(1311-09-08) Thinking About Bees
Summary: Two ailing women of deceptive appearance and unusual taste, dwelling together unexpectedly upon the subject of… bees.
RL Date: 08/09/2019 - 09/09/2019
Related: None
iphigenie ortolette 

An Imaginary Corridor — Ducal Palace


In an unregarded corridor of the Dome of the Lady, near to the offices wherein is carried out the quotidian business of administering that Lady's realm, is a bench of pale marble in the Hellenic style placed there for no other reason than that too great an expanse of empty space appears ungenerous and poor.

Seated upon it now is a gaunt and elderly woman in a plain high-necked gown dyed so deep and sanguinary a hue that its red may appear, from a distance, to be black. The many yards of fabric consecrated to her skirts reveal their richness in spilling over the end of the bench and gathering to conceal her feet. Her fluffy ice-white hair is sculpted in elegant waves, high up to reveal bright-polished silver earrings wrought by a master artisan to resemble the dangling tails of a whip; her paint fails to conceal the austerity of her countenance, her fine pale skin drawn over fine sharp bones. Clasped in her lap her hands seem impossibly white before the realisation that she owes their pallor, at least, to a pair of spotless white silk gloves. Resting against her thigh is an ebony walking-stick topped with a complicated silver ornament. She is alone.

The wall opposite her bench appears to be occupying her full attention: she hearkens, however, to the sound of wheels, and her half-profile becomes three-quarters as her large green eyes turn to Ortolette.

Unregarded these corridors may be — and unregarded, too, the great works that happen in them — but Duchies, and Kingdoms, are governed from labyrinthine suites such as these, and Ortolette, though she may never be the figurehead her mother is, nor either of her two beautiful and healthsome sisters, has well indoctrinated herself in its basement governances. And if she uncovers some useful information which could come to her benefit in making her personal investments and augmenting her private treasury, well.

Well.

She is hardly accustomed to see any but the servants and the secretaries passing by this way, much less dallying so far as to sit on that decorative bench which is now, and possibly within the first handful of times in its well-wrought life, becoming, too, a functional piece of furniture. Her own seat is functional in a multitude of ways, but no less elegant in form, cradling an Ortolette upon whom a late summer disquiet has settled as a damp in her lungs, making her breathing shallow and her angle of incline in her invalid's seat a degree or several more shallow in turn. She is dressed lightly for her perambulations, a simple, gauzy pink gown, but no less is wearing over her lap a sheepskin with carded wool dyed almost that same blood-scarlet color as the gown of the woman on the bench. Her hands both rest upon the wispy, carded fluff, and she marks the woman sitting there at a low angle from eyes that almost seem closed, and lifts a hand with a frail flutter of fingers to let Girard know to halt, which— well, he does. He does not venture to say anything in Ortolette's stead; she will speak on her own, if she will. For now, she does not, but the way in which she maintains that hand to keep Girard halted, it's expectant, somehow — waiting, perhaps, for the visitor to these halls to present herself.

Once it becomes apparent to her that the small ailing creature in the wheeled chair intends not to roll straight past her solitary bench, but to dally in a mood of unmistakable curiosity, Iphigénie's narrow corseted figure turns by a few degrees toward the chair, her skirts sighing softly with her motion. She places a hand upon the silver top of her cane, but more to steady its lean against her leg than because she has in the present moment any intention of rising.

Her Kusheline accent is as honeyed as the scent of her, perhaps drawn in belatedly via one of those shallow breaths: honey and blood oranges, the sweet underpinned by the remotest hint of something bitter, as her gentle low-pitched voice possesses in turn a lingering note of command. "Good morning," she ventures. "Lady Ortolette, I think—?" she suggests, though like any noblewoman resident in Marsilikos for more than five minutes she has heard the tales of La Malade Mereliot and how often the city has prepared to inter her. "What a pleasant surprise it is to meet you, here. We haven't been introduced — my name is Iphigénie Maignard."

<FS3> Ortolette rolls Politics: Good Success. (3 2 8 4 7 1 2 4 4 7)

Ortolette lets her hand join its twin back among the burgeoning wisps of reddened wool, then, with almost palpable effort, she moves the other to the side of her chair, whence she draws her glove and sets it, gleaming white against the blood-black red, into which she wheedles her other fingers and conspires amongst her will and her body to at least half-glove herself in preparation for presenting to this Lady Maignard a hand which she might come and touch in greeting without inviting too great a familiarity. "Lady Maignard," she whispers. "Well-met— yet, strangely, here in this passage. Surprise, yes, indeed. Usually so quiet." A pause. "Still so quiet," lips twitch at a smile, but don't quite make it. "What meditation holds you?"

"I was thinking about bees," Iphigénie answers, simply and honestly, regarding the business with the glove without visible pity or concern. The decencies are sometimes difficult— still, one endeavours. She smiles at Ortolette, her wine-red lips curving into an expression which mingles frankness with rue. "To tell you the plain truth, my lady, I found I could walk no further and I sent my maid out to my carriage to summon a lackey's aid. I have never seen a chair like yours," she admits softly, "but I can well imagine its value to you."

