(1311-08-12) You Know What They Say About Rabbits
Summary: Raphael calls to discuss the news of the day with the mistress of the Maison Sanglante, who has taken to keeping rabbits. (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 09/09/2019 - 10/09/2019
Related: Other scenes with these characters; references to the Incident at the Palace plot.
emmanuelle raphael 

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.

They’ve hardly seen one another since their private but positively Lucullan feast celebrating his ascension to the rôle of Second of Thorns— the business of one and the private affairs of the other have seen to that amply. But a note in Emmanuelle’s hand, brief and bold as ever, invites Raphael to call next door on the following day if he has a few moments in which to discuss a small professional matter. She will be at home all day, she predicts.

Whenever he presents himself Raphael is expected— though there’s a small delay during which he is left in the Kushiel chamber whilst servants fan out through the byzantine and compartmentalised recesses of the Maison Sanglante simply to try to find Emmanuelle, or at least Baltasar, who has a sixth sense for her whereabouts. It seems she’s denned up in the library, a chamber he last visited when it was echoing with the strains of her violoncello. Today she’s seated behind the chamber’s massive oaken desk with the sleeves of her blue-grey linen shirt folded up about her elbows, and the only sound is the scritching of her quill as, painted lips pursed in an expression of distaste, she pens another note.

Her tone in addressing him is suggestive of a reprieve. “Raphael,” she drawls. “Sit down. What do you want to drink?” Which preference is solicited, of course, for the benefit of the maid who showed him in and who now hovers awaiting orders, dismissal, or possibly a beating. Emmanuelle herself has a pitcher and a goblet of something on a polished silver tray, nestled amongst a working mess of books, papers, and ribbons and waxes amounting to a rainbow.

"Uisghe," Raphael requests, knowing that she will have some of fine quality, and also that he will not be entertaining assignations on this day. "I'm interrupting your composition," he observes, though he does not apologize.

The maid doesn’t need to be told; she crosses the chamber to a certain cabinet nearer the cold hearth which contains neither books nor manuscripts, but many and various libations.

Emmanuelle’s countenance is deadpan now. “An errand of mercy,” she pronounces. She glances down at what she’s written; she turns it over upon a thick parchment blotter which was fresh a couple of hours ago and is now thoroughly stained with her favourite violet-black ink. “For which it is good of you,” she goes on, sitting back in her armchair and resting a dark-breeched knee against the edge of the desk, “to spare the time. I imagine you’ve been working like a Menekhetan,” she speculates, looking him up and down.

"It's true that I have had many duties to fill the hours," Raphael replies, neither overly humble nor arrogant in his tone; this is purely fact. "I'm sorry that we have not had much time to visit, but it is good of you to send me a note now." His tone, though not his words, implies that he suspects there may be a reason beyond the social that he has been summoned.

“Mm,” agrees Emmanuelle, likewise neutral in her tone. “I don’t approve of keeping Seconds yoked to their desks,” she admits; “it was done in the early years when we hadn’t the staff, and now the custom perpetuates itself because we’ve always done it that way in Marsilikos.” She flicks her gaze dismissively toward the library’s coffered ceiling. “And,” she adds more practically to Raphael, “we’ve no guild here to insist upon and guard its own traditional prerogatives.”

The maid meanwhile brings a half-full bottle of the finest Alban uisghe and a suitable vessel for it, and sets them upon the corner of the desk nearest the chair Raphael has chosen.

“On Mont Nuit,” the former Dowayne of Mandrake House goes on, “each house has a chancellor and clerks to attend to the writing and sealing of contracts, in which matters they’re very able because it is all that they do. I received each morning a report of the previous night’s work, with names and dates and sums, and notes made of anything which may have arisen that was out of the ordinary. Whatever documents I wanted to review I could then order specifically instead of having to look over everything myself,” she explains. “More time for teaching,” she adds more softly, “and the necessary politicking, and service itself.”

Raphael pours his own uisghe with the things that have been left for him, then laces his hands together as he listens to Emmanuelle. "And why is it that you tell me this now?" he wonders. "You have a mind to reform our system in Marsilikos?"

