(1311-12-13) A Ship of the Line
Summary: Hugo strolls into the Lis d’Or of an afternoon and makes the acquaintance of the new Camellia Second. Nautical metaphors ensue.
RL Date: 10/12/2019 - 13/12/2019
Related: Le camélia roux.
emilie hugo 

Le Lis d’Or — Marsilikos

In the rarefied air of the Salon de Lis d'Or the very candlelight seems softer, the music of lute or violin sweeter, and the flowers more delicately fragrant.

The outer salon is a high and airy circular chamber floored with a complex pattern of parquet in shades of polished and gleaming golden hardwood, centered upon the spreading petals of a bouquet of lis d'or. Radiating therefrom are conversational groupings of sofas and chaises and chairs of antique mahogany, upholstered in deep, bluish-purple velvet and lavishly scattered with cushions.

Opposite the main entrance the chamber's outermost curve is set with tall windows of fine glass offering a panoramic view of gardens rigorously perfected by human hands, in which not a branch nor a petal is permitted to stray from its place. Purple silk brocade draperies figured with golden lilies frame each pair of windows. The walls themselves are paneled in lavender boiseries lightly touched with gilt, and hung with portraits in oils of certain courtesans who illuminated the Lis d'Or in years past: each of whose nature shines out of their gilded frame so brightly as to leave a profound impression of personality as well as beauty. So too do the adepts and courtesans who frequent this salon form a night-blooming garden in which every blossom is ideal of its kind and yet unique.

To the right, double doors give into the theatre's Hellenic portico. To the left, next to a magnificent porphyry hearth which in cool weather never lacks heat, a pair of identical doors usually stand open upon a smaller, dark violet foyer with the salon's offices to the right, a mahogany staircase to the left curling up toward patron rooms, and the ballroom's grand portal straight ahead.

Guards in the salon's livery are a constant and discreet presence.


No idler about Marsilikos need be shy of his welcome at the Lis d’Or, provided he’s dressed in expensive good taste and he introduces himself to the guards on duty with the name and the air not just of an officer of the Royal Navy, but a Trevalion of Azzalle— and so Hugo, making his first approach to the most elegant of the city’s Night Court salons, is bowed courteously into this temple of refinement he’d dismissed as being a bit too arty and pretentious for an honest seaman’s taste, until he turned out to be quite bored this afternoon…

Several youthful beauties who must be adepts of the house, are scattered artfully about the salon engaging in melodic low conversation with patrons or one another— by happenstance the first to see Hugo, and to rise and greet him, is a strawberry blonde somewhat their senior.

She is in her late twenties perhaps, no more than thirty, and so immaculate in every detail of her person that she might have stepped down from one of those gilded frames in which golden lilies of the past are captured at the peak of their own perfection. There are one or two others present whose particular loveliness suggests the heritage of angelic scions— but she positively glows with it, her eyes warm and brown as they meet Hugo’s and her smile serene.

“My lord, be welcome to the Lis d’Or. Might I have the honour of your name—?”

This, not in an Eisandine drawl but the clipped and aristocratic accents of Mont Nuit, or indeed of the royal court. She sounds discreetly pleased. Oh, and she’s a soprano.

Caught staring, or more accurately admiring, not the selection of arrayed courtesans but the architecture of all things, Hugo starts guiltily before his natural cheer takes over and the dimpled grin appears. "Oh. Trevalion," he offers, for once happy to lean on his family name. "Lord Hugo. Not that Lord Hugo. How do you do."

Having been distracted from his admiration of the portico, he's only too happy to switch his admiration to the woman addressing him. This, after all, is the very embodiment of what makes Terre d'Ange great. Such beauty. Such poise. Such availability.

The salon really is gorgeously proportioned, laid out decades past by an architect responsible for several of the better palaces in the City of Elua— one might say the same of the woman, who has probably been laid out in several of those better palaces in the capital.

She offers Hugo a shallow but faultlessly graceful curtsey, bowing her intricate coiffure to him and gathering in one hand folds of her flowing peach-pink silk gown, as her other hand unfurls in a gesture beautifully calculated to balance this new, revised posture of her body. Then she straightens, and her smile returns to him. “How do you do, my lord?” she inquires, in punctilious echo of his own courtesy. “I am Émilie nó Lis d’Or… I hope you will pardon me for not knowing you at once,” she murmurs, “but I am very new to Marsilikos, my lord, and to me almost everyone who comes into the salon is still a charming surprise to be discovered.”

