(1311-12-19) Two Delights
Summary: Girls don’t want boys, girls want small fluffy kittens.
RL Date: 14/12/2019 - 16/12/2019
Related: A Ship of the Line.
emilie hugo 

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.

The Trevalion residence in Marsilikos is maintained and kept open the year round by a full staff, some of them the children of servants who came here from Azzalle for the first time when a young Trevalion lord married the old duchesse. (Or the grandchildren.) Oddly, it’s one of the footmen — anyway, a footman’s mother’s next door neighbour — who does as much as the local branch of the family’s banking house, to equip Hugo for his next visit to the Lis d’Or.

He returns again in uniform, carrying a basket, to inquire for the Camellia Second. One novice fetches him a glass of that superlative Côte du Rhône; another, the intelligence that Madame Émilie is engaged with someone else. Would he care to wait a quarter of an hour…?

(It doesn’t matter if she’s actually busy or not. He was always going to have to wait.)

He hasn’t come all this way toting a noisy basket just to turn round and go home; and after about a quarter of an hour (though it is or it seems a little longer) spent drinking the wine and listening to the Eglantines play, the same novice returns to show him to her office.

The flowers are different, the fire is the same. Émilie sits tranquilly before her hearth with her tambour frame in her lap. The white linen cloth she seems to be embroidering with a pattern of Eisandine lavender spills over skirts of ruched forget-me-not blue silk, worn beneath a velvety mantua in a darker blue that fastens by means of several pretty peach-pink satin bows down her flower-embroidered white silk stomacher. Her neckline is heart-shaped, revealing considerable creamy skin and just a hint of her bosom, snugly embraced and upheld by her stays. A golden lily pendant hangs from a peach-pink satin ribbon tied about her pale throat. What she’s done with her hair— that’s glorious too. Her eyes, warm and brown and clear, are fixed on the doorway to watch Hugo come through it. She sets aside her embroidery, and rises.

“My lord Trevalion,” she says, with a luminous smile; “what a pleasure to see you again.”

“I’m certain that the pleasure is all mine,” Hugo insists, unable to resist returning that smile in kind, dimples deepening. It takes a few moments of staring, and then the jerky movement of the basket in his hand before he remembers what he’s there for and lifts it tentatively.

“You mentioned you liked cats,” he explains himself, making excuses already. “These ladies were… well, I thought you might like them. One of the footmen was trying to find them a home.” That’s one way to put it.

There’s another pause, then an earnest, “I bathed them first, they’re clean.”

And then the basket is thrust forward again and first one, then a second inquisitive grey striped face, each set with enormous white-outlined green eyes, pokes sleepily out from under the blanket that covers it. “… Or I can take them away again, if you decide they’re not for you,” he adds sheepishly. “I wasn’t sure if you meant it.”

It’s the moment every courtesan dreams of.

A highborn young lord walking in to offer her… a basketful of kittens.

Émilie is in the act of slowly lifting a manicured hand with nails like pink flower petals, for Hugo to clasp or to kiss— but then he approaches basket-first, and her two other callers make themselves known in turn, and they’re all three treated to a glimpse of what real interest, and real pleasure, look like when they break through a Camellia’s mask of the same.

Her eyes brighten and come alive. Instead of waiting for Hugo to come the rest of the way to her she takes a couple of quick steps forward, exclaiming incredulously: “For me—?” And then her hand dips instead into the basket, and her lacquered nails find the white chin beneath one round and inquisitive stripey visage. The kitten cranes her head this way and that, too sleepy yet to do anything but enjoy a careful and expert touch; Émilie breathes in, her bosom lifting marvelously against her stays, and her perfect soft coral-red lips part upon a sigh: “Oh…”

Then her fingertips curl the other way, to offer a similar caress to the second kitten, and she remembers that, oh, yes, there’s somebody here holding the basket. A patron, isn’t he? Well, he’s likely to become one now. She looks up from the kitten’s eyes into Hugo’s, her own gleaming with unshed tears. “My lord… thank you,” and once more, she sighs.

Hugo lowers the basket - it’s a fair weight to be holding out in front of him like that, even with his stocky little frame to hold it out - and gives a slightly awkward smile. “Well, I just thought you might like them,” he adds lamely, before digging out a handkerchief with his free hand to offer over. “If you’re busy today, though, I could bring them back later? I should probably have sent word ahead. I imagine you can’t get them settled in if you’re on duty today..?”

