(1311-10-27) Not Perfect
Summary: One evening at La Perle Noire, the proprietress is auditioning a new singer when a particularly thorny noble customer happens by…
RL Date: 10/27/2019
Related: None.
alair ashton safiye 

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.

<FS3> Alair rolls Singing: Good Success. (7 1 6 2 3 3 4 3 7 8)

La Perle Noire is alive with its finest atmosphere: a burble of pleasant discussion, familiar and exotic aromas on the air. A broad, bearded guard and willow perfumed attendants. Entertainments change daily at the Perle, perhaps even more often. Today instead of Ephesian music there are the familiar sounds of old d'Angeline melodies mixing with the steam rising into the air from every cup. Accompanied by a long-haired girl with a hand-held harp, Alair is contributing a gentle tenor that floats over the conversation without dominating, just loud enough that the lyrics can be made out, about bathing in a fountain and reflecting upon a lost love and petals scattered. Each note is pure and true, subtle dynamics lending emotional expression to the bittersweet melody.

<FS3> Ashton rolls Composure: Great Success. (8 2 8 6 2 5 8 3 5 2 5 1 8 3 2 5)

Perhaps it's the pure tones of D'Angeline music that has drawn the dark Vicomte de Malroix back to the city of Marsilikos and out from his secure grotto. Even if the music tonight is of a local delight, the Vicomte has one guard with him at his table, as well as a rather pretty woman in her early twenties. Either d'Angeline of low noble blood or high commoner, she seems to have lived a pampered life. Though her real use will be shown when she is the one to taste the Vicomte's drinks before he does… Even so, Ashton seems in light moods. If one could read his emotions. He isn't frowning. His gaze is drifting idly. Four more of his guards occupy a different table. Leatherbound men and one woman, their dark and hooded cloaks carrying the colors of Malroix and the Morhban family. The weapons on their hips have their peace knots loosened. When the long-haired girl starts with the harp, it seems as though Ashton is deaf. However, when Alair begins their singing… the storm ravaged piercing blue gaze lands and locks upon the man. The topic and the voice seems to enrapture the stone faced noble, a tale told only by his rapt attention and the most miniscule of tightening at a crease near the corner of his eye.

"Really!?" Is the sharp intonation from the Vicomte upon hearing some kind of news softly spoken from server to servant to master. There is no attempt at hiding the contempt in Ashton's features at this point and somehow the lack of a house wine, or even a Morhban wine, in the facility has grated the would-be romantic from his listening to the artful tenor floating in the room. It's then that the lord's eyes seek out someone who seems to be in charge of the house, as his fingers lightly drum on the table top. OF COURSE, the servant has a few bottles of wine handy. The guards had, in fact, gotten cups of coffee that they had not yet touched… one or two of them sneaking a flask here and there. There is a tension and a pause now in the area of the Vicomte. One of Safiye's servers half-frozen there next to Ashton's servant. Gazes either trapped by or avoidant regarding the source of the chill now spreading in the room.

The local singers have so far proved unsatisfactory: the Court de Nuit takes all the city's best talent and leaves very little to please the ears of a coffee-house proprietress raised amongst the songbirds of the zenana.

With a new young entertainer auditioning today Safiye lingers in the lounge in hope, her gentle presence moving from table to table to greet regular customers and gauge — subtly — whether this Alair de l'Ange's song falls as pleasingly upon their ears as, so far, it has her own. She has one eye already upon that arrogant dark-haired lord who arrived with such a large retinue of personal attendants. She glimpses, perhaps, the glint of a flask passed among them — as long as they're discreet, she leaves them to it. But when that voice so arrogant and so contemptuous rises above the general murmur of talk, defying the combined efforts of her carpets and her cushions and her curtains to muffle it, she gathers at once the direction it has come from and excuses herself from her present companions with a last word or two and a serene smile which suggests nothing can really be wrong, at La Perle. Her silk slippers rasp softly over richly patterned Ephesian carpets, toward Ashton's table. She's dressed in saffron and burgundy and gold, with her shining black hair in a thick braid over one shoulder. The graduated golden medallions of her earrings chime discreetly with her movement.

