(1311-10-29) Round Four
Summary: Another friendly meeting between those two inveterate charmers, Athénaïs and Philomène. Only this time they end up in a low waterfront tavern…
RL Date: 10/25/2019 - 10/29/2019
Related: Cheap Date, We’re All Barbarians. An Excess of Chalasse.
athenais philomene 

Jardins d’Eisheth — Marsilikos

Tranquility and beauty of nature is what those coming to the gardens of Eisheth usually seek. There is a playfulness in the arrangement of paths through the greenery, and the way four of them wind to the center, where there is a pond surrounded by a few elm trees, beside an area with wooden benches and tables beneath an arbor, where ivy winds about wooden posts, and a roof of colorfully glazed tiles offers shelter from the sun but also moderate rain.

Bushes are trimmed, and the green is kept short, so that people coming here can enjoy the dramatic view over the coast all the way to the sea, with the harbor and the citadel slightly to the north. Slightly towards the south and close by is the infirmary with the herb garden beside, where a variety of plants used for healing and treating certain illness are grown under the immaculate care of the healers. Towards the east, a path leads towards the temple district, where the dominant structure of the Temple of Eisheth looms, the white marble shimmering almost otherworldly on late afternoons, when it catches the warm, orange light of the setting sun.


By midmorning — when the earliest and most devout templegoers have been and gone, but the late risers have yet to drag themselves from their beds to offer worship — Eisheth’s gardens are pleasantly quiet, if not quite empty. Philomène’s morning routine, her slow training in familiar and strengthening military drills, is complete. But given that the morning is dry and bright, and the leaves left on the trees have turned by now into a glorious panoply of deep reds, purples and yellows, she’s found herself a seat with her back to the sea where she can rest and catch her breath and enjoy the view. The chill of the air and the exertion of her exercise has raised a pinkness high on each cheek and she looks, for once in her life, content.

And lo! To trouble her calm there comes a lean and graceful figure in dark red breeches and a different black coat, this one stitched from leather rather than wool. The rapier at her waist is the same, though, and the confidence in her stride. Athénaïs de Belfours saunters through Eisheth’s gardens breathing in the green scent and crunching the last crispness of the morning frost beneath her booted feet. The woman relaxing on the bench ahead of her is a familiar figure by now, albeit with clothes on this morning. When her tread announces her she’s ready with a nod for Philomène, though she’s hardly one to speak the first word.

Perhaps Philomène has been replaced by a pod person, or she’s not feeling well, but she likewise remains silent on spying this tall blonde echo of herself. She lifts her chin, acknowledging at least that the other woman is there, but remains comfortably seated in her pale robes. Perhaps echo is the wrong word. She’s more like a mirror image, the same but simultaneously the complete opposite. Philomène wears white, Athénaïs wears black. Philomène remains seated while Athénaïs stands. Philomène is painfully aware of the injury disfiguring her, while Athénaïs is a paragon of d’Angeline beauty, grace and poise. Really, it’s little wonder that the Chalasse narrows her eyes a little, in a combination of latent fury, envy and lust. Pride goes without saying, so it’s really only gluttony, sloth and greed missing.

Let’s just give her credit for the full set, shall we? She’s earned it.

In earshot, moving with leonine grace despite her hands being shoved in the pockets of her flowing dark coat, Athénaïs calls out in a low voice: “Delicate flowers you grow in your part of the country.” She’s not yet slowing in her stroll, let alone veering toward the bench — she may be gone soon enough, and wouldn’t that be a shame? Wouldn’t it, Philo?

“Perhaps if you’d ever visited you might have seen for yourself,” Philomène counters, lifting her chin so the morning light highlights her cheeks. “But you’ve never been to the mountains, have you? Well, probably for the best, considering. The Skaldi fight back in numbers, not some neat little duel for show.”

Athénaïs stops. It’s not even the cheekbones and the shadow they cast, that arrests her — it’s the harping on that same tired old Camaeline theme. “I meant,” she clarifies, lowering her chin as she regards Philomène, “your little girl cousin at the baths the other day.”

The eyes narrow a little more in response, and as that perfect mirror image so too Philomène’s chin lifts. “You’ll explain exactly what you mean by that remark, of course,” she insists in a dangerously low voice, her hands flattening on the bench by her sides. “Because it sounded an awful lot like you’re insulting my family. Please, do tell me how I’m mistaken.”

