(1311-09-10) Thoroughly Stung
Summary: Raphael falls afoul of Iphigénie’s little helpers. Artistic criticism ensues, with an inferno to follow. (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 10/09/2019 - 30/09/3019
Related: Previous scenes with these characters.
iphigenie raphael 

Garden — Maignard Residence

The garden is girded by a high wall of plain grey stone, lined with trellises which climbing roses and honeysuckle are being trained in the strictest Kusheline style to ascend. It is chiefly laid out as a parterre in which beds of colourful flowers are separated by low, angular, meticulous box hedges and raked pathways of dark gravel, about a bronze fountain celebrating a Maignard ancestor.

The spreading canopy of a mature elm tree provides shade over a small lawn and its own more haphazard growth of bluebells, crocus, borage, and nasturtiums, arisen during years of neglect, kept because of their great interest to the plethora of bees whose buzzing sets the air aquiver as they partake of their floral feast. Their home is a neat stack of wooden hives in the far corner beyond the elm, amongst bushes of lavender and fennel, rosemary and sage.

Spaced along the house's rear façade three sets of heavy dark doors lead into chambers well-lit by mullioned windows of thick, distorted glass.

Coming to take his brief advantage again Raphael passes through a sphere of industrious cleaning operations — great floor-scrubbings and window-washings and cornice-dustings, carried out by more staff than he knew Iphigénie possessed — in the Maignard house's still-empty and still-echoing reception chambers, before arriving in the green calm of his friend's garden.

Her toilette suggests she has been abroad in the city today rather than just pottering about at home. Her darkest red gown worn over her strictest corsetry; her hair pinned up in softly sculpted cloud-white waves, her silver earrings wrought by her consort's hand in the likeness of the dangling tails of a cat. Afternoon tea is laid out already upon the table under the elm tree, but it occupies only half of its surface, the rest given over to Iphigénie's small lap desk and her assorted papers… He discovers her with a quill in one hand and a croissant in the other, biting off a piece of the latter with neat white teeth as she looks up from the page to see who has come to call. She can't see Raphael's face, yet, but his physiognomy is so unmistakable and intimate a pleasure to her eyes that her present act of chewing pastry doesn't quite disguise the blossoming of her smile. She looks down again, writes another conscientious word or two, and sets aside her quill in the tray which awaits it. Her napkin rises to brush crumbs from lips painted wine-red and lowers again before, watching him come nearer across the lawn, she softly declares: "Monsieur, you're a charming surprise."

Raphael by now knows precisely at what hour he might find Iphigénie at tea and the data gathered up till now proves faithful. "Good afternoon," he says. "I came to test the sincerity of your invitation. I see you are having the dust beaten out of the place." He stays on his feet for now, but his body language is at ease even if his spine remains quite erect.

"… Monsieur," murmurs Iphigénie, lifting her eyebrows at him in as challenging a manner as he has ever seen her adopt, "if you doubt my sincerity, I beg you will count the cups." She puts down the remnant of her croissant and converts the gesture into an elegant indication of their numbers: her own, half-full of tea, and two standing empty in their saucers, awaiting the thirst of her two favoured gentlemen companions, whose desires she delights to anticipate.

Raphael smiles and takes a seat. "If I truly doubted, I would not have come," he replies. "But you know it is the way of my canon to test even when we do not doubt. Do I disturb your writing?"

Having sailed effortlessly through the test Iphigénie merely smiles to hear it confirmed that there was one. She draws an untouched cup and saucer nearer to herself, all the way onto her unfinished letter where it lies upon the cloth, and removes the teapot from its nurturing flame to pour for Raphael. "I will perhaps return to it renewed after a little time to rest and to reflect," she suggests diplomatically. And then, allotting to Raphael the customary slight taste of her own colony's richly floral honey, she volunteers, "My youngest is considering an offer of consortship. Of course, I think it time he settled the next era of his life, but…" She lays down the silver spoon and her pale, long-fingered hand turns over in the air in an equivocating gesture before her hands join together to present her visitor with his tea.