By a low gesture she dismisses the nervous waiter, whose d'Angeline isn't up to this: his perfume recedes and her own, headier and rather more expensive, replaces it. "My lord, you are most welcome to La Perle Noire," she murmurs, meeting the Kusheline lord's eyes for a flickering instant before bowing her head to him. She looks up again and explains smoothly, "I am Safiye Hanim. I wonder whether there is some small difficulty with which I might aid you—?"

The nobleman attended by so many has not escaped Alair's attention, either, though he does not appear concerned at all about the wine or an arrogant voice. He is busy looking as if butter would not melt in his mouth, as if transported by tasting the sweetness of each note in counterpoint to the dark aroma of coffee suffusing the shop. An oak and a nightingale appear in the song, companions and objects of contemplation while the singer lies dying from their dip in the fountain, still reflecting on roses that cannot be returned to the bush once the petals have scattered.

There is a moment when Ashton's blue eyes rest in the direction of Safiye's own darker hued orbs. He, idly as can be, motions to the chair beside his servant, opposite himself, for the proprietor to sit. A command so needlessly given. "I take issue with more than I have the energy to, most times, and so I weed out arbitrary idiosyncracies that irk me. Hate is too valuable an emotion to spend on merely being foreign, or the needless scents the poor cloud themselves with to avoid bathing. However, my darling, I mean not to be overly offensive except in one area. This lack of wine. It is not for my sake, you see, that I am irked. Yet, for Sebrine, my poison tester, I am bothered. Since she was a child she has been taught the flavor of poisons, the effects, inured to as many as she was able. Entire weeks spent wracked with pain as she survived one test poison after another. All so that she might survive as a warning for what would have otherwise taken my life. Never, has she ever, had your Cuffing drink. Were it to be poisoned… as so often happens to drinks I find in public… her death would be tragic to me, and it's entirely possible she would be unaware for too long, despite her level of training." This monologue is delivered with a tongue that seems no stranger to being botht he boon and the bane of many. With one word he is cutting, with the next phrase, a balm.

Finally he looks at Alair once more, relaxing as he does.

"Sit with me and show me that not all foreigners are assassins, won't you?" Somehow. The tone he uses. Implies that those words were some sort of compliment.

The dignified proprietress of La Perle does not, however, sit at her customer’s invitation.

“Ah, my lord, I think I understand now the confusion,” she suggests gently. Her voice is husky and low and her accented d’Angeline fluent, with enunciation that hints of her having learnt it in the highest circles of the City of Elua. Her eyes are dark and grave. “You see, La Perle is not a tavern or a salon, such as you might find elsewhere in the city, but a coffee-house. We serve coffee, only. My apologies, my lord, for whatever misguided rumour has led you here unawares. If it is wine you seek, perhaps you and your young lady might find your desires better accommodated elsewhere…?” A speculative tilt of her head; golden medallions graze against the line of her jaw. “If you care to stay I might easily ensure her safety by brewing your coffee with my own hands, though by custom I rarely do so for a vicomte.”

Alair draws the song to a close with a final remembrance of the sweetheart's love and a ritardando on the final arpeggio from the accompanist. However much he appeared to focus on his singing, he must have caught part of this conversation, for he steps forward. "Oh, my Lord," he says, "If you have such enemies then we must all do our part in seeing to it that you are safe amongst us. The fineness of this coffee house is the talk of the town and I believe the proprietress to be most trustworthy. What a fine thing for her to brew for you with her own hands." His accent is neither the usual talk of commoners nor precisely the typical pattern of local nobles. It is something a little closer to the way noble characters talk on the stage, schooled but not quite natural.