The implication that he might take them away again meets with muted horror from their new mother: “Oh, no, my lord,” Émilie says quickly, “I haven’t a very busy day. I was so glad when they brought me your name.” And her fingers brush casually against his as she claims the basket’s handle, before there can be any more crazy talk of that nature.

The handkerchief seems to elude her notice — when she turns away toward the sofa where she was just sitting, she holds her eyes deliberately open without blinking in order to dry them faster, and holds her head at an angle at which the tears can’t drip out meanwhile — she lodges the basket upon the sofa, and bundles up her embroidery with the white cloth wrapped about the tambour frame, and puts it aside on a table out of the way of tiny paws and claws.

“Oh, won’t you sit, my lord—?” she invites belatedly, turning to Hugo again with a drowsy striped creature cradled in both her hands, held warmly against the bare skin of her bosom with that triangular head pressing up under her chin. She’s half-laughing with delight.

Hugo eases down into a seat with a little more grace than last time, even if his eyes are once again fixed on the courtesan, this time with her living fur scarf. The more pleased she seems, the more his own smile spreads, and the more he’s able to relax where he sits.

“Chicken,” he states solemnly, apparently as the tail end of a conversation he’s been having in his own mind. “Small pieces. They like chicken. If you wanted to give them a treat, that is..? I’m sure they’ll let you know loudly enough if they want some.”

He begins to undo the top couple of buttons of his jacket, as the warmth of the salon filters through to his cold bones, frozen from the walk here and only beginning to defrost after the fifteen or so minutes spent waiting. There’s a crinkle of paper, and he casually withdraws a piece of paper from the inside pocket and lays it down on the small table beside him, out of the way. Apparently forgetting that he’s just introduced two energetic kittens into this pristine environment. We’ll see how long that lasts if it’s left there.

In lieu of the scintillating conversation Émilie provided at their last meeting — well, she let him do all the talking, and if that’s not scintillating, what is? — there’s a slightly breathy, “Oh, oh… oh,” as the first kitten retrieved from the basket clambers out of her hands and up over her shoulder to drape herself across the back of her neck, the curve of which is found to be so soothingly reminiscent of a mother cat’s back that the creature seems quite ready to resume her nap there… Standing very still, Émilie catches the second kitten in the act of climbing out of the basket, and cuddles her up into the enviable position previously occupied by the first.

“Chicken, yes…” she repeats. “My lord, you’re— very thoughtful. I thought later, how foolish of me to say what I said,” she admits, “but they really are… beautiful.” Her eyes are quite wide as they lift from the folded paper — yes, she spotted it — to Hugo’s face. Only two decades of the most stringent Camellia training keep her own face from falling at the unmistakable realisation that she’s going to have to put the kittens down and have sex, now. Her appearance grows a little more serene, a little more composed, despite the tiny feline heart she can feel beating close to her own. She’s remembering herself. “… My lord, I wonder whether I’ve ever received so truly kind-hearted and generous a gift of friendship,” she murmurs.

“It’s really nothing,” Hugo begins, then stops himself and holds up a hand. “You’re welcome. I hope they bring you great joy.” Again he flashes her that easy smile, the one that really makes him look nothing so much as a twelve year old playing dress up in his dad’s uniform.

“Can I pour you a drink? You look… occupied,” he offers, pulling himself up to his feet once again and, despite now being upright, looking up at her and the kittens both. “I don’t suppose you have milk for the young ladies?”

If only Hugo had learnt years ago how to make a woman this happy, what a different path his life might have taken— or, at least, his leisure hours. Émilie’s cheeks are a little pinker than before as she rubs her chin against the kitten-head that’s rubbing her in turn. It’s impossible to feel gloomy for long with all this purring and squirming going on. And they do smell fresh.

“Ah… not here,” she admits; “my lord, if you would be good enough to ring the bell, please, we might send for milk…?” She indicates the bell by a feint of her gaze more than a tilt of her head, so careful is she not to disturb the passenger draped over her neck. But she does take a cautious half-step backward until she feels her skirts yield to the edge of the sofa; and then she lowers herself gingerly, straight-backed, into her previous seat. “Oh—” She laughs softly. “This one is wriggling,” she admits. She lowers her shoulder and stretches down a kitten-bearing hand to unleash the beast just a few safe inches above the carpet. The other remains draped over her neck, like a second and softer ribbon, and now receives extra caresses.

