(1311-08-09) Still Breathing
Summary: The ceremonial removal of Philomène’s stitches. No doubt she will take this to mean she is 100% cured and can go back to fighting in the streets. (Warning: Some references to medical stuff and the indignities of inhabiting a human body.)
RL Date: 18/08/2019 - 28/08/2019
Related: Between the hosts and the guests, Insufficiently Specific, Time Is Purple, the Incident at the Palace plot in general.
emmanuelle philomene 

La Maison Sanglante — Place des Mains

Directly abutting the walled compounds of Marsilikos's Night Court, and running in fact for some distance behind the Salon de la Rose Sauvage, is a house which boasts a far more modest frontage upon the Place des Mains d'Eisheth. Its name derives from a violent incident in its past; previous owners tried to redub it in the public mind, but the present ones embrace the term. By their design its three-storey façade of grey stone is shielded at street level by a high and forbidding wall of darker stone, into which is set a pair of intricately-wrought iron gates taller than any man who may ring the bell at their side. Kept locked, their curlicues of black iron are enlivened by a pattern of gilded keys.

Between the outer wall and the house stands a small stone courtyard lined at either side with wormwood trees, which impart a bitter and aromatic fragrance to the air within it. From it half a dozen stone steps rise to heavy doors of dark and ancient oak, studded with black iron and hung upon baroque hinges of the same; these open into a large, square, windowless chamber, occupying the full width of the building and yet higher than it is wide. At each side of the doors is a console table of dark purple marble veined with black, bolted to the wall above a pair of elaborate gilded legs and beneath a matching and equally baroque gilded mirror. There are no other furnishings. Sparse lighting is provided by candles in iron sconces bolted to pillars of the same purple marble, which pass into shadow on their way to support the vaulted ceiling overhead.

The light is, however, sufficient to permit examination of the frescoes which cover walls and ceiling alike from a height of perhaps four feet off the gleaming black and purple marble floor. An artist of great skill and anatomical knowledge has limned a series of scenes of Kushiel chastising sinners. Those who come to him for succour are shown enduring remarkably detailed torments before being transfigured by the raptures of his love… or, possibly, hers. In some panels Kushiel is a man and in some a woman, in others an unmistakable hermaphrodite: in all these incarnations the Punisher is depicted with the lean figure, the austere profile, and the hooded blue eyes of a lady who resides beneath this roof.

On the back wall this unconventional masterpiece is interrupted by the outlines of two single doors, and the elaborate black iron handles attached to each. The door on the left leads to an intimate receiving-room wherein a pair of studded black leather sofas frame a low, well-polished mahogany table. In here the walls are covered in frescoes of the Kusheline countryside, from the same brush.

Of the many unattractive phrases in the d’Angeline tongue, most of which Philomène herself utters on a daily basis, a serious new contender has arisen to be considered perhaps the most vile, the most frustrating, the most jaw-clenchingly vexatious: “Lady Shahrizai’s orders”.

It falls upon the ear with a particularly grating quality in the absence of the lady herself, who after hovering like a dark angel over Philomène’s bed for three days and interpolating herself stealthily into any number of opium dreams, without even being invited, is now just sitting on her arse in the Place des Mains and sending a steady stream of messengers with her infernal orders. She inquires after the patient’s progress twice daily, at a minimum, not counting any little inspirations she may have about diet and dosage. And the healers, quislings to a woman and still going about in pairs no matter how many memos Philomène may pen, are reporting back to the Maison Sanglante as though that dubious edifice were their headquarters rather than Eisheth’s temple. Every uncleaned plate? “Lady Shahrizai won’t be pleased.” Every bedpan in the night? “Lady Shahrizai’s growing concerned about your kidneys.”

The answer to that was not printable. Suffice it to say that Lady Shahrizai was invited to do something with her own kidneys, nobody else’s being any of her business.

That ten-day estimate for Philomène’s stay in the infirmary turns out to be her fault as well — who knew? — and shaving a single day off it in light of everybody’s general pleasure in her progress (not to mention, eagerness to see the back of her), requires an application to Lady Shahrizai and several hours spent stewing in anticipation of her answer.

When it comes it is not an unalloyed pleasure.

Yes, in light of the priestess’s comprehensive report, Lady Shahrizai is also pleased with Philomène’s recovery so far — but as she fully intends to remove her sutures herself, on the tenth day after she stitched up the wound, the vicomtesse may go home one day early only if she gives her pledge to call at the Maison Sanglante at noon one day later.

The ritual is different. Once Philomène has stumped up the front steps with her face set in anticipation of a purgatorial stroll through frescoed corridors to Emmanuelle’s lair, she is shown only as far as the small sitting-room at the rear of the Kushiel chamber, and invited by an impassive Baltasar Shahrizai to sit. Whether or not she takes such sensible advice is no concern of his: he leaves her there, with the door open, fruit and spring water and silver goblets on the table, and Emmanuelle’s black leather chirurgeon’s bag with the brass clasps planted solidly in the middle of one sofa, a placeholder for its owner soon to appear.