"I haven't been here too long, myself," Hugo admits, adjusting his collar as though when faced with such pristine perfection he feels the need to improve his own appearance. Can't let the side down. "My ship's in refit for a few months, so I get to discover the joys of the south coast in the meantime." He pauses, then flashes that winning smile again. "Can I get you a drink?"

Apparently he's confused and has forgotten exactly who is hosting whom here.

<FS3> Émilie rolls Politics: Amazing Success. (3 2 8 2 8 1 7 8 7 3 7 2 1 5)

At that, Émilie just smiles. The young man has, after all, been good enough to place himself as one unaccustomed to the Lis d’Or and its ways, rather than a regular patron with favourites and expectations to accommodate — besides, she’s found him by now upon the Trevalion tree. No far-flung sprig, this Hugo, but intimately attached to an ancient trunk.

“I already have a glass of wine, my lord,” she confides, inclining her head just a fraction nearer to his as she signals for a roving, white-robed novice to come across to them with his tray, “but may I tempt you in return—? We just opened a Côte du Rhône that I find marvelously smooth and complex upon the palate — or if your taste inclines toward white, perhaps one of the crisp and summery joys of the south coast,” she suggests, borrowing his own words. “After all, no evening of pleasure ought to begin without a toast to Naamah’s blessings.”

Her beckoning hand becomes a presenting hand, as if she herself has conjured wine for him. In a sense she has. What exactly would he have done, if she’d taken him up on his offer—?

The thing about living the sort of charmed life that Hugo does is that he would probably have just asked and somebody would have provided. It tends to work for him as a way of life, so why would he ever worry about these sorts of practical considerations?

Again that broad smile is brought forth, this time in thanks to the novice who provides the wine and, Hugo having claimed it, is promptly forgotten. A glass of something deep, rich and red that he will no doubt regret in the morning, but then it's not as though he has anywhere in particular to be.

"A toast, then," he's happy to agree, lifting his glass towards Émilie. "To the blessed Companions?"

Having conjured too the idea of a toast Émilie retraces the few steps to the occasional table where she left her own half-filled glass of the same red, next to the sofa where she was sitting; her smile invites Hugo to take those few steps with her, deeper into the salon. Her hair is pinned high behind; the back of her gown dips just low enough to expose her beautiful nape and a single blushing camellia flower, without revealing the full length of her marque.

She takes up the glass with another graceful gesture and turns back to him, raising it in an echo of his toast: “To the blessed Companions, and the love they have taught us.” Pressing the lip of the glass to her own deftly, discreetly painted coral-red mouth, she takes a deep swallow of wine. “My lord, may I introduce you to some of our adepts—?” she suggests quietly, drawing his eye by a discreet gesture to one and then another. “Ameline is one of our most gifted young Eglantines, a virtuoso upon the violin as well as one of the sweetest girls you’ll ever meet. Or Phillipe, as fine and upright a Dahlia as you might see blooming upon Mont Nuit. Either of them would be delighted to share your company tonight, should that be your wish.”

"I'm sure she's very talented, but I don't think I can handle fiddle playing today," Hugo insists amiably. "Remind me, Dahlias? I always get them confused… no offence meant, of course."

Émilie’s serene smile never wavers. “Beneath our roof, my lord, you find several canons combined: Camellia, Dahlia, Eglantine, and even Cereus,” she explains, gesturing him to a seat upon the sofa she herself was previously occupying, and where she alights next to him only lightly, as if she expects at any moment to rise and to glide again. Her empty hand runs in a caress over silken skirts already in perfect order. “You might well say that in the Lis d’Or, they are confused…” A gentle confidence which has the effect of absolving his own confusion. “Our novices and adepts may study the ways of one canon alone, or several— indeed, they can hardly help imbibing a certain alloyed flavour of all that is most refined in the Night Court.

“The Dahlia canon is dignity, my lord, and Dahlias hold that Naamah gave herself to the King of Persis as one who was in every respect his equal. The… Camellia canon?” she suggests, dipping her chin as she intuits what he was confusing them with. “Our canon is perfection,” she says simply, looking straight into his eyes, “and in our telling, Naamah’s perfections when they were unveiled to him, left the King of Persis blinded for a fortnight.”

"So I should probably look away then?" Hugo suggests, easing himself down onto the sofa and extending his arm casually along the back. Subtle, Hugo. Subtle. Wine on one hand, courtesan on the other, he seems to be making himself quite at home. "And Cereus?" Because he can't leave that one out. Completion is important.