“It’s refreshing, you know, most men just bring flowers and so on,” she says absently.

“Well, you already had flowers,” Hugo reasons, finding the bell and giving it an experimental ring. “What you didn’t have was kittens, and you had expressed a preference for them. I’ll bring chicken with me next time. If that isn’t a problem, I mean? I could bring flowers, too.” He raises a brow, setting the bell back down and stooping as the second, more inquisitive kitten, comes to prowl about his ankles, and that definitely deserves a congratulatory petting.

“You’re welcome to just tell me no, of course. I expect you have rather a lot of demands on your time,” he allows, again flashing her that smile. “Both duty watches and many admirers.”

Chicken and flowers, what a menu.

But before Émilie can comment upon it the door opens and a white-robed novice, summoned by the bell from his chair in the corridor, appears to inquire what the Second might wish.

“Oh,” she murmurs to Hugo, dutifully apologetic about the interruption she herself suggested; then her gaze lifts to the novice and she explains, “I should like a saucer of milk, and another of chicken— chicken shredded into very small pieces. You might see if you can find someone in the kitchens who is accustomed to feeding kittens, and inquire of her—? And put them together on a tray. But first,” and she smiles, “please pour two glasses of the Côte du Rhône from my cabinet, so that my visitor and I might toast the latest fosterlings of the Lis d’Or.”

The novice finds a bottle already open and obliges as requested, presenting a cut-crystal glass of wine to Hugo and then placing another on the table at Émilie’s elbow before he withdraws. His eyes are wont to follow the more active kitten, of course, as anybody’s would.

Hugo accepts his wine still from the crouched position, as the kitten, having attention paid to her, refuses to let him stop. He does lift the glass vaguely in Émilie’s direction, however, in some semblance of a toast. “To the new Lis d’Ors,” he agrees, then takes a sip. “I wonder… does that mean they should expect to debut at some point, too? I’m just saying that I’d happily drop some coin on an assignation with the pair of them…” He pauses, then screws up his face. “Um. Not in a sexual way. That came out wrong, didn’t it?”

His obeisance to the kitten is ingratiating him with Émilie too, of course — one does like evidence that one’s imminent patron is kind to small animals, besides just presenting one with them. It’s either that or the rough little pink tongue licking her fingertips that loosens her own tongue far enough to remark, “I do think they’ll be amusing company in bed… I understand what you mean, my lord.” She laughs softly, and takes up her own glass. “The new Lis d’Ors,” she echoes. “Though I’m not sure about the debut. I’ve an idea I may keep them to myself,” she says, more thoughtfully, “though perhaps…” She conquers her own ambivalence far enough to suggest, with a perfectly composed smile, “If you wished to visit them…?”

And, being a kitten, when the cat at Hugo’s ankles decides on a whim that she’s had enough, little claws extend and she suddenly tears off across the room to chase what might be a speck of dust but is most likely a figment of her imagination. The Trevalion straightens to his full, diminutive height and makes his way over instead to pet the kitten that still acts as living scarf to the courtesan.

“I don’t want to impose,” Hugo insists nobly, although his eyes do light up, either at the prospect of seeing the cats or the courtesan. “But if I do happen to drop in, and you’re on duty or otherwise engaged, perhaps I can still bring these ladies a little something?”

The kitten’s sudden burst of motion is more arresting to Émilie’s attention than Hugo’s own cautious manoeuvre— she draws breath, looks up, and there he is, reaching for her. Wait. No. Unlike all the rest, he’s reaching for the kitten. And the kitten does not reject his overture, though her needle-thin claws do sink into her mother’s neck as she flexes her paws and sleepily purrs. Émilie breathes out a sound of surprise as her eyes lift to meet Hugo’s.

Sensing the moment, as a veteran servant of Naamah is wont to do, she suggests: “Of course you might… but I had begun to suppose you might wish to visit me by arrangement. Was I,” a blink of her long dark lashes, as she holds his gaze, “mistaken, my lord—?”

