(1311-11-02) Particular Customs
Summary: Raphael emerges from a period of seclusion and, paying a call upon Iphigénie, finds her not quite herself…
RL Date: 11/02/2019
Related: Other scenes with these characters; especially, Thoroughly Stung.
iphigenie raphael 

Garden Suite — Maignard Residence

Opening from the garden of the Maignard residence, via a single heavy oaken door opposite the elm tree, this chamber is decorated as a painted garden. Faded by the passage of years, pale flowers and birds of unnatural provenance are depicted against a backdrop of green that runs down to skirting boards of tarnished gilt, carved to echo the floral intricacies of the cornices and the high coffered ceiling which reflects so gently the light from iron candlestands below.

The furnishings are sparse in relation to the room's long rectangular spaciousness: all of antique mahogany, all of a century ago, their age betrayed by style rather than wear. Inside the high mullioned windows of distorted glass, there's a desk to the right and a marble-topped washstand to the left, with a screen just past the latter to create a triangle of privacy in one corner. Adjacent to the desk is a comfortable armchair upholstered in dark red leather; next to the washstand, a smaller white-painted chair makes up in convenience what it lacks in arms. A broad dark marble fireplace is set into the house's innermost wall. Directly opposite it stands an uncurtained four-poster bed made up with hemstitched white linen sheets and bountiful pillows. From each bedpost dangles an iron chain adorned with a soft, padded red leather cuff.

Two large, sturdy, travelworn oak chests stand against the wall between the bed and the desk; the broad windowsill above the desk is home to a collection of books legal, theological, and botanical: no fiction, no poetry, no frivolity. Alone beyond the fireplace is a single mahogany armoire. There are no looking-glasses, no pictures, no objects unnecessary or decorative. Away from the windows and the garden's green the chamber's other, darker half is left bare.

At the end a door opens into a small square salon such as might be found in any noble house, albeit appointed in a more Kusheline taste: all straight lines and angles, dark wood and tarnished gilding, and narrow hinged looking-glasses which fill each corner from floor to ceiling and offer unsettling reflections.

Raphael’s advent is a surprise to all at the Maignard residence, after so long.

The servants keep him waiting several minutes in the house’s sombre reception-rooms. Then he is shown through Iphigénie’s own cold and dark and empty salon and into her bedchamber, where according to her autumnal habit she is seated in the circle of warmth about her fireplace. Her dark gown, her dark shawl, and the dark woolly rug over her knees, form an indistinct pool of shadow in opposition to the firelight’s flicker; her pale face, immaculately painted and surrounded by a halo of fluffy white hair, seems to float disembodied before the dark green upholstery of her high-backed chair. The other chair just like it is waiting for Raphael, comfortably and conversationally close. She watches his familiar figure resolve itself from the dimness of the empty half of her chamber, and lifts a hand from her lap as he draws nearer— “Monsieur Raphael,” she says gently, “how lovely it is to see you.”

Her bed which before was always a plain wooden frame has acquired voluminous curtains of unpatterned dark red velvet, in a shade he knows she admires. Between bed and desk her maid Nadège is moving about, plumping pillows and filing books on the windowsill.

"Have I flustered your servants by letting my habits lapse?" Raphael asks. Warm-blooded, he still wears only a jacket despite the encroaching autumn cool. Nor has he changed much to look at over the intervening weeks, unlike the chamber. He cannot fail to notice the curtains on the bed. "How fine your preparations for fall," he says. "It must be pleasant in such a well-appointed bed, but hard to leave it."

Knowing Iphigénie’s conversation as he does, Raphael is no doubt expecting an assurance of the manifold pleasures her well-hung bed affords her, or a thoughtful remark about the company in which it might best be enjoyed— but, as the fingertips of her left hand gently press into the palm of his right, she simply smiles up at him and ventures, “Monsieur Lefebvre has my chamber growing more elaborate day by day. I am not entirely sure I approve.”

She releases him to his chair and her hand sinks down again. She’s wearing the same fingerless gloves, of soft black wool — she curls her hands together and her pale fingertips disappear into the darkness of her lap. “How does the season find you, monsieur?” she asks Raphael quietly, watching him as he sits. “Would you care for tea?”

Raphael pauses at this difference, holding on to his hostess's hand for a moment, eyes narrowing fractionally before they release hands and he goes to his chair, taking a seat. "The cooler weather is agreeable to me, though I know it must not be to you," he replies. "Of course I will have tea if you will join me."

