(1311-11-01) Rough Diamond
Summary: How to solve a problem like Zalika? Presented with the young lady, Chimène begins to turn her mind to it…
RL Date: 11/01/2019 - 11/02/2019
Related: Turning Sentimental.
chimene zalika 

Ducal Suite — Rousse Residence

This expansive salon is paneled in soft grey boiseries with dainty and understated details picked out in fresh white, and many mirrors embedded in simple gilded surrounds. Crosshatched parquet underfoot is executed in rare amber and golden hardwoods, and polished to a glorious beeswaxed sheen; overhead, there hangs a large crystal and gilt chandelier surrounded by four smaller satellites, capable of providing a ferocious blaze of light on evenings when the mirrored and gilded candle-stands placed here and there are considered insufficient.

Opposite one another, set in the walls to the left and the right as one enters from the landing, are two sizable fireplaces in blue-veined marble, and above each a painting by a master of two centuries ago: views of Namarre as it was then, of old Courcel castles long since abandoned and gone to seed. Gilded chairs and chaises, covered in white silk embroidered with garlands of spring flowers in pale pinks and blues and greens, and honeybees in sparkling thread-of-gold, form strictly symmetrical arrangements in association with occasional tables. In cool weather these center upon the fireplaces. When it's warmer they migrate toward four pairs of tall casement windows which open upon a broad white marble terrace leading down into the gardens. Drawing closed the white silk drapes reveals an indoor garden as well: flowering vines pick up motifs from the upholstery, in their ascent of a crosshatched trellis picked out in thread-of-gold.

Doors likewise to the left and the right of the salon open into two sets of palatial private chambers, for the use of each half of a married couple.

Her sojourn in Grasse having been not without its vexations, Chimène is relieved to be breathing the smokier and salt-tinged air of Eisande’s principal city. She settles again into chambers still decorated for the spring — she hasn’t had a moment, not a single moment, in which to choose and command more autumnal hues — and sends out her usual flurry of social correspondence, mostly penned by a secretary long practiced in counterfeiting her hand, though she glances at each of them before it’s sealed… Yes, there’s one to Fabrice de Trevalion, and that rough diamond he wishes her to polish ere he sees it tucked into its final setting. But do either of them realise quite how many of its facets will have to be cut, first?

Her tea table is lavish, as visitors have every right to expect of a future duchesse so well-acquainted with her own position in Terre d’Ange. Crisp and spotless white linen, heavy polished silver, the finest Far Eastern porcelain brought back by the most daring of Rousse captains. The pot itself rests upon a solid silver stand over a candle of the best white beeswax, to keep the fragrant golden-brown Chi’in brew within it warm until her guests should arrive. The pastries were baked hardly longer ago and still exude the fragrant heat of the oven whence they came. Three chairs are arranged equidistant about its circumference — one with arms, and two without — though as yet Chimène remains stretched out indolently upon her chaise, in pale blue satin over layer upon layer of foamy white lace-edged petticoats.

The gloved hands of two lackeys open her salon doors, at more or less the hour when she expects her solitude to be relieved. At once her faint expression of pique is replaced by a flawless social mask; the announcement of, “Lord Fabrice de Trevalion, vicomte de Beauvais, and Lady Zalika de Trevalion,” seems to draw her upward from her place of rest even as it paints a serene smile upon her pale pink lips. She rises with the grace of a willow branch lifted by the wind, her bell-shaped skirts swaying about her as she takes two or three steps forward. Her gown leaves her pale shoulders bare; her straight and silky brown hair is gathered back from her ivory visage, but allowed to run tidily down her back to her waist. Her only jewels are on her large white hands, the usual plethora of priceless Rousse rings.

“My dear Lord Fabrice,” she murmurs, waiting there for her guests to cross the rest of the parquet toward her. “Good afternoon. And this is your daughter…?” she inquires politely, as though she didn’t know very well. She offers the vicomte her jeweled hand first, even as her gaze lingers cool and considering upon the person of Zalika herself. “How charmed I am to make your acquaintance,” she assures the girl in an airy soprano.

