(1311-11-07) Giving A Fig
Summary: Philomène is on the pull.
RL Date: 10/29/2019 - 11/07/2019
Related: Cheap Date, We’re All Barbarians. An Excess of Chalasse, Round Four.
athenais philomene 

A Completely Made-Up Place

It isn’t unusual to find Philomène de Chalasse at one of Marsilikos’s many watering holes at lunchtime. If we’re strictly honest, it’s not unusual to find her propping up a bar at almost any time of the day, but the part of this creature’s habits that have altered more recently are precisely which taverns and inns she finds herself in, and the startling care put into her appearance before she arrives.

Always a striking figure, with the sort of high cheekbones and perfectly sculpted jaw that could make a woman weep, she’s found a new and useful ability of her maid to somehow brush her practical, short-cropped blonde hair into a healthy shine and to form it — with the sort of military precision of which the d’Aiglemorts would be proud — into a style that sets off her sharp features to stunning effect. Even her well-loved brown riding jacket has been eschewed in favour of a forest green velvet jacket with broad skirts and a pale cream waistcoat beneath, both heavily embellished with neat but understated embroidery along seams, pockets and buttonholes — her own work, no doubt, but no less impressive to the critical eye than any number of professionally worked pieces. The tall, red-brown boots are unchanged, however, although the scuffs and scars have been buffed and polished out of them as best she (or more likely Caroline) can, and the spurs affixed to the uneven heels gleam when they catch the light. All this, worn over a crisp, white linen shirt and well-fitted pale breeches of good quality cloth, would make her almost unrecognisable at a distance, until, of course, her distinctive gait or the piercing, critical examination from those stormy blue-grey eyes gives her away.

Despite only a narrow appreciation of wines beyond the strength of them and a vague idea that there are perhaps different colours, she’s taken it upon herself to work her way methodically through the offerings at some of the more reputable wine bars, ostensibly in some sort of attempt to broaden her knowledge on the matter. This lunchtime she’s firmly entrenched at a table by the wall of one particular establishment on the fringes of the Noble District, with one or two dead glasses already littering the table just out of reach, and her currently selected tipple close to her right hand. She’s casually making notes on some kind of selection of columns of figures and tiny, neat comments, but it’s the bar is quiet enough (and the account-keeping monotonous enough) that she’s hardly too absorbed not to look up every time the door opens and a blast of chilly air comes in from outside to swirl around the ankles.

One such blast receives an additional fillip from the swirl of Athénaïs’s cloak as she admits herself to this favoured haunt, unpausing as the door slams shut behind her and she strides along between tables and up to the bar. She’s already stripping off her cloak. Beneath it she wears a familiar black frock-coat cleansed now of its covering of mud, and black riding breeches and boots that have seen a fair degree of wear as well as commensurate care. She’s had her hair cut and it’s too short now to tie back, the blonde strands of it free about her face but too brief to risk occluding her vision. The usual sheathed rapier is at her left hip.

Her customary cursory glance about the premises in search of potential threats fails to identify, in that elegant stranger seated off to one side, anybody she could possibly know in this city. She arrives at the bar and leans an elbow on it, her stance insouciant, her leather-gloved hand lifting to beckon the girl who’s busy pulling pints and filling glasses behind it.

The pen hovers over her figures for a few seconds as Philomène merely enjoys the view, before it's set down and her work is blotted carefully. Yes, she might be distracted, but that's a lot of accounting work to ruin and the movement is almost automatic.

It's only once she's guarded her papers from accident that she lifts a hand to attract the attention of a server, who immediately begins to bring the next selection of wines over, misunderstanding what Philomène had intended by her gesture. Still. More wine. Can't complain. And it's not as though Athénaïs, funded by the Valais, can't afford to buy her own.

Whilst Philomène’s table grows cluttered with bottles and glasses Athénaïs falls deeper into conference with the barmaid who answered her call. Whatever’s going on, she’s concerned about every detail— though this is Terre d’Ange, and the barmaid is quite pretty, and perhaps that too is a factor in the drawing-out of their confabulation.