Of course she was asking about somewhat more than the weather — but Iphigénie accepts this partial answer, at least for the time being and with her maid still busy nearby. She nods to Raphael and then turns to glance at the domestic and murmur, “Tea, Nadège.”

This halts whatever Nadège is up to by the desk — it’s not quite visible to Raphael, round the curtained bed — he only sees the step forward, the curtsey, and then the retreat along the length of Iphigénie’s rectangular garden chamber. His hostess’s vivid green eyes meanwhile return to his face and perhaps gentle slightly as she regards him. “I think a cup of tea will be very pleasant, monsieur,” she agrees, “and perhaps you will tell me what news there is from the Rose Sauvage. I haven’t called there in too long, it seems to me.”

"Will you not come call on us before it gets very cold, and see for yourself?" Raphael invites. "As you can imagine I have been somewhat out of the current of gossip for the past two or three weeks and I haven't quite caught up yet."

Iphigénie tilts her white-haloed head in a grave nod of understanding. “Of course, monsieur,” she agrees quietly. At the far end of the chamber the door shuts behind Nadège. “… Perhaps I shall come and admire your gardens once more before the snows come,” she suggests a moment later; “one doesn’t truly know a garden until one has met it through the seasons.”

"Our salon is somewhat blessed in its motif of the rose, since the roses are good enough to put out a few late blooms into autumn," Raphael says, "Though not quite the profusion of summer. You must come to us on a sunny day. I will have a brazier and blankets brought out for you."

That garners a real smile from Iphigénie, her dark red lips curving further and deeper than before as if to remind her long-absent visitor of what she ought to look like in his presence. “You’re most considerate of me, monsieur,” she murmurs. “Thank you. I shall look forward to accepting your hospitality one day soon… and to the pleasure, too, of offering you my own again today.” She bows her head slightly, tending solemn once more.

A Thorn can only tiptoe for so long: "Have I hurt you by staying away for a while?" he asks. "You do not quite seem yourself today."

Regarding him Iphigénie sighs and rearranges her hands to lace her fingers together in her lap. Pale fingertips appear again amongst all that black wool. “Ah, monsieur,” she smiles at him tranquilly and doesn’t shy away from meeting his eyes. “You know and I know that you are under no obligation to dance attendance upon me,” she reminds him firmly, “least of all when you’ve had so natural a reason to prefer solitude to company. Of course I’m pleased to see you again, and to see you are well. My feelings are quite as simple as that. If I gave the impression I wasn’t pleased with you— I apologise for that, monsieur,” she says softly. “It has been raining — I’m a little weary today, perhaps,” she allows, her eyelashes half-lowered.

Raphael seems to take a moment to consider this answer. At length, he nods. "I see," he says, perhaps suspecting that something is being kept back. "If that is all, then a warm cup of tea may yet revive your spirits. But no apology is necessary whatever the case."

In acknowledgment Iphigénie dips her chin and murmurs, “Monsieur,” with all the unhesitating quiet acceptance of a Valerian taking a Mandrake’s word for it.

On which note the afternoon tea ballet commences. Lackeys come and go, placing a table and laying it according to the household’s exacting standards, superintended by Nadège— who takes a greater rôle than usual in the proceedings, measuring out the black Chi’in tea leaves from their tin as well as pouring the hot water over them, and then lingering with the obvious intention of removing the infuser when the time comes. Iphigénie straightens her head to watch her servants go about their business — but then she just sits. “… The sandwiches for Monsieur Raphael,” she reminds her maid when she sees her standing idle next to the table. And then Nadège hastens to arrange a plate for the visitor, whilst the sands trickle through into the lower chamber of the small silver hourglass that measures the steeping of the tea.

The small crustless sandwiches arrive in front of Raphael, arranged as neatly as Iphigénie might have done it, though in a pattern unlike hers. The last grains of sand fall; Nadège removes the infuser from the pot and bows over the table as she pours out two cups of tea.

Then she looks sidelong at her mistress, who gives an infinitesimal shake of her head — Raphael would have to be paying close attention, to witness this exchange — and curtseys to them again as she withdraws. Soft as her footsteps are they nonetheless echo in retreat. And Iphigénie sits up and addresses herself to the task of adding a faint savour of honey to Raphael’s tea. No servant, after all, could know his palate as well as she.