It is not a happy duo that arrives. While the doors are being opened to let them through, she might spot them exchanging a few hissed words and it's Zalika who steps into the room first. She's a tall young woman, nearly as tall as her father and while the pretty Eisandine dress has been altered to fit her perfectly, it seems somehow wrong on her. She walks with a near manly firm step and crosses her arms in front of her when she finally comes to a halt.

Fabrice has managed to not only keep up but to actually move ahead, so he can greet Chimene first by taking her hand and bring it up to his lips. "How delightful to see you again, my dear and how splendid of you to invite us. I'm afraid I cannot stay long, but I do not hesitate to leave my dear daughter in your care." The dear daughter rolls her eyes heavenwards, then looks at Chimene directly when she's being addressed. "Charmed, Mylady.", she says with all the enthusiasm of an automaton who's just had a copper coin inserted.

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

By now there’s a lackey in Rousse livery behind each of the tea table’s three chairs, waiting to draw them out and then to serve. Fires blaze in both marble hearths, rendering even this spacious salon with its many tall windows pleasantly warm throughout.

Chimène’s gaze is again upon Fabrice (and her smile deepens just a fraction) as she receives his homage. “Yes, what a delight. But I insist, you mustn’t go until you’ve taken a cup of tea with us.” Then, without waiting for him to agree — she’s made it clear what she wants, what more is there to be said? — she reclaims her hand and returns Zalika’s gaze with regal confidence. “How lovely you are, my dear,” she pronounces, and whatever her intent the words are imbued with a ring of sincerity well beyond anything Zalika herself can muster. She reaches out to the young woman in turn, intending the usual soft press of manicured fingertips.

Poor Fabrice. Caught between one woman who wants nothing more than for him to be out of this room and another who's insisting he stay. But clearly keeping Chimene happy matters more for the time being and so he smiles at her. "How could I ever say no to you?" He takes the seat and watches the interaction with a rather anxious expression.

Zalika eyes the hand being held out and after a moment's hesitation grabs it for a firm squeeze. Hers is not a dainty lady's hand, it's the strong grip of a rough hand used to hard work. "A pleasure to meet you, Mylady.", she parrots another well-rehearsed phrase.

Well, quite. How could any gentleman say ‘no’ to the Courcel-born, Mont Nuit-trained future duchesse de Roussillon? Chimène accepts his acquiescence as being in the natural order of things and, a trifle nonplussed by Zalika’s callused handshake, she draws the girl with her toward the tea table. “And how are you finding Marsilikos?” she inquires, releasing Zalika in order to settle with a rustle of satin into her own chair— the one with arms, needless to say. The lackey pushes it in for her. His counterparts perform the same office for the visitors. “Do you take honey?” she inquires then, her gaze flicking from Zalika to Fabrice and back again, including them both in the question. Three cups and saucers of paper-thin porcelain, glazed sapphire blue with gilded rims, are lined up before her place for her to fill in her rôle as the lady of the house. She commences to pour out fragrant and steaming Chi’in tea.

Fabrice wisely keeps his mouth shut now and only shakes his head to the offer of honey while he leaves Zalika to fend for herself. "Well, it's a quite a different side of Mars than what I'm used to.", the girl replies to the question, her d'Angeline secure but tinged with both a foreign accent and the strain to speak properly. "And this here is even better than his house.", she adds, looking around the splendid room. "Bet that thing alone could buy half a ship." She eyes some delicately wrought golden candle-holder dripping with glittery crystals.

The first cup Chimène fills she passes up to her own white-gloved lackey, who passes it across to Fabrice’s lackey, who sets it down before him with a bow. The second makes its way by the same process to Zalika. The third remains with Chimène herself. Nobody takes honey, despite the undeniable fact that this occasion would benefit from all the sweetening it can get.

“… You’ve an interest in shipping, I gather?” she inquires of Zalika after a moment. “I must admit,” she adds, affecting to confide in the young woman, “I often have occasion to ban talk of the sea in my salon,” a dramatic lift of her finely-shaped dark eyebrows, “or my husband’s relations would speak of nothing else.” She laughs. “It does seem to get into the blood, sometimes, doesn’t it?” she says sympathetically. “Of course it’s as natural for a Trevalion as for a Rousse,” which remark is for Fabrice, a nod to this manifestation of his heritage.