"You may make us your coifé, if you will taste it with us." Ashton de Morhban makes this offer, statement really, to Safiye with little more than a slow blink as his focus remains primarily upon Alair. "I have come for the music anyhow…" It's when the artist deigns to speak to the noble that Ashton finally seems truly engaged in the evening's activities. "Is that so, Alair?" Was the Vicomte given the singer's name earlier? "Then you would accept the invitation I have offered your employer, would you not? To safeguard me during this evening's entertainments." The way this is spoken is clearly an order. There is little in the way of request kept in Ashton's tone and there is more than drop of something being restrained. Somehow. It is a bit colder here where the noble is than where it was on stage.

At Alair’s interjection Safiye looks to him as well, with a faint narrowing of her eyes. Someone’s keen to be taken on permanently, isn’t he. Though he’ll have to learn when not to interrupt her conversations. Her gaze shifts again to Ashton. “Then if you will name how many cups you desire, my lord,” oh, and how much she allows the staff to fraternise with the customers, “I shall retire and prepare your coffee,” she murmurs. When the vicomte has spoken she bows her head again and withdraws, her colourful silks flowing about her.

Dimples etch either side of Alair's face as a smile slowly blooms. "My lord, you do me the honor of knowing my name. But of course I will accept." He shows nothing but delight in having been invited, whatever the tone. "Perhaps you will tell me of your tastes in music if it is something you take pleasure in." This leaves the harpist as a solo act for the time being. "Where shall I sit, my lord?" He presumes he'll get a seat at the table.

"Four, then." Ashton replies to the owner of the coffee house before he nods his head slowly to the chair opposite him which would put Alair in the crosshairs of Ashton, and beside both the captain of his guard and his personal taste tester. "I take interest in only a few things. Or rather, Alair, there are only a few things left in this life to take interest in. I prefer music in the d'Angeline tongue… things that are quietly complex. Interwoven and eloquent. I like things that are beautiful without being told they are beautiful." His blue eyes now bore into the lad and after a pause, the Vicomte asks the skilled singer, "Do you need to be told that you are a beautiful thing?"

Alair does not look in the least unhappy to be the object of the gaze from the occasionally forbidding Vicomte. "Oh no, my lord," he replies, smile refreshing itself. "As you say, to be told would not make it any more or less true. If I am a beautiful thing, then I am a beautiful thing. I hope one day I can entertain you with more complex singing in parts."

The Kusheline vicomte and the too-beautiful singer continue their elegant flirtation; meanwhile in the kitchens Safiye has donned an apron to protect her silks and she’s chuckling with her senior confectioner across a cezve just on the verge of boiling. “Never mind,” she assures the other woman in their own tongue. “Fewer horsetails than he thinks he has, that’s all.”

The ritual of preparing coffee is something she could perform exquisitely whilst half-asleep— in fact, that’s just what she does every morning. In little more time than it takes to heat the cezve she returns (minus apron) to the lounge, bearing upon one of her best and most elaborate Ephesian solid silver trays a quartet of finely-wrought copper cups of steaming, frothing, cinnamon-fragrant, so-strong-it’ll-knock-you-sideways black coffee. The waiter at her heels — not the same one, that one’s on a coffee break now — carries a similar but different tray, laden with four tall glasses of pure spring water and a communal plate of orange-flavoured Ephesian delight, its sugar-dusted cubes scattered liberally upon a stylised blue and green and golden pattern suggestive of peacock feathers. Is that gold dust set into the pottery—? Why, yes, it is. Safiye has brought out some of her best dishes, which, blossoming across Ashton’s table in a pattern artfully asymmetrical, would disgrace no palace. The classical Eastern response to a guest’s rudeness: shame him with the lavishness of one’s own hospitality.

When the first tray is empty Safiye rests her own on top of it, and with her own hands (still) bends to transfer those four cups of coffee to the low table between herself and Ashton— taking first, from each, a token sip that paints her red mouth anew with foam. “Which do you prefer, my lord vicomte?” she inquires.