It’s an odd thing, but with the exception of a brief touch to the elbow here and there, or taking her hand to kiss in greeting, he’s kept his hands remarkably to himself with her. Not so with the kittens. It’s a very fine excuse to be so close, of course, but it’s also kittens so of course he can’t help himself. He can only hold the woman’s gaze for a few moments before he looks away with a quiet laugh and a shrug. “Oh, well, no, no you’re not mistaken. Quite the opposite. I mean, provided you don’t mind, that is? It would be a shame to spend any time here and not want to spend the majority with you, wouldn’t it?”

If he hadn’t kept his hands to himself, pre-paperwork, such behavior would have earned him frowns. This is the Lis d’Or, not an ordinary house of good repute such as a sailor might wander into in any port in the world. And, because it’s the Lis d’Or, they have hardly come in reach of the point when the novice returns with his tray, giving before he enters only a perfunctory knock that interrupts Émilie murmuring, “My lord, you honour me with your interest—”

She looks up abruptly to the novice and the purple-lacquered tray in his hands.

The next several minutes are spent in choosing the right corner of the chamber for the disposal of the kittens’ repast — in having the novice re-arrange the carpets to clear an area of elaborate dark golden parquet, and stoke the fire while he’s at it — in Émilie unpeeling her scarf-kitten from her neck and laughing aloud at the small beast’s protesting mew — in tucking the tray into the corner, and catching the other kitten, and introducing them both into the vicinity of a pair of dainty porcelain dishes, one of milk and one of suitably shredded chicken.

Being kittens offered treats, they get right down to it. The novice is gone; the other humans stand together over the feast, Émilie with one hand curled against her bosom as she admires the variations in those soft grey and black stripes, the fluid flicking of those small tails, the gilt-edged white dishes upon purple lacquer and the charm of the entire picture. She has forgotten, again, what’s really going on here— until the scent of a clean and healthy young man standing just next to her recalls her again to what is expected of her.

“They seem contented,” she murmurs. “Perhaps… my lord,” and she turns a few degrees toward Hugo, “perhaps it might be an apt moment to attend to the necessities—?” She tilts her elaborately dressed strawberry-blonde head, and regards him with inquiring eyes.

So absorbed is Hugo in the little diorama of kittens at repast that her words meet with a blank look for a moment. Surely she’s not expecting him to provide cat boxes for them, too? Don’t they have people for that?

But then her steady gaze slowly enlightens him and he glances briefly away to the table where paperwork was previously discarded. “Ah. Yes. The account and so forth,” he allows, straightening his jacket and striding over to collect with a rustle the pieces of neatly written parchment. “Well, hopefully it’s all in order. I had the house steward check it and countersign on behalf of the Trevalion family, you’ll let me know if that’s enough for you? I think he’s popped the seal on there… yes, there we go,” he offers, holding up both limp pieces of paper and giving a hopeful, anticipatory smile.

One last, lingering look at that friendly battle for chicken hegemony; and Émilie steps across to the dainty gilded desk in another corner of the chamber, whence she beckons Hugo with an open hand and a delicately inviting smile. “I’m sure it must be,” in order, and enough.

She accepts the documents with an inclination of her head, and draws out her chair to sit.

Once they’re spread upon the desk she quickly identifies them, the banker’s letter and her own contract. She puts the first paper on top of the second and then looks up to the bookshelves set in a recess— she selects one particular ledger and opens it, revealing quite a number of hand-written papers bound together within its covers of lavender leather.

Over her shoulder Hugo will see that she glances at the index and then turns over a precisely-counted number of pages to reveal, without hesitation, another letter from the same banker, in the same hand and with the same seal. Verification. She reads the two documents side by side, which takes her so little time one might suspect her merely of skimming— then she shuts the ledger with a fingertip tucked inside to keep it from making a thump and restores it to its shelf, being certain that its spine lines up neatly with its colourful fellows.

She switches the positions of the two documents and glances at her contract. And then she swivels slightly upon her chair of gilt and white silk, and looks up into Hugo’s eyes. “My lord, you signed and sealed this before we had even named a date,” she observes quietly.

Hugo rests his fingertips on the desk, meeting her gaze and offering a charming smile. “Well, I have very few calls on my time at the moment. Until the Swallow is out and ready for sea again, I’m available any time. I know your time is more precious, so I thought I’d let you fill that in when it suits you best?”

He reaches to touch the paper, adding casually, “I might have another, ready and signed, maybe? So there’s always one on hand, should the fancy take you?”