“I?” that erstwhile Dowayne drawls, raising an eyebrow at her visitor. “It would hardly be my place to promote policy for the Night Court of Marsilikos,” she points out coolly; “but it crossed my mind, seeing you again after all these weeks, that you’re wasted on paperwork.”

She lowers her knee and restores her foot to the floor and sits forward, and then takes up her silver goblet gleaming with condensation and sips the dark red liquid therein— knowing her, pomegranate juice. “I’ve another task to offer you if you care to take it up,” she admits, setting the goblet down again with a rich sound of silver upon silver. “A patron to lend to you for an assignation or two — longer, if you find one another congenial. Her present phantasy,” and she steeples her hands upon the edge of her laden desk and smiles crookedly at Raphael, “is more strenuous than I wish to undertake in my present state of health.”

Raphael sips the very fine whisky, and perhaps distracted by the appreciation of it, he begins to speak without thinking. "Oh," he says, "Are you…?" He was about to say 'ill.' But then he lifts his eyebrows a little. "I see. I may perhaps have room for another patron if I follow the path you're suggesting to me."

“Perhaps,” Emmanuelle agrees, with a feline smile across the desk at him. “She would be worth your while,” she admits softly; “she rarely sleeps with men but I’ve told her that, for what she desires, her choice in Marsilikos is to persuade you or to wait for me. There isn’t another pair of hands I’d put her in, unless you’ve a suggestion. And I don’t imagine she desires to go without her pleasure so far into the new year… I’m not ill,” she says matter-of-factly, answering that question she heard all too clearly though it was unspoken. “But in the winter— I am expecting,” and she strokes a hand down over her belly to draw his eye to the shape of it, hidden so far by her desk and the looseness of her shirt, “a baby bunny,” she drawls.

"Yes," Raphael says, dropping his eyes to his glass with amusement at her turn of phrase, "I had realized by the time I was halfway through the question." He brings his eyes back to his host. "You have my congratulations. And your rabbit must be aware of the matter?" His gaze wanders a moment as he considers the other subject. "I can be sensitive to her needs, I expect."

“Then I’ll send her to you to beg, shall I?” offers Emmanuelle amiably, sitting with her hand still upon the curve of her belly. “If she does so charmingly enough you may find you can make the time,” she predicts, knowing well enough the way of it. “I’ve given my rabbit a little hutch of his own under my roof,” she goes on, “and he lives here now when he’s in Marsilikos. He could hardly avoid knowing,” she drawls, “particularly given that his morning sickness was worse than mine.” She quirks her eyebrows. “I expect his ankles to swell up at any moment.”

"Yes, much obliged," Raphael replies, discussing this ordered begging casually, but not without interest. "But that is something, taking in one rabbit in preparation for another. You must take care, since conventional wisdom has it that they do multiply quickly."

“For once conventional wisdom is correct,” drawls the rabbit-fancier. She sits back again; her knee reappears above the desk, in what appears to be a favoured position at present. “I was,” a significant pause, and a further drying-out of her already arid tone, “astounded by how quickly my pretty pink bunny multiplied himself— when I supposed, in all reason, that it was a far-fetched hope.” Another eyebrow quirk. Her poor mood of a few minutes ago seems to have evaporated in contemplation of her own and her rabbit’s generative powers.

“I’ve been keeping to the house,” she admits next, “until I was ready to have it be known. But I’ve told him; I’ve told my father; I’ve told Armandine,” she lists briskly. Just her nearest and dearest, the duchesse d’Eisande. “I don’t mind to whom you speak of it, if you decide to gossip about me amongst your Thorns. Such secrets don’t hold forever.”

"Indeed," Raphael says quietly, gaze drifting briefly before he sips on the whiskey and then brings it back to Emmanuelle. "But it seems it is joyous news, so perhaps if it comes back to you on the wind it will only please you."