Then, reassured that her wishes shall be attended to forthwith, she nods and turns about, leaning her elbows backward upon the bar as she surveys the room again.

This second and more languid reconnaissance turns up, at last, Philomène Aiglemort de Chalasse. Kitted out like nobody’s business. Athénaïs meets her eyes, looks her up and down, and then captures her gaze again and lifts an eyebrow in wry question.

Taking up her wine in one hand, Philomène returns the favour, deliberately looking Athénaïs up and down with a similar sort of scrutiny (although it more closely represents a hungry tabby cat looking at a panful of streaky bacon) before meeting her eyes and returning that raised brow, along with a very small smile. She lifts her glass in mute toast across the room, taking what is for her a delicate sip. She savours the taste, appearing to consider it (or Athénaïs) for some time, before giving a faintly approving nod.

One booted foot — it’s her good, her right leg, naturally — extends casually and nudges out the seat just round from her at the small table. A subtle invitation.

No move is made to clear away her accounts just yet. The invitation might be declined and she doesn't want to look a tit.

Nor is Athénaïs at all desirous of resembling a small yellow-breasted bird; and so a few long seconds pass in which she doesn’t react one whit to the suggestion tendered by Philomène’s foot. She glances about the room, her cloak still draped over her arm. And then it seems to be because she finds the rest insufficient, that she straightens from her lean against the bar and stalks idly over to Philomène’s table. She pulls the chair the rest of the way out, and drops her cloak over the back of it and herself on its seat without asking permission, begging forgiveness, or even tendering a greeting. “What are you drinking?” is all she wants to know.

"Something that allegedly isn't horse piss," Philomène responds drily, naming a local vineyard and vintage. "This one came recommended. No doubt you have views to offer, and will offer them unasked." She does then at least begin to gather her papers together, piling them closer in front of her to allow Athénaïs some space for her own drinks on arrival. "Something about being oaky, I think she said. I admit I wasn't wholly listening."

“Oaky,” Athénaïs repeats deadpan. And whilst Philomène’s hands are still occupied arranging her papers on the other side of the table, she picks up her glass from the middle of it: not to drink but simply to sit there with her nose half inside, smelling it, like the raging wine snob she is. She shrugs and puts it down, and slides it back across the table into its previous position amongst its friends. Quite the tasting menu she’s walked into here. She begins to strip off her leather gloves, briskly and efficiently. “Someone stood you up?” she wonders.

"Who would do a thing like that," comes the response, dripping so heavily with sarcasm that it puddles around Philomène's feet. She reclaims her glass the moment it's replaced, knocking back a good mouthful of it and thumping the glass back down on the table, more to be obtuse than anything. "No, I thought I'd try the wine and get some work done before I go out to ride later. Tariffs on pork products," she points out, flipping one of the sets of figures towards Athénaïs to verify her claim. "The wine makes it bearable. Are you here for lunch or just to snort your beak in my drink?"

Shown the figures Athénaïs just raises her eyebrow at Philomène instead of glancing down to tot them up. The lady doth protest a hell of a lot. “Then I’ve you to blame for the price of my chop, have I,” she drawls, just as the pork product in question is set down before her in association with green vegetables and a glass of something ruby-red. “Bring me some dried figs,” she orders the barmaid, whilst shaking out her napkin.

"I think," Philomène points out, gathering the papers together again, "you might more sensibly blame the excisemen, or if you want to take it up with Her Grace you're more than welcome. And that," she adds after a critical glance towards the dish in question, "is not one of our pigs. Look at the striations in the meat. You want the fat to marble through it, not just sit like a wobbly lump off to one side. What are you drinking with it, though?"

The question is asked as Athénaïs is taking a sip, quite literally drinking; she lowers her glass and answers readily, the year and the vineyard and the view she recalls from it… “Straight down to the sea, from the northern slope,” she concludes. There’s a pause whilst she cuts into her chop, which she must have ordered at the beginning of her chat with the barmaid, before using up so much time in deliberation about wine. “Your pigs,” she says at last, eyeing Philomène dubiously, “all look exactly the same inside? How would you even tell that?”