Alair has been invited, which means that he feels obliged to pretend that, one, he has ever had coffee before and, two, that he has ever had anything off of ceramics fired with gold. But at least he has the good sense (for the moment) to keep his mouth shut and let nobleman and prospective employer decide how the cups are to be distributed.

Ashton de Morhban watches everything that Safiye does with that opaque lack of interest he has shown most everything this night. However, one could draw his interest by the mere fact he looks at nothing else the entire time. It's Safiye's hands, the pottery, the platings, the positionings that all encompass his focus. Not to mention a very keen attention spent on ensuring something actually passes her lips when she sips. Which, again difficult to read, seems to be something of a topic as he offers just the smallest of smiles to Alair without even responding to Safiye. "Would you, Alair? Sip from each to ensure my salvation this night?" For now, the choice of which to drink is shelved and Ashton returns his gaze to Safiye without that small smile. For a beat. And another beat.




"Coffee, isn't it?" He pronounced the drink correctly this time. In fact, he pronounces it and the words around it in flawless Ephesian albeit heavily accented, in fact almost purposely so.

"My pleasure," replies Alair. "Let us thwart your enemies together." He turns each cup a quarter, not keen to pick up any of Safiye's lip paint, and has a small drink from each as though the bitterness did not surprise him. "Do you talk their language, my lord?" he asks with a curious expression. "Are you a far traveler?"

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

Safiye feels the vicomte’s scrutiny as she tastes cup after cup in deference to his proud paranoia. She feels too that he is playing some game with her, even before his pronunciation mysteriously clears up and his ‘cuffing’ and ‘coifé’ attains at last the richness of ‘kahve’. She sets down the fourth cup and gathers the foam from her lip with a flick of her tongue. Then she lowers herself with the grace of a courtesan to kneel amongst the cushions across from the divan where Ashton and his young lady friend sit at their ease. She looks up from smoothing her full and flowing dark red skirts to find that he is now, quite frankly, staring. For a second or two she holds his gaze, with a query in her own. “Yes, my lord,” she answers, still in d’Angeline, then in Ephesian: “Kahve.” On which note she lowers her warm brown eyes and tilts her head to the side, to watch Alair proving that he’s capable of putting his hand to an unusual task. She says nothing more, leaving the men to talk. They do like that, as a rule.

Finally Ashton takes up a cup so twice tested and takes a slow and solid sip from the beverage. His tongue explores the the foam of his lips with a lulled pace. "Hm." His hum leaning neither way in the compliment or ridicule veins. His smile returns at Alair's energy and the Vicomte replies, "Me? I could never take the risk, Alair, to go and explore a world more mundane than my own. However. That which would tempt me would certainly be those gems of poetry, tales and songs that are human more than they are of a kind or culture. There was a day, you see… when a certain tale came across my gaze. Of a younger, but clever brother amongst many such. But with the charisma of an emperor. He sought allies out in the world, with great success so that when the time came that friends would matter. It mattered most. After all, my dear Alair, have you not heard the moral… 'choose the devil you know'?" He takes another drink of his coffee, this time his servants seem to start taking their own sips as if the drink earning another taste from the, now conversationally meandering, Morhban meant it was fine for public consumption. "A story so interesting to me that I had to learn the language to fully gain its value."

"Have you heard of this tale, I cannot quite remember its name in the moment, do you?" Is Ashton's soft words given with a kind and small smile to Safiye from the other side of the distance between them. It's then that he orders away the captain of his guard from his side with a silent flick of a wrist. Leaving a space for Safiye to fill should she so deign. He looks to Alair and says in a more pleasant tone, "I do forget the names of things at times. It's a tragedy."