"Thank you," Raphael says as Iphigénie reaches for the honey. "I'm sure your fine tea will bolster us both. Do you have pain when the rain falls?" he asks without letting enough of a pause pass that this question received excessive significance. It is simply asked as a part of the conversation.

Busy with the honey — slower than usual, taking care with each movement of her half-gloved hands — Iphigénie glances up, meets Raphael’s eyes for a fleeting instant, and then nods confirmation as she looks down again into the cup she’s stirring. “Fine days are friendlier to me, yes, monsieur,” she concedes, “and to most people of my years, I think.” She sets down the spoon in the saucer, and leans forward against the edge of the table to restore Raphael’s cup and saucer in the empty place next to his plate whence Nadège abstracted them for her. Even layered and shawl-swathed as she is it’s apparent that she isn’t wearing her habitual steel-boned corsetry. “There, monsieur,” she pronounces. “But will you be too warm, drinking it—? Shall I help you out of your coat?” she asks him solicitously.

Raphael is perhaps about to reach for the cup, but Iphigénie's question is well-timed to interrupt the gesture. He looks up and smiles. "Considerate as always," he comments, perhaps somewhat comforted that she should mention it. "But don't trouble yourself today." He stands to remove the jacket himself.

Yes, one might well feel that normality has reasserted itself— except that whilst Raphael strips off his jacket and hangs it from one of those helpful hooks set into the bedframe and not occluded by red velvet, Iphigénie just calmly carries on stirring honey into her own tea. She has an eye on him, but only out of habit. “As you wish, monsieur… I know the heat is a little much for my visitors,” she offers apologetically, without licking her chops at all. “The boys don’t care for it at all— that is, my son Gabriel and his friend, who are visiting Marsilikos at present. I think I told you, didn’t I,” she muses, recalling that afternoon of the bee sting, “that I intended to invite them…? Yes, I did. We’ve had them with us for several weeks now.”

Raphael returns to his seat and only now picks up the cup and saucer, shaking his head lightly. "I am always at odds with others on what I find comfortable," he says. "But yes, I remember you speaking of your son. I am glad he has been here with you for a little while. As I recall, he had a matter to decide, is it concluded?"

“Mm,” is Iphigénie’s initial answer, as she lets out a slow breath. “Yes and no, monsieur. These things are never final, are they, until the vows are sworn—? I cede Monsieur Lefebvre to their company as often as I can arrange it,” she admits simply, “to show them about the city, and to show my son the kind of man who would be fit to stand at his side.”

"I don't know much about consortship," Raphael admits. "Nobility seems to complicate many matters. But I'm sure you and Monsieur Lefebvre are fine guides and models for them. Are they off somewhere today?"

Iphigénie nods and then nods again, for she can’t help but agree. “Yes,” she admits, softly and without humour, “having so many politics in one’s bedchamber does complicate matters.” She glances about her own chamber, and then her green gaze returns belatedly to Raphael’s face as she settles upon the least contentious of his topics. “Yes, an outing of some sort— I don’t recall,” she admits, “but I imagine I shall hear all about it over supper.”

"I hope that will be diverting," Raphael replies. "Is it pleasant to have your son in the house, or is the uncertainty too much a shadow?" He drinks from the tea he's let cool a bit.

Now that Raphael has tasted his tea Iphigénie takes up her own cup, and doesn’t quite succeed in scalding her tongue. She’s a little late for that. Still, she drinks about half of it and then sets it down again with a faint clatter of porcelain. “One must accept the bitter with the sweet, monsieur,” she ventures philosophically. “Were it not for that uncertainty I might not have him here at all; his patrons would keep him occupied in Elua… I am grateful to be with him, now especially, when so much hangs upon the choices he’ll make in these days.”

Raphael nods at this response, finding it about as he expected. "It is a fine thing that you may be together for a while," he says.

“Yes,” Iphigénie agrees. She lowers her eyes to the tea table and shakes her head, just once, her white hair softly wafting about her face. “I’m a little indiscreet today,” she admits; “I rely as always upon your own discretion, monsieur, and the gift that it is.”

"Of course," Raphael promises softly, accompanied by a solemn nod. "I would not speak of any of this to anyone, even if you had not asked."

Iphigénie’s green eyes gleam brighter now; for her sake this time rather than his own she inquires of Raphael: “Would you please put another log on the fire, monsieur?”