Under the circumstances today Philomène takes this advice. Not immediately, of course, because she still has to prove to herself that it’s her idea, but relatively soon after her arrival because falling down would be more embarrassing.

She does claim for herself a piece of fruit, mostly to be obtuse - is she ever really hungry enough to warrant it? - and sets about with a small knife to slice off tiny pieces to eat.

She has not yet risked returning to her usual brown riding jacket, partly because the fit is uncomfortably snug when parts of her are still so very tender and partly because she’s not yet got round to disguising the latest rent in the fabric with camouflaging stitches of leaves and vines. Instead, she’s arrived in shirtsleeves, a particularly billowy shirt, with an elegant if rather ancient silk scarf around her shoulders in place of an overcoat, and gives the general appearance of some sort of romantic poet today rather than hunter. She’s even gone to the trouble of applying minimal makeup so she doesn’t appear entirely dead as she’s made her way (in a carriage it must be said, rather than walking here) through the streets where anyone might see her and judge.

The bag sees her; the bag may well be judging her. Just making a start on its mistress’s behalf, you know? The first interruption to Philo vs Bag is a false alarm, though, a pair of white-faced and dark-gowned Kusheline maidservants depositing a basin and an ewer of steaming hot water, an untouched cake of Eisandine lavender soap in a small matching dish, and a quartet of folded towels. Clearly the business is to be addressed right here.

Emmanuelle is not long in coming, thereafter, her footfalls soft and regular upon the marble floor of the Kushiel chamber — she’s wearing black silk slippers in lieu of any kind of boots, and her foot kicking shut the door behind her makes a sound quite unlike the usual. Otherwise she is clad rather like her visitor, in dark breeches and a shirt several sizes too big, hers of lavender linen with tiny golden keys embroidered at the open collar and all around the untucked tails. Her sleeves are already rolled up over her lean, pale forearms. An Eisheth pendant rests at the hollow of her throat. That too has perhaps featured in Philomène’s poppy dreams, having hovered over her, gleaming, through such fraught and vulnerable hours.

“Vicomtesse,” she drawls, sinking down easily upon the opposite sofa, next to her bag. She loosens the knees of her breeches and smooths a wayward shirt-tail. A keen, or maybe an unkind, observer might note that she’s put on weight this summer. “Still breathing?” she inquires, meeting her visitor’s gaze across the table with all her usual inexorable blue diamond chill, belied by the quirk of a bold dark brow. “How did you sleep last night?”

“Still breathing,” Philomène confirms, slicing off another piece of the fruit then leaving the remains and her knife on the table in front of her and leaning back with forced casualness to eat it. “I’ve no intention to stop any time soon, either.” She fixes her gaze on the Shahrizai for a long few moments, nibbling on the unspecific fruit, as though trying to gauge something or other. Finally she dips her head. “I slept well. In my own bed, uninterrupted. Thank you.”

There, the thank you is done. She doesn’t have to do it again now. And if we’re perfectly honest, the reason for such a good night’s sleep had less to do with her own bed and rather more to do with the stash of schnapps she’d left beside it which is now a considerably smaller stash of schnapps. No doubt that’s also responsible for the way she looks more alive today than she did yesterday on leaving the infirmary.

By the light of an unusual number of candles burning in cast-iron stands Emmanuelle is already flicking open the clasps of her bag and withdrawing bandages, salve, a knife smaller and sharper than the specimen with which Philomène has been addressing the unspecific fruit. She sits forward then and pours water to wash her hands, answering reluctant thanks with a brisk nod. Of course the patient is grateful; of course the patient hates to admit it.

“Good,” she says. Splash, splash. The scent of lavender is released into the air as she scrubs. “You’re welcome, Philomène. Get your shirt off, or shall I help you with it—? I can’t imagine lifting your arms gives you much pleasure at the moment,” she speculates, eyeing her.

“At least today you gave me dinner first,” Philomène decides, nodding to the remains of the fruit and finishing the piece in her hand. She licks her fingers of any remaining juice, and begins setting about the buttons. “I would appreciate the help,” she adds, voice quiet enough that perhaps nobody else might hear it. “I’ve found that dressing can be a strain still. Bathing worse yet, so I should apologise in advance.” Of course she has a maid to help with sponge baths and so forth, but this is a woman who has spent the majority of her life in a scrupulous bathing routine, who scrubs things down with harsh soaps for fun, so any tiny hint that she’s not absolutely clean in every way must be mortifying.

Emmanuelle shakes droplets of water from her hands and, reaching for the top towel in the pile, attacks Philomène on the least vulnerable of those three fronts.