Zalika follows the procession of the cups with wide eyes and seems straining hard to not burst out laughing. Her eyes are still widened and her front teeth are digging into her lower lip when Chimene addresses her directly, so she assumes the classic deer-in-headlights-look for a longer moment. "Shipping?", she asks at last and casts a glance towards her father, who seems to be shaking his head very quickly but firmly. "Er, sea, sort of, yea.", she dithers and shrugs. "Pretty wet out there, innit?"

This time Chimène arches just one eyebrow. “Quite,” she agrees, in silky and ironic tone.

She lifts her saucer in her left hand and holds it steady whilst her right hand rises to carry her cup the rest of the way to her lips. Rousse seahorses disport themselves in its depths, picked out in gold leaf— new to her guests, old hat to her as she tastes her tea to reassure herself of its temperature and then takes a deeper mouthful. She restores her cup to her saucer and her saucer to the table, with the same smooth and graceful gestures that make formalities seem perfectly natural, when she enacts them. “Is that why you wish to devote yourself to Beauvais instead?” she inquires of Zalika. “Because Azzalle is less… wet?”

Once again Zalika watches almost entranced by the strange spectacle of dainty tea drinking and shoots a glance at her father that might very well be a visual "hell, no!". She is quick to return her attention to the lady though, who is just asking another question. "Yea… I suppose. Less wet, less bloody and I suppose the food is better.", she adds and for the first time a faint smile appears on her lips. "Haven't been there yet, mind, so dunno."

“Do help yourself to the pastries,” suggests Chimène, at whose table the food is demonstrably better than just about anywhere else in Marsilikos. “I couldn’t face anything at this hour,” she admits, “but you mustn’t scruple on my account…” She waits a moment more and then, as if if’s only just occurred to her what she heard, she ventures, “Bloody, my dear? Do you come to us fresh from some adventure on the high seas?” And is that rather a pointed look for Fabrice, hidden behind his cup, who mentioned nothing of the kind?

Fabrice wisely remains hidden behind his cup, while Zalika happily reaches out for the pastries on offer. She picks a puff piece filled with cream and strawberry jam and takes a hearty bite out of it. So hearty in fact, that cream and jam burst forth and onto her cheeks, chin, dekollete and the table cloth. "Whoops, shit.", she mutters, which makes another blob of cream fall onto the table. She quickly stuffs the rest of the pastry into her mouth and then starts cleaning up with the help of her finger.

Seeing as his daughter is occupied and perhaps realizing that having her speak might not be the wisest move, he looks to Chimene. "She spent the last few years at sea. It is a hard life on board a ship, for a young woman even more so than a man. Bloody accidents happen." Well, that's not a lie.

“… I see,” says Chimène gravely to the father, whilst extending to the daughter her own crisp white linen napkin with which to amend the present jammy accident. Since Zalika doesn’t seem to have found hers on the table. Of course the napkins are embroidered at each corner with seahorses in thread-of-gold, echoing the decorations inside the cups. “Well, that was another life,” she says philosophically, taking up her tea again. “Shall we perhaps agree to speak together only of the future, rather than the past—? As the next heiress to Beauvais you need no longer live in fear of pirate attacks, my dear,” she reassures Zalika.

Zalika has finished licking cream and jam off her fingers and looks reasonably clean, but accepts the napkin all the same to dab at her dekollete and cheeks to dry them. Then uses it to wipe at the table cloth, turning a small deep red blob of jam into a nice big circle of pink. "Thanks." she tells Chimene and drops the napkin on the table halfway between them. Now she needs some tea to recover and chugs down half the cup quickly, while the lady speaks again.

"Fear of pirate attacks, huh. Yea, they're nasty bastards, the pirates, so they are.", she comments with a look towards her father and affects a bright fake smile. "So the future, huh. Should be interesting, yes? You know, where I'm from, to tell someone 'May you live in interesting times' is actually a curse."

Good manners prohibit looking directly at what’s happening to her napkin, not to mention her tablecloth— Chimène is aware nonetheless, that expanding circle of pink just visible within her peripheral vision as she addresses Fabrice. “One quite understands your sympathy for those in peril on the sea,” she murmurs; “perhaps you know, one’s own family has suffered such a loss… the lady Leonide,” she sighs, shaking her head as she recounts landed Rousses lost to piracy. She turns again to Zalika. “You’re welcome, my dear. A curse, really? I feel somehow as though I had rather interesting times than tedious ones… Will you take more tea?” she suggests.