“You didn’t know her from a hole in the wall, but you want to fight me — again — to defend her against the suggestion that she’s not cut from the same scabrous old piece of leather you were?” is Athénaïs’s sceptical query as her gaze lingers upon those white-knuckled hands, that tension in Philomène’s glorious jaw. “Give it up,” she suggests instead. “Not everything is a deadly insult. If I were challenging you,” she concludes, “I’d know it. I’m not.”

There’s a moment or two where Philomène looks as though it could go either way. Her gaze — at present a pale, stormy grey — fixes on the standing woman, either gauging the distance to be able to leap on her, or simply reconsidering that entire set of tactics given that any sort of leap is going to go horribly, horribly wrong.

“Keep your damn gloves on, then,” Philomène insists eventually, deliberately forcing the tension from her shoulders and from where her hands are pressed, white from the pressure, against the bench. “And leave the family out of it. There are three things off limits. Country, province and family.” She absently touches her chin, tilting her head as though about to crack her neck, but thinks better of it and lowers her hand again, instead to her lap. “And, to keep things fair, I won’t tell you that your wine tastes like piss.”

“Oh, you’re setting terms now?” drawls Athénaïs. But without pause to allow for an answer she goes on, standing squarely there with her feet in a stance Philomène must recognise as implying a readiness for any direction in which their talk might tend. “I wouldn’t give a donkey’s arsehole for any schnapps-drinker’s opinion of my wine,” she asserts, though her bold words are accompanied by a twitch of her lips which might be accounted playful.

“Well, of course you wouldn’t,” Philomène insists, taking a moment to lever herself to her feet. It’s not a fast movement, but there’s a methodical way she sets about it, steeling her face, then shoulders and then further down her body before she twists a little to plant most of her weight to her right, and finally, with a barely discernible shiver, reaches a standing position with feet set apart to match Athénaïs exactly. She has perhaps an inch of height on her, so she leans her head back a little in order to examine the Azzallese swordswoman down the length of her perfectly sculpted nose. “You need every arsehole you can get to talk out of.”

None of this cautious calibration, this dogged effort is lost on Athénaïs, accustomed as she is to sizing up the physicality of potential opponents. Yes, there’s a difference of an inch, in Philomène’s favour— but the small span of grass between them attenuates it sufficiently that once the Camaeline woman has straightened to her full height, the Azzallese has no need to tilt her face upward to hold her gaze. She wouldn’t in any case. She looks straight across.

“If you're so desperate to have the shit kicked out of you by someone with ‘tolerably good looks’,” she repeats Philo's own phrase in a mocking humour accompanied nonetheless by a faint, fleet narrowing of her eyes, “there are courtesans in this city who do just that.”

Flicking back the edge of her robe to reveal the jewelled and ornately worked scabbard and the curved knife therein, Philomène dips her head a little and flexes her fingers slowly.

“You and I both know,” she mentions in a low, conversational tone, allowing her hand to move in plain sight, inches at a time, towards the knife, but with the palm outwards so she couldn’t actually grasp it without faster reflexes than she’s shown thus far, “that the only real pleasure to be had is in a fair challenge.” The scabbard is nudged back on her belt with the back of her hand, moving it clearly out of the way. No knives, then, apparently. “If there’s no challenge, what’s the point in it? What’s the point in any of it?”

Athénaïs finally removes her hands from her pockets and hooks one gloved thumb and then the other through the sword-belt about her hips, moving with similar deliberation, not quite touching either of her own blades. She lets a silence fall while she considers Philomène.

At length she remarks, softly, “It must madden you.”

“I’ve heard nothing of your prowess in the last twenty years, either,” Philomène retorts, letting the robe fall back around her lean figure and narrowing her own eyes a touch. “I took an injury, fighting for my country. You, though? You just got old.”

“I can get a fight whenever I want one.” Athénaïs shrugs. “You, though.” She looks the other woman up and down, and her smile lengthens into a third blade. “You talk shit about people from morning to night and they never take you up on it. Do they? No one worth your time wants to fight a cripple — because,” and she goes for the jugular, “it wouldn’t be fair.”

