(1311-12-24) How to Get Away with Murder
Summary: Philomène and Aurore attempt to murder Philomène’s husband.
RL Date: 18/12/2019 - 27/12/2019
Related: Not A Governess and The Same Language.
philomene aurore 


It’s a long ride from Marsilikos to Gueret. Even with the best will in the world, good local knowledge to cut the corners from every part of the route once the Chalasse ladies reach further into the interior of the country, and a pair of good horses, it’s still eight days before they finally arrive. It was always cutting it fine to be there in time for Longest Night, and an unavoidable case of Weather eats into what little flexibility there was. It’s the morning of the 22nd before the exhausted horses and the women riding them finally stable down and show their faces.

This, as one can imagine, goes down like a lead balloon with Philomène’s daughters, with whom she already enjoys a somewhat strained relationship. And so the festive cheer of the Gueret household is interspersed with even more than the usual acerbic comments, which, given that Philomène’s daughters do take after her in many respects, are rapid, incessant and biting. It’s probably a good thing that Aurore is there as a guest to temper the worst of it.

It’s perhaps somehow even less depressing than being social with her daughters, then, to spend time just sitting in the airy bedroom where Armand Louis-Claude de Chalasse has been ensconced for the past six or seven months, with the only noise that of his laboured breathing — and his wife’s soft conversation with the only woman in l’Agnace prepared to give her a civil time of day. Aurore. Surely nobody can fault a dutiful wife for sitting with her husband, and if that happens to also be the only place in the estate where she can be uninterrupted with people she actually likes, then why wouldn’t Philo spend her days there.

Their second full day together is broken up by a morning ride, because some things are unchanging and Philo without a horse would be a miserable woman indeed. By then their routine has been established, and everybody else’s studied in detail. The vicomtesse de Gueret, who nominally remains the lady of the house, shuts the door behind the pair of them and moves her seat closer to the one Aurore has just taken. “Tonight,” she decides in a very soft voice, looking to her cousin and friend with unusual trepidation, seeking for approval. It’s a little surreal with Louis-Claude’s breath rasping from the bed not six feet away from them.

Aurore proves a skilled nurse in her own right, willing to offer helpful hands as needed to do what can be done to make the dying lord comfortable. She is unfailingly polite with those acerbic daughters and her manners are impeccable. She keeps vigil with her friend and does her best to keep the conversation going, truly empathetic and genuinely fond of her kinswoman by marriage. In shirt, she is doing everything in her power to be a model guest, unobtrusive and helpful. Her horse womanship is definitely improving with all this riding.

She nods firmly and keeping her voice low, “Yes. Tonight.” She studies her friend’s face, “Are you sure you want to do this with your own hand, Coz?”

Philomène allows herself the ghost of a smile, meeting Aurore's eye. "I think 'want' is a very strong word. But my family is my duty and nobody else's."

She leans forward, taking one unresponsive paw from the patient and folding it between her hands to warm it. "I just need to remind myself that he's already gone. This, what's left, is no more Louis-Claude than his jacket in the wardrobe is him. I'm doing nothing more than tidying a loose end on behalf of the angels themselves, and any eternal judgement must surely rule in my favour."

She rubs her thumbs over the back of the man's hand, silently willing it to respond, to come alive, to squeeze, move, anything, but it stubbornly refuses to do any of the above. "He was a good man. Not perfect — none of us are — but understanding, good natured, and he always was a marvellous father to the girls. Well," she lets out a low laugh, placing the hand back on the bed and straightening, "One of us had to be. No, this has to be me. If I'm to be judged, I'll stand in front of Kushiel himself with my head high. And tomorrow morning Eleanor leads the family and this, all this," she waves a hand vaguely, "is over."

Aurore nods her understanding and slips a small pouch out of her sleeve and onto Philomène’s lap. This should do it. If it doesn’t, there is more for tomorrow night.” She smiles sadly, “Surely the angels will see it for the kindness it is.” She studies the dying man’s face, trying to imagine him as the man his wife describes. “I’m sure he’d understand too. In his place, it’s what I’d want.”

"I hope you're never in his place," Philomène insists, covering the pouch with her palm, either so she can deny it's there or just so she doesn't have to look at it. "But if you were, you know I'd do it for you. You couldn't ask your boy to do it for you, it wouldn't be fair, and if I'm damned anyway… Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, eh?"

