(1311-09-15) Peach Pit
Summary: A tale of scarce resources and metaphor extension in Raziel’s bookshop. Business as usual, really.
RL Date: 15/09/2019
Related: None.
iphigenie odile-delaunay 

Raziel’s Sanctum — Grand Plaza

Pedestrian traffic flows past the tall, multistorey temple to knowledge without ever daring to glimpse within. Their loss proves the academic community of Marsilikos' gain. Watery light passing through greenish tinted windows throws a distinctly sylvan enchantment over the narrow ground floor. Awash in jade shadows, the built-in bookcases heave with the treasures of the deep and wide world. Volumes mass-produced by printing press in d'Angeline dominate the front shelves, a wild assortment of topics contained within some obscure system of sorting known only to the regulars. Herbalism and gardening stand abreast of architectural sketches from the City of Elua and Kusheline manuals on horse breeds.

A journey up the twisting stairs past the bric-a-brac acquired by years of travelers trading in their goods leads into the true heartland of wisdom. Candles set before stained glass throw rapturous kaleidoscopes of painted colour over a long hall. The open central aisle hosts low couches set back to back on woven Bhodistani rugs. The most treasured volumes — and hence, the most costly — occupy the floor-to-ceiling shelves overseen by the grumpiest of caretakers, an ill-tempered marmalade cat with his own stuffed chair that no one sits in.

The third floor holds a repository of maps and scrolls, aged texts too fragile to hold, and a bookbinding and mending service at a cost.

The clerk is apologetic, of course, but no matter his reluctance to disappoint a patron of long standing all he can say to Odile Delaunay regarding the empty place upon the shelf given to Hellenic philosophy is: "Yes, my lady, we do have one copy, but another lady is looking through it… If you would care to wait? Or you might," he turns a few degrees toward the shop's central aisle, lined with comfortable sofas back-to-back upon a ribbon of exotic foreign carpets faded by time and custom as well as poor lighting, "inquire of her yourself?"

From here the lady indicated is visible only as a soft cloud of pale hair, bowed over the very book Odile has come seeking— with two further clerks of the establishment and a middle-aged, dark-clad serving maid of her own bowed over her in turn as they await her verdict upon it. Should the hungry-minded poetess round the barrier of sofas, her competition for scarce Hellenic resources will be revealed as a gaunt and elderly woman in a high-necked gown of unrelieved black. The many yards of fabric consecrated to her skirts reveal their richness in spilling over most of the sofa to either side of her 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. Her hands, clasping the book, seem impossibly white before the realisation that she owes their pallor at least to a pair of white silk gloves. Resting against her thigh is an ebony walking stick topped with a complicated silver ornament. She appears tranquil and engrossed. She turns a page; she peruses the next.

The sharp teeth of need bides longer in some than others. The weight of Odile's desire for the book evaporates before the clerk has even finished spending his breath but there's curiosity to backfill the space left behind, setting her on a listless drift towards the space indicated. Easy to overlook, she doesn't draw the eye or the focus of a crowd the way the icy-haired woman does— here is a loose chignon already escaping its pins, and a white gown of lace layered over silk, simple in cut though expensive enough in fabric to mark noble origins. Her pallor isn't winter's richness but rather that which reveals the dull green tracery of veins beneath fragile skin. She is made for drifting and drifting she does.

Naturally, it's the wall of attendants drawn around tranquil and engrossed which she spies first. Her own lone guard trails at a distance, careful to leave ample room between them. That space is used by Odile to maneuver to a chair on the border between the grande dame's coterie and the unoccupied seating which remains. There she pours herself, verdant eyes attending upon the gesture which lifts one page and settles it down against the last.

"Surely the wisdom of the ages isn't so fragile as all of that?" The gloves, she must refer to.

Iphigénie's own wide and intelligent green eyes, lined by the passage of time and by a delicate shading of kohl, look up not in startlement but after a moment's thought to Odile where she sits and has spoken. There's a question in her gaze. Then she looks down and finds the answer for herself; when her eyes rise again to Odile's face, in harmony with the lowering of the book into her dark-gowned lap, she answers in a low and honeyed Kusheline accent: "Perhaps not, my lady, but the aged seeking wisdom may well be so." Then she smiles. "I rarely take off my gloves in a shop. I don't belive we've met— I'm Iphigénie Maignard."