And such is the perfection of her training that Émilie affects never to have heard that one before: a few soft, musical notes of soprano laughter ring out, intended just for Hugo’s ears. “That is your choice to make, my lord,” she murmurs. She seems impervious to his arm and its subtleties, seated at the edge of the sofa with her knees angled toward him, her back straight and her shoulders elegantly sloping, her posture naturally erect without seeming stiff. The difference between a Dahlia and a Camellia is that a Camellia never seems to try.

“The canon of Cereus House is that of transient beauty,” she explains softly; “they say that life and beauty both are fleeting, and one must be free to savour them to the fullest.”

"I'll admit it, I'm still none the wiser," Hugo allows, pausing for a sip of wine. "I think perhaps I'll just reconcile myself that every lady here is particularly beautiful and talented and I'm fortunate to be here, making the place look untidy." He glances sideways and upwards to study her where she sits, taking in the view with the same sort of admiration he showed for the architecture. Exquisitely made, and probably shouldn't be touched for fear of breaking something.

"And I'm fortunate to be in a salon where those lines are blurred, so I don't have to make difficult decisions before I even walk in. How's your wine?"

As though he'd provided it. Maybe he forgot.

Well, maybe he was thinking of other things. Patrons can be forgetful, when there’s a Camellia sitting so close and smelling so delicious and so fresh. “The wine is delightful, my lord,” Émilie answers, taking another sip as if to prove it; “do you find it so, too—?” she wonders, those wide brown eyes still fixed deliberately upon his. “I understand, then,” and it isn’t quite a tease, not from her, but a delicate inquiry, “your desire this evening is for feminine company?”

Hugo takes another drink from his wine, flicking her a quick dimpled grin. "If I'm honest, I don't really know what I'm here for this evening. Idle curiosity, too much time on my hands, and… well, yes, a certain… appreciation for feminine company. Particularly if said company is so… so… I don't know the words. Stunning seems too weak a word for it, although I am clearly stunned. Angelic?"

When Hugo confesses his appreciation Émilie’s own careful smile deepens and she murmurs, “Of course, my lord,” as if that were only natural— indeed, it is.

“Naturally, quite a few of the servants of Naamah you might meet at the Lis d’Or have true angelic blood running in their veins. Some of noble lineage and others born of the Night Court itself,” she explains smoothly, as if the radiance of her own complexion and her own eyes didn’t speak volumes upon such matters. Another sip of her wine. “Whatever the beauty you might wish to discover, my lord, I’m sure you’ll find under our roof— even if you came here seeking her only unconsciously, drawn by some part of your soul you have not yet named…

“I see I am being too flowery for a naval officer’s taste,” and another few notes of soprano laughter ring out, softly, just between the two of them. “Shall I say instead, oh,” and she looks away from him, glancing seemingly at random about the salon until her attention catches upon a portrait of a young man holding not a viola or a lily but an octant, “that perhaps,” she ventures as she meets Hugo’s gaze again, her own eyes warm and brown and clear, “even when you are on shore, even when you may have other intentions for your evening, you are drawn by instinct to look up from the horizon to chart the movements of celestial bodies—?”

Hugo actually laughs aloud at that, happy to meet the older woman’s eye. “You might be surprised at just how accurate you are,” he admits with a rueful smile. “I do spend my nights watching the skies, but then all the more reason to spend my days watching the brilliance of the stars here on earth, hm?” Well, he seems quite pleased with himself, anyway, with his own attempt to return the flowery language. Give the boy a break, he’s only twenty.

“I don’t think, though, that I’ll spend time noting the exact measurements and times of your… colleagues?” he hazards, still not entirely certain what the system of seniority is here. “If I were to use you for navigation, I’d be eternally lost.” He pauses, then curiosity gets the better of him, and the portrait gets a nod. “Who exactly is that, anyway? One of ours?”

“But perhaps you might enjoy losing yourself so, my lord—?” Émilie speculates gently, and then as he speaks she tastes her wine again. “I don’t know,” she admits; “truly, my lord, I’ve spent only a few days in Marsilikos, yet. Shall we look at him and see?” she suggests.

She glances away to the occasional table at her other side, just long enough to set down her glass— and then she rises lithely from her place upon the sofa, and matches her steps to Hugo’s as they approach that handsome young man whose portrait suggests his interests were musical and mathematical in equal proportions. The gilded and polished plaque set into his frame informs us all that his name was: Calixte nó Lis d’Or. No more than that.

