(1311-10-20) Cheap Date
Summary: Two people share a drink whilst signally failing to recognise one another. Well, if they had done, something would’ve got spilled…
RL Date: 10/24/2019
Related: None
athenais philomene 

Leaping Fish Inn — Market Promenade

The Main Room of the Leaping Fish is tidy and well-kept - and warmed by a fire in the hearth to one side on colder days and evenings. An old tapestry depicting a pair of two leaping fish is adorning the opposite wall - a reference to both the ruling House of Mereliot and the name of the inn. The common room has five tables of sturdy oak with chairs and benches, between which two serving maids move to take orders or bring food and beverages. The air is filled with tasty smells of freshly cooked meals, and murmurs of conversation - and occasionally even melodies rippling through the room, when a lute player is around to provide entertainment. The fare is of good quality that even would not disappoint noble tastes.

There are stairs leading upstairs towards a number of comfortable and well kept rooms the inn has to offer.

Finding herself in this part of the city on an errand and discovering her flask to be empty — horror! — Philomène Aiglemort de Chalasse settles in at the long polished bar of the Leaping Fish, just at the hour when the common room is becoming crowded with locals and guests of the inn suffering similar predicaments. There are few enough open stools and happenstance brings her to occupy the one next to another blonde woman of about her own vintage.

… At least, such becomes clear when — after a few seconds of resolutely pretending that this has not happened — the other, seated by the wall, glances up from her glass of wine and reveals a handsome high-cheekboned countenance somewhat aged by time and sunshine.

She greets Philomène with a reserved nod, which is more than the harried barman has done yet. She’s tall and lean, dressed in dark red leather breeches and a plain shirt of good white linen with its laces slightly loose at the throat, beneath a dark frock coat worn against the autumn but unbuttoned in the inn’s warmth. The rapier belted about her hips occupies a plain black leather scabbard, from which she’d be free enough to draw it if a total stranger hadn’t just sat down to her immediate right. Her boots are for riding. Her white-streaked hair is scraped back and tied with a leather cord. The expression in her blue-grey eyes is idly resigned.

Philomène’s attire rarely changes. One might be forgiven for wondering if she even owns anything but that dated, deep brown riding jacket, by now so covered with fine embroidery that it’s really more thread than cloth these days, although there are rumours that she has been seen on occasion in something more feminine. Only rumours, though, as today’s outfit, tall riding boots and breeches, along with a rust-coloured silk scarf against the chill of the autumn air, attests.

Neither, of course, does her cautiously disapproving expression ever much change these days, and that nod from a stranger is met with a small, wary nod in kind, but her attention is rather more for the bartender and yet more for the drinks he should, with any luck, be able to provide soon.

She is, however, not yet dead, and if there’s one thing guaranteed to brighten what has otherwise been a fairly rotten afternoon it’s the opportunity to enjoy watching people. Yes, admittedly also judging people, but you can’t have everything. The blonde beside her is not immune to this casual scrutiny, and in fairness picks up more than her fair share of attention while the Chalasse waits for her libations, and not just because of their passing similarity of stature and colouring.

Next to her the other woman returns to studying her white wine. She takes another sip, and then when the bartender returns with Philomène’s schnapps, she clicks her fingers at him, points to her glass, and pronounces in a bored drawl, “This is horse-piss, Georges. Bring me something else.” Her accent is, like Marsilikos itself, a melting-pot: an Eisandine lilt, a few clipped vowels borrowed from the City of Elua, some l’Agnace besides. Her hand lowering to rest on the bar is workmanlike, strong and tanned, the nails well-shaped but clipped short.

Georges spirits away her offending beverage with an apology, addressed simply to ‘milady’. Another moment passes. Without looking up she utters in an undertone, “You’ve been staring at me.” It’s not a warning, so much as an observation considering whether to become one.

“I’ve been admiring your coat,” Philomène corrects as her hand curls around the schnapps as though it were some kind of lifeline. She wastes little time in knocking back a good swig of it before the glass thumps back down onto the bar. “I particularly like the inside of the lining. Try the schnapps. That, at least, has some sort of flavour to it.”

Athénaïs glances down at herself as if to verify what she’s wearing. Black wool, light but sturdy and gorgeously cut, lined with dove-grey silk woven through with a discreet pattern of blood-red and thread-of-silver. Like everything else she’s wearing it’s well-made but not new.