“That,” she pronounces, casting a disdainful look at the fragments of fruit upon the plate and then meeting Philo’s eyes, “is hardly a meal. Except perhaps for the vicomtesse de Gueret,” she theorises, rising as she dries her hands, “who seems to have laboured for some days under the delusion that the priesthood of Eisheth were attempting to poison her… Try not,” she advises as she steps around the table to join the other woman upon the other sofa, “to punch me or kick me, Philomène.” She drops the towel on the table and curves her hand and her forearm about her belly, stretching her lavender linen shirt taut. On a figure as lean as hers the extra weight is immediately revealed as about half a pregnancy. “I’m getting enough of that from this little bastard,” she drawls, sinking down next to her patient and reaching out with scrupulously clean white hands to strip away Philo’s scarf and take over unbuttoning her shirt.

“Ah, well, if I’d known I had a proxy to punch and kick on my behalf, I should have stayed at home,” Philomène quips, shrugging off the assistance with the buttons at least, but relenting when it comes to peeling the material back from her shoulders and torso, that being the movement that causes her considerable issues.

“I don’t think I punched you… did I?” she adds, suddenly very aware that there are distinct gaps in her memory. “I don’t think I’ve been entirely myself for a few days. I remember some things, but not others.” She purses her lips, turning her head to narrow her eyes at the Shahrizai, as though somehow she might be able thus to divine exactly what of her memories is true and what is false and what is completely missing.

Their four hands get rid of the shirt in short order; Emmanuelle drapes it casually over the back of the sofa and sets about unwinding the bandages from Philomène’s chest. Neatly done by an acolyte at the infirmary, yesterday; today’s she’ll see to their replacement herself; anything after that, Eisheth only knows. “No,” she answers, flicking a glance up at the patient’s face as she works, “but you did try to punch a young acolyte who was dressing your wound. I stopped you just in time and gave orders that after that they must always attend you in pairs, to keep you from doing something you might regret — or to ensure a witness, if you did.” Either outcome seems to be acceptable to the Shahrizai, who outlines them with equal dispassion.

“Will you get me the girl’s name?” Philomène exhales, hand going briefly to the bridge of her nose, before the unwinding of bandages means that she has to lower her arm rather than be in the way. “Hitting somebody… it’s not like me.” She honestly believes this, too. “Not unless they’re fighting back, at least. I had… odd dreams. She may have been something more dangerous in my dreams.”

As the bandages slowly come away and the stitching becomes visible, the Chalasse closes her eyes as though perhaps that will stop the mockery being there at all. “And in your dreams I was a shirt or a jacket, was I?”

“Keep still. And don’t talk shit,” directs Emmanuelle, wadding up the used bandage and dropping it upon the used towel with a hand which moves gracefully onward to collect her knife; “it’s entirely like you. I don’t know her name,” a touch of aristocratic loftiness there, “but I imagine the incident made the rounds far enough that anyone at the infirmary could tell you, when you go in next week, to whom you’ll wish to address that particular side of bacon. You might honour Baltasar as well,” she adds absently, and her hand on Philomène’s shoulder tilts her torso just a few degrees the other way to throw more light upon the neatly-sutured wound she’s examining. “The girl upset the basin in her lap and Baltasar was up all night cleansing my favourite boots of your diluted blood… You complimented my stitching once,” she reminds the patient, looking up again to meet her eyes. “I thought in the moment that I’d give you something pretty.”

“You’re an arsehole,” Philomène responds, propping herself up on one arm so she can lean in the direction suggested. “Which boots?”

Emmanuelle raises an eyebrow at that. Her small, highly-polished knife twirls about between skilled fingers, and then she looks down and commences to unpick her embroidery, stitch by stitch, that leaf-skeleton so evocative of Philomène’s favourite jacket. Fragments of black silk thread, drawn tenderly away by the fingertips of her other hand, slowly litter her discarded towel in company with the soiled bandage. Still, the task doesn’t occupy her full attention, and after a moment or two she resumes speaking, just as mildly and absently. “The flat black riding boots from my shoemaker in Elua, who died last year. Extra buckles about the calf, lining of royal purple silk, slight lifts built in because I’m fucking short,” she explains without rancour. “The only pair I still find comfortable with my ankles twice the size they ought to be.”

Using her free hand, Philomène does the best she can to help the procedure, lifting her breast to keep the skin taut around the angry lines of the still healing scar. With every stitch that’s drawn out, leaving behind a tiny red dot, her muscles tense and quiver, but she restrains herself from striking anyone today. “I can’t say I ever enjoyed pregnancy,” she notes, wrinkling her nose. “Especially not in the summer. If I were designing the whole system from scratch, we’d lay eggs and bury the damn things.”

As ever Emmanuelle’s touch is exquisitely professional, the pain she gives no more than necessary despite her own admitted proclivities. “I enjoy it,” she admits, with another dainty touch of her knife, “most of the time, even though I bitch about it. Creating an entirely new human creature, a life that will unfold gloriously with each passing year and endure far beyond one’s own — what could be more powerful than that?” she suggests, glancing up at Philomène’s face with a satisfied red smile curving into place upon her own pallid visage.

“This past week or so my belly suddenly popped out,” she goes on, resuming operations. “I don’t intend to show it to the world yet, and so I stopped calling at the infirmary. You understand.”

