(1311-09-09) Maybe A Little Ruin
Summary: Hugo starts his twentieth birthday right, with a superb cup of coffee.
RL Date: 09/09/2019 - 10/09/2019
Related: None
safiye hugo 

La Perle Noire — Grand Plaza

The face this establishment shows to the Grand Plaza is a window display of coffee beans in a fantastic blown-glass vase, against figured silk which changes with the seasons; and a pair of heavy oaken doors guarded by a swarthy, bearded, well-muscled man in Ephesian costume, who bows patrons out of Terre d'Ange and into a foreign land redolent of fine coffee and cinnamon and tobacco, lit by countless candles suspended each in a gleaming glass lantern from a ceiling that billows with ruby-red silk and cloth of gold. Layered carpets of many colours, intricately woven and warmed in winter by a hypocaust, soften the music of pipes and drums and mandolins that filters through this sanctuary of civilised pleasures. Here a friendship might be forged or renewed, a deal struck, or a day simply whiled away in Eastern opulence and ease, amidst the red and the gold and the smoke.

In the middle of the main lounge is a raised circular stage upon which an horologist's glass marks the lapse of two hours between performances by Ephesian dancing girls, or minstrels singing joyously in the tongue of that land, or even a local d'Angeline bard telling tall tales. Low tables of dark wood radiate therefrom, surrounded by lounging cushions and richly-upholstered divans; the outermost are set in alcoves which may for privacy's sake be screened by shimmering silken curtains. If one desires amusement, one may summon at any hour alluring dancers whose brass finger-cymbals chime to accent the undulations of their hips. If one wishes to smoke, one may command a water pipe. But the true business of the house is the coffee. Perfumed young men in loose trousers and embroidered tunics move to and fro like angels dispensing this liquid mercy: strong, fragrant, frothing kahve, brewed cup by cup from the fine-ground black pearls of Ephesium, served in elaborate copper vessels beside tall glasses of pure spring water and plates of esoteric and delectable foreign sweetmeats.

Several sets of doors at the rear of the lounge lead away to the kitchens; to a stairway ascending toward smaller chambers which may be reserved for private parties; and outside into a courtyard, open in fair weather.

The first few times Hugo de Trevalion’s present unaccustomed leisure for flânerie brings him to the new coffee-house in the Grand Plaza — it’s hard to go just once — he’s only another thirsty young fellow looking to have a zing put into his step courtesy of the real thing, which well-traveled as he is in the Mediterranean he knows at once when he tastes it. The perfumed waiters are perfectly prompt, perfectly cordial, perfectly uninterested in him.

Today, however, his wrought copper cup of strong, smooth, foaming, cardamom-fragrant coffee; his tall glass of pure spring water; and his few pieces of the lemon-flavoured sweet which the city’s cognoscenti are already calling Ephesian Delight, are brought to him by a woman he has probably glimpsed before moving about the lounge. She is of foreign aspect; not young; dressed in flowing silk garments in rich shades of turquoise, orange, and blue. She moves with the grace of a courtesan, pausing once or twice to exchange a word or a smile with other customers— until it becomes apparent from the direction of her silk-slippered feet, moving so lightly over one carpet and then the next, that Hugo is to be singled out for her attention.

She sinks to her knees across the low table from the divan he’s occupying, the tray borne in her hands as if it were weightless until the moment when she sets it down before him.

Then she clasps her hands together and her luminous dark brown eyes lift to meet his.

“My lord Trevalion,” she murmurs, her voice husky and velvety and unusually deep; “you honour my establishment with your repeated patronage. I brewed your coffee myself this morning, as a token of the pleasure it gives me to provide for such distinguished customers.”

To which the young man breaks into a wide smile, dimples showing at his cheeks, and lets out a little laugh. He settles back on his hands, tilting his head a little to look at her. “Somebody told you, then? Well, thank you, thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to continue to enjoy your fine coffee. I’ll certainly miss it when I’m back at sea.” He gestures around the place, either because he just wants to point out the surroundings or because he’s comparing the spaciousness of the coffee-house with the cramped surroundings of his ship. “I think you’re a damn genius for setting up here.”