After a moment she concedes, “Something my niece gave me.”

Georges returns with a glass of a different white, more promptly than he brought the schnapps, and lingers to name its age and antecedents and to hope that milady will find it more to her taste. Raising a finger Athénaïs obliges him to wait— she lifts the glass, breathes it in, and only cautiously tastes it. Yes. Georges is dismissed by a flick of her hand. She swallows.

Called out for staring, Philomène keeps her gaze steadfastly forward towards the array of bottles at the back of the bar instead now, although the words are clearly intended for Athénaïs as she speaks. “Very handsome.” The coat. Surely. As the bar fills more with people, she deftly unbuttons her jacket and slides it from her shoulders in a manner distinctly more efficient than erotic, and hooks it over the slightly raised back of her stool in such a way as to hide as much of its own lining as she can. Or what’s left of the lining, as if you thought the outside was heavily stitched, the inside is a mess of threads where every repair job starts and ends.

That done, she methodically begins to roll up her sleeves, switching her glass from hand to hand, unwilling to actually let go in case she never sees another. “How’s the wine?” she does hazard to ask, momentarily letting her guard down enough to look back over to the other woman.

“Better,” Athénaïs admits after another pause. She drinks a more generous mouthful and then, glass still in hand, resolutely turns her head to look at Philomène again as she adds, “Though in general the Mereliot vin de pays is in decline.” There’s no sense about her of apology, or uncertainty, or anything but cast-iron confidence in her own quiet opinion.

“Wine’s wine,” Philomène states flatly, equally as self-assured when it comes to booze of any variety. “All this farting about is just willy waving by the vineyard owners. It tastes like it is. Fermented grapes.”

At that Athénaïs swivels slowly upon her stool. One booted foot unhooks from the cross-bar and comes to rest on the floor between them. She regards Philomène squarely and with no small degree of incredulity. “What’s your tongue made of?” she demands, her voice low-pitched and taunting as she looks the other woman over. “Sackcloth? Uncured boar’s hide?”

Philomène knocks back the last of her schnapps and holds the glass up to get the attention of the barman, tapping it with one fingernail and giving a slight nod to indicate that why, yes, she would like another. Quelle surprise.

She turns in her seat, openly looking her companion up and down now, while a very slight smile curves the corner of her lips. “Why? Were you looking for a demonstration?”

“Spare me,” Athénaïs ripostes at once, without thought. Her own lips curl in faint disdain. “Why waste so fine a vintage on a childish palate like yours?” she drawls. “Wine is wine,” she repeats, lending a mocking note to Philo’s phrase. She sips, and breathes out.

Having managed to touch a nerve and never knowing when to leave well enough alone, Philomène presses on. “Dress it up in the finest bottle you have and at the end of the day you’re still drinking rotten grape juice,” she notes with quiet amusement and a flash of spirit in her eyes (which may or may not be a distilled spirit by this stage, yes). “If you are what you eat, you must be at least in part also what you drink. Which would make you sour and dated, presumably?”

Athénaïs’s broad unpainted mouth broadens further into an unamused smile. “And you,” she suggests, her eyes narrowing but never leaving Philomène’s face, “a weak liquor, fruity and cloying, the choice of green girls who fear they can’t hold a real drink—?”

“I do feel that green is definitely your colour,” Philomène agrees, gaze locking with Athénaïs’s now, so that even the top up of schnapps into her glass (thank you, Georges) goes almost unnoticed. “But I don’t think I’ve ever been called fruity before. That’s a new one, probably better saved for a Somerville, not an Aiglemort.”

That other magnificent visage, opposite Philomène’s own, tightens at the very suggestion. Athénaïs takes another slow sip of her wine and then sets the glass aside on the counter, pushing it by habit away to arm’s length. “You’re an Aiglemort,” she drawls, with another flickering glance up and down Philomène’s worn and patched garments.

“I am,” Philomène agrees placidly, taking up her refreshed glass to do her best to knock back another half of it. “But what’s your excuse for being an arsehole?”

Without blinking, without flinching, without giving an inch of the psychological ground they’ve staked out for themselves in the increasingly crowded bar, Athénaïs rests her empty hand upon her red leather thigh (so near to her blade) and explains: “I’m so fucking good at it.”