<FS3> Ashton rolls Composure: Good Success. (4 4 6 1 6 8 3 4 3 4 5 8 8 1 3 6)

It's the third drink of the coffee, a deep and long drink, that does little to hide the Vicomte's enjoyment of it. It's in that flair of the nostrils. The way he wraps his fingers around the mug to warm them. The slight lean forward as if trying not to allow himself to show the interest he harbors for the dark brew. For a time, his gaze even loses itself in the foam of the drink.

"I suppose I have heard it, my lord," Alair replies, "But the truth is I never choose what I know if I can choose something new." He smiles yet again, this one just a little more cunning. "If you so like stories and music, my lord, you must visit the Opera often. I intend to be employed there soon. And if the coffee is too your liking, I expect we'll see each other from time to time, either here or there." He seems to assume he will be employed here, too.

Sitting with her head still slightly bowed, Safiye draws toward herself whichever is the nearest cup of coffee — leaving Alair and the unfortunate Sebrine to claim their own as they will — and she drinks deeply, in the manner of one well accustomed to the fragrant ferocity of her own brew. (She’s an eight cups a day woman, herself. Unless she gets up early, in which case it’s ten.) She listens to the men speak with an air of respectful attention, glancing from one to the other, seeming to miss the import of Ashton’s reshuffling of his staff. Then, when they leave her a silence to fill, she takes another mouthful of her coffee and sets it down again and clasps her hands neatly together in her silken lap. “I think there are even more tales in the world than there are bards to tell them,” she ventures, smiling gently across the table at Ashton; “and each telling varies, doesn’t it? I don’t think I know quite the one you mean, my lord, but perhaps if it pleases you to come again to La Perle you may hear it spoken one day from our stage. Sometimes we have storytellers and dancers, my lord, as well as singers of ballads.”

"I do frequent the opera when I am here in the city. I will watch your career with keen interest, my dear Alair." So says the now softly spoken Vicomte to the songbird with him.

"Really?" Is his reply to Safiye. Though a true smile has crept into his features, even if it is faint. He motions to the now empty seat and offers, "Please, I invite you as your guest, to do me the service of remaining with us as we partake of your particular skill set. I cannot seem surprised that you have not heard this tale based purely on my remarkably vague retelling of the summary. I thought, perhaps, since it held your namesake as an interesting token to the tale that you might be able to recall the title I could not."

"Now I am pleased to hear that, my lord," Alair replies, and drinks the fragrant foreign brew from the fine cup. He must not have made head or tail of Ashton's story, since if he could even fake knowing it he'd no doubt be volunteering to tell it. But instead he sits still and keeps his peace.

“My namesake?” inquires Safiye politely after a moment, her dark eyebrows drawing fractionally nearer to one another. “My lord, mine is a common name in many lands and languages around the middle sea,” she suggests; “I would not be surprised to discover that it appears in many a tale, told over centuries.” She turns then to Alair. “If you have finished your coffee,” she murmurs, though anyone can see he hasn’t, “perhaps you would regale us with another song, Alair? I feel I have heard yet only a small part of your repertoire.”

Alair does not take it badly to be reminded that he is still in the midst of an audition. Or perhaps coffee is a drink he doesn't mind abandoning, not having acquired the taste yet. The third possibility is that he only now thinks of his accompanist who has been left on her own strumming strings for some time now. "Yes," he says. "So many more songs to share with your guests." He gets up and goes to join the harp player for a more upbeat tune about the flowers that sprung from Elua's steps and a country girl who might be named for each type.

Ashton merely nods, with a slow blink, to the endearing Alair and then his smile tightens up a bit as he gazes back to Safiye. "Oh? How strange. My Ephesian is not perfect." Though it was before. "Is Sophia rooted to Safiye?" He leans a bit towards Safiye, going to an elbow in the cushions as he watches Alair alleviate the poor harpist's woes and lighten the entire atmosphere of the place. He's cruised right through his own cup of coffee.