“I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people with the wit or the skill to be worth my time,” Philomène counters, fingers going to her chin as she cracks her neck. “Are you one of them?”

“I’m old, remember?” Athénaïs shoots back. “You’ll want to save yourself for the young blades who come thronging to pit themselves against Philomène d’Aiglemort… You may run out of fingers,” she speculates in a drawl, “and have to take your boots off.”

Philomène takes a moment to look the woman over quite obviously, leaning back so she can take in the full picture before meeting her gaze. “Ah no, I don’t think I’d bother taking off my boots for some young blades.” She reaches forward to pluck a possibly imaginary piece of lint from Athénaïs’s collar.

The lint may be imaginary — Athénaïs’s hand is wholly tangible, coming up with lightning quickness to capture Philomène’s wrist just as the latter’s fingertips brush against the soft black leather of her coat. The pressure of her grip doesn’t extend to the point of pain. There’s merely a suggestion, conveyed via her narrowing gaze as she redirects that impertinent hand back away towards its owner, that at any moment, should she push her luck, it might.

If anything, Philomène looks encouraged, a small smile curving up the corners of her lips as she rotates her arm outwards. “So you are up for a fair challenge, then?” she suggests, using physics in place of speed to return the pressure to Athénaïs’s arm and wrist. “Loser buys the beers?”

“That,” drawls Athénaïs softly, maintaining a steadfast grip upon that enterprising wrist, “is not a challenge either. That,” she explains, delivering Philomène’s hand to her own collar, “is a reminder that you may look— but not touch.” She lets go, abruptly.

“Well, if those are your stipulations, the challenge barely seems worth it,” Philomène notes drily, absently straightening her collar and lifting her chin. “You don’t want to lose to a cripple, is it? Or be seen to try, when it’s clearly not fair?”

Athénaïs takes a step back to get a better look at Philomène, from her cropped blonde hair down to her sensible flat boots. Her gaze lifts again. “Is it wax in your ears?” she asks.

Philomène meets her gaze for only a second or two before she shakes her head, shrugs a shoulder as though to disregard the entire confrontation, and casually mentions as she turns away, “I’m going for a beer. Are you coming?”

“It’s not even noon,” Athénaïs points out in a sceptical drawl, raising her eyebrows at Philomène’s turning back. “Nowhere’s open yet.”

Philomène raises one hand to the sky, beginning to limp off with as much dignity as she can muster. “The one good thing about Marsilikos,” she calls out without looking back, posture as upright as she can manage and doing her best to disguise the worst of her limp, “is that it’s a port town. And that means there’s always somewhere open. If you’re not scared of a few sailors, anyway.” Because who would know better than Philomène exactly where one can get a drink at any time of the day.

There’s a pause, and then Athénaïs’s swifter and more regular tread pursues Philomène’s limp. “You make a habit of starting at breakfast, then?” she drawls to the other woman as she outdistances her and then casually, but obviously, slows to match her pace.

“I make a habit of never allowing myself to be entirely sober,” Philomène admits, although it’s half an admission and half a proud challenge, magnificent jaw lifting. “It saves a lot of time in the long run.” She deliberately forces herself to walk a little faster, no matter the discomfort. She won’t be shown up by the younger woman. “It makes the whole thing a lot more bearable.” The whole thing? The sad rejection of every fight she tries to start? The old war wound? The callous response to her attempts to flirt? All of the above?

“Crippled and drunk,” drawls Athénaïs, stride lengthening again; “the opponent of anyone’s dreams.” But there’s no particular rancour in her voice, not now. It could be that a few minutes of Philomène’s time would make anybody grateful for a lead on where to find a drink.

“It eases the irritation of dealing with arseholes like you,” Philomène responds tartly, lips pressing together as she steps out a little faster, every pace a little longer. It’s not a competition, except apparently to the Chalasse everything is. “If you’re expecting wine, you’ll be disappointed. Beer and strong liquor where we’re going. Try not to make too much of a tit of yourself.”

No matter Philomène’s pace, or how much breath it leaves her to banter with, Athénaïs adjusts to it easily, keeping in step with her and never losing that air of insouciant Azzallese grace. “I’m not worried,” she remarks as they leave the gardens behind; “they’ll all be watching the crippled old woman who’s trying to pick a fight with the biggest man there.”