“I’d just assumed you were trying long distance torture,” Philomène notes drily, gritting her teeth for a moment as one of the stitches catches before it comes free. “Waiting until I was so out of my mind with being stuck in there that I’d even be pleased to see you. Were you responsible for the reading material, too?”

She exhales upwards where the effort of not flinching, not wincing, not complaining is causing the sweat to form on her forehead again. For all she might be attempting to pass it off as minor, she’s still very much recovering. “When you’re confined with your new crotchfruit I’ll send you something equally as tedious to read.”

“Around midwinter,” Emmanuelle supplies, severing the last thread; “you’ve plenty of time to consider an appropriate gift. But I didn’t send you anything to read,” she disclaims, laying down knife and thread both and then drawing the washbasin nearer across the table, “only such meals as I hoped might aid you in regaining your strength. Nothing too sweet,” and she applies soap to cloth, “or too heavy, though the steak was from me. Eisheth’s refectory hasn’t such good cuts. I never ate there when I was training,” she observes with a sniff, as she wrings out the cloth and begins gently to cleanse the patient’s pink and healing sword-wound.

“… Except when I was carrying Dorimène,” she adds, reminded perhaps by her present state, “when at the end of a day’s classes and dissections and examinations I’d have eaten the tiles off the roof if they’d been done in a decent sauce Béarnaise.”

“When all you’re doing is lying there, you don’t tend to work up an appetite,” Philomène argues her case, blowing cool air upwards again as the soapy water stings. “I’ll be pleased when I’m on horseback again, out in the fresh air, and want to come back in to a steak. Or a piece of fish. Besides,” she confides, brows lowering, “it’s not particularly thrilling to have to empty one’s bowels in the infirmary. The less opportunity for that the better.”

“Yes, I heard about that,” her chirurgeon drawls. The cloth in her hand roams now farther afield across those expanses of Philomène lately confined beneath bandages in high summer, or otherwise inaccessible— though she doesn’t say a word about it, only keeps washing. “Light exercise will be in every way beneficial to your recovery,” she adds, “provided that you heed what warnings your body may give you. I know you are accustomed to pushing yourself as hard as you can, but with lung tissue still knitting together inside you I must advise caution… At least,” another flicked glance, “if you do intend to continue breathing. If you were to tear open again that fragile part of your lung, in a place where you were alone, or among others who didn’t understand what was happening to you, you might well perish of it.”

Philomène accepts these ministrations without complaint today. Either she’s too tired, too sticky, or too far from her normal belligerent self to argue. “I do think,” she notes quietly, “that at least one of us ought to continue breathing, yes. Define ‘light exercise’?” she demands, tilting her body to let Emmanuelle get at the areas she’s not been able to reach. “Riding? Walking? Sex? Fighting? Where’s the line?”

It helps, perhaps, that Emmanuelle neither asks nor offers, but just carries on with what she’s doing as though Philomène were one of her own sides of good Gueret meat.

“One of us?” she drawls. “I assure you, I’ve no intention of dying in childbed at my age — that would be patently absurd,” she pronounces. Then, rinsing and soaping the cloth again, she obligingly pursues those harder-to-reach areas, with her touch growing satisfyingly firmer the farther it strays from Philomène’s healing chest-wound. She clarifies. “Absolutely no fighting; you only asked me that to be a shit. And unless you’re the laziest shit alive, I’d avoid sex for the time being,” she says frankly. “I’d give you another week at least before you ought to be on horseback, better two, and keep to a gentle pace at first. See how you feel in the saddle, for a few hours, before you work up to a canter. Walking you may do — but I recommend that you have a companion if possible, and that you never get too far from a place where you can sit down comfortably. It will be gradual,” she stresses, “but I see no reason why this won’t heal. I do superb work,” she drawls, favouring her patient with that maddening red smile.

Truthfully, Philomène has overheard a number of compliments upon that work and its efficacy, voiced by priests and acolytes of Eisheth who ought to know their onions.

“So this week I’m limited to a small walk, if I have a minder with me, and if I stop every ten paces for a sit down and a cup of tea,” Philomène notes scornfully. “It’s a single bloody wound, and I’m not 84 years old. It can damn well do as it’s told and get healed up. I’m not spending the rest of this year dicking about in case it decides to be a prick. I’ll stop if I can’t breathe, is that enough? Maybe if I could get some sort of instructions to take with me in case of an emergency…?”

“I am telling you,” Emmanuelle elaborates, with admirable coolness and more hot water, “that there will be moments when you can’t breathe and that you ought to plan for them, as any sensible person would do when recovering from a chest wound. If you’re unfamiliar with such contingencies, I can only imagine it is because most Camaeline soldiers who take such wounds die on the field, rather than living to plague their chirurgeons. I appreciate that you may not know which organs are contained within your chest, or how they operate, but surely you’re aware of how efficiently a sword in the chest dispatches an enemy—?”