She rises, wincing without any attempt to hide it, and limps her way heavily over to the window, pouch tight in her grip. There she stands in silence for long enough that one might start to worry she's forgotten why she's here, just looking out across the vast fields, now frosty and bare for the winter.

"I'll spoon him his soup tonight," she finally clarifies quietly, making sure that everything is planned with military precision, "and I'll add the… flavour. And then..? How long..? Should I wait with him, in case it's painful? You might want to take tea with the girls and not be here if it might be uncomfortable for him."

“I hope it never comes to this for you as well.” A wry smile, “Let us be damned together, then. Hand in hand to hell.” She watches her friend with real sorrow for what faces her. She shakes her head, “He’ll go slow and gentle, most likely in his sleep. I’d not have… I’d not have given you something that would cause him or you unnecessary distress. He was a man and one you cared for, not some… I promise, Philomène, he likely won’t know what is happening to him. If I were to go by… this method, this particular seasoning is the one I’d want to take for my last meal. Do you want me to wait with you or would you rather be alone with him? I am here for you, Coz, in any way that will lighten your burden even an ounce.”

"Perhaps we ought to wait," Philomène considers, visibly chewing on her lower lip. "Give him a few days yet. See if he improves at all?"

She looks over to Aurore, looking for perhaps the first time uncertain. "I… don't know, Aurore. I really don't. I mean, I think I know that he's gone, not that part, but I don't know if I'm ready to commit my soul to hell." She squeezes the pouch in her fist, shooting a glare at the dying man. Ah yes, much more like her. In the event of emergency, rage uselessly.

"Stay with me," she decides after a moment, jaw set belligerently. "If it's to be done, let's get this out of the way. Mind the door, and… I suppose I'll send for his supper."

Aurore places her hand gently on Philomène’s wrist. I think we both know that he won’t be improving. This is likely one of the hardest things you will ever do.” She nods and gives her wrist a supportive squeeze, “If you go to hell, I’ll be there with you to keep you company. If not… Well.” She rises and crosses to the door.

"I can think of worse company," Philomène insists, forcing a half smile.

It's a few minutes between the call for supper and the appearance of the thin soup which suffers to nourish the dying man, which the vicomtesse claims with a nod of thanks and steady hands before the servant is sent away. Only once the door is closed again and Philomène leans back against it does she wobble just a little.

But no, once more she lifts that magnificent jaw and limps purposefully over to the nightstand with the bowl, there to set it down with a solid 'thunk'. With only a moment's hesitation, she upends the pouch into the steaming broth, the whole lot in one, and it floats for a moment on top of the surface before starting to dissolve and sink.

It's only then that the woman falters entirely, hand lifting to take the spoon but halting before it gets there, and there is an uncustomary glisten in her eye. The soup steams on, while the herbs and spices slowly disappear into it with a dark, accusing stain. Still she remains unmoving, nose and eyes reddening, and an ungainly and inelegant dribble of snot finding its way down her top lip.

Aurore is polite with the servant, perfectly natural and exactly in the same tone and manner she has adopted since she arrived. She is not overly familiar, but she is always careful to thank and the like. She is always polite about servants, and she likes knowing where they are as much as possible. She hasn’t the born to the highest circles instinct to see them as furniture and forget they are there. Not only wasn’t she raised with servants, but she believes forgetting they have eyes and ears and opinions on those they serve is a dangerous indulgence she can’t afford.

Seeing her friend falter, she very gently places a hand on her shoulder and gives a gentle squeeze. “I am sorry. I truly am.”

The touch is enough to spur her to action, albeit not perhaps the action required. Philomène's hand shoots up to her shoulder to grab the unexpected and unfortunate Aurore, squeeze, and twist painfully. Somewhere at the heart of the D'Aiglemort Chalasse, at a purely animal level, there is a snarling ball of rage, ready to raise its head whenever Philomène is distracted or surprised. What might once have been a valid survival instinct is now an excellent way to lose one of the few friends she still has, but after less than a second and a blinking away of tears, the hand is released with a mortified glance back to her cousin.