"If he has the inclination in his heart then he probably ought to seal the matter. If not…" Raphael rolls a shoulder and reaches for the cup he is being offered. "But I know nothing of it; I ought not to comment."

Iphigénie lowers her eyes and shakes her head, and sighs lightly into her own cup of tea as she picks it up to drink. Her gaze lifts to Raphael over the brim. "I'm not sure I ought to comment either," she admits. "He asks my advice— but that is difficult to give when I've met his lover but twice, before I left Monsieur Lefebvre in Elua and came on to Marsilikos alone— and I don't doubt he was on his best behaviour with me." She shrugs, that being only natural upon one's initial presentations to one's lover's agèd mother.

Another mouthful of tea and she puts down her cup upon the parchment. "He is— a second cousin thrice removed of a favourite aunt of mine, in our usual labyrinthine Kusheline style. As far as I can determine he was brought up in our ways. They have each a comfortable allowance. It may be quite successful. Still, I think I shall suggest that they both come to Marsilikos for a time before they swear any vows. A warm autumn by the sea— yes, I know how I'll put it," she chuckles conspiratorially, her eyes greener than her garden and alight with mischievous intent. "But you must not let me bore you with my family affairs, monsieur."

"It is not that you bore me, but I have no experience," Raphael says. "My family by blood are common; it is not necessary for blessings to be sought when so much less is at stake to be inherited or ruled. I asked no one's advice on my marriage. And as you know, I—"

He has felt some small winged creature bounce between his jacket and his side, and flapped one side of the jacket in the effort to drive the insect out. But being that it is a bee and not a fly, it takes the movement amiss and stings instead of fleeing. This produces a faint wince from Raphael and an interruption in his speech.

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Perception: Good Success. (3 4 4 2 3 7 5 2 3 4 5 1 8 6)

This is a variation upon a dance Iphigénie has often witnessed, in her garden in Kusheth or her garden here— inclined toward Raphael as she is, basking gently in his Eisandine drawl, she realises quickly what has promoted that change in his expression and that halt to his musings. With her hand clutching at the arm of her sofa she pushes herself up onto her feet, knees noisily popping, to stand over his chair. "Monsieur, you're stung. Where is it?" she asks, her own honeyed Kusheline accent alloyed by just the faintest sting of urgency.

Raphael looks annoyed more than alarmed. He opens that side of his jacket, where a half-crumpled bee is still caught in a fold of his shirt over his ribs. "Should I pluck it off?" he asks, still looking at the small creature. "My understanding is that they die upon stinging, is that true?"

Tight-corseted, Iphigénie can hardly bend; but somehow, her tender white fingertips reach down just far enough and without an instant’s hesitation to extract the sluggish, dying bee from its own Gehenna upon Raphael's person. She holds it up before her face, between fingertip and thumb, and eyes it before turning to set it down on the table.

"Yes, it will die now," she says calmly, as the bee creeps no more than an inch across her unfinished letter and grows still, "but monsieur, the sting is in you. The longer it is left the more of the venom will enter your flesh— I'm afraid you must either lift your shirt or open it," and it's more than she can do to suppress the amusement in her eyes as she looks down into his.

Raphael looks neither sorry nor satisfied to hear that the insect will die. It is simply a neutral fact, result of cause and effect. To Iphigénie's amusement he responds more directly: "However will we manage," he says dryly, shrugging out of the jacket first. "And have you not explained to them that I am typically the one to do the stinging?"

“It seems I must suffer for your benefit,” is Iphigénie’s droll rejoinder, as she extracts Raphael’s jacket from behind him in his chair and hangs it instead behind him on his chair, safeguarded against crumpling. “Perhaps I explained too much rather than too little— perhaps, knowing how well and how thoroughly I was stung, they’re envious of you now.”

The language of her body offers to an educated eye a palpable impression of haste: the tilt of her head, her shift from one foot to another, her right hand hovering before him and obviously thinking of helping with his buttons— but that is a barrier she will not transgress.