Hugo isn’t smart enough to set down his glass, instead hanging on to it in case somebody should take it away from him. It might be because he doesn’t trust them, but more likely it’s a habit from living at sea where liquids, once set down, tend not to remain full for very long.

“He might be one of ours,” he decides dubiously, wrinkling his nose. “But… he’d have Trevalion somewhere on there if so, surely. Probably a Rousse, then, or one of theirs. Must be from a few years back, though. Most sailors these days use sextants rather than octants.”

Next to him Émilie stands with her hands clasped primly before the waist of her flowing silken gown. “In this chamber, my lord, he can only be a servant of Naamah— and, you see, he sports neither the colours nor the iconography of House Trevalion or House Rousse, but that deep green with touches of silver that one might take as being indicative in reverse of Eresse blood…?” she wonders aloud, having lately been revising her Eisandine heraldry.

“That doublet is at least five-and-sixty years old, by its cut and the disproportionate bell-shape of its sleeves,” she adds, “perhaps more if he was painted in the latest style. Perhaps he is not behind his time, my lord, but ahead of it…? Consider the construction of that telescope, at his window, and the number of strings upon his lute. Eight courses,” she pronounces, as she looks away from the painting and down into the blue-green eyes of this young man who simply can’t match her own queenly stature. “I think Monsieur Calixte must have been a forward-thinking young man, as well as a beauty great enough that the Lis d’Or sought to immortalise him in oils. I wonder whether I shall find him in one of the ledgers in my office,” she muses, a little to herself. “I haven’t read all of them,” she admits to Hugo; “not yet.”

“I wonder… do you have any talented artists here?” Hugo asks, folding his hands behind his back and peering up at the painting rather than holding Émilie’s gaze and feeling awkward. “I might commission one for my sister. It might help… well, you know.” Except probably Émilie doesn’t, but it’s not polite to ask, is it?

“There’s plenty of paintings of all the olds up around the place at home, but none of my generation. Yet. Do you paint?”

“No, my lord, I don’t paint,” murmurs Émilie regretfully, eyeing the reality of Hugo as he eyes in turn that remembrance of Calixte; “but we have in our midst several gifted Eglantines whose art is that of the brush upon canvas. I might introduce you, if you wish it—?” she suggests, smiling down upon the pocket-sized Trevalion with the unusually large smile. “Whatever you seek at the Lis d’Or, my lord, it is my pleasure to see that you find it,” she promises him.

Holding a hand up and turning the full force of his smile on Émilie, Hugo shakes his head. “Not right now, but thank you and I’ll bear it in mind for the future. It’d make a nice surprise for her, but we’re several months from her birthday and so today I can concentrate quite happily on me.” He laughs, as though this is an unusual request.

“Another glass of wine? Perhaps some dancing, and then an afternoon enjoying the more intimate company of… well, I do like red headed women.” This admission is confided with a somewhat shyer smile.

Émilie’s own smile broadens, though then she lowers for a moment the gaze of her doe-like brown eyes. After a moment she looks up again and murmurs, “My lord, I shall take that as a sweet piece of flattery, for tonight my service is pledged to Naamah in another form… I see we haven’t any redheaded girls in the salon at present,” she sighs, having cast a glance about the circular chamber and its present cast of characters, “but I might inquire for you—? Perhaps there’s a beauty with carmine tresses simply finishing her toilette before she comes downstairs in the hope of taking a glass of wine with just such a man as you,” she suggests lightly.

“Oh, I do apologise,” Hugo hurriedly insists, shifting his glass to the other hand as he turns away from the painting, so he can guide her back with him to the sofa with a light touch to her elbow. “I didn’t realise you were otherwise engaged. I think… well, your back,” he notes with a little nod in her general direction.

He clears his throat, resuming his seat on the sofa and propping one booted foot up on the opposite knee. “Well, still, a glass more wine in the meantime while we wait? You for your mysterious other patron, and me for my possibly imaginary redhead.” He flashes a grin to indicate that he’s not entirely put out by the lack, nor does he genuinely expect there to be a late rising auburn haired beauty just waiting for him upstairs. “I’m a sailor by trade,” as if the uniform didn’t give it away, “so I’m rather used to waiting.”

Émilie perceives Hugo’s hand in time to keep from starting when it reaches her elbow; she turns, and allows herself to be guided, like a majestic galleon accepting the temporary aid of a sturdy little tug in order to arrive in safe harbour upon the sofa whence she came.