On which flattering note Émilie lowers her gaze and lets her smile be seen to deepen. “My lord, I do keep several copies written out, in case the need might arise…” Literally arise, in some cases, pardon us for mentioning it. “But really it is for you to say,” she murmurs, “the evening you prefer,” and though the twitch of a tail did catch her eye, she steels herself to turn a serene and impeccable Camelline visage up towards Hugo’s, “and I’m sure we shall find a way.”

“Well, I was going to suggest this afternoon, but now it looks like you’ve a pair of stripey friends to make the acquaintance of,” Hugo admits with a half smile. “How does tomorrow evening look?”

Duty goes to war with pleasure; Émilie glances openly at the kittens, one lapping at the dish of milk with a dainty pink tongue and the other still face-first in the chicken, and then up again to Hugo standing so near to her chair. “I might find someone to mind them,” she concedes, letting him have that opening to step into if he so desires— but she doesn’t leave it to be a broad one, “but perhaps we might spend a more pleasurable evening together, my lord, if I have a little time to look forward to it and to prepare…?” she suggests, lifting one eyebrow.

The moment Hugo opens his mouth to agree to the former, she suggests the latter and he closes his mouth again. A lesson for the young man in patience, perhaps. He glances over to the kittens, absently rubbing his chin. “Well, yes… I wouldn’t want to interrupt the ladies’ supper, nor drag you away from them. Tomorrow evening, then? After supper?” he suggests hopefully. “Or before..? Five? Does five work? Four?” Every time he looks at her, the suggested time moves earlier. It’s like he doesn’t really want to wait. Who’d have thought it.

The trouble with bringing the ideal gift: it shoulders itself ahead of you in the queue.

“Tomorrow,” agrees Émilie, gently, suppressing her relief beneath a mask of regal serenity. It isn’t only the kittens — though the kittens matter a great deal. She hates to be surprised by such things, to be denied time to reflect upon how she wishes to approach her patron, to present herself, to consider the hundred and one small details that weigh disproportionately upon a Camellia’s mind. “At five?” she suggests, splitting the difference between her convenience and his desire. “Though perhaps, in that case, you might wish to order supper…? I’m given to understand the kitchens of the Lis d’Or rank amongst the finest in the city.”

“Five, then,” Hugo agrees all too quickly, before it ends up being the day after, or Tuesday, or next Friday week. “And you’ll join me for supper, then?” He absently scratches the corner of his jaw, drinking in the view while he’s still close to her. “Will you order something for us both?”

The view, the scent, the soprano voice trained upon the heights of Mont Nuit— quite a heady diet of femininity for a young man accustomed to spend most of his time at sea, even when Émilie turns away again to her desk and her papers. “Of course, if you wish it,” she answers smoothly, pulling out a drawer and then a light pink leather folio from within it. She extracts a second copy of that contract he’s been carrying round with him, identical in every respect save that it is unfolded and lacking in that trusting signature and seal at the bottom. She restores the folio to the drawer and arranges the two contracts side by side; and then she takes up a pristine white quill from the tray and draws forth violet ink from the petals of her golden lily inkwell.

“The… usual tariff… is…” she murmurs, beginning with an addendum upon Hugo’s own copy of her contract. A handful of words, only, and a number. She swivels toward him again and meets his eyes with a gentle and encouraging smile. “Will you initial it, please, my lord? And…”

She reclaims the quill and replicates the bit about supper, then guides him through signing and initialing the second copy — of course, this requires that their fingers brush again and again, in passing the quill to and fro, before it makes its final journey back into her hand and she signs, twice, with considerable calligraphic elegance: Émilie Perigeux nó Lis d’Or.

“How peculiar it is,” she muses, “one’s very name changing…”

The number is accepted without complaint. What would Hugo know, it’s just a figure, and he’s not only an influential Trevalion with daddy’s money to call on, but also a successful seaman who hasn’t yet spent his considerable wages from many long distance voyages over the last few years. The fact that the number is more than most commoners might earn in six months means nothing. How would he know what a commoner earns?

He’s keen enough to sign, the mere touch of her fingers on his almost causing him to drop the quill briefly, but he’s quick to recover and add his HT, more monogram than signature, to the document where indicated.