Raphael does now begin to unfasten his buttons. He does not seem to rush, but he wastes no additional time, either. "Are they particularly dangerous, your breed of envious bee?" he asks, glancing up.

“Oh,” and a corner of Iphigénie’s painted mouth lifts almost into a smile as she considers the idea of it, “I think not, monsieur— they would have spent their fury upon you long before now, in their thousands, were their envy such a threat,” she assures him solemnly.

And when his shirt opens far enough, exposing his chest hair down towards his dark leather breeches, she leans toward him again and her fingertips rest delicately against his skin during the moment in which she — with a sure and unerring thumbnail — scrapes away the stinger. She deposits it in a saucer upon the table. “If you come inside for a moment,” she offers then, “I will wash it for you. I have a very good salve for beestings, monsieur.”

"Ah, thank you," Raphael says, and at her offer he rises. "How kind of you to offer; I would appreciate it." He leaves the jacket behind and the shirt unbuttoned, since he will presumably have to remove it altogether before long. "Left to my own devices I'm sure I would not treat it properly at all."

“It is better to see to it quickly,” admits Iphigénie, lowering her eyes; and she turns the other way and collects her walking stick from where it was left leaning against the arm of her sofa, and then she gestures to Raphael to encourage him to cross the flower lawn nearer to her pace by pace, towards the open door he knows by now leads into her bedchamber.

Garden Suite — Maignard Residence

Opening from the garden of the Maignard residence, via a single heavy oaken door opposite the elm tree, this chamber is decorated as a painted garden. Faded by the passage of years, pale flowers and birds of unnatural provenance are depicted against a backdrop of green that runs down to skirting boards of tarnished gilt, carved to echo the floral intricacies of the cornices and the high coffered ceiling which reflects so gently the light from iron candlestands below.

The furnishings are sparse in relation to the room's long rectangular spaciousness: all of antique mahogany, all of a century ago, their age betrayed by style rather than wear. Inside the high mullioned windows of distorted glass, there's a desk to the right and a marble-topped washstand to the left, with a screen just past the latter to create a triangle of privacy in one corner. Adjacent to the desk is a comfortable armchair upholstered in dark red leather; next to the washstand, a smaller white-painted chair makes up in convenience what it lacks in arms. A broad dark marble fireplace is set into the house's innermost wall. Directly opposite it stands an uncurtained four-poster bed made up with hemstitched white linen sheets and bountiful pillows. From each bedpost dangles an iron chain adorned with a soft, padded red leather cuff.

Two large, sturdy, travelworn oak chests stand against the wall between the bed and the desk; the broad windowsill above the desk is home to a collection of books legal, theological, and botanical: no fiction, no poetry, no frivolity. Alone beyond the fireplace is a single mahogany armoire. There are no looking-glasses, no pictures, no objects unnecessary or decorative. Away from the windows and the garden's green the chamber's other, darker half is left bare.

At the end a door opens into a small square salon such as might be found in any noble house, albeit appointed in a more Kusheline taste: all straight lines and angles, dark wood and tarnished gilding, and narrow hinged looking-glasses which fill each corner from floor to ceiling and offer unsettling reflections.

That room is mostly as Raphael has seen it before, the white-painted chair restored to its customary place by the washstand, the desk occupied by the accoutrements of work rather than play— but, draped upon the screen which cordons off a near corner, is a dressing-gown of dark red silk adorned with climbing roses in thread-of-silver, and beyond the bed there is propped against the wall a painting — the first he has seen here — a rectangular canvas as high as the top of the bedposts, visible chiefly as shades of blue and green melting into shadows.

Iphigénie gestures him ahead of her and then steps straight to the washstand at the left, to pour water from her pitcher into her basin: room temperature, but it will do well enough. She finds a clean cloth, anoints it with her own honeyed soap, and turns to her visitor.

Although he is here in quite a different capacity to the last time he visited this chamber, Raphael is by no means shy about his body or the baring of it in this new context. But he does turn toward this fascinating new object, looking at the painting while he unfastens his shirt the rest of the way and pulls it off, obscuring the painting from Iphigénie's point of view but offering a new view of his vibrant marque. And, of course, the back on which it is etched.