It's the book which Odile's forest-dark gaze pursues but with the other woman's speaking, up comes her regard again. The flicker of her smile makes an attempt at genuine warmth, an effort contested by the sleepy half-set of her eyes as she arranges herself at an angle in the high winged-back chair. It seems a monumental task to draw up her feet, tuck them beneath the draping veil of her skirts; she manages eventually. "Tear away the topmost layer and I'd wager steel just beneath, not tendon and sinew and muscle-wrapped bone," she intones, leisurely in speech as in movement. "Odile Delaunay, my lady, and it is a great pleasure. What do your gloves protect you from? Not ink, I suspect, or papercuts or leather-stink."

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

'Steel' is not an unfair conjecture, given the strictness of the corsetry giving shape to Iphigénie's narrow and upright figure beneath the costly black cloth of her gown. But, regarding Odile, with one hand upon the cover of the book and the other trapped inside to mark the point at which her musings have so far reached, she answers, "Only the frailest of flesh, my lady Odile, and so I fear to catch a cold." That's half a tease, her tone belied by the curve of a smile painted dark red. "… I wonder if this is what you want," she suggests, and taps the book with a white silk fingertip, "rather more than my acquaintance."

"What I want changes, minute by minute, hour by hour. Another breath and I might be compelled to the docks, to the great horror of my guard, or Eisheth's gardens, or the dark gap beneath my bed." Odile sighs out and with the loss of that breath, she sinks to the support of folded arms, set upon the chair's own arm. Now she's properly curled up, one eye hidden beneath a wing of her hair, the other angled to keep Iphigénie framed within line of sight. "I am a fickle beast and content to bide within your indulgence, my lady. But is it good? The book. Your face said nothing but your fingers gave you away, even veiled."

"Ah, my lady," murmurs Iphigénie, "I am for your sake sorry that you find yourself subject to so mercurial a temperament. It sounds exhausting. Particularly," she pronounces, "so much climbing under the bed and out again." She's teasing, a quirk of her finely-drawn eyebrows inviting Odile too to see the joke. "The book— I have not read it in some years," she admits, taking a more serious tone as she strokes gloved fingertips over its cover of embossed leather, "and to a degree my interest is in comparing what I thought I remembered, with what is on the page before me. Recollections can be changeable too in their way."

"Difficult to say which came first, the temperament or the exhaustion. Like a chicken and its egg." Odile cannot rouse herself to court-appropriate posture. She does, however, allow a gleam of humour to show in those deep summer eyes, visible between the slow flutter of each blink. "But you're quite right, my lady. Quite right." That spends her for a time, her willingness to discourse, to keeping a firm grip upon the woven threads of their conversation. Her regard shifts to glide over the attendants, according them the same level of attention given the spines of books visible beyond their shoulders. Eventually, however, eventually she drifts back and inquires in mildly accented Hellene, "That seems a hazard of achieving the fragility of age. The desire to compare side by side, the ripe peach against the wizened pit. Poor book to be used that way. Poor you, to be so compelled."

When Odile's attention seems to drift Iphigénie allows hers to move on also, to the nearer of the two clerks: at a murmured word from her he bows, murmurs a courtesy, and goes in search of some tome with which to sate her latest craving for botanical knowledge. She is just reopening her present philosophical text when that murmur comes to her in Hellene; her own command of that tongue unthinkingly fluent, she looks up to Odile curled into her chair and answers likewise. "Better perhaps for a peach to be gnawed down to a mere pit," she suggests, lifting her eyebrow again though her tone remains kindly, "than to sway unendingly with the movement of the tree's branch and lose its ripeness to no purpose at all."

"It's the pit which carries the promise of a tree. Something left to collect shade and sweetness through more time than the poor used up fruit had opportunity for. Swaying is very pleasant, besides." All in Hellene save that last sentence, the transition between one language back to D'angeline careless, thoughtless. Odile bestirs herself to rise enough for the placement of an elbow against the chair's arm, her jaw cupped against the heel of her hand. "But the peach shouldn't lecture the pit about its tree dreams. You're allowed to look back, or forward, or upside down. Or between inked pages. Whatever takes your fancy, great lady. It would be base wickedness to suggest otherwise, or to think you might be fibbing about your reason for wearing gloves."