Fabrice cringes visibly at his daughter's attempt to navigate the tablecloth, but doesn't interfere. She'll learn. Hopefully. Instead he focuses on Chimene, nodding along with expressions of sympathy for her loss. If the Rousse names mean anything to Zalika, she doesn't let on. Instead she reaches for another pastry and -having learned THAT lesson now- takes a very careful bite at first to make sure nothing comes spilling out. "Yea sure.", she agrees on the offer of more tea, more interested in the creamy chocolatey contents of this pastry. "This is good shit - er, stuff. Cream. Whatever.", she offers a compliment to her hostess.

Never forget, they’re not alone— there’s still a Rousse lackey standing to attention behind each chair, watching, listening, judging. Zalika will be the talk of the servants’ hall, later.

When she accepts the offer of tea her own assigned lackey (slower with a napkin than his mistress was and keen to make up for his lapse now) conveys her cup and saucer back along the customary route via Chimène’s lackey to the lady herself, who pours out sweet fragrant caffeine whilst assuring Zalika that: “Our new pastry chef will be glad to know his work is meeting with such sincere appreciation from my guests. Thank you.” Then, to Fabrice: “But we mustn’t keep you from your rounds, darling. Why don’t you leave us to become acquainted and call for Lady Zalika in,” a tilt of her head, a speculative ‘mm’, “an hour or so?”

It is well strange. First Fabrice didn't want to stay, now he seems very reluctant to leave. But all the same he gets the hint and rises to his feet. "Of course, my dear. I shall leave to your…. what do they call it? Girl talk?" His own tea cup is empty and while he didn't touch the pastries earlier, he now sneaks one to take with him and munch outside, where he can cover himself in powdered sugar all he likes. Perhaps the apple didn't fall THAT far from the tree after all.

Once he's made his goodbye, the ladies are left alone (with the lackeys) and Zalika quietly devotes herself to demolishing the rest of the chocolate-filled pastry. Clearly waiting for the older woman to speak again first.

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

In retreat Fabrice also enjoys renewed custody of Chimène’s silken hand, whilst she smiles up at him and murmurs a few last airy and courteous words without for a moment betraying her knowledge of what he’s got in his other paw. Then she lets him go, and her thoughts are quick to follow her gaze from the man to his daughter— Her hand, in sinking down into her lap, makes a sharp little gesture below the level of the tea table. Her own lackey, espying it, gathers the others with his eyes and they withdraw, never turning their backs to their lady.

In short order the two women are genuinely alone. Chimène pours another cup of tea for herself and sips from it slowly, studying her guest with cool hazel eyes. Her manner is formal but bereft of tension: she’s at her ease in drawing out the silence Zalika began for just long enough to transform a jeweled hand of her own into the upper one.

At last she wonders lightly: “Why are you really doing this?”

Zalika's eyes follow her father's exit, though don't betray any emotion. If she feels insecure, being left to her own devices with this woman, she doesn't show it. She also seems to be done consuming food or tea and leans back in her chair. Black eyes responding calmly to Chimene's gaze. "If you have the choice to live day-to-day, never knowing where your next meal is coming from, or living it up in a fancy place like this with minions at your beck an' call - what would you choose?", she finally returns with a shrug.

At that Chimène shrugs her bare shoulders, claims a plain croissant from the silver plate of them in the middle of the table, and begins matter-of-factly to tear it open and butter it. “If you really are such a fool I can do nothing for you,” she confides to Zalika. “But I imagine your lord father would gladly provide you with a comfortable remittance, to sustain you whilst he seeks an heir with a more realistic appreciation of what it means to rule a vicomté.”

Zalika narrows her eyes at the woman. "What's that supposed to mean? Do you think I can't do it? Because I'm a girl? A darkie?", she snaps, going on the defense. "He told me you were to help me with all that hoity-toity-dainty-lady-stuff, not tell me how much i suck."