There’s no indecision in the route Philomène leads them along. It’s the quickest route down to the port, cutting down more than one smaller back alley, regardless the threat in the early morning from opportunistic pickpockets or worse. Apparently a look like that on her face and the thieves decide better of it, and today there are two of them who look like they’d fold any opposition in two without breaking a sweat.

“I don’t pick fights with men, as a rule,” the Vicomtesse notes shortly, although there’s a breathlessness to her voice which rather implies that this pace is taking its toll on her and that’s the reason for her tone. “They never give everything. And,” she adds with a smirk for the cobbles in front of her more than for anyone else, “the view isn’t nearly as pleasing.”

Her companion’s variably fragrant route draws no comment from Athénaïs— in fact, she seems to know the way they’re going, and she takes every corner decisively without glancing to see what direction Philomène’s feet might be tending in. “They give everything,” she opines after a moment’s recollection, “when they’ve no choice. The view,” and she shrugs. “I can’t say I worry about the view. Maybe if you looked less you’d get beaten less.”

“Like I said, a fair fight is more important to me than anything else,” Philomène casually throws out there, rounding the last corner of a particularly seedy end of the docks and opening the door for her companion. It’s a testament to exactly how regularly she’s seen in here that the barman merely lifts his chin at her in greeting and otherwise gets on with pouring more drink into sailors who have too much money to spend in too little time. “I don’t aim to kill mine, just to have a bit of fun.” She holds up two fingers to the barman, lifts her chin when she’s acknowledged, then limps her way over the spit and sawdust to a small, wobbly table.

Athénaïs eyes her self-appointed guide and steps ahead of her through that doorway, ducking her head to avoid the scarred wooden lintel. She glances quickly about the tap room, marking the places of its patrons and their visible weapons and weighing up her status as by far the most obviously well-heeled person on the premises. She doesn’t quite look back to Philomène but tilts her head toward her. “If you find low stakes so amusing…” she murmurs.

She gets to the table an easy step or two ahead of her limping companion and without hesitation claims the better seat, against the wall and with a panoramic view of the rest of the room and its occupants. She settles with one leg comfortably outstretched and her rapier just by coincidence free of her leather coat-tails. “Was that one for each of us?” she inquires of Philomène, lifting her eyebrows. “Or two for your breakfast?”

Philomène might be what’s considered a regular — but she’s also not entirely reckless. She pulls the second seat at the table round to ninety degrees, setting it if not exactly beside Athénaïs then certainly close. She’s not about to sit with her back to the rest of the bar’s inhabitants, no, and as she carefully lowers herself down, the knife at her belt is casually nudged closer to her side than her back, ready to be drawn at a moment’s notice.

With a flick of her pale robes she leans back in her seat, lifting the front two legs from the ground. “You’re my guest,” comes the answer, her sardonic drawl unconsciously mirroring the other woman. “And you’re not here to fuck spiders. One for me, one for you. It’s a tavern. Running out of beer isn’t a worry, don’t be concerned.”

“Not here to fuck anyone,” Athénaïs drawls, and there’s something quintessentially Azzallese in that faint curl of her unpainted lips. Then there’s a tavern wench coming toward them with two tankards none too well-polished, and she glances sharply up at her approach. Her elegant features are unimpressed as usual. The tankards land and the girl recedes. She raises an eyebrow at Philomène and then the beer, with reservations, to sniff it.

The Chalasse takes a moment to wipe the rim of her tankard with one pale sleeve, leaving a dirty smear on the otherwise spotless robes (which Caroline can despair about getting clean later), before she lifts her beer in mock salute to her guest and takes a long draught.

The other sleeve (her poor sleeves get no break today) goes to wipe her lip, and she points out quietly as she eyes the tavern’s occupants, “It’s not the worst beer in the city here, but just watch the company. You’ve got three different crews in this morning, looks like. The game over there,” and she flicks her gaze pointedly towards a back corner without actually turning her head that way, “could well turn to fists in a minute when that fellow realises his opponent’s got a shill. I give it ten minutes at most. And the young chap at the bar can’t hold his liquor, look at him. He’ll try to start something, I’d wager.” And in all this she just looks quite satisfied, leaning back as though in a box at the theatre, here to enjoy the show and no more.