There’s a long pause, then a counter, albeit a slightly puzzled one. “You had time to decide to embroider a damn leaf into me, Lady Shahrizai. Surely it can’t have been that bad?”

On which note Emmanuelle pauses to regard her patient. “The inspiration of a moment,” she disclaims, “when the wound was already clamped shut. I stitched it a little differently from usual and in little more time. Had you arrived at the infirmary a handful of minutes later, Philomène,” she states with absolute cold certainty, “you would have left it in a wooden box.”

Philomène turns her head to look the woman over, eyeing every line in her face, the way she holds her head, the continued highly competent work she continues to do, and the miraculous way the priests have spoken of her work. It’s possible that she might have to grudgingly admit that actually yes, it was that bad.

She lifts her chin, always the sign that she’s made up her mind to get some sort of unpleasant business over and done with, and given that Emmanelle’s hands are both currently in use so shaking one is out of the question, instead she briefly touches the other woman’s knee, gives a nod, and then a frank, “Thank you, Lady Shahrizai.”

That knee is by now resting against Philomène’s own, such are the demands of an impromptu sponge-bath. The recollection of another such touch brings a crooked smile to Emmanuelle’s lips, but she says nothing of it. “You’re welcome,” is her answer instead, “though it was no more than my duty, and the fulfillment of my oath.” She pauses, and with a gentle hand draws Philomène nearer — almost into a sideways embrace — to employ her warm cloth in cleansing a residue of soap from her back. “… Though you may if you wish thank me for the dosage of opium you were enjoying in those first days,” she drawls. “You’d have been on far shorter rations if I hadn’t been there to tell them you had a tolerance. Did they tell you how many times your breath stopped—?” she demands lightly, and releases her. “Seven times.”

“But,” Philomène responds with a half smile, “I started breathing again, didn’t I? Too bloody stubborn to stop for good. If I couldn’t breathe I wouldn’t be able to call you names, and that’s enough of an incentive to keep going, isn’t it?”

She runs her hands through what is by now not the cleanest of hair, but that’s a minor consideration with the relief of finally at least having the majority of her clean. “I should probably then also thank you for your continued expertise. If your oath is now fulfilled, that means this today is yet another debt I owe you. I’m going to run out of fucking pigs at this rate.”

“If that’s your pleasure,” drawls Emmanuelle with one last strategic swipe of the washcloth. She adds it to her pile of rejects, and then applies a soft fluffy dry towel in its stead. “But my oath,” she goes on, “is not the kind of which lends itself to fulfillment. I pledged to Eisheth that I would work more as a chirurgeon, in her name,” she explains, “and in the next breath I asked her to bless me with another child. But the one does not, must not, depend upon the other. I’d be doing this work now,” she declares briskly, “whether or not my belly was swelling again.”

“I thought we established that I’m to have no pleasure for at least a few weeks,” Philomène smirks, claiming a corner of the towel to dry off the parts she can easily reach. “I am pleased for you, however, so perhaps that counts. I might yet seek out a particularly boring treatise for you to read in the depths of midwinter, but you’d probably find a way to turn that to your advantage. Things do seem to be working out for you on the whole.”

“Perhaps you’ve a limited idea of pleasure,” drawls Emmanuelle, though when between them they’ve plied the towel sufficiently she adds it to the pile and then sits back for a moment to regard her patient squarely. “Thank you, Philomène,” she says quietly. The fact she’s addressing a woman sitting there topless doesn’t seem to occur to her at all. “I gather you’ve been unsatisfied with your reading material of late. Would you care to try a new guide to battlefield medicine I’ve had the opportunity to read in manuscript—?” she suggests. “The procedure I performed upon you was one I had never done before, but I’d just read so excellent a description of it that I knew precisely what was needful. Better, I think, than the Eisandine priest I overruled,” she admits, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

“Riding, fighting, sex…” Philomène rattles off, counting these on her fingers and raising a brow at her companion. “The finest pleasures in life, all denied to me. If your manuscript on battlefield medicine is the closest I can get to pleasure in the meantime, though, I’d be much obliged. Are there diagrams? I don’t have a background in medicine, so I fear some of the terminology may be beyond me.”

“Then you can research it,” is Emmanuelle’s unsympathetic rejoinder as she opens a jar and, eyeing the patient, daubs a pungent and burning salve upon her wound with cautious fingertips. Anything so disagreeable must be healthy, yes—? She relents so far as to admit that, “There are a number of hand-coloured plates,” before wiping off the residue of the salve upon the corner of the washcloth, and reaching for the clean bandages she left out earlier. “Shall I send it to you, or would you care to visit my library? The very definition, perhaps,” and is that a faint smirk, “of a gentle stroll with a suitable companion.” Though she’s serious when she adds, “I think it not unreasonably far; I would not see harm come to you, Philomène.”