“Perhaps your father has neglected to explain to you who I am, and that I have made no promises yet either to him or to you,” replies Chimène silkily. “Between governing my son’s vicomté and overseeing the Marsilikos affairs of two duchies, I have demands enough upon my time without nursing the feelings of a gauche and sulky young woman who seems yet to understand nothing of our ways— you must remember that this is Terre d’Ange, my dear. Being a girl is a point in your favour here, rather than the reverse,” she opines drily. “Nor would you be our land’s first dark vicomtesse or, I daresay, its least educated,” she goes on, tilting her head as she studies Zalika. “But I think you underestimate the scope of this affair. With wealth and rank, comes the final responsibility for thousands of lives. A vicomtesse is not only an ornament but a governor, an administrator, a judge and a jury, and a warrior for her people in an arena that you, my dear, have yet even to glimpse.”

"Well, yea.", Zalika agrees drily, having listened to the long speech with patience, "Big surprise, innit? Of course I don't know. The closest I got to your fancy palaces before was my father's castle at Beauvais, when he told me he had no use for me and bye bye. So I want to learn, yea. I know I know nothing. But I won't be treated in some condescending fashion, like I'm some savage to be tamed. I ain't stupid and I learn fast, that much I DO know.", she says firmly, her look almost a glare now.

Chimène answers these bold declarations with a lift of her eyebrow— and then a litany.

“A lady always enters a salon smiling,” she begins, “with her mind made up to be pleased with her company if she possibly can, though Elua knows it’s a discipline. Try ‘brush’,” she advises, the pronunciation of which word turns up the corners of her pretty mouth to an angle any painter would acclaim as ideal. “Her hands may be loose at her sides or clasped together at her waist, but folded arms give altogether too belligerent an impression. A gentle press of the fingertips is preferable to a full handshake — the kiss of greeting, for friends. If someone else offers a kiss it is better to return it than embarrass her by dodging. It is permissible, indeed it is natural, for her to find some pleasant and complimentary remark to make about the chamber in which she finds herself — another discipline,” she admits with a brittle smile, “but she is never aware of the cost of anything she may see. Coin is for counting-houses,” she opines severely.

“If she is uncertain how to eat something correctly, she waits until she has seen someone else pave the way by eating it first. If she covers herself in jam and clotted cream she will generally withdraw from the chamber to effect the necessary repairs to her face and her costume, whilst leaving any broader carnage to the servants who know better how to amend it. Certainly she never gazes at herself in a looking-glass anywhere she might be observed,” just an extra tidbit, offered gratis, for future use. “She never says ‘shit’,” which expletive the future duchesse de Roussillion utters in a particularly crisp and clipped soprano, “at the tea-table. And when she is soliciting a difficult and tedious and time-consuming favour from someone of higher rank who owes her nothing in the world, she swallows her more aggressive instincts and summons at least an affectation of humility, to signal that she appreciates the gift of the other’s time and effort on her behalf. As you learn so quickly, my dear,” she murmurs, “shall I go on—?”

Zalika's eyes widen at the laundry list of misdemeanors spelled out for her and after a moment of stunned silence, she bursts out laughing, the loud, unrestrained and honest laugh of a sailor. "Oh Gods, Father was right about you!", she finally exclaims and wipes a tear out of the corner of her eye. "You really are one of a kind. I would hug you, but I guess that's not lady-like either, is it? Please, Lady Chimene, be my mentor, it will be amazing!", she adds with an almost pleading look.

Chimène makes a moue at her. “I’d really prefer that you didn’t,” she murmurs, “especially with jam still on your gown…” Her jeweled fingers flicker, indicatively, and then divert to pick up her cup and saucer again. “We must think how best to accomplish this,” she sighs, lifting her cup to her mouth and taking another strengthening draught of tea. “I shall see if I can find a woman with Dahlia training to drill you in the fundamentals each day— Dahlias often act as tutors to the more awkward sprigs of ancient trees, they’re accustomed to the work,” she explains. “And I shall tell your father to lose no time in sending for one of his stewards to come south and teach you about Beauvais and Azzalle. Can you read and write?” she asks Zalika bluntly.

