(1311-09-30) Tender Buttons
Summary: When Raphael takes tea with her again after a lacuna, Iphigénie produces one last patron gift for him… (Warning: Mature, Mandragian themes.)
RL Date: 01/10/2019 - 04/10/2019
Related: Previous scenes with these characters; also, this takes place the day after Tea and Sausage at the Rose Sauvage.
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.

It may be a newfound wariness of the bees — or, more prosaically, the press of business at the Rose Sauvage — or is there after all a private, unspoken reason? — that has kept Raphael some while from Iphigénie’s garden tea table: long enough for the Maignard house’s autumn cleaning to be complete and for its trio of previously empty reception rooms to be populated by angular old furniture of dark wood, put anew into perfect repair and beeswax-polished to a fine rich glow, upholstered afresh in dark velvets and silks and aligned in absolute symmetry.

When he steps outside into the light he’ll see, a few yards further along the rear façade of the house, Iphigénie leaning her back against sun-warmed stone. She is in the shadow of Marius Lefebvre, who stands between her and her garden: too close for courtesy, his squared-off stance subtly threatening, his palm planted against the wall next to her head as he leans in to murmur to her. She’s holding her stick at her side; her other hand is knotted in the skirts of her severely plain black gown. Her eyes are demurely downcast and her smile slight and soft. They’re not touching— but to the eye of a Thorn, the flirtation is obvious.

Marius is the first to look toward the open door and the visitor who has just come through it. He pushes off from the wall and takes a step backward from Iphigénie, his movement as well as a few words spoken in an undertone alerting her that they are no longer alone. Her eyebrows lift and her head turns — really, was she so absorbed she didn’t hear the door? — and when she sights Raphael her smile broadens at once. She too murmurs something, very low.

From Marius his fellow Mandrake receives a quirked smile and a wave that’s friendly enough, but Iphigénie’s consort seems to have lingered enough for his taste: he touches her shoulder once and then strides away along the path toward the open door of her chamber.

Tea is waiting on the table under the elm tree.

The lady herself waits too, placidly, for the touch of Raphael’s shadow in turn.

Raphael makes a nod to include both his hosts as he approaches. However long he's been away, here he is now, and it is difficult to read in his expression why he may have been away or just exactly how he feels about it. "I see you've been busy putting the house in order," he observes in lieu of a greeting.

“And admiring the last few hardy roses,” agrees Iphigénie, nodding, “that have survived our recent rains.” She straightens from the wall; her knees, cautiously kept from locking, contribute to the discussion no more than a faint pop beneath the rustle of her skirts. “I think there’s a little tea left in the pot, monsieur…?” she offers gently. If his arm should be offered, she’ll gladly avail herself of his support to cross the green lawn from which the flowers have faded in his absence.

"If there is, I am happy to take it," Raphael says. "But if not, no trouble. I'm a little late in the day." And there his arm is indeed to take his hostess across the lawn to the table. "Have you been well since I've seen you last?"

Iphigénie’s left hand curls comfortably about her friend’s arm. Her pale fingertips with their short, clean nails are peeking out of fingerless gloves of fine black wool, such as a well-to-do scribe might don in the winter months. As they walk together she muses, “I don’t think you’re late, monsieur, but with the days growing shorter my tea is a little earlier… Yes, I recovered from my fright,” she teases, thinking of another afternoon together. “And you, monsieur?”

Her place is on the sofa, as usual. She has a shawl draped there, because it’s cool in the shade, and the cup nearest to it bears a trace of red paint. Another cup was used by someone sitting next to her and lodged on the table’s very corner. A third stands empty in its saucer, faithfully, despite the lapse of almost three weeks since Raphael’s last visit.

"Oh yes," Raphael replies. "I rarely have any more to complain of than tired muscles, easily cured at the temple baths." He nods at the third cup. "It is very thoughtful of you to always have a third cup at the ready."

Raphael’s arm receives a gentle squeeze — Iphigénie’s injured left hand is capable of no more than that, anyway — and then she releases him and establishes herself on the sofa, and gestures him to his accustomed chair to her left. Her first thought is to gather the woolly black shawl. “Heat is marvelously curative, monsieur,” she meditates in a murmur, flicking a glance at him as she arranges the garment about the narrow slopes of her shoulders.

Then she leans forward to collect that third cup and investigate what, if anything, remains in the pot. The candle beneath has gone out, but: “It’s still warm,” she reports, holding the pot in both hands. She pours, a disappointing half a cup, and then looks up to see Nadège approaching across the lawn with hot water. “Ah, I see Monsieur Lefebvre was thinking of your comfort,” she deduces, and she tips that last measure of the old tea into her own cup preparatory to the rituals of brewing a fresher and hotter pot of the stuff for her favourite guest.