Application of the salve prompts a stream of unladylike language, some of it so colourfully explicit as to make one wonder exactly what sort of opium infused dreams she’s been having, but Philomène maintains enough self control to wince and tense and swear but not, crucially, to lash out at her chirurgeon. At least not physically. Really, after all this, it’s the healing tincture that causes her the most distress? More likely it’s just an excuse to get rid of some of the pent up pain and anger now she’s in a position to control it.

It’s only after a number of shallow breaths, a shiver, and a slump of her shoulders as the bandages start going back on that Philomène gives a small nod. “Gentle stroll,” she finally echoes. “Motherfucking shitcunt.”

The language wafts past Emmanuelle without garnering any noticeable reaction: she’s swift about the bandaging, her hands and her half-bare arms moving again and again about Philomène’s torso until she’s satisfied with her work and ties it off with a small, pleased smile. Very neat. Very orderly. She likes that. “It will probably still be agony for you,” she drawls, rising with one hand wrapped about her growing belly, “but I’ve sofas just as fine in the library.” She catches up Philomène’s shirt from the back of the sofa and, leaning over her, helps her into it one arm at a time, though then she leaves her to do up her own damn buttons.

“What are the chances,” Philomène asks as with slightly shaky hands she fumbles with her buttons, “of a little drink when we get there? I’m intrigued to see your library, though. Half of it medical texts and the other half horrific depictions of torture, is it?”

“You’ll never know if you don’t come and look,” Emmanuelle points out mildly, without rising to the bait. “Though you may find that those two categories of texts resemble one another with remarkable exactitude.” She sits down across from her re-buttoning patient and has recourse again to soap and water to wash her hands and her wrists. “I don’t drink when I’m breeding,” she mentions, “but given the extent to which I imagine you’ve been imbibing since the last time you called upon me here, I see no reason to beat you away from the decanter.”

Aha! It must have been those evil priests who emptied her flask, then, Philomène reasons, her jaw setting once again as she considers her best course of action against those thieving bastards. She steadies both hands on the seat of the sofa, closing her eyes and steeling herself for the herculean effort of getting to her feet, and after a moment just about manages to stand. It’s the combination of the leg injury, which has always forced her to use abdominal muscles when standing, and the chest injury which screams out at her for using those. “If I’m honest,” she admits, eyes finally opening again once she’s steadier on her feet, “I was hoping for a beer. You’ll join me in a beer, at least..?”

When her hands are clean and more or less dry Emmanuelle pours chilled spring water into a goblet and takes a couple of deep mouthfuls, eyeing Philomène as she does. Rest assured that no aspect of the struggle goes unnoted, despite the looseness of that poetic shirt.

“I only drink beer when I’m traveling,” she answers, setting down the goblet, “and when I find that the wine more nearly resembles vinegar. Better a good beer than a bad wine.” Her hand is on her belly as she rises, in another of those instinctive gestures of pregnant women which it seems she can’t or doesn’t resist, despite her usual masculine style. “Better for the digestion,” she pronounces. “Don’t forget your scarf. And you must tell me if I hurry you unduly.”

And she opens the door and leads the way out, through the Kushiel chamber and along the frescoed corridor beyond it, in no hurry and with one eye always upon the other woman.

Library — La Maison Sanglante

From a rabbit-warren of passages and narrow stairs and antechambers lacking any window through which one might orient oneself to the outside world, and most of which seem to be kept locked, few and privileged visitors emerge at length into the middle of what might be mistaken for an unusually well-read ruby.

Between a ceiling elaborately paneled in oak and something fine and dark red summoned from Khebbel-im-Akkad to fit the floor to a nicety, this chamber is lined to shoulder-height with glass-fronted oaken cabinets containing a monarch's ransom in books old and new. Different bindings, different tongues, different ages… Scrolls have their places too behind the protection of all that beveled glass, and bundles of manuscript pages tied up with red ribbons. Higher up the walls are covered in silk in pigeon's blood hues, gorgeously woven, red upon red. Various bronzes, marbles, and articles of Eastern porcelain are lined up along the tops of the book-cabinets, in a strictly symmetrical arrangement, well-spaced and balancing one another in colour and theme as well as mere position.

The furnishings are few and large, in dark wood and red velvet. Several chairs, a sofa. Over the monumental oak-framed hearth there hangs a double portrait in oils of the late Lady of Marsilikos and her consort Lord Edouard Shahrizai; opposite it, anchoring the other end of the chamber, stands an equally gargantuan oak desk with comfortably-upholstered campaign-style chairs to left and right, turned so that one might sit in either and face toward someone working at the desk. Upon the latter a heavily-wrought silver inkwell constitutes a sculpture in itself.

One woman recovering from a punctured lung and the other in her fifth month of pregnancy, they make indeed a tranquil progress up stairs (out of sheer chivalry Emmanuelle sends Philomène ahead of her) and along corridors and through locked antechambers, to all of which the mistress of the house possesses keys, upon a golden ring produced from a pocket of her black breeches. It’s a stretch of the recuperating vicomtesse’s powers, but her sheer bloodymindedness must surely carry her through until they’re in the cool red quiet of the library, and Emmanuelle is gesturing her toward the seating around the cold hearth whilst she herself stalks the other way, scanning the shelves, in pursuit of that medical treatise.