“… Oh, no, my lord, there is not another patron,” she disclaims, smiling at Hugo as she resumes her gracefully upright perch at the sofa’s edge. “But I am a Second of the salon,” information elided earlier in calculated modesty, offered now only in necessity, “and so it is my duty to supervise the salon, to greet our guests and see them well-suited, and to seal the contracts made by our adepts tonight. I could not accept an assignation of my own without another Second’s agreement to stand in my place,” she confides, “and then, perhaps I would be obliged to serve upon another evening in exchange. My gown, it is” Her hand curls upward, fingertips following her neckline up to the peak of her shoulder and tucking in there, beneath the peach-pink silk and her own creamy skin. “A courtesan who seeks assignation will usually display the full marque,” she elaborates gently; “but a flower or two at the nape, that is simply the cut of the garment. When I dressed I had no intent to mislead, my lord but this is one of my favourite gowns,” she smiles, “and with its sleeves it is warm enough for the season.”

She lifts her other hand, just far enough, to draw the eye of a novice who promptly brings the Trevalion more wine. Her own glass receives due replenishment too.

“You’re the officer of the watch,” Hugo insists, snapping his fingers and pointing to her as it all becomes clear. “Now that I certainly understand. And,” he adds, holding up his glass as it’s miraculously topped up, “…thank you… And you’re the Second. You’re the first lieutenant. Getting somebody to cover your duty watch is much more difficult.” He gives her an amiable smile, leaning back comfortably on the sofa. It’s all a lot less awkward when you’ve already been turned down. They can hardly turn you down again, see?

“Can I at least make the watch go a little faster for you, with more wine and conversation if nothing else?” he offers gallantly. “You can tell me all about yourself, and how you came to be here, and all the trials and tribulations of steering this particular ship, and I can spend hours boasting about myself and you can probably expect to reasonably believe maybe five percent of it all?”

The Camellia appears discreetly pleased. Her gaze anyway seems to blossom as she eyes Hugo over the rim of her cut-crystal glass, during the course of a long and considering mouthful. “I think that would be the nautical terminology, yes, my lord,” she agrees; “I’m relieved you understand there is no slight in it to you, and no coolness in the welcome the Lis d’Or is pleased to extend to you. Of course, you may enjoy the comforts of our salon for as long as you wish— but I may not always be able to offer you my attention,” she sighs, although without any real regret, given that he has not yet proposed to pay for any of these refined pleasures.

“Are you sure I may not seek a redheaded adept for you?” she asks again. “There are so many young beauties here, of every colouring, that I keep finding myself dazzled.”

It’s subtle, but Hugo is beginning to suspect that this elegant older redhead might not, for some unknown reason, want to while away her afternoon with him.

Still, he’s a game young fellow, not to be deterred. “I’m sure none can compare to you,” he insists with an easy smile, the words tripping off his tongue without any real seriousness, but in the continued vein that he might as well keep flattering. You never know where it’ll get you.

“Anyway, I don’t want to put anyone out. I’m sure the ladies need their rest, ready for a busy evening ahead. I’m happy with just wine and to enjoy the view for a while.” He lifts his glass again towards her, then takes a sip. “When does your duty watch end, out of interest?”

Her efforts to pass him to the adepts having failed, Émilie is beginning to suppose that this small Trevalion is just going to be an unavoidable hazard to her own navigation. And why not? He’s highborn, clean-looking, biddable enough, glad to carry his side of the talk and not leave it all to her— and If he intends on sticking to her hull like a limpet for hours on end, the least he can do is to pay generously for her company the next time, if he isn’t going to now.

Such are the musings — some of them anyway — concealed behind Émilie’s deftly-painted mask of Camellia serenity. She’s also listening with half an ear to the chatter of adepts and patrons behind her left shoulder, and resolving to speak to those two particular guards about their habit of standing not quite symmetrically at either side of the entrance. Perhaps some discreet sort of marks could be made for them on the floor, for them to return to, as on a stage—?

“Some while yet, my lord — at this hour it has hardly begun,” she sighs lightly, and she casts a subtle glance heavenwards as if to add: what can one do? “Of course none of our adepts would be discommoded by an invitation to begin an evening of pleasure a little earlier than usual… But if you did prefer an assignation with me,” she suggests, placing delicate emphasis upon the pronoun, “on another evening, when we might enjoy with one another an equal liberty— that is something we certainly might discuss as we drink our wine.” And with a slight, courteous bow of her head towards him, she lifts her glass to her lips and takes another sip.

"My own fault, clearly, for arriving so early," Hugo insists amiably, "but it does give the chance to enjoy the wine without fear of any adverse effects." Again he flashes her a dimpled grin, settling quite comfortably. Apparently the offer of an adept is simply ignored.