Emmanuelle regards Raphael levelly. “Fine words,” she drawls, “but you know as well as I do I’m inviting a storm. It can’t be helped,” she pronounces with quiet certainty; “I am as you know a model of discretion in my personal arrangements, but it is an inviolable principle of mine that on the rare occasions when I love a man, I have a child from him. This time people happen to know the man’s name. Eisande will be briefly titillated; Eisande will survive,” she predicts, and taps a black-lacquered nail upon the desk, three times. “And Eisande is at present,” she adds, “more occupied with our friend Philomène and her penchant for fighting in the street.”

Raphael nods at that last matter as well. "Yes," he says, perhaps preferring not to comment on the specifics of the trouble this child could bring. "I am sorry she was hurt. What do you make of the matter?"

Emmanuelle rests her hand upon her uplifted knee and considers. And then, in this question of health as well, she keeps to personal terms rather than political ones: a lesson learnt long ago from the handsome and commanding couple captured in oils at the farther end of the chamber and looking down even now upon their daughter. "It was I who sewed her up," she admits. "I had never inflated a lung before— it was an extraordinary sensation," she murmurs more slowly, to Raphael who has a connoisseur's taste in such things, "as though I were in the most literal sense breathing some of my life into her to rekindle her own… I would like to think that coming once again so near to death might teach our friend a modicum of caution," she drawls; "it didn't in her youth, but at our age mortality seems less abstract. Though that may be asking too much of her temperament."

"To be honest, I had never heard of anyone in recent memory managing such a thing successfully," Raphael replies. "I was amazed that you managed. But…come now," he says, expression going doubtful. "You cannot imagine she would become cautious as a result? Do you not think it will be the opposite?"

"Coming within a quarter of an hour of death and yet surviving might embolden anyone with a sense of invincibility," concedes Emmanuelle; "but consider also her nine days confined to bed in the infirmary, unable even to piss without asking for help; and her continuing state of frailty, which surely infuriates her every bit as much as it inconveniences her. She will be many weeks recovering even the strength she had before, which you know well was not enough to satisfy her. That loss of her self-sufficiency, that perhaps final descent into infirmity and old age," she states deadpan, "is what Philomène will not wish to risk again— if she should stop for a moment to consider the risk," she qualifies. Her eyes meet Raphael's in the cool recognition that to consider, is hardly Camaeline.

Raphael shakes his head a little to indicate his doubt. "I think she will be the more fierce to try to chase off any memory of frailty," he says. "I think she would sooner leap into death by the sword than be seen for one moment to retreat from it."

"… It would be ungentlemanly of us," Emmanuelle says after another moment, "to make a bet." She shrugs into her cushioned armchair, and leans forward to take up her goblet of pomegranate juice. "For a moment," she adds quietly between sips, "when I saw her stretched out on a board white as chalk with blood bubbling out of her chest cavity like a fountain of red wine, I wondered whether she had chosen a deliberate death by the sword." She smiles crookedly. "I think not, though. I don't imagine she would care to leave behind her so ignoble a memory, and a city talking of a foolish and feeble old woman who was so easily defeated.

"As for the procedure," she sets down her goblet and remains sitting quite upright, growing subtly more animated as her thoughts turn to chirurgy, "it is almost unknown in Eisande, of course, but it has succeeded a number of times in Camlach in the last handful of years. I was fortunate to have been reading in manuscript form a new treatise on battlefield medicine prepared by the healer who has pioneered it; he and I studied together, many years ago. I'd lend it to you," she offers, "but you'll have to get it from Philomène, who has my only copy. I thought she might find the drawings of what she calls 'butchery'…" A beat. A tilt of her head and her shining blue-black hair. "Instructive," she pronounces.

"A fight in the street is not exactly the death I imagine she has in mind," Raphael agrees, finishing off the uisghe in his glass. But he shakes his head at this medical manuscript. "I know the body, but I doubt I would understand much of the battlefield or medicine," he says. "Though the masters of each have my respect."

"The body is the body," Emmanuelle shrugs, "and infinite in its mysteries…" Round certain of which her hand curls again, in that ancient feminine gesture of protection it seems she's prone to despite the generally masculine nature of her own body's language. She nods to Raphael's almost-empty glass. "Have another one," she suggests, "and tell me the news of your rose garden."

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