Settling back in her seat with the sort of doleful look one reserves for particularly slow children, Philomène drums her fingers on the table as she responds. "Diet and exercise. What makes any animal different from any other? Our pigs get corn and wheat, and they're held in bigger pens than most. More space to roam, in the sunshine, with little to do but fatten up and enjoy themselves. Not to mention the breed itself, which we've been working on for some decades but are now starting to market further abroad. Put simply it's a better quality of meat, more flavour, juicier, and not from some skinny little piglet like this." The chop gets a disdainful nod. "Feed a pig on shit and the meat tastes like shit. Stands to reason."

Athénaïs eats a couple of bites of her chop, with the air of a hungry person who has come in from the cold to enjoy something good and hot— which she has, and which it is. Then, she lays down her knife and fork to take up her glass of wine. After a mouthful she wonders in a suitably sceptical drawl, “What is it that other people’s pigs do all day, that yours don’t?”

"Poor quality food, and they're encouraged to snuffle about for mushrooms and so forth," Philomène is happy enough to explain, gesturing for Athénaïs's glass to demand a taste for herself. "They make a good stewing bit of pork, the muscles are worked more, see? The more you work the muscle, the tougher it gets. Fat, lazy pigs give the best bacon, chops and ribs. More fat, less stress on the pigs, tastier meat."

She paused, fingers poised at the other woman's glass. "If pigs were people, we should all better eat priests than peasants."

<FS3> Athénaïs rolls Viticulture: Great Success. (3 1 1 6 7 5 8 4 2 7 7)

That impertinent grasping paw from over the table earns a casual slap from Athénaïs’s other hand, and then she sips again from the glass she defiantly retains— just as the dish of dried figs is edged onto the table next to her plate, with a curtsey’d “Milady” from the barmaid.

The slapping hand nudges the figs nearer to Philomène’s side of the admittedly smallish table. “Eat one of these,” Athénaïs directs, “and then drink that.” She nods to her companion’s own glass of wine, what little there is of it, and sits back to watch the two flavours blossom together and enhance one another as she knows very well is about to happen.

Arching a brow, Philomène nonetheless takes up one of the figs, tearing it in two then in two again before she deigns to eat it. "Is it poisoned?" she queries as she pops it between her lips, chews, then takes up her glass ready to wash it down. Well, if it is, at least she'll go out happy, with a drink in one hand.

There's a moment or two after her first sip of wine where she just fixed Athénaïs with an unreadable state, but then she slips another two pieces of fig into her mouth and follows up with another swig from her glass. Apparently it's a good combination, for which she appears to resent her guide, judging by the way her brows furrow.

Across the table Athénaïs continues to attack her pork chop, as handy with a table knife as she is with anything else that’s got an edge on it. She doesn’t gloat, which is something. But she gives Philomène a knowing look as she chews, which is something else. She swallows; she sips. “Chop’s all right,” is her verdict. “I’ve had better — but I’m hungry.”

Philomène takes her time to finish her fig and her wine, eyeing Athénaïs as she eats. "Been working up an appetite? Vineyards keeping you busy?"

The chop, the vegetables, and the wine set before Athénaïs are all decreasing in tandem, as she proves the truth of her hunger and regales herself with that vintage well-chosen to sweeten the sating of it. After another few bites she offers, “There are no vineyards in the city.”

"And yet here you are," Philomène notes, thumb absently running along the rim of her glass before she lifts it, catches the eye of the server, points to it and, with any luck, orders another of the same. Well, there are still more figs.

"Winter quarters with the family and consort, I suppose? I've left mine to deal with matters at home, by contrast. In Marsilikos I'm entirely my own woman."

It’s an unfortunate remark to make to Athénaïs when she has a knife in her hand— but the pork chop is sufficiently alluring, even by comparison with immediate and decisive violence, that she thinks over Philomène’s words for long enough to finish her current bite of it.

But her expression is settling moment by moment into a glower, and her fork and her knife clatter against her plate as they arrive upon it with unnecessary force. She takes a deeper mouthful of her wine. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she demands.