When Raphael sheds his shirt Iphigénie without having to consider it drops the cloth she was holding into the basin; and from behind him she accepts custody of the garment, shaking it out and draping it across the back of her white-painted chair. So close behind him of course she’s eyeing his marque, renewed upon his flesh not so long ago, the elaborate sigil of the Rose Sauvage descending from his nape and vanishing beneath black leather. Perhaps, yes, she exhales, and that is why he might turn about, removing her view of his own most personal work of art but giving her another one— She looks at him, for a moment, perfectly composed and yet slow to respond; then, at length, she reaches again for the cloth.

“Thank you," Raphael responds as Iphigénie relieves him of the garment, and turning towards her he approaches a step nearer. "You're terribly kind. Is that painting one you've had for some time, or a recent acquisition?"

They’re quite close now, Iphigénie’s eyes lowered as tenderly she addresses the sting laid bare and turning pink upon Raphael’s ribcage. The soapy end of the cloth— and then the fresh end dipped anew in her washbasin, to cleanse his skin of all that is alien to it.

“Ah, it is an old one,” she admits, glancing up to meet his eyes for an instant before she drops the cloth again, and takes up a lacquered box he has seen before in her hands. “We are still,” she admits, “arguing over where to put it.” She sets the box aside on the marble top of her washstand, its open top revealing her only looking-glass and the comb for her hair; both her hands are now wrapped round a small glass jar she is struggling to open.

"I am sure it will look well wherever you choose," Raphael says rather than intrude with an opinion of his own, looking from Iphigénie's hand that tends the sting back to her face. As she contends with the jar, he puts out a hand, palm upturned. "Would you like help with that?" he asks.

One of the nice things about being a Valerian, besides all the other things, is not being afraid to ask for help. When Raphael’s palm turns up toward her Iphigénie simply deposits the jar there, and looks up into his eyes with a gaze which implies quiet gratitude for an effort of use to them both. “Monsieur,” she murmurs. And then, “I won’t have it in here, and Monsieur Lefebvre says it is too large for his chamber and he thinks the colours would not be harmonious, and neither of us wishes to place it in the public rooms. We may burn it,” she half-laughs, “just to end the debate… Monsieur, thank you,” she sighs as she receives the jar again.

"Is it so offensive?" Raphael wonders, looking amused. He takes the jar and applies a bit of Mandragian muscle to budge the lid, holding it out again, loosened. "Now, what are the key ingredients in a salve against bee sting?"

“… Perhaps it is,” and, laying aside the jar and its lid upon her washstand, Iphigénie turns again to Raphael’s small but compulsively interesting wound. She speaks inconsequentially for a moment or two upon such healing salves as her two fingertips brush across that portion of his torso, her flesh cool and her salve cooler— a balm, yes, upon the burn of a bee’s envious sting. But then her fingertips must alight. As they curl up again into her palm, her deep green eyes lift to Raphael’s and she admits: “I think that is all to be done for a sting, monsieur. Unless,” and her lips subtly curve with her suggestion, “you would like me to kiss it better?”

Raphael is patient about having this fresh sting touched, and the patience is rewarded by the soothing qualities of the salve. And the attention. He will probably forget most of the ingredients, but perhaps the knowledge will resurface again in a useful or interesting context. He tilts his head a little at Iphigénie's remark, smiling. "Now, what I would like and what I think is probably prudent with regard to your agreements with Monsieur Lefebvre may not be identical," he says.

“Ah, well,” sighs Iphigénie, biting her painted lower lip as she gazes up still into his eyes, unwavering yet, “that is a complicated agreement which has always contained certain exceptions,” she admits, and a note of laughter enters into her tone, “and certain understandings, with regard to— my nature,” she suggests, “and to the practicalities of a life such as ours.” She rests a hand on the edge of her washstand and sinks slowly down to sit upon her white-painted chair, with her face still tilted upwards toward Raphael’s. “I hope it does not pain you too much,” she says honestly; “the sting, I mean to say, monsieur.”