“These matters have a way of becoming known,” Safiye offers, half apologetically; “one wonders aloud, who is that young man? I seem to see him often.” A little tilt of her head, as she mimes considering him. “And then sometimes,” she spreads out her hands in a gesture of graceful welcome, “there is an answer.”

Strong terms, then; but to the young man who stands second-in-line to inherit the duchy of Azzalle, she smiles like the kindly conspirator she is. Besides, he's rather personable in himself, according to her waiters. Her gaze follows the line suggested by his hand and then returns to him slowly as she murmurs, “My lord, thank you. Marsilikos is a city of many charms and I look forward to living out my days in the sunshine here. I hope too you'll often return to enjoy my coffee when you are in port.” Her smile deepens, gently. “I am called Safiye Hanim, my lord. It is a true pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Hugo offers his hand and another easy smile. “Lieutenant Lord Hugo de Trevalion. But I suppose you knew that..? If you knew it was my birthday — these matters have a way of becoming known,” he adds, mimicking her solemn tone, “— then I assume names are a trifle.” Because clearly the reason the woman has come over is because somebody’s let on it’s his birthday, right?

“It really is a lovely place, though, isn’t it?” he adds, either about the coffee house or the city, one can’t be entirely certain, but he seems genuine enough in his enthusiasm. “Did you come for the exhibition, or… no, no, wait, there’s no way you set up this place in a matter of weeks, I’m being stupid. What did bring you here?”

Touching men so casually as this was a custom which rather took Safiye aback, in her early days in Terre d’Ange; two years later she offers Hugo without hesitation her own neat, faintly cinnamon-fragrant hand. The same volumes of d’Angeline noble genealogy that revealed Hugo’s lofty branch upon the tree of the Trevalions, did indeed vouchsafe the date of his natality when she looked him up again a few minutes ago in her back office, just to be sure.

Though she only half admits it. “I wasn’t certain that this was the day spoken of, my lord, but if you tell me it is— then I am delighted,” she says firmly, “to wish you a fortunate birthday and many more to come.” In withdrawing her hand she bestows a deferential nod.

Then she explains, “No, this was not for the exhibition— though I will hold a gathering here in those days, to show the sweets of Ephesium to those who have not yet tasted them. I came to Terre d’Ange, my lord, in service to one greater than I; I asked leave to remain because, perhaps foolishly,” this a self-deprecating murmur, “I was enchanted by your land.”

The young man lets out a small laugh, giving an understanding nod. “I can see why, though. I mean, I’ve travelled to a lot of stunning places - the jungles of the New World, the icy lakes to the north, the great, vast deserts of Carthage and Menekhet, even to Ephesium and the wonderful sights and smells to be found there, but there’s no place in the world that’s quite like Terre D’Ange. Although,” he lowers his voice as though this is some top secret confession, “I admit that I might be just the very slightest bit biased.” He pauses, suddenly recalling some idle gossip he’s heard, and squints at her. “And your new sultan, he’s content you’re able to stay here a while longer, or are you expecting a summons back any moment? Or,” he reasons, “is a coffee house not something he’s likely to bother himself with in the grander scheme of things?”

It would be difficult to say which of those places Hugo lists so nonchalantly is the one that raises Safiye’s neat dark eyebrows — but up they go. “A natural preference, my lord.” Then those rumours she has tenderly planted bloom again before her eyes, and she smiles and shakes her head. “You’ve heard the gossip, then,” she says, as if guessing. “But as His Highness, Prince Ísfendiyar, he wished me well in my retirement and my caprice; and as the Sultan of Sultans, the Khan of the Khans, Commander of the Faithful and Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe, his concerns are far loftier now than a little coffee-house in a faraway land,” she disclaims, her heavy golden earrings swaying as once more she bows her head.

She nods then to the coffee she brewed and brought to him, to remind her distracted customer of his duty. “You might not wish to let it get cold, my lord,” she suggests. “… You have seen the New World?” she asks a moment later, studying his open young face.

“Mm,” Hugo agrees, lifting a finger to stave off further questions as he lifts his coffee to his lips for a long, satisfying slurp. Only once he’s lowered it again and licked his lips does he answer her, as casually as he can muster. “Oh yes, spent a year and a half out that way a year or so back.” As though he was just popping down the shops. “You wouldn’t believe the size of some of the trees out there. And the birds! Huge, brightly coloured things, squawking and screeching.” He might be attempting to be casual, but he’s still twenty years old and entirely bewitched by the wonders of foreign travel, and there’s only so much enthusiasm any one lad can curb.