"Certainly," Raphael answers and gets up to do just that, settling it in where it will burn best. He returns to his seat and looks to Iphigénie. "Now, you must tell me if I am diverting you or tiring you," he says. "I should hate to think that politeness is forcing you to sit up with me if you might be tired."

The moment’s privacy does help: behind Raphael’s back Iphigénie touches a corner of her shawl to the corners of her eyes, wicking away that incriminating moisture. When he sees her again she’s just arranging the garment anew about her narrow and sloping shoulders. “Diverting me, monsieur,” she answers promptly, “always.” She admits, “You’re right, of course, I was lying down when you arrived — I sat at my desk writing letters most of the day and I was longing to stretch out… But it’s the hour, isn’t it, for company and for tea.” She picks up said beverage again and raises it to him in a refreshing but not inebriating sort of toast.

"I find those hours regularly only here," he says, nodding at her raised cup and picking up his own. "That being the case, I shall stay, but you must tell me when it is time for me to go if I do not find the hour myself. I don't want to exhaust you when you've got a dinner and company later on as well."

“Ah, monsieur,” and Iphigénie gives him the ghost of one of her usual smiles, “I would that you were exhausting me… But I feel quite able to withstand an hour’s tea and conversation,” she promises him gently, “even if I do think I hear the rain beginning again. The sound is so comforting, isn’t it,” she suggests, regardless of the discomfort following in its train, “when one is sitting cosily inside with something warm to drink…? I hope you didn’t walk,” and she grows abruptly concerned. “I can’t offer you the carriage today, the boys have taken it away.”

"Yes, as long as the roof is in good repair," Raphael returns with a light smile. "No, it's no trouble," he says. "I'm glad they've got the carriage with the rains stopping and starting."

“Yes… I suppose Gabriel is old enough to decide for himself whether or not he wishes to catch a cold,” murmurs Iphigénie ruefully, “but I’m afraid I’m still his mother.” She drinks a little more of her tea. “I hope you won’t catch one either, monsieur,” she admits between mouthfuls, and then she sets down her cup almost empty. “The bane of the Night Court in winter, I well recall.”

"No, a house guest with a cold simply won't do," Raphael opines with a note of humor. "But I doubt I will. I tend to rude health."

“Really?” Iphigénie lifts an eyebrow as she sits back, seemingly content for now with a single cup of tea. “It’s an odd phrase, don’t you think, monsieur—? Rude health,” she repeats. “I’ve always found your health admirably courteous to my infirmity,” she says softly, her words still somehow lacking the usual archness of flirtation. “I wish I had always been so considerate of others, before I came to understand so well what it is to grow old.”

"That's true," Raphael admits. "But perhaps it is discourteous to be so comfortable when others are suffering."

And that is a little more than Iphigénie’s mood can withstand. She smiles at him fondly. “In that case I shall take it back, monsieur. I trust you’re discourteous indeed, every night.”

"I'm afraid we do have our very particular customs at the Rose Sauvage," Raphael agrees, eyes alight with the amusement of the conversation, "that might seem very rude indeed to the outsider."

“Oh?” asks Iphigénie, adjusting her shawl as she gathers herself to keep playing along. “If I am to visit you again, monsieur, do you think there is anything I ought to beware of in particular?” she inquires of him with an ironic uplift of one brow.

"Well, I must warn you, for instance," Raphael says gravely, pausing for a sip of tea, "at times we are not especially formal about what we choose to wear in the parlor."

Which confidence raises Iphigénie’s other eyebrow to match. “Oh, my,” she murmurs faintly. “I fear now that I shall be overdressed. What would you advise, monsieur?”

"I have been told that it is wise to follow the customs of the place where one finds oneself," Raphael says, drinking the tea again. "It is also the case that sometimes we do ask a great deal of our guests. It is sometimes customary for our guests to entertain us."

Iphigénie lets out a slow and wistful sigh. “Alas, monsieur,” she confides, her eyes locked with his, “I can’t sing.” As if that had anything to do with it, she quirks her eyebrows at him and sits up straighter in her green velvet chair. “Will you take more tea, monsieur—?” And her gesture invites the passing of his cup. “Given that that’s our custom here,” she offers wryly.

"I'm afraid you'll have to think of something else, then," Raphael says. "Although some of us are quite talented in coaxing voice from just about anyone." He offers forward his teacup again. "Thank you."

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