"About be-e-s," Ortolette's voice rasps on the long last vowel and she turns her head away into a cough against the chair's coverlet, her ribs aching into the motion, but, in the aftermath, her lungs are filled with a deeper breath and her eyes seem to open a little more fully. "Is there one loose in the hall? Ah— yes, my chair is very kind to me, Lady Maignard. It is the third one I have had built for my purposes. This one fits better than the last into my good man Girard's arms, that he need not lift me from it to carry me when there are stairs." The man himself gains a girlish smile, if a frail one, yet, before she makes an effort to turn herself a few inches over and look to Iphigénie more clearly. "Shall I wait with you until your help arrives? Tell me the color of your gown, it is difficult to tell in this light."

Iphigénie listens with interest to the lineage of Ortolette's chairs and her lips part to speak but then she waits, politely, until La Malade Mereliot has coughed and breathed her fill. "No, no, my lady," she assures her, "I have not seen a bee in your halls; I think we are too far from the gardens, here. I'd welcome your company if I don't detain you from amusements of your own elsewhere, which I see," another admiring glance over the chair, "you are well-equipped to reach. I'm sure they'll come for me soon," she adds, matter-of-factly. "My gown is red," and she smooths a hand over her skirts, her white-gloved fingers imposing order. "It amuses my consort," she confides, holding the girl's eyes with her own clear green Kusheline gaze, even as she dips her chin and indulges in a whimsical crooked smile, "to choose garments for me that approach sangoire."

"It sometimes happens that, lost, they wear their wings against the stone, and we find them crawling down the corridors," Ortolette presents the pastiche in frail, doll-like tones, touching lightly upon the tragedy and letting it loiter ghost-like in the air while she regards the color, its shade and the origins and causes thereof. "It amuses your consort to try at the edges of what is by law allowed you. That is a dangerous amusement, Lady Maignard. Though I can't but think you look well in it. How dark it seems in the lamplight— quite black."

"You must take heart, Lady Ortolette," advises Iphigénie gently; "where there is one bee there will be thousands more just like it, and when one of the colony is lost the others by an alchemy of their own share in what it may have known." She smiles, as if that weren't in its own way an uncanny idea if one thinks one's way through it. "Whereas no d'Angeline now living knows how to dye sangoire," she reminds the younger woman, "and so I believe I am safe enough to dress as I do in good d'Angeline cloth. My consort's amusement derives more from his very decided aesthetic tastes, which I gather you share, than his undoubted pull toward sharp-edged pleasures. I daresay this gown of mine is almost your own age," she teases, "and I have not yet been clapped in irons merely for appearing in it."

Ortolette sets her newly gloved hand back weakly upon her sternum, an affectation of heartful girlhood to be put in mind of the eternal collective soul of bees, as though she would be soothed by it from mourning the poor lost soldiers who wander the palace halls with their tattered wings— she who, were she ambulatory and with a suitable house-slipper upon her delicate foot, would just as well to press that slipper upon a wounded creature and leave it torn across the paving. Still, she is bidden take heart, and, my, does she do a fond impression of doing so. It's easy for such a doll-like expression to be read for innocence, and easy for her to fall back upon her maidenly habit of letting it be read just so while the Lady Maignard expounds on the profit she gains on men being dissimilar from bees. Her breath grows audible once more with a slow rasp on intake and exhale, and she does manage to return the teasing with a roughly sibilant: "Yet," before she falls once more to coughing, finding, this time, her cloth from where she had stowed her gloves, and bringing it up beside her head to cough upon it.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Iphigenie=Perception+Mind Vs Ortolette=Subterfuge+Presence
< Iphigenie: Great Success (6 7 5 1 7 8 5 1 3 3 2 4 8 7 2) Ortolette: Good Success (5 6 8 5 8 6 1 3)
< Net Result: Iphigenie wins - Solid Victory

<FS3> Iphigenie rolls Law: Great Success. (1 1 4 5 7 7 7 8 7 6)

But how often does the duchesse’s sweet-faced and unassuming middle daughter meet with a canny old Kusheline possessed of such long and intimate knowledge of the masks that sadism may wear—? Ortolette’s pretenses are wearing thin all over, since she allowed herself to be seen plucking a red rosebud and crushing its petals beneath that very slipper which might, were she in good health herself, threaten an ailing bee. Perhaps this moment, in which Iphigénie’s eloquent green eyes look straight into hers without being deceived, is a portent.

"How pleased I am to give you something to look forward to, Lady Ortolette," she says kindly, when her interlocutrice's present bout of coughing draws to an end. "Young people should always have a touch of optimism for the future, it's very becoming in you. Perhaps if you prevailed upon your lady mother, you might see that sumptuary statute revived in Eisande— I believe that it forms at present no part of the Eisandine code, having been struck off along with a great many other archaic and irrelevant accretions by one of your great-grandmothers who had a passion for clarity and simplicity. She did fine work, in the main — you ought to be proud of carrying her blood… The more I read the more I discover just how well and how wisely the women of your house have always governed," she suggests, "as queen bees of so warm and lovely and windswept a hive."

Her ear is caught then by footsteps.

She looks up to see her servants approaching round a turn in the corridor, and then down again to Ortolette’s pretty, rounded face. “My saviours,” she confides with a wry smile, “come to keep me from the fate of your lost bees. Lady Ortolette, a pleasure,” she says again— and their white-gloved hands do touch, once, not in greeting but in farewell.

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