Safiye with her slight, late in life case of wanderlust listens with a degree of attention surely flattering to a young man boasting of his life’s greatest event, thus far.

“That must have been quite a voyage, my lord,” she murmurs, her rich dark eyes gleaming with interest. “We have some unusual birds in Constantinopolis, as you may know,” she admits, “sent to the capital as tribute from the farther reaches of our empire— but you make me very curious about those trees, and how far their branches must spread… You must tell me, though,” she counsels gently, “first of all, how you find today’s Ephesian Delight. The one who makes it for me has altered her recipe a little today. You’ve had it before, of course, so you will know. I should like your opinion, my lord, as a frequent customer of my house.”

With the sort of easy flexibility that means nothing to a young, fit twenty-year-old and is astounding to anyone older, Hugo draws a leg up beneath himself where he sits, nodding eagerly as he reaches for another piece of the confectionary to taste. “Oh, the trees… huge things, taller than the main mast of a triple decker by two or three times even.” His eyes widen earnestly, even if it might sound like some sort of fantastic exaggeration. “It’s like we’re tiny people and it’s the land of giants.”

The next piece of sweet is popped casually into his mouth to chew as he settles back with it, coffee held comfortably against himself with the other hand. “It’s good,” he informs her after a moment to chew and enjoy it. “The lemon one is better than the one that tastes like flowers. What’s she done that’s different, this time? She. He. Whoever it is.”

Safiye seems to accept it. “Extraordinary,” she murmurs, without scoffing, or declaring that what she hasn’t known in her own experience cannot possibly exist: if once she possessed such tendencies, Terre d’Ange has cured her. But then she shakes her head, those golden earrings gleaming again. “I do not know. I am afraid I am not a cook, my lord,” she apologies; “I make coffee, as any woman of Ephesium must, but I leave baking to those more capable… Some enjoy the flowers, but I will make sure you are not served that flavour again,” she promises him gently. “And as it is your birthday, shall I send one of my girls to dance for you—?”

“The coffee, though,” Hugo assures her with a wide smile that makes his dimples show, “is absolutely superb. I don’t know what you put in it, and I don’t doubt it’s a closely guarded secret to keep us all flocking here to taste it, but it’s absolutely outstanding. I can taste… cinnamon, I think? And something else?” But then there’s the offer of dancing girls and his eyes widen delightedly. “And dancing, too? You’ll spoil me, Madame Hanim, and I’ll never want to leave. Singlehandedly you’ll be responsible for the ruin of a young, promising naval officer. But… maybe a little ruin…?”

“… Cinnamon, yes,” Safiye allows, smiling, for that’s no secret to any customer whose nasal passageways aren’t hopelessly blocked; “and our native skill, perhaps.”

His mistake with her name is a common one and she doesn’t correct it. “I trust you overstate the case, my lord,” and she allows herself a soft, husky laugh. “A little ruin, then, as you wish it. A dark girl or one who is fair, for the pleasure of your eyes—?” she inquires easily.

“There was a girl last week…” Hugo begins, fingers nervously tapping on the coffee cup with a light ‘ting’. “I don’t suppose she’s in today? Long, dark hair…” Because that really helps narrow it down. “It was Thursday, if it helps…?”

Safiye smiles her understanding. “Let me see if I can find her,” she suggests, “or find another like enough to her.” Another respectful inclination of her own dark head, behind which long hair is pinned up in thick, shining coils. “Please be welcome, my lord Trevalion, in my house.” To rise from her knees after resting so long upon them, she places a hand flat upon his table to give herself a slight boost; she manages, by habit and by will, to get up again without any notable lapse in her grace. Another bow, and she glides away through the lounge.

The girl— what to say of the girl? She appears ere long in a glimmer of pale silks which bare her muscled midriff, her bronze finger-cymbals chiming to make her own ineffable music as she moves. It’s not at all bad to be a ducal birthday boy, at La Perle Noire.

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