Zalika glares again. "What part of 'I'm not a savage' did I not express clearly?", she asks, although she seems overall more relaxed now and no longer on the defensive. "Yes, I can read and write. In D'Angeline and in Jolof.", she adds proudly. "Father already said he'd send some books down I should read, plus there's books here in our place." She doesn't appear very excited by the prospect though. "So will you teach me to speak all pretty and eat properly and do all that song and dance with tea cups?", she asks hopefully.

“You’ll have an elocution tutor for elocution,” Chimène informs her, “and an etiquette tutor for etiquette. I simply haven’t the time,” she says frankly, taking up a piece of her croissant; “but I will choose them and supervise their work, and when I am otherwise at leisure I shall send for you to wait upon me— the best way to learn is to keep good company and observe the arrangements in a good household. I take it,” a quick up-and-down flick of her gaze, “your father has not provided you with a suitable maid? I’ll find you a maid too.” And in popping that bit of buttered croissant into her mouth, she leaves not a flake of pastry upon her lips.

"There's some maids in the house here.", Zalika replies, pointing a thumb into what she hopes may be the direction of the Trevalion residence, "We don't get on though, I don't like them making a fuss about me." She pauses for a moment, then looks at Chimene with a weary look. "That's the point though, innit? Being fussed over?"

“One cannot in the course of a day do everything oneself, and a landed lady especially has more to do than curl her own hair, tend her own linen, and sponge her own jam stains,” is Chimène’s dry rejoinder. “Keeping a maid to maintain one’s appearance is really no different from keeping a steward to maintain one’s account-books. You’ll have a maid,” she states, “and you’ll take her advice in matters in which she is the expert and you the neophyte.”

"Yea, I don't think curling my hair will take much effort.", Zalika grins and pulls one of her curls straight, before letting it bounce back into its natural state. "But I wouldn't mind someone else dealing this -", she looks down her jam-stained front, "And all of the other shi—- Stuff. Things. But choose someone who won't look down on me, yes? I can't stand that." As she made clear before.

Chimène shakes her head. “All lady’s maids look down upon their mistresses from time to time,” she corrects Zalika, “because they find us insufficiently fastidious in maintaining their work. They dispatch us in pristine condition,” that brittle smile again, “and we return crumpled, stained, and smudged. But this will be a lesson for you too — in how to hold your ground and deal every day with one servant, before you become the mistress of thousands of peasants.”

Zalika doesn't respond at once for a change. Instead she fumbles with the empty tea cup in her hands, turning it around and around again. "I know you think of us down in Africa as savages, half a step away from apes, but my mother was the daughter of an important chief. People came to her for advice. Not thousands, no, but I watched her dispense wisdom, advice and comfort. So I don't see why I can't do the same for my…" Her lips curl as if reluctant to pronounce the word, "Peasants."

“And yet you prefer to succeed your father—?” is Chimène’s all too pertinent query, issued with another tilt of her smooth dark brown head.

"What else would I do?", Zalika asks back and, perhaps realizing that her father didn't share all that much about her, adds: "My mother died years ago. If I went back there, all I could look forward to was being married off to a man I don't know or care for and deal with an ever-growing brood. Tell me why I should bother."

“In Terre d’Ange too you will be obliged to make a marriage in which suitability will count for more than passion,” drawls Chimène, “and the to carry heirs to Beauvais. Three is best,” she advises, “or four if you can stomach it. I imagine your father is already contemplating which young lord might have the most to offer House Trevalion, as your husband. That part of a woman’s fate,” she smiles faintly, “is ever and always the same… Whether or not you succeed to the vicomté, his blood and Azza’s own makes you a valuable match. But that’s next year’s problem, isn’t it? This year,” she sighs, “we shall begin with the jam.”

Zalika wrinkles her nose. "Well… yea. I know. But I figure I get a say here at least. If my father would try and inflict some ogre on me, I'd up and leave and he'd be screwed, so I don't think he'd do that. Besides, I'd still be the Vicomtesse and not just someone's wife, right? Anyway, I'm definitely not thinking about it all yet. So much else to see and do first!", she smiles.

“Start thinking about it,” is Chimène’s cool advice, “and accustoming yourself to necessity. We all pay, my dear, for our fine gowns and our pastries… One way or another.”

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