“Your name changed?” he asks, apparently completely oblivious to the workings of the salons. Again, why would he care? Perhaps he just assumes that people born nó Lis d’Or are destined to become courtesans here and the name never changes. It’s not entirely inaccurate in some cases, after all. Perhaps he’s assuming the Perigeux appeared from nowhere as part of the overall impression of perfection.

There may be less reputable houses near the port where Naamah’s humbler servants affect to be who and what they are not— but the Lis d’Or is a place of fundamental honesty as well as beguiling illusion, and a Perigeux under this roof is a Perigeux anywhere.

Still. To be born with the face and form of this particular Perigeux — and then to grow up refining one’s innate angelic beauty by means of the most stringent Camellia training — is to understand that people (men) will rarely pay attention to what one actually says to them. They oppose speaking with gazing, instead of with listening. Émilie is so accustomed to this as a condition of her life that she takes no offence at Hugo’s having forgotten how many times, when they met last week, she said or implied that she was newly arrived from the City of Elua, and only just finding her slender and well-shod feet at the Salon de Lis d’Or. She merely murmurs, “Yes, not long ago, when I came to Marsilikos,” and goes on arranging the paperwork, blotting the ink with a heavier sheet of parchment and tucking the banker’s letter and one copy of her signed contract safely away amongst the other documents in her desk drawers.

Hugo’s own copy, she re-folds along the same meticulous lines as before. Silk rustles as she turns again upon her dainty gilt chair, offering it up to him with a smile that blooms slowly and dazzlingly across her coral-red lips. (She has timed it before, in a looking-glass.)

The young man can hardly be entirely faulted for forgetting minor details, and much as he might have attempted to even listen this time, the moment she smiles like that, she might as well have told him that she arrived from the moon a week last Umday and he’d readily agree.

She should have added a further 20% on top of the already hefty Trevalion bonus tax.

Still, Hugo tries to pull himself together as he accepts the contract with one hand, then holds it against the gleaming brass buttons at his chest, throws his shoulders back and brings his heels together. He turns on his best smile - it’s nothing compared with her practiced, dazzling expression, but it has the advantage of a certain amount of naive charm and the cutest dimples. “I had thought,” he mentions apologetically, “that you meant your first name had changed. That you used not to be an Émilie, but… I don’t know, a Mildred. A Patricia. A Claire. Something awful that suits you not at all, but you were named for family or something. It seems awfully unfair to every other lady here that you should have the looks, the voice, such beautiful hair, and a beautiful name, but I suppose that is your canon, hm?”

She should have added a further 20% on top of the already hefty Trevalion bonus tax.

Who says she didn’t…? The numbers, like the date, are written in last. Put it down as the price of perfection and its constant maintenance — and of short notice, too.

“No, my lord,” Émilie explains, spending a little more of a courtesan’s boundless and necessary fund of patience; “some do change their names when entering Naamah’s service, or the house decides upon the change, but I was always called Émilie— after my late grandmother, the marquise,” she says matter-of-factly, “so you were quite correct to guess at a family name. What altered is that from ‘nó Camellia’ I became ‘nó Lis d’Or’… Oh! Your leg,” she exclaims breathlessly, though these words portend no particular fascination with his anatomy: it’s only that somebody else is fascinated, and climbing. Thus she bends her head — her elaborately arranged strawberry-blonde curls almost brush against the dark cloth of his coat — and reaches down to detach the kitten from the leg of his trousers paw by delicate paw.

“I was named for my grandfather and my father both,” Hugo admits, barely breathing as she stoops so close. “It can be… a trial, don’t you think? To then be expected to live up to such a legacy?”

Claiming her prize Émilie lifts the impertinent bundle of fur in both hands and cuddles her against her bosom again, sparking who knows what fires of jealousy in the heart of a young man who’s going to have to wait till five o’clock tomorrow — at least — to claim the same privileges that are awarded to striped kittens just for existing. “I do hope she didn’t pull threads loose from your uniform,” she murmurs, just for something to say while she recovers from the sting of Hugo’s assumption— a moment later her wide brown eyes lift to his.

“I can imagine it might sometimes be trying to carry your family’s expectations, my lord,” she offers in the same soft voice, interrupted occasionally by purring, “when you have lived fewer years in which to prove how well you shall meet them— but I trust that when you visit us at the Lis d’Or we’ll find ways to banish your every care, in Naamah’s holy name.”