That first assertion doesn’t appear to convince Athénaïs, any more than the smell of it did— she puts down the city’s not-quite-worst beer and produces a folded handkerchief to wipe clean one side of her own tankard’s rim. The handkerchief vanishes again. She watches the men sideways as she drinks: her face oriented toward Philomène but her gaze darting quicksilver from one group to another as she follows her host’s quiet narrative.

“The one on the far left,” she offers in an undertone, “with the blue kerchief.” She names a small but not negligible sum of coin, “—Says he lands the first punch.”

Settling her chair back down on all four legs, Philomène rests an elbow on the table, this movement enough to disguise a quick glance over in that direction to ascertain exactly which of the pre-belligerents she’s talking about. “Double or nothing says he’s first on the floor,” she counters with a self satisfied curve of her lips. He’s a big lad, but he’s not paying attention to who’s around him, look.”

<FS3> Philomène rolls Tactics: Good Success. (4 5 7 5 4 8)

She lifts her beer for another drink, that giving her another excuse to scan the entire area. “The moment he kicks off,” she notes in an undertone behind her tankard, “every one of those others there is in reach to sucker punch his mates if they try anything, and it’ll be three on one. And,” she adds with what might be recognised as anticipatory glee, “the barman’s got a bloody great bit of wood under the taps he stores to keep the idiots in line.”

“Double or nothing,” agrees Athénaïs with a subtle nod, because why not.

“Better than a cockfight,” she drawls after a moment, behind the similar guise of taking a second cautious sip from her tankard. This time, though, there’s no foam to be licked from her upper lip. Lowering it again she quirks her eyebrows. “… Or do I mean, just the same?”

Philomène adjusts her seat, lightly wrapping both hands around her tankard and positioning her legs to slightly draw back the left, out of the way of what might shortly be flying drinks, furniture or people. It’s a discreet movement, a necessary precaution to keep her injured side protected if it does all kick off. “I didn’t know you were a fan of the birds,” she notes, eyes flicking back to the card game in the far corner every now and then, just to see how close to argument it’s all getting. “Perhaps next time I’ll insist on the Dog and Duck,” she names another equally seedy tavern not a million miles away. “Or is it a fan of…” but her words are cut off as the chap in the blue kerchief, right on cue, hops to his feet and thumps his cards down on the table, eyes flashing. “Oh, heads up…”

The first fist to fly earns Athénaïs the aforementioned small sum of coins, acknowledged with a slight smile and a nod in her direction by the Chalasse — but then, as predicted, in jump the rest of the crew. Within minutes, there’s crashing, kicking, biting, punching and all kinds of things flying through the air, and with every new direction there’s another quiet side bet. Now and then a beer is lifted from the table, just in time for another of the fighting sailors to crash into it — can’t possibly risk spillage, after all — or a long limb reoriented just before some particularly bulky or sharp-edged piece of furniture comes spinning toward it.

At one point, even, a knife whizzes through the air, which causes Philomène to lean slightly to one side to ensure it sinks into the wall behind her rather than, say, her ear. Its passage elicits a frown, a tut ,and a muttering about poor sportsmanship as she plucks it from the wall and thumps it, point down, into the tabletop— but for the most part the pair of ladies are nothing but keen spectators of the sport of the tavern brawl, adding a few short words of commentary or wagering another trifling sum on the outcome of the smaller side skirmishes.

It’s possible that Philomène hasn’t enjoyed herself so much in years.

Philomène with her superior knowledge of tactics, gained the hard way on the Camaeline border whilst Athénaïs was disporting herself in the capital and sleeping between silk sheet, comes out ahead in the betting— enough so to cover the cost of the beer, including a second round delivered through the battle lines by a courageous barmaid who does this every day. Wouldn’t you know, the second goes down better than the first, once Athénaïs’s sophisticated palate has had a chance to acclimate itself to the dubious qualities of the local grain.

But all good things come to an end; and so when the entertainment runs out the ladies pick their way with varying degrees of daintiness over a carpet of fallen and groaning bodies, toward the door, to settle up in the noonday sunshine and the sea air. It’s a beautiful day.

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