Plucking up another fig to begin to tear, Philomène watches this change in expression with bemusement at first, then a sort of quiet pleasure. "Well, if I'm honest, initially I'd meant that I'm free from having to deal with the family and estate both while I'm here, and free to concentrate on trade routes and observing the local politics from a safe distance. But I've apparently touched a nerve. Of course, I didn’t know you were so far under your family’s thumb here.” The fig is tossed carelessly into her mouth. It’s like picking at a scab, isn’t it? You know you’re only going to make it worse — but she just can’t help herself, can she?

The words chosen register less than this amalgamation of inferences— this deliberate teasing at one of the three subjects Philomène herself has declared off-limits, this conjuring of phantoms surely unsuspected even as the Aiglemort witnesses that expression setting itself in granite upon the compelling features of Athénaïs de Belfours. “… You’ll keep your mouth off her,” she breathes, her gaze locked with the other woman’s and each word receiving its due weight, “or I’ll grind your face into this floor and Elua himself would call it justice.”

Philomène holds that gaze for a second or two, then simply gives a solid nod to acknowledge this amendment to the rules of engagement. Wine follows.

"Noted," is all she says, gesturing then to Athénaïs's glass and raising a brow. "Another?"

But to simmer down from such a temperature is not the work of a moment. Athénaïs’s voice sounds sour, her City of Elua accent more clipped and more pronounced, as she utters: “No.” A breath later she takes up her knife and fork again for a final glowering assault upon the remnants of her pork chop, which she slices very near the bone and takes a last bite of and gives up, placing her cutlery across the plate and nudging it away. She chews — she swallows — she drinks down most of the rest of her glass of red, leaving only faint dregs.

Her blue-grey eyes lift boldly to meet Philomène’s.

“Where do they serve meat from your pigs?” she demands.

"In Marsilikos?" Philomène clarifies, finding herself another fig. More wine, more figs, it'd be a shame to waste either. "We've a number of deals with a few local butchers, or there's a chap on the market who sells our sausages in a bun - you should try those, you'd like them. Look for anything from a Gueret Old Spot. You'll taste the difference," she assures the other woman blithely, tilting the bowl of figs to allow Athénaïs to have one if she so wants. Since she ordered them.

"If you're a bacon fan, we do have a butcher here who'll smoke it and cure it beautifully. Adds some treacle to the rind, which crisps up. Get your woman to insist on it."

“… I don’t keep a maid,” says Athénaïs slowly, sitting back in her chair and folding her arms — she ignores the figs, “and you haven’t given me a single reputable name, yet.”

"If I could suggest a name for a maid, I would," Philomène deliberately misunderstands, then relents and leans an elbow on the table. She names some of the merchants with whom she's spent the last year arranging deals, which I previously didn't name because they're fucking NPCs so get the fuck over it.

"I was only recently convinced of the merit of a maid," she notes, watching the other woman curiously. "Keeps the house from being too empty, and it's good for the girl to have employment. You might consider it, if only for the benefit of the service industry and the city's economy. Unemployed women get up to mischief, and don't keep the finances circulating."

Idle for the winter, with the harvest behind her and the juice of her grapes fermenting nicely in its barrels, Athénaïs raises her eyebrows. “I’ll bear that in mind,” she drawls, “though I never plan mischief.” The feet of her chair grate backwards over stone. She digs her fingertips down inside the loosened laces of her shirt, retrieves her purse from the region of her bosom, and counts out coins. Finances circulating nicely between herself and the house, yes.

"I can't decide if I'm relieved or disappointed in that," Philomène notes, fingertips drumming on the table unconsciously before she goes to find the figs again to give them something to do. "At least do let me know if you've any mischief planned, so I can help, hinder or both. I'm out to ride this afternoon if you find yourself at a loose end. Out to the cascade and back, most likely. If you can keep up, feel free to join me. I don't ride slow," she warns.

Tucking her puse away again Athénaïs lets out a huff of sardonic amusement at Philomène’s thoroughly hedged invitation. “Then go and race yourself,” she advises, though her tone is suggestive of a different verb. And she catches up her cloak and departs, weaving her way between tables with the insouciant and lightfooted grace of a scion of Azza.

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