(1311-11-11) Not Very Bright
Summary: Raphael calls to thank Iphigénie for her advice in a small matter relating to the Rose Sauvage, and endures a disquieting interview.
RL Date: 11/10/2019 - 11/11/2019
Related: Other scenes with these characters; especially The Thorn in Autumn.
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.

The excuse of a grey and rainy day suggests to Raphael a visit to the Maignard residence: doubtless he’ll find Iphigénie confined to her home, and doubtless too she’ll be amenable to a friendly distraction from the weather, her own plight, the family matters on her mind… His wait in the public rooms is the brief one which suggests she’s getting out of bed to receive him; and then he is shown into her garden chamber, where the blazing fire in the hearth has put an autumnal savour of smoke into the air, discreetly adulterated by hemp’s sweetness.

But Iphigénie is not smoking now, nor getting up to anything else. Her hands in their fingerless gloves of soft black wool are idle in her blanket-draped lap, as she watches Raphael cross the bare parquet and then the hearth rug to join her at her fireside. Then she lifts her left hand to him in a small gesture of welcome, and her eyes to meet his where he’s standing over her high-backed green velvet armchair. “Monsieur, good afternoon,” she murmurs.

Her face is bare of paint and without those customary artful touches of colour she looks wan, as if the season is disagreeing with her. Her hair has been freshly combed into a halo of white fluff, the diameter of which has decreased by an inch or so since last he saw her.

Raphael comes close to grasp the hand he's offered. "Good afternoon," he returns. "I've come to see you and to thank you for that information you so kindly shared with me when we last met. I've had a fair bit to do following up," he admits with a faint rueful smile.

Iphigénie’s fingertips press gently into Raphael’s, and she lets her hand rest in his until she feels him begin to withdraw— then, tactful as usual, she completes the gesture and lowers her hand back into her lap. “Monsieur, you are most welcome. I won’t pry,” a faint smile, “but I shall admit to feeling selfishly glad that my other favourite house in Marsilikos rests in—” She shrugs her shawl-swathed shoulders, just slightly. “Such careful hands. Won’t you sit?”

Raphael's hands are warm even though he's coming in from a chilly fall day. Of course, he's had some time to wait indoors and recover his usual temperature. "Thank you for saying so, I count that high praise," he says, and takes his seat. "I'm afraid it is a wet autumn this year."

Careful, and powerful, and warm. If the rules of engagement permitted it, if they were on such terms with one another, Iphigénie would have retained that hand rather longer and counted it one of the chief pleasures of his company. Instead she rests her eyes upon him as he settles into that other green velvet chair, the match for her own, set conversationally close. Her regard is pensive, and she’s slow to speak. “Do you think so? It’s warmer and drier than a November in Kusheth,” she murmurs, “and you know I count that a blessing, monsieur.”

"Well, I am certain it is warmer," Raphael agrees with a smile. "So I hope it goes more easily on you here. Perhaps you will even find some pleasures in our late fall."

There’s a pause, and then Iphigénie reveals, “The house is quieter now with the boys gone back to Elua. I have ample time for my own little amusements, yes.” She smiles gently. “Such as calling upon you, monsieur, the other day, and seeing your gardens again. You’re fortunate to have such a fine view upon them from your windows.”

"Did their visit conclude satisfactorily?" Raphael asks. "I'm afraid I didn't think to ask you when you came to see me." He smiles faintly. "I am glad that the roses pleased you."

“… Yes, monsieur,” Iphigénie confirms, nodding slowly to terminate another pause, “I think they had an amusing time in Eisande, and they have agreed to wait until the summer to make their vows. A sweeter season for love, no?” She looks down into the fire. “And perhaps another half a year will bring wisdom in its train, one way or another,” she suggests.

"Yes," Raphael says. "Probably wise. It will surely do no harm, to take a later vow, when love is true." He did, after all, wait for the practical moment to pursue his own wedding. “Do you feel refreshed for having seen him?"

“… Yes, monsieur,” but there is a rote quality to Iphigénie’s answer, and a moment passes before her eyes lift from the flames to find his face again. “It is always a blessing to me,” she admits, “to make sure with my own senses, of how well he is.” The vocation of a Valerian courtesan being a strenuous one, as she has good cause to recall.

"I can see why that would be so," Raphael says, eyes narrowing a fraction as he looks upon Iphigénie. "Are you…? Shall I ring for anything?" he decides on asking.

“I am sure they are already bringing tea, monsieur,” is Iphigénie’s soft-voiced answer, “and the sandwiches you prefer. My orders were quite clear.”

"Yes," Raphael allows, a touch reluctantly. "Very well. I'm afraid my conversation is not its brightest. I have been attending to a number of meetings and considering carefully my approaches. It adds to one's cares and working time."

Again Iphigénie has recourse to that time-honoured, time-buying, “Yes, monsieur.” And again, her other thoughts come more slowly. “I don’t feel very bright either, monsieur,” she admits, for it’s no good pretending she hasn’t noticed that he’s noticed — her green eyes are incisive as usual, despite the signs of strain encircling them, and the faintness of her voice, “and I can hardly chastise you for my own sins, can I? I only wish I had stronger hands to lift your cares for an hour,” she regrets, as if she were the courtesan still and not he.

"No, indeed," Raphael replies. "That is not your responsibility, particularly if you do not feel well. I can sit with you if you wish, whether we talk or no. Or if I tire you, I can leave you in peace."

The choice is a weight upon Iphigénie’s thin shoulders, and she looks away again into the merrily dancing orange flames that occupy her dark marble hearth. “Monsieur, I…” She sighs, and looks up to meet his eyes. “I hardly like to send you away, when you’ve taken the trouble to call upon me, but perhaps that might be best,” she allows quietly.

"It is no trouble in the first place," Raphael assures, inclining his head at the decision. "Though I hope when next we meet you will be feeling well." He gets to his feet. "Do you wish me to return again some other day, or would you prefer that I leave you be until such time as you may wish to write me in the future?"

Iphigénie’s woolly-gloved left hand lifts again from her lap, seeking a last clasp before she relinquishes the hand, the man, and the hope, and retires alone to her bed. “Perhaps we might meet again in fairer weather,” she suggests, “as you wish it, monsieur.”

Raphael takes Iphigénie's hand, squeezing it gently before he lets her go. "On a fine day, then," he agrees softly. "Better days for you until then." He inclines his head and turns to go.

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