Raphael listens to Iphigénie's explanation of exceptions but in the end requests no more of her. "Not too much," he confirms with a shake of the head. He reaches over her shoulder for his shirt. "Thanks to your delicate touch," he adds.

It’s all a little vague— and Iphigénie just smiles. “Monsieur, please let me,” she says softly, and her knees crackle again as she rises from her chair with his shirt in her hands. “If it were me,” she admits, holding it up for him to slip his arms into again, “I would let the salve work for a few minutes… That is,” again that note of amusement, “if I cared to use the salve. You know I don’t.”

Raphael does don the shirt, but leaves it hanging open for now, perhaps at her advice. "This is the trouble in consulting Valerians on pain. They know so much about it, and yet from such a particular perspective…"

“But monsieur, did I not tend you well?” is Iphigénie’s immediate question, voiced to Raphael as she sits again and looks up into his eyes from her straight-backed, strict-corseted posture upon that slight and armless white chair. It has been repainted recently. “I hope I am always compassionate to others who do not feel as I do,” she says simply, in this also deferring to his judgment, as is natural to her in such a circumstance.

"Extremely well," Raphael confirms, shaking his head. "I think you are tremendously self-aware and sensitive, I did not mean to imply otherwise in the least. It's only amusing to think of the differences with which we all perceive and feel, particularly when it comes to pleasure and pain." Well, of course a courtesan of the Rose Sauvage would think so.

“… For some of us in particular, yes,” and Iphigénie’s green eyes that have studied him so closely in these last moments, lower again as she admits it. “But is that not one of the richnesses of our lives? That we may feel so differently and yet come together as we do?” Her gaze lifts; she eyes him. “As lovers or as friends,” she says gently, “or whatever we decide. I think there is no map but that which we draw together.”

“I think it is," Raphael affirms, and his expression is mild and pleasant. "But I think there is also no harm in seeing the humor in our variety as well. Heaven knows there are no maps."

“There are maps, I think,” Iphigénie pursues, her hands clasped in her dark red lap as she looks up at his face well above her own; “but in each relation they are drawn anew… Monsieur, I could chart for you such plains and such oceans,” she teases, “such worlds that I have known. But each time the map is drawn anew. It must be,” she says earnestly. “Each time it is a new voyage into territory uncharted. Or why would we embark upon it again, and again—? The curiosity, the alchemy, the hope that unmentioned dreams might yet find their fulfillment… Yes,” she sighs, smiling up at him, “there must always be a blank page, to begin. And then…” Her gaze lowers, her hands knit more tightly together. “Then, we draw upon it.”

Raphael is perhaps not entirely comfortable with his host's rhapsody on relational maps, or otherwise with the thoughts that it evokes in him. With a shift of his foot, he opens his body toward the rest of the room, turning just that slight bit away, though he does nod at what she says. "Spoken as a true cartographer," he says, and his tone sounds approving in contrast to the body language. Or at least that one postural cue.

“Ah, well,” and Iphigénie laughs softly, an intention carried out even as her eyelashes lower upon that view of Raphael so discreetly turning away from her; “for all my words, monsieur, I think I had better stop theorising voyages and just sit a while longer…. It’s all right,” she confides, following the line of his gaze with her own. “Look if you like.”

The painting propped up beyond Iphigénie's bed is a mythological scene upon a grand and gilt-framed scale: Andromeda in chains and the sea-monster rising out of the water to devour her tender young flesh. The model was unmistakably Iphigénie herself, umpteen years ago. The position in which she is restrained — and from which she is rising half off her rock, her slender frame taut with terror and desire, a single vein shadowed blue in her throat — would be challenging even for a Valerian to maintain; in painting the pale blue gown bound about her torso with golden rope in the Hellenic style, the artist has left little to the imagination, depicting it torn open already to reveal her high white breasts, and wetted by sea-spray so that it clings to every other plane and curve of her long, tense, angular frame. Her yellow hair falls in beauteous tangles about her shoulders. Her countenance has about it a slight softness of youth — her eyes are wide, and had one not looked often into them in truth one might call them an impossible green — her rosebud lips are just barely parted in frightened, thrilled, dismayed, orgiastic anticipation of the fate approaching her from the depths. No. One would not place this in the public rooms of the house, unless one wished to cultivate a most discerning public.

