No, I just don’t understand it and don’t have the skill or ability to recognise what is to me such a wholly alien pleasure.”

“And here we are again with similarities,” Iphigénie points out, still amused. “You don’t think it’s a little like the tale of Narcissus and his pool, seeking a lover who corresponds so closely to yourself, whose desires are a reflection of your own rather than a mystery to be discovered—? What of the complexity of her picture?” she suggests, sitting forward to slip the book she has been holding all this while onto the edge of the bedside table next to the basket of fruit. “This illusory woman neither of us has met… I must cease to vex you, my lady,” she apologises — for the ceasing, not the vexing, “for I’ve an appointment to go to. But if you’ve a key of your house,” she offers, for she hasn’t quite broken herself of her desire to be helpful, “I might see you have fresh linen and something in the pantry to eat, and send it back to you by Caroline’s hand so that you might meet her and tell her of your plans and her duties.”

Surely that is not unreasonable, even to Philomène. Surely.

“There’s a certain irony, is there not, when a servant of Naamah mocks a woman when her ‘love as thou wilt’ is limited to an ideal, and she’ll take nothing short of that?” Philomène waves a hand vaguely over towards the dresser where, presumably, her clothing and her things have been put since she was brought in. “There should be a key on the inside of my jacket, and I’d be obliged also for my flask if you have a moment. Perhaps you might send Caroline to me first, though, before sending her to my house?”

Nadège has been holding her mistress’s silver-topped walking stick. She provides it to her now, and takes Iphigénie’s nod — correctly — as an instruction to follow the line of Philomène’s lazy gesture toward the dresser. She soon finds key and flask both, but by then Iphigénie is changing her mind: “Then I’ll send you Caroline, vicomtesse, and leave the key and the rest to you. Too much back and forth tends to result in messages being missed, I think. I was teasing you,” she grants as she rises, knees popping, from her chair; “I was not mocking, I hope you understand that. But I know you enjoy debate, and I’ve always found too that defending one’s ideals and one’s beliefs is a fine way of refining them to one’s own greater satisfaction.”

And so Nadège replaces the key in the pocket where she found it and shuts the dresser drawer. The battered copper flask she sets down on the bedside table next to Philomène’s glass of water is, unsurprisingly given Emmanuelle Shahrizai has been in and out, empty.

“I wish you a swift recovery of your strength,” the former Valerian says seriously, in parting, “and swift justice in the matter of the Skald spy… The Lady of Marsilikos will surely be grateful to see her streets cleansed of such a threat to the safety of her people and her visitors.”

“I do very much appreciate your visit, your company and your debate,” Philomène responds, offering a small smile and then extending her hand in farewell. “Perhaps if I’m not yet escaped by the weekend you might find time to visit again, if your schedule permits?”

Iphigénie pledges to send someone to inquire and so, with the usual courtesies observed and the help of Nadège who appears efficient in every way necessary, the Maignard is shown out of what is now a far more calm and serene patient’s chamber.

Which quietude is shattered after no more than a minute by a metallic clang as the empty flask is flung in frustration at the door, narrowly missing an unfortunate acolyte who, hoping she might be asleep, had chanced that moment to poke her head in. That clang is followed by a shriek of frustration and rage, followed by the most uncharacteristic of sounds one would ever expect from the d’Aiglemort. But we all know Philomène would never cry. Must be an echo.

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