With a glance down to that hand, not coincidentally taking in also both the leather clad thigh and the finely crafted blade, Philomène lets out a genuine laugh at that, taking the rest of her glass of schnapps and downing it before thumping the glass back down on the bar and gesturing towards it in the hope that it might magically refill. “Buy you a real drink?” she offers, apparently quite satisfied with this meeting thus far.

The suggestion hangs in the balance between them— Athénaïs draws breath and then exhales, her pose upon her barstool shifting to something less permeated with subtle menace. Yes, yes. This is how we do things now. Let’s try to remember it. “Uisghe, if you’re buying,” she volunteers, in the spirit of compromise. Schnapps would be a bridge too far.

And apparently, despite her own tastes running to whatever gutrot is likely to have her insensible the soonest, Philomène must at some point have either got a taste for good whisky or at least had some excellent schooling in the matter. She lifts her chin as the barman approaches, and requests of him in a tone that just expects to be obeyed a double shot of one of the peatier, more mellow options available, rather than just the closest shiny bottle with a high chance of going blind all the sooner. It could be coincidence, of course, but she does sound like she knows what she’s talking about. And, although no coins ever actually cross the bar — she’s hardly unknown here, and her accounts aren’t in quite such dire straits that she can’t get credit on her name alone — it would appear that yes, she is buying.

“Your niece should have bought you a helmet for your thick head, instead of a handsome coat,” she insists, half turning to rest her elbow on the bar. “Protect your quick mouth if nothing else, when somebody decides to close it for you.”

“Fucking try it,” is Athénaïs’s rejoinder, uttered with less heat than before as she takes up her uisghe and raises it further toward Philomène, its gracious (sort of) donor. As before, with her wine, she breathes in before she drinks— then she takes a deep mouthful and holds it, her expression subtly shifting from reserved dubiety into appreciation.

She swallows. “Seaspray,” she remarks. “Dried fruit— dates, perhaps? A touch of vanilla, as well as the barley and the malt… And yet the smoke doesn’t overpower it.”

“In a heartbeat,” Philomène shoots back, then settles back to observe the opinions of this picky drinker on the beverage she’s chosen for her. There’s a self-satisfied noise as it appears to go down well enough, a little nod, and, once her own glass has been topped up, she brings it up to return the mute toast. Not once do those grey-blue eyes leave Athénaïs’s face, either committing the lines to memory or trying to dig back into the nagging feeling that the face is not unfamiliar. Still, she wouldn’t be the first attractive blonde Philomène’s carried with her in unconscious memory, to draw out at opportune, lonely moments.

The rhapsody continues, with Athénaïs drinking again and savouring again, the glass held warm in her hand rather than being consigned to loneliness upon the bar. She’s eyeing Philomène just as steadily: discovering or… rediscovering? “I’m almost tasting,” she says at last, and the tip of her tongue discovers a lost hint of flavour upon her lower lip, “smoked meat.”

“Meat, dates, vanilla,” Philomène notes drily. “Well, that’ll obviate the need to find you dinner, then. Cheap date.”

“I’ve an idea,” Athénaïs drawls, raising her glass again, “that these dates aren’t cheap.” On which note she swallows several bold mouthfuls in succession, and lowers her glass almost empty despite its being a friendly double. (Georges did his best.)

“Come now, you’re right here,” Philomène decides, absently lifting her hand to her chin and cracking her neck. “I think ‘cheap’ is most definitely the word to use. Another?”

“That sounded like shit,” observes Athénaïs, nodding to Philomène and her neck. They’re sitting just close enough that she matched the sound to the gesture, yes. “No,” she decides then. Though she hasn’t quite finished, and indeed she’s still holding, the first one.

“Next time I’ll insist on a full twelve piece band to accompany it with appropriate music, perhaps a fireworks display,” Philomène counters amiably as she takes what is for her a distinctly more moderate gulp from her glass. “I hadn’t realised I was being judged on artistic merit.”

Athénaïs takes another swallow of uisghe and sets down her glass with a little of that fragrant amber liquid lingering still within it. “You do that,” she suggests to Philomène, though the distance in her tone suggests that her thoughts have gone their own way meanwhile.

Then she slips off her stool and catches up a pair of black leather gloves from the bar; and without a thank you, a hail, or a farewell, she makes her way out of the Leaping Fish and into the cool of the evening. Her stride is confident. Her coat moves well about her. Someone else, yes, moves instinctively out of her path. She isn’t one to yield.

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