Aurore manages to clamp her lips shut on her instinctive cry of pain, drawing in a sharp breath, but making no sound that would carry. Rather than resisting the painful move she submits, forcing her muscles to relax and moving with the awkward motion as much as she can. It is nothing like the submission of a white rose, but there is a mental discipline in it. Her face is pleasantly neutral in those moments her wrist is twisted, as if it were a mask. There is a flash of something in her eyes, some darkness of her own, a rage like that of her kinswoman’s, schooled to silence. It is there for a moment only, then gone.

When Philomène releases her, she straightens, then shakes her head, giving her a rueful smile. “One doesn’t startle a lioness and expect her to keep her claws sheathed. No harm is done.” She pauses, for several breathes departing within herself, but her expression opens up, “I do not like being captured, startled, or manhandled. My reaction to surprise is less dramatic and… physical than yours, but I understand the… impulses that drive it.” There is something subtle in her tone, a real empathy under the polished surface of her manners. “Our training as girls might be opposite, but just as strict, and I think the… spirit underneath is not so different.” Another slow breath, “I was at fault. I intended comfort, but did not think through your experiences and training to see the likely response.”

She lifts her chin, “I’m not going anywhere, Coz.”

Philomène seems to shrink by an inch as she drops her hand to her side, shivering for a moment. “Shit, shit, shit,” she mutters angrily, sniffing what has suddenly become a particularly unattractive runny nose, then cuffing it away with the back of her hand, forming a fist, then deliberately releasing it. She takes a long, deep breath, looking to Aurore. “I’m sorry,” comes the very quiet apology, barely more than a whisper, and then the Aiglemort Chalasse purses her lips, lifts her chin and flexes her fingers. “Thank you… for staying. And for everything.” She gives a nod, meeting Aurore’s eyes and imploring her to understand.

There’s another moment of silence, broken only by the creak of the floorboards as Philomène takes a pace closer to the bed and leans awkwardly to press an oddly chaste kiss to the cool, clammy forehead of the motionless man lying there. She murmurs something under her breath, so quietly that it’s clearly between her, Louis-Claude and the Companions alone, before straightening. Without looking back, she takes up the spoon, hand trembling a little but kept under control with the help of its fellow, and slowly begins the laborious task of dribbling a little of the soup at the time into the invalid’s mouth, pausing every now and then to mop up any spillages with the damp cloth provided for just this purpose.

There’s no going back now.

Aurore’s not good with tears, but she meets Philomène’s eyes, understanding in her expression. Firmly she says, “Where you go, I follow.” She compresses her lips in a grim line, then turns to study the dying Lord, taking a few steps back to give them what privacy she can for a wife’s last whispers to her husband. She settles in her chair for the feeding of that last meal, dry eyed and determined to see her friend through.

It’s not until every last drop is gone, scraped from the bowl just in case any curious servant decided to have a taste of the leftovers, that Philomène stops. The spoon clatters in the bowl and the bowl is set down with a heavy thunk on the side table, followed shortly by the heavier thunk of the Vicomtesse sitting down. She pulls out a handkerchief to clean her face, methodically wiping any trace of emotion from it as she does, until she can eventually turn a wholly neutral expression on Aurore. “Will you join me in a little drink?” she hazards, hand going instinctively to her breast inside pocket. “A toast to those we’ve lost, and another to those who stand by us?”

Aurore nods, “I think that is a fine idea. We should drink to the man who was. I never knew him, but if he understood your worth he must have been a fine man indeed.”

Out comes the ubiquitous flask of schnapps, the cap is unscrewed and it’s offered over. “Or at least a patient man,” Philomène argues drily, flicking a very faint smile. “Look, this isn’t something we’ll be able to talk about again. Please… just know that I owe you everything. And I look forward to marching, hand in hand, with you into hell. They won’t know what’s hit ‘em, eh?”

Aurore takes a good swig and passes the flask back, “They really, really won’t.” She looks at Philomène from the corner of her eyes, “I can think of no one I’d rather invade hell with, to be honest.”

Philomène takes what might very well be a good half of the flask in a few long chugs before setting it down on her knee and dabbing at the corner of her lips. “If I’d known we were the invasion force I’d have signed up sooner,” she notes. Her gaze drifts back to the bed and she purses her lips. “We ought to leave him to sleep, and