This time the only reason Philomène pauses before sitting is because the very act of sitting down is perhaps more exhausting, when her breathing is still limited, than clinging to the arm of the sofa for support and waiting until she has enough breath to risk putting her muscles through the difficulties of lowering herself into the seat. She doesn’t even have the strength to disguise it after what is after all a very short walk, but at least Emmanuelle is occupied in looking for books rather than staring at her recovering patient. Still, at length she finds herself seated, dabbing at a once again perspiring forehead with the back of one sleeve and waits in ragged-breathed almost silence.

“I am listening to your breath,” Emmanuelle remarks after a few moments of this, “and painful though it may be for you, I have heard nothing yet which alarms me as a chirurgeon. Perhaps you understand now why I advise that you walk with a companion, in these next weeks…”

As she speaks her eye is running along one shelf after another, until she espies a familiar shape and opens the glass door of a cabinet to withdraw a coverless volume with its pages loosely stitched together in red thread. She shuts the door and brings it across the chamber with her to where Philomène has subsided upon the sofa. Pregnant or no, she sits down next to her lightly by comparison. “I found it instructive,” she says simply, placing the manuscript upon the red velvet upholstery between them. “Wine or water, Philomène?”

“Wine, thank you,” As though she needed to ask. If she could get no other words out, if her breathing were restricted enough to a single demand, of course it would be booze.

She does then at least pick up the paper and turn back the first few pages, scanning past the inevitable introduction and dedications (to Lady Emmanuelle Shahrizai) in order to find the meat of it, even if she doesn’t understand a whole lot. “Who is this?” she adds, flicking back to the front and the small name inscribed there. “How did you come by it?”

Emmanuelle lets out a breath and then gets up, crossing the chamber again to where one of the book cabinets is in fact a drinks cabinet. Umpteen bottles and flagons reside behind leaded glass— and umpteen vessels from which to partake of them. As Philomène flicks and peruses she pours, and returns with one goblet of water and one of (slightly watered) red wine.

“… Well,” she drawls, musing as she sits down and offers her visitor the wine, “I don’t imagine he’d mind my mentioning that he was a patron of mine, many years ago. It was never a particular secret.” She shrugs. “He trained in chirurgy here in Eisande at the same time I did, but then he went to Camlach, where there was more work that appealed to him. And here,” she taps the manuscript with one black-lacquered fingernail, “we have the distillation of his work.”

"The name is familiar," Philomène explains herself once she has a little more background to work from. She absently smudges her thumb over the name on the front before taking a breath and flicking the manuscript open to the first illustrative plate. Yes, like a child, she'll turn to the pictures first. This particular one shows the safest and most efficient way to amputate various limbs, so she turns it to show Emmanuelle.

"And you wonder why I refer to your trade as butchers?"

Emmanuelle takes a reserved sip from her own goblet. “You had best always pray,” she drawls, “that you fall under the hand of a good butcher, who has studied such volumes, and who doesn’t flinch from employing upon your person the knowledge so gained.”

Philomène looks vaguely self-satisfied as she turns the page to the next detailed and somewhat gruesome slide, noting only, “We raise pigs, Lady Shahrizai. I’m under no illusions as to the necessity and worth of a good butcher. I’d hope, though, that when your people have had a leg off they don’t salt it and cure it and slice it into bacon.”

“I never have done,” Emmanuelle volunteers, “given that the flesh of pigs is altogether more worth one’s while.” She takes another mouthful of the plain water in her glass and then sets it down and gets back up onto her feet. “Do you wish to continue with the book, or no—?” she asks quietly. “I think it the best I have had on the subject in several years.”

If we’re honest, the Gueret is mostly looking at pictures at the moment as a distraction from the effort of having walked here, and the unseemly reminders from her own body that she’s not the tower of strength she’d like to believe. Emmanuelle’s question has her turning to a page at random to actually begin to read some of the small, neatly written text. She holds the book a little closer to her face - apparently her eyesight is also failing, or more likely she’s using it to shield any expressions from her chirurgeon. “I’d be obliged,” she admits with a small nod. “Something a bit more meaty, no pun intended, and less philosophical about the minutiae of theological debate about which I have no interest. No bloody wonder the priests are always so miserable if that’s what they’re given to read.”

“I enjoy the study of theology,” Emmanuelle admits, “but so too, these practical elements of medicine which may become useful at any time.” She gestures lightly towards Philomène’s torso. “Pure chance had me there at the right moment,” she grants; “pure chance, or Eisheth’s will. Are you ready to walk back again, and outside—? Or would you prefer to sit a while longer?” She herself is still standing, feet firmly planted, one hand on her hip. Her icy blue eyes are fixed upon Philomène’s face, examining her closely. “I’ve been watching you move; I am not certain of your capacity,” she admits, “but I hope you are a fair judge of what you can bear.”