Hugo can at least stroke the kitten’s back and therefore sort of by proxy enjoy the warmth and softness of that bosom. He offers an embarrassed little smile, admitting, “It’s more often the other way round, I think. The family name opens more doors than it maybe ought to, and one has to wonder exactly how much good luck that comes your way is yours and how much is well meaning parents, aunts and uncles meddling.”

He taps his finger on the contract still held close to his chest. “If I’d come in with a different name, would you have so readily signed this, or sent me off to one of your adepts, instead?”

The poor kitten’s a bit young to be a go-between for a courtesan. But Émilie’s hand covers one of her little grey ears and presses the other tenderly against her own velvet-ribboned throat, protecting the baby’s innocence as she mediates Hugo’s caresses. “My lord,” she reminds the Trevalion softly — he’s not far from the truth, but he hasn’t told all of it yet, “I did try to steer you toward our adepts, because it is my duty as Second to do what is best for them— but then you brought me kittens. Your interest in me is an honour, of course — but your gift is a delight. Two delights,” she adds, scrupulously. “If anyone opened my door for you…” She treats him to another of those luminous, befuddling smiles, and takes care that their fingertips touch again in the course of pandering to the desires of the same small beast. Can’t have him repining. It takes much longer to get them ready to walk out the door, when they’re repining.

Conscientious and earnest as he might be, he’s still twenty, full of hormones, and it doesn’t take much to deter him from doleful introspection when instead he could be paying attention to what’s on the outside, namely a hugely attractive older redhead with a kitten.

He gives her a somewhat relieved smile, happy to hear what he wants to hear. “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to top that tomorrow,” he admits. “A third kitten might be a bit much. Shall I bring the wine, at least?”

There, situation managed. Companions, the naïve youths make for easier handling than the experienced habitués of the Night Court who know how to sift through a courtesan’s sweet words and stay depressed if they want to be. Émilie lets her smile deepen, not hard with her scarf-kitten squirming back into place over her neck, and assures him, “Oh, no, there’s no need, my lord. Shall we count them as one kitten for today and one for tomorrow—?”

“Sounds eminently sensible,” Hugo is happy to allow, his fingers following the kitten as she burrows into long, pale neck, but always stopping just shy of actually touching any of the kitten’s perch. He’d probably be using both hands, but for the contract still grasped firmly in one, held tight as though his life depended on it. See above re: twenty and hormonal. It probably does.

Then between one stripe and the next his fingertips lose contact, as Émilie nudges her chair backward a fraction to create for herself a place to stand up between it and Hugo.

Not a particularly spacious place, granted: her skirts brush his uniform trousers as kitten and courtesan rise together, the one uplifted by the other’s majestic height.

“They did adore the chicken — look, there’s none left on the plate,” Émilie observes, as holding to her grey striped scarf with one hand she tucks the other into Hugo’s elbow and revolves him gently until they stand together facing the white-paneled, gilded double doors on the chamber’s farther side. Still murmuring she tows him along that way, her steps slow but steady and his perforce the same. “You were so clever to think of it, my lord… I wonder what names I might give them? Perhaps you’ll think about it too, and tell me your ideas tomorrow?”

Quite content to be led, given that he’s not so much walking as drifting along on a bed of anticipatory good intentions, even if the niggling irritation of her considerable height when compared with him is somewhere in the back of his mind now they’re walking together again. Dancing, Hugo decides, is definitely out.

It’s as they approach the door that he realises he’s still clutching the contract, and so there’s a hurried and somewhat undignified attempt to slide it, without creasing it further, back into his inside pocket, and then a one handed rebuttoning of the jacket over it, where he successfully misses the correct buttonhole and ends up with a slightly crooked collar and a gaping hole, but what does that matter? Now he has, close to his heart, a guarantee of this woman’s company, and better yet her bed, and only a day, twenty four hours or seven full watches away. Hours which he will be counting down.

Later on Hugo won’t quite remember how it happened— what was the exact sequence of events, how he got from one side of Émilie’s office door to the other, what it was she said in the crucial moment that lifted him up and spun him around and deposited him outside, with the memory of an exquisitely soft kiss upon his cheek but no smudge of paint to prove he hasn’t just hallucinated the texture and the warmth of her lips… Well. That’s twenty-three hours, fifty-nine minutes, thirty seconds, and counting. Luckily he’s so good at maths.

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