"I've seven grandchildren so far," is Iphigénie's drawled rejoinder, made in a similar return to d'Angeline; "would you say I have not given life enough already to new saplings—?" But rather than extend the metaphor past what it may bear she, espying that clerk returning from his mission with a choice of two botanical volumes for her, suggests to Odile: "I am to take it, then, that you are neither base nor wicked. Perhaps you ought to have this." And she lets the book in her lap fall closed again and passes it to the remaining clerk, to be conveyed into Odile's hands. This occurs. "My memory isn't so bad," she confides, "and I think at present you might gain more than I from a fresh study of Epictetus."

Her amusement's spent in a shivering breath and the gleam in hooded eyes instead of outright laughter. A spark of what would be teasing, if she poured more into it. "That depends, my lady," the matter of being base or wicked, "on whether you are fibbing about your gloves." Odile rolls back one shoulder and eases upright in the chair, sliding her feet towards the ground as proper people do. The delivered book is lowered into the lap she thus creates. "Or, I suppose, if I'm suggesting you are. Maybe I'm not. I did, just then. Right now, I'm not. But this is a kindness I thank you for," she says as she smooths her palms over the book's cover. "On that we can be certain. Should I leave you to your browsing? You won't read far, being twittered at by a fool."

On the matter of her mendacity or lack thereof Iphigénie shrugs elegantly. "Whether I was or I was not, can it matter so much to you?" she inquires. "You have your book; my lady, for which you are welcome. I suggest you study it well, as I shall mine," on which note the botanical volumes are delivered with a bow into her own welcoming grasp. "You won't read far either," she prognosticates, and again that eyebrow arches, "being twittered at by a different fool." She's already opening the cover of the first book and smoothing the marbled page she finds within. The notion amuses her, though, and she's smiling as she bends her gaze to it.

"Foolishness is so much more elegant in Hellenic," opines the languid one. Odile attends to the signal given — a first, so far, to mind instead of ignore — by curling up around herself, thighs as book support, heels and toes wedged between cushion and chair's arm. Her stroking of the cover becomes the same applied to the pages. The weight of silence which falls then is a comfortable one, comfortable and shared, known bone-deep by those who enjoy buildings which hold more books than people.

The two books in Iphigénie's custody are subjected to a thorough but cautious exploration— nothing to unfit them for sale to anyone else. At length, and with only one clerk now lingering on duty next to her maid, she draws her final distinction and sets one book aside on the sofa and hands the other one up to the clerk. "Have this sent, please, on my account," she orders, gently and yet in a voice accustomed to command; "I don't care for the other."

The clerk's murmur of, "Very good, Lady Maignard," is interrupted by the firm tap of her walking stick as she marshals it for use. Her maid steps forward to take her other hand and her rise from the sofa after so long a period of idleness within its upholstered embrace is slow but eminently dignified, her corseted figure magnificently unyielding even as her gown flows like shadow about her.

She takes a single step toward Odile's chair— her sensible flat black leather shoes hardly rise from the carpet, yet. "Perhaps you will come to tea with me one day," she remarks then to the reader in Hellenic Studies, "and give me your views on Epictetus. I am usually at home in the late afternoons."

The proper thing to do would be to unfold and rise to pay her respects to Iphigénie's leavetaking. Odile folds a forefinger between the pages and pays a different sort of respect by closing the book around that digit. She lets her head fall to the side, angling the upwards smile granted the senior lady. "I would be honoured to do so, my lady. I'm already looking forward to seeing you again, having so much enjoyed meeting you," minds all of the appropriate scripts. More off the beaten path and referencing who knows what — some unspoken connection made in the dales and hollows of her mind, perhaps — she adds, "Do mind the birds," before the maid can help steer Lady Maignard from the room.

“Oh,” and Iphigénie’s painted mouth curves into a deeper smile as she turns away to go, “I assure you, I have survived sharpened beaks before.”

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