Raphael takes his own seat near that empty third cup. "Ah, thank you," he says, even of the half cup, but looks up at the advent of more hot water. "Very good of him," he comments appreciatively. "You two truly enrich the local standards of hospitality."

The drape of cloth over Nadège’s arm proves to be a rug for her mistress’s legs, which she shakes out and disposes according to Marius’s orders before the tea-making can commence in earnest. Perhaps that’s why Iphigénie, wool-swathed, murmurs then: “If it’s so I can take no credit — Monsieur Lefebvre sees to all of that, I’m afraid I’ve no domestic instincts…”

Which claim she’s in the act of belying by her fastidiousness in measuring out fresh golden-tipped tea leaves, and turning over the tiny hourglass just as Nadège begins to pour water over them. Steam rises into the late afternoon air. The maid strikes a light, to reawaken the candle; the mistress sits back, uncorseted today, at rest upon her sofa. “I’m glad you came, monsieur, to enjoy this fine weather with me,” she offers softly to Raphael.

"Ah yes, but you have every good instinct toward…accommodation," Raphael suggests. "At least of the needs of a man such as myself." He watches the steam in the air. "Thank you very much," he says. "I know you may be sorry to see the end of summer."

The compliment lends a sensual curve to Iphigénie’s dark red smile — but for once she doesn’t offer an immediate and flirtatious riposte. She has, in fact, just remembered something. “Nadège, the— from my windowsill,” she orders, trusting that she has said enough to wake her maid’s excellent intuition. The woman bows and withdraws to fetch what is wanted, without requiring clarification. Her own deft needle did after all contribute to the project.

Iphigénie’s eyes haven’t left Raphael’s face. “Summer is never eternal, monsieur,” she murmurs, “and when I think of this season in Kusheth… I know I am fortunate.”

"What's that?" Raphael cannot help but wonder. "Another mysterious letter?" His tone is warmly teasing as though he does not really expect to be told anything of the kind, or to broach the subject in earnest. "I hope summer lingers for you. But we'll have warm hearths when it goes."

Her smile betrays Iphigénie's pleasure in being teased so kindly, though as she sits up straight a gain to remove the tea leaves from the pot she chooses to answer only his latter remark. "I've been thinking of moving to another chamber for the winter, now that most of them finally have furniture," she admits, restoring the lid to the pot and gathering it up to pour for him. "Something smaller and easier to heat. Though I do like my garden room. Perhaps we might curtain off the part of it I don't use," she chuckles. And then she's scraping a taste of honey from an almost-empty jar: a peace offering from his late nemesis?

"A shame to say goodbye to the garden room," Raphael agrees. "But even if you do, it is only temporary. There is something beneficial to the changing of certain things with the seasons. Think how fresh you would find the view again in the spring." He watches the tea preparations thoughtfully, gaze moving between Iphigénie's hands and face.

“That may be so,” his hostess allows, stirring the honey into his tea. “I’m not sure I want to be upstairs, though, it can be a bother to get down again… Ah,” and, sighting her maid coming back across the lawn, she sets down the spoon and offers the cup and saucer across the table toward Raphael. It’s a little too hot for a non-Valerian to drink yet, she imagines.

What Nadège brings, and what Iphigénie holds for a moment in both her hands before sitting forward to present it formally to Raphael, is a rectangular pouch of quilted red silk about five inches by eight. Another piece of her late, lamented dressing-gown, with a slanting flap fastened by a button covered in the same. The diamond pattern of the stitching holds in place, between the inner and outer layers of silk, some thin and humbler padding that lends it a defined shape. "I have one just like this too, monsieur — I keep handkerchiefs in mine, and mysterious letters," she teases. "But in yours, you'll find rather a tardy gift I've been keeping for you."

Raphael takes the proffered cup, not commenting on up- or downstairs dwelling for the moment. The pouch, though, absorbs his interest and he sets the cup aside to cool so that he may take the pouch in both hands. "You are always so thoughtful with your gifts," he says. "I'll open it." And so he does. Man of his word.

He finds inside a pair of fine black calfskin gloves the bold cuffs of which are each secured by two silver buttons wrought like the heads of stylised, many-petaled roses, closely following the sigil of the Rose Sauvage. They’re lined with pure white fur, silken to the touch.