For a second or two Safiye eyes Alair’s retreat, to make sure he’s getting right back to work. Then she tilts her head toward Ashton opposite her. Those medallions suspended from her earlobes catch the candlelight gorgeously: the gold is real, and engraved with surpassing fineness. There may, very possibly, be a slight stiffness in her kneeling figure as the vicomte leans in nearer to her. “I believe so, my lord,” she agrees cautiously, and she drinks again from her copper cup. “Sometimes in Terre d’Ange I am called ‘Lady Sophia’— it is easier,” she lowers her chin as she confides this, “for a d’Angeline tongue to pronounce.”

"Ah, then you must not be the same Sophia from the tale, of course? Since… you said there are so many of you." Ashton remarks blithely to his host as he listens to the music. His coffee mug emptied with a less fettered eagerness. "Which is a pity. Such a story. Such blood and betrayal. Such machinations that it is hard to believe the characters could be real."

“Then perhaps they are not, my lord,” Safiye suggests with her customary gentleness, giving him a smile of studied wistfulness across the gleaming copper rim of her own cup as she lifts it again to her lips. Nothing left there either but the foam. She sets it down. “Tales grow in the telling, even tales of a world— more,” she hesitates and then echoes his earlier word with audible care, “‘mundane’ than your own? My lord, would you please indulge me by explaining to me what that means? I’m afraid my d’Angeline is…” She smiles and shakes her dark head, setting her earrings into delicate motion again. “Not perfect,” she echoes again.

<FS3> Ashton rolls Composure: Failure. (2 6 2 5 6 2 1 2 4 4 2 2 3 5 4 5)

Ashton is idly watching the new musician sing and seems to be catching half of what Safiye is doing till she goes to moisten the edge of that cup with her lips once more, finding only the airy bitter bite of foam. His eyes seem to have to watch that happen. Then when she speaks he focuses more and more on her and there is this moment. This tiny, little moment. When Ashton does not see Safiye coming. It's so little, her comment. 'Not Perfect'. Meaning it is. Meaning they are. And in that most brief of moments of exposed chinks in the immortal armor of the Morhban's composure, Safiye has swifted an arrow through.

And Ashton laughs. He laughs heartily and deeply, gregariously. It's a thing of beauty, like spring interrupting a lifetime of winter. The chirps of birds freed from the ice and snow of the silent and pale face of the earth. It's that passion of Kusheth. That flip side of the weal and the rod. That which drives some to become nobler than any other. In this case, however, it is simply because here he is. And here she is. Two so similar, appearing so different. Finally he says smoothly, as he caresses her with his eyes, "The whole world is mundane and you know that. I am glad you won. I did not know how glad till just now, and I am glad to meet you. It does not take the blood of an angel to turn the mud of humanity into something more."

<FS3> Safiye rolls Composure: Great Success. (5 8 8 6 7 2 5 3 3 3 1 5 7)

On the farther side of that display of exquisite and costly dishes — mostly Anatolian in provenance — Safiye with hands clasped regards the laughing vicomte with a slow, wondering smile. One might well think she had no idea what he meant. But she can’t quite disguise the intelligence in her eyes. “My lord, I am glad you have enjoyed your coffee today,” she murmurs, inclining her head toward him with all her customary grace. “I hope we shall see you again at La Perle,” and she tucks her feet beneath herself and pushes up, rising without difficulty despite her years and ordering her skirts with a practiced (and manicured) hand.

“Though I would take it as a kindness, my lord,” she confides to him over the table, “if you would command your retinue not to bring their own bottles and flasks of liquor into my establishment. If they do not care for coffee, they may drink water. Surely, my lord, you will find either of those libations more suitable for them while they are on duty…?” she suggests. “I understand that you are greatly concerned for your safety,” again she dips her chin, nodding to Sebrine and showing another fascinating angle upon her own asymmetrical features, “and when you visit my house, I assure you my own staff will lack no precaution.”

Offering him a final — very final — bow of her head, she glides calmly away.

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