"Is there already an account with the Marsilikos Trevalions?" he queries, raising a brow at her. "And if not, what do you need from me to set one up? I mean, it's hardly just today and I do expect to be here some months yet. Not to mention the mess dinner in the new year for which I'll be expected to bring company."

“The afternoon does have its own charms, my lord,” Émilie agrees; “I like the quiet, and the opportunity simply to sit and converse…” She lets her smile deepen, just a fraction, to imply a liking for this specific conversation. But then she moves smoothly to business, that being never far from a courtesan’s mind— or a Second’s. “The Lis d’Or has as yet no arrangement with House Trevalion — it would be our honour to form one, and to provide you with every pleasure during your sojourn in Marsilikos. I’m sure your family’s bankers here must be accustomed to dealing with salons on behalf of their own patrons, as indeed the bankers of the city are well-known to us in the Night Court in turn. A letter of authorisation from your banker, establishing your credit in the usual style, would suffice for us,” she assures him.

“Then,” she goes on, for the boy radiates inexperience and is obviously going to have to be instructed in the form, at every step, “you might sign individual contracts with us whenever you desire, and either attend to the transfer of coin at your own convenience afterwards or leave us and the bank to arrange matters on your behalf… Though such patron gifts as you might choose to offer in Naamah’s name to the adepts who serve your pleasures here, are a private matter between you— the salon has no rôle there,” she explains, with a luminous smile.

"I'll call for a banker later, then," Hugo agrees immediately, quite pleased to have the procedure laid out for him so straightforwardly. He takes another sip from his wine, swirling it absently in the glass, either for the oxygenation to improve the flavour or, more likely, because he saw somebody do it once and it looks sophisticated. "I'm afraid I don't carry coin but perhaps you might do me the favour of extending credit for today's company for now. And should I send a gift later, it's Émilie, was it? Or would it reach you if I just send it courtesy of the second of the salon?"

He pauses, hesitating for a moment, then asks quite seriously in a somewhat lower tone, "And, you'll excuse me, I haven't been ashore here long, but what would be a suitable sort of gift for you? I can't imagine for an instant that you'd be interested in charts or almanacs, so I'm afraid I can't offer you my most valuable things. I want to offer thanks and appreciation, not bore you to death with my theories."

“I’d rather like a kitten,” Émilie answers— for once, without thinking.

Then, a beat later, she lowers her eyes and admits in a rueful undertone: “But I’ve done so little for you yet that I might be thanked for… My lord,” she looks earnestly into his eyes, “it is our pleasure to offer hospitality to our patrons, old and new. I think I do speak for the Lis d’Or when I say we’d be pleased to count you amongst our regular patrons— truly, you incur no debt with us simply by enjoying our salon for the afternoon as a friend, and admiring what you see.”

On which note one of those lissome young adepts who failed to catch Hugo’s eye, makes a bid for Émilie’s. A preternaturally mature and dignified youth, who crosses into her field of vision and then murmurs: “Madame Émilie…?” Not, we might add, ‘mademoiselle’. From the point of view of sought-after sixteen, thirty is well along into the elder generation, if not the grave.

She looks up and apprehends at once the situation. “Of course,” she says easily; and then, to Hugo, “Will you pardon me, please, for a few moments? The business of the watch.” She lodges her glass of wine upon the table and flows up onto her feet, addressing the expensively clad, somewhat older woman approaching a few paces behind the adept: “How do you do? I’m Émilie Perigeux nó Lis d’Or. Won’t you please step into my office—?” And she gathers up the both of them with a warm smile, and ushers them ahead of her — pausing only to touch the shoulder of another adept, and gesture to Hugo — through double doors across the salon.

The girl thus detailed to Trevalion duty comes across to Hugo and curtseys to him, and makes herself agreeable, though she lacks the polished confidence (also, the vocabulary) of Émilie Perigeux, who has just revealed herself to be of noble Siovalese birth as well as the most polished Mont Nuit training — six or seven minutes pass thus before Émilie returns alone, and stands for a moment framed in the doorway like a figure of an Hellenic goddess before she glides over the floor again to Hugo’s side, and to her abandoned glass.

“Thank you, Ameline,” she says to the adept, who understands the gentle dismissal in her senior’s tone and curtseys again (with a smile for Hugo) before she leaves them to it.