“We shall just have to assume that the One God doesn’t yet want me,” Philomène notes drily. “He’s probably not yet finished building the cage to keep me in. I am genuinely sorry, though,” she adds, giving Emmanuelle a frank look. “For causing the healers any distress. I do recognise that they’re doing their best, even if my temper can on rare occasions get the better of me.”

Rare. Yes.

“Would you grant me another three or four minutes?” she asks, and perhaps that’s the most painful thing she’s had to do all day.

“Of course,” says Emmanuelle easily, and she sits down again on the sofa, not at the farthest end but close enough to Philomène that they might reach one another if they so desire.

“I don’t want you to drop dead in my house,” she adds, “and I appreciate your honesty, as any chirurgeon would.” She eyes her, that cold blue gaze seeming to draw all into itself without yielding anything in return. “… You were an absolute shit to the healers,” she mentions conversationally. “I may have made a mistake when I advised you to seek out someone you preferred to me. Eisheth has, whatever else, brought us together again.”

“I didn’t seek out a new chirurgeon,” Philomène responds, turning casually to the next page of the book before glancing up. “Cruelty isn’t my thing.”

Emmanuelle inhales. “Oh,” she drawls, eyeing her patient sideways, “so you say.” A beat. “I did crack your back and your hip whilst you were afloat upon poppies. That was my doing as well— had I not been there to explain that were accustomed to it, you’d have been on much shorter doses in those difficult early days,” she explains drily. “I’m sure you thought I cut it away too soon, but I did so in full knowledge of your tolerance and your capacity to endure pain. I chose to wake you a little early from the dream, perhaps. I thought you would prefer to be in your right mind, and to stop punching litlte girls forbidden to hit back. The pain, you can bear— can’t you?” she teases gently, her painted lips curving into a smile. “But you ought to be yourself. Even if it causes all my colleagues in Eisheth’s infirmary to curse your name.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t just find a girl who was allowed to punch back,” Philomène notes, lowering the book to her lap and folding it closed, her finger still in the page to mark it. “But then perhaps the excitement of a proper fight might have done for me, hm?”

Next to her Emmanuelle emits an airy, amused sound. “There may be such a Thorn girl in the city,” she drawls, and she lets out a breath, “but I don’t know her. And it might have done, if…?” Her red smile broadens. “Oh,” she murmurs, “so that’s your taste. Philomène, I didn’t know. I must beg your pardon,” she drawls, “for not sending you a fellow combatant… Have a little more wine if it will aid you,” she advises then. “I’d rather you didn’t sit forever. I’ll aid you as I can,” this too is serious, “but you understand I’m pregnant. I’ll have to piss again soon enough.”

Philomène was never going to turn down the option of more wine, was she? No, she’ll drain what she has and add a little more for luck, noting as she does, “I shouldn’t force you to sit too long, either. I’m well aware of the discomfort that piles can bring.” A fingertip taps the book, which she’s naturally had to set down so she can deal with the more pressing matter of filling her goblet. “May I take this with me to read? I can have my woman bring it back by the end of the week.”

Emmanuelle chuckles richly. “Take it,” she advises, “and send it back at your leisure. I did read it myself,” she drawls, “very recently, as well you know. I’d like to have it because it was a gift,” she admits, rising again and drifting across the chamber. “And most of the porcelain here is my eldest daughter’s gift… do you care for it?” she inquires, glancing back.

The vase toward which her gesture turns is squat but not ungraceful, its shape close to circular save for the narrowing of base and throat. Its whitish glaze is, on closer examination, slightly mottled — and if one looks very closely indeed, it isn’t quite symmetrical.

“It’s a very elegant piece,” Philomène decides after inspecting it for some moments, moments in which she subtly shifts her weight, her footing, and braces herself ready for the business of standing up. “Not what I’d expect of you. It’s light. Simple. Clean. None of your complicated imagery you like to put up around the house, or is that your father’s influence?” Question asked, partly as a distraction, she sets her jaw (yes, that remarkable jaw which does always draw the attention) and forces herself to silence as she pulls herself upright, with only a slight wobble and the formation of goosebumps on her skin for those paying close attention.

Not what she’d expect. Emmanuelle raises her bold dark eyebrows. But she lets it pass, until Philomène has duly elaborated. “The porcelain is almost all my daughter’s,” she says again, “that being her taste. My father superintended the frescoes. There are…”

And Philomène is rising and Emmanuelle watches closely— taking one step nearer, in case. “… Many chambers,” she continues, “that you have not seen, in some of which I feel my influence was more acute. But you know my jewel-box,” she drawls, “with the copper ceiling.” She moves ahead of Philomène, crossing toward the door of this long rectangular chamber, but still she casts a glance behind her to the woman following. Near the door her eyes narrow and she reaches up to catch hold of something from atop the bookcase beside it. A pale pink paper flower blooms in her palm as she escorts her visitor away.

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