Raphael casts his gaze at the painting he had already turned partially towards. "Good of you to offer me a glimpse before it burns," he comments in a relatively light tone. "To my eye it seems most skillfully painted."

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Perception: Good Success. (4 7 4 6 3 5 1 3 6 1 6 8 7 3)

There is a pause; Iphigénie murmurs at last, “Monsieur, please don’t ever think you must be polite to me, when it is just the two of us. Before the servants, perhaps — they must obey me — but for myself I would wish to have your honesty, over all other treasures. I will withstand it — and be glad of that bucket of cold water when it comes,” she teases gently. “Look if you want. The painter was not so very gifted,” she drawls. “It would be no loss.”

Raphael lets out a low laugh. "And why should I not be polite to someone who invites me to tea and salves my wounds with her own hand?" he asks, turning back towards her.

"If honesty is what you truly desire, let me speak more in detail: I have no particular training in painting or its appreciation. I have looked at many paintings. My wife, you know, was of the Eglantine canon. A sculptor, not especially a painter. But you can perhaps imagine a few reasons why someone who in his youth spent a great deal of time around Eglantines does not make a habit of art criticism." He turns toward the painting once more and walks closer to it. "To see you painted in your youth, that is interesting," he says. "Although I much prefer the current style of your hair to how it is shown here. The subject is…well, it is quite natural to show you as Andromeda, is it not? The same thought has occurred to me. You've made it clear that you don't particularly fancy the painting, so perhaps I have my guesses as to why. Certainly one couldn't hang it in the dining room… I've never posed for a painting; I can't imagine what it must be like to confront the frozen image of oneself in this way."

That, indeed, is new to Iphigénie. “… An Eglantine,” she breathes gently, with every note of respect such a lady’s widower might desire; and with her stick to hand, taken from its lean against the washstand, she rises and follows Raphael around the bed to come likewise face to face with her younger image. “That was never my hair,” she admits; “the colour was just so, when I was very young, but I always kept it short. But the painter would have it longer for his picture. Why, monsieur,” and she teases him just a tad, standing at his side as a pillar of red-black cloth with the silver ornament of her stick gripped tight; “what is your guess?”

"If there were a painting of me, particularly this sort of fanciful erotic pastiche of myth…I would like you not wish to have it in my bedchamber no matter how skillfully it might be executed," Raphael opens, and then looks from Iphigénie back to the painting. “It is…how to put it? The artist has certainly not been subtle. And I think we could say also that although he has depicted your appearance, in terms of personality it might be any Valerian." He looks back to his host. "Well, you have drawn out my guesses this far, do you wish to share your own point of view?"

Next to Raphael, resting weight upon her stick even as her narrow frame inclines instinctively away from that stick and toward him, Iphigénie can’t help but laugh. “Monsieur, I think you understand,” she admits. “But then, you know well enough how I appear at certain moments— were it a true depiction, yes, I should insist upon placing it in my consort’s chamber. But this,” she sighs, and she bats her other hand by which to dismiss it, “it is as you say a pastiche. I prefer my present appearance,” her head tilts nearer, “to somebody else’s jest from forty years past. I don’t like it, I don’t want it in my chamber, because it is not my portrait.” And, as she stands regarding the canvas, her lips twist.

"It's true, it appears to me as a painting for which you modeled, but not as a portrait. If that is not of value to you and on the contrary offends you, then by all means destroy it." Such is his advice, delivered with a small smile for punctuation.

On which note Iphigénie’s own smile deepens, and she takes the rash step of setting her free hand uninvited upon Raphael’s arm. “Monsieur,” she suggests in a lower tone, looking up into his eyes with her own so clear and so green, “shall we strike a blaze—?”

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