It’s not that Hugo isn’t unfailingly polite to the adept — of course he is, it’s Hugo and he’s a sweet young thing, really — but his eyes do keep returning to the door, and he does drain his wine at an alarming rate as a way to pass the time. By the time he’s learned the adept’s name — Ameline — her favourite colour — white — and that she likes those little yappy type dogs, he’s really running out of things to ask with any sort of shared interest and so is reduced to drinking and smiling politely. Maybe it would have gone better if she was a redhead.

When Émilie returns he half-rises, having been taught that courtesy from a young age at least, and there’s a smile on his face that broadens a touch on seeing her. It’s certainly possible that having been assured that he’s not going to have an assignation with her today that it’s far easier now to just talk. He really is very young.

“A kitten,” he prompts, raising an eyebrow. “I really ought to introduce you to a marvellous young woman I met the other day, and her little ginger tom. Not this salon, though, but next door. I don’t know if that means she’s the competition, or if you’re allowed to get on?”

As she sits down Émilie laughs softly and looks away to pick up her glass.

“Oh, my lord, I was only…” she begins, and then falls silent to let him speak. Her listening is attentive; her smile, in between sips, is reassuring. “Ah, you know Soleil—?” she wonders, and that luminous smile grows more so at the other woman’s name. “She’s an old friend of mine from Mont Nuit,” she explains; “she brought her little ginger gentleman to visit me yesterday, and I began to get odd ideas about keeping a kitten myself. Or two,” she offers, “so that they might be companions for one another when I am absent. But I am not sure it would do.”

The matter doesn’t seem to be an urgent concern; she sighs, but only faintly, well below the music of the lute one of the Eglantine adepts has just produced, and then she moves on. “Of course the Camellia canon and the Gentian are so unlike one another that Soleil and I could not possibly compete,” she assures Hugo, the neophyte; “that is one of the wonders of Naamah’s service — that though we are so different, we all find our patrons and our places. Besides, as a Second,” she adds modestly, “it is more my rôle to put others forward to be admired.”

“Oh, good,” Hugo breathes with relief. “I was rather afraid I’d put my foot in it. Like telling a frigate captain how wonderful the ships of the line are. But both have their place, you know?” Again he flashes her that wide, dimpled smile, that does absolutely nothing for his attempts to look older and more mature.

“And just because you put others forward to be admired doesn’t mean we can’t admire you too, right?”

“… Somehow I feel sure I shouldn’t ask you,” murmurs Émilie, “which am I.”

Someone else has, by now, fetched a small drum; and the music amongst the young people sitting nearby is growing more boisterous (although always exquisitely melodic) as the sun dips lower in tandem with the general level in their glasses, oft replenished by the white-robed novices whose duty it is to cross the salon to and fro with libations.

Émilie opens her perfect painted coral-red mouth to say something else, then changes her mind. “Would you care to come into my office for a while, my lord?” she suggests. “It’s quieter, and we might more easily speak of whatever matters of business might interest you.”

Rising again to his feet and offering his hand then his arm to the woman, Hugo takes a moment to consider. “I think… a ship of the line. A flagship. To be admired for its lines, its power… I guess its majesty? You can take that ship half way across the world and it dominates the horizon, shows everyone what we are and what we’re capable of.”

He drains his glass and stoops to set it down before moving with her towards the office in question. And yes, away from the incessant noise. “Frigates are more capricious things. Quick to appear, good in stays, fast as lightning on a run. Takes a special kind of seaman to appreciate a frigate. They might not stand in line of battle, but we’d be lost without their eyes and ears… I… don’t really know where I’m going with this metaphor,” he admits with a laugh, shrugging his shoulders.

The ship of the line seems not to see Hugo’s hand, and rises without its aid.

Then, smiling serenely, she tucks her own hand into that boldly crooked and uniformed arm and sails forth, her lines just as impeccable side-on. She’s the one leading him, of course, since he hasn’t the faintest idea where they’re actually going— but it’s through those double doors that stand open, and past a staircase, and toward the second door on the right. She listens to him, naturally, but without offering more in reply than a thoughtful ‘mm’ or two.


Second’s Office — Le Lis d’Or

White boiseries, discreetly gilded with a pattern of lilies in which a sharp eye might discern the occasional camellia or dahlia, cereus or eglantine, panel the walls of this airy and well-proportioned chamber in which the business of the Lis d'Or is carried out in an atmosphere of impeccable elegance.