"Monsieur Lefebvre has had so much to do since he was away in Elua that I had to wait a little while for the buttons," Iphigénie explains. "I can’t manage a needle so Nadège stitched them on… Look inside, monsieur," she suggests demurely, in case he might not notice straight away. As he does: "I thought that with the days drawing in and winter coming soon enough even to Eisande, you might care to warm your fingers in the fur of such a soft white rabbit.”

No, on second thoughts, there’s nothing demure in her clear green gaze.

"Very fine of him to contribute," Raphael says, examining the buttons first to see how nearly it has been worked to their sigil, which he knows intimately, down to the number of petals. He squeezes either side of the glove to make the opening round that he might see the white fur inside, then slips his hand in to try it on. "One hates to skin a rabbit without good reason," he says.

The silver roses are near enough to the sigil, but a tad more rounded to increase the ease of their use as buttons— the size of the gloves themselves is remarkably accurate, Iphigénie knowing a thing or two about gentlemen’s hands.

She seems riveted, now, by the sight of his fingers delving into white rabbit fur. “Well, I think I had a good enough reason,” she murmurs, insisting but only gently, “though not as fine a one as yours, monsieur.”

"Terribly soft," Raphael comments, flexing his fingers. "It could've served no better purpose, surely." He looks from the glove to Iphigénie. "What an ingenious token," he says.

“Ah, you see, that was my reason— to amuse you, monsieur,” teases Iphigénie, looking up from his leather-gloved and flexing fingers to meet his eyes turned toward her. “When the gloves grow shabby you might put the buttons on something else,” she advises him, in a more practical vein. “I think the layered petals will be difficult to keep polished, but you might set a novice to the task.” Her smile blossoms again with that natural thought. “Monsieur Lefebvre was amused when I explained a little about gloves — we do both regret the delay.” She glances absently toward the darkened doorway of her chamber, whence he withdrew, and then back to Raphael’s face. Whatever she’s thinking, her smile waxes as she turns to him.

"That will be a long time hence, I hope," Raphael says. He pulls his hand out again, slowly, and matches the two gloves before nestling them once more in the pouch. That he lifts in a final gesture of gratitude and then sets softly aside, reaching for tea now instead. "But I certainly will keep the buttons as you suggest; they are finely wrought. Monsieur Lefebvre was kind to make the effort."

Reflecting him, Iphigénie too reaches for her cup. Its contents is by now barely tepid, and she’s quick to top it up with a little of the fresh, hot tea from the pot. “I hope you don’t think Monsieur discourteous,” she murmurs, setting down the pot again, “for rushing off as he tends to do…” She drinks a little of her tea and then puts the cup down in its saucer and clasps her half-gloved hands upon the edge of the table. “Let me see,” she pronounces lightly, ruminating. “He may," she suggests, "have remembered urgent business elsewhere, which he’d been neglecting in pursuit of my charms.” She raises her eyebrows at Raphael. “Or I may have asked him to go for some reason of my own. Or he may have supposed, monsieur, that I should wish to be alone with you for a time. Can one really wonder at such a thought—?”

"Not at all," Raphael replies. "I would not keep a man, especially of our type, for politeness' sake and nothing more. He has his work, yes. And truth be told, Thorns and Mandrakes are often solitary predators," he says with a smile that appreciates what that is like. "We are each, after all, accustomed to setting the rules of our own worlds." A sip of the tea.

And the solitary prey smiles in gentle understanding. “Of course it’s simpler to have only one of you to consider at once…” she confides, over their cups of delicately honeyed tea. “Though you’re hardly the first of your canon to find your way into our company in all these years, and our custom has always been that Monsieur Lefebvre prefers me to attend more to the wishes of such a guest, as an extension of his hospitality as well as my own.”

"I view it as such," Raphael assures smoothly. "And I appreciate the consideration. I am sure that it is more I who must try to play my role properly as a guest favored with your fine hospitality, and one with many predecessors to be compared to." That remark is accompanied with a light, ironic smile.

“… Monsieur,” says Iphigénie after a moment, putting down her cup the better to study his face and the quality of his smile, “I think you’re teasing me. You can’t believe, in your heart, that there are many men who could justly be compared with you.”

Raphael laughs quietly at this question. "Now, now," he says. "Naturally when I am compared with others, I intend to surpass them." His eye fairly twinkles at that as he looks back to Iphigénie. He drinks tea rather than say more.

The spark of his mirth easily crosses the corner of the table to Iphigénie — who, smiling, bites her lower lip as she studies this typically modest and humble exemplar of his canon. Then she teases in turn, “Be careful, monsieur, or you’ll have me telling tales…"

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