Long gilt looking-glasses mirror the positions of long windows framed by lavender silk drapes: each revealed and reflected prospect upon the salon's gardens seems more ideal than the last. Dainty mahogany or gilt furnishings are arranged in perfect harmony about a porphyry hearth, the tables topped with alabaster and the chairs and sofas upholstered some in white silk and others in lavender and white stripes. Flower-woven Akkadian carpets soften footsteps and lend the warmth of their own rich hues. Gentle light comes when needed from curvaceous glass oil lamps upheld by bronze-doré figures of beautiful nude youths of various sexes, for which some of the salon's earliest adepts are said to have posed.

In the corner farthest from the double doors leading out toward the salon proper stands a desk, in an unavoidable nod towards the chamber's more official purposes. The top of it is never cluttered, but laid out with fine parchment and a tray of pristine white quills, and a statuette of a golden lily from which one may draw violet ink like nectar. Above it shelves set in an arched recess hold ledgers leatherbound in soft shades of blue and lavender and yellow and rose.

Even in the depths of winter fresh hothouse flowers bloom in a rotating array of priceless vases and bowls, scenting the air just sweetly enough.


In Émilie’s office, which could pass for the private sitting-room of any duchesse you’d care to name, all is quiet and fragrant and warm— the latter quality courtesy of a low fire in her porphyry hearth, which having been lit rather earlier continues still its rightful business.

She uncurls her hand from Hugo’s elbow to shut the door behind them, then glides across a wealth of Akkadian carpets to the corner farthest from the fire. He has, thus, a renewed view of the one blushing camellia visible above the broad and shallow swoop of the back of her peach-pink silk gown. It would fall off the shoulders very nicely, if one were to push it. (Push it in every sense, really.) She opens the cabinet and vouchsafes him a glimpse of an assortment of bottles and glasses: she turns and smiles over her shoulder. “The same?” she suggests.

It should come as no surprise that he’s not really looking at the bottles and glasses. He does stumble a little across a chair as he heads across the room, but with the supernatural grace of the Trevalion scions of Azza, he’s able to make it look as though he’s just pulling out the chair to settle into. Casual-like.

Smooth.

“Oh… uh, yes. Please. The Côte du Rhône, please?” in case she wasn’t paying attention to what she offered last time. But really, would this woman ever pay anything but the minutest attention to every detail?
“I’m not sure about a kitten, or two kittens in here,” he muses, taking in at least a little of the ambience of the room, even if his eyes are mostly focused on the camellia peeking out from Émilie’s gown, and his personal fantasies about removing said gown. “They’d scratch everything, make a mess of… well, everything. They’d make themselves at home, I mean. It wouldn’t be as tidy.”

“Not in here, perhaps,” admits Émilie, affecting not to hear the squeak of chair-legs driven too impetuously across parquet flooring. Her head bows a little, the rear view of her neck elongating to an impossible length and grace, as she opens a bottle with practiced hands and pours two glasses of the Côte du Rhône. “… Elsewhere,” she adds after a moment, unhelpfully.

“Though it was only a thought, my lord,” she goes on, retreating as far back as she can from that impetuous wish she voiced; “like your charts and almanacs. I gather you have spent a great deal of time at sea—?” she prompts, turning toward hin in a swirl of silk and with a cut-crystal glass of wine in either hand, in case he was wondering if she could look lovelier.

It’s a perfect opportunity to talk about his travels, and when would Hugo ever give one of those up? And so the next five minutes is nothing but non-stop enthusiastic descriptions of far-flung places he’s been, ships he’s sailed and fantastic creatures he’s… well, possibly made up, but exaggeration isn’t a crime, is it?

And if the dashing adventures of a charming, brave young sailor aren’t enough to turn a girl’s head, what the hell is going on with the world?

Not only those five minutes, but the next half an hour, pass for Hugo in a haze of fine wine poured for him by an intelligent older redhead who encourages him, by means of a pertinent question here and a timely smile there, to talk about himself. His travels. His theories. His dreams. His beautiful Swallow, immured in drydock vile. As a sample of the goods on offer, the Côte du Rhône is not the most intoxicating— he’s only really getting into his stride when a knock on the door, wisely pre-arranged during Émilie’s earlier absence from the salon, summons her back to the business of the watch with every indication of regret that she is free no longer to hang upon his every word and breathe out all due admiration.

Thus by the time he gets home and can peruse at his leisure the folded document entrusted to him in parting — a copy of Émilie’s own personal contract, which he is invited to bring back to her if he should wish them to sign it together — the sizeable numbers written into it must just seem an inevitable fact of life. What else, after all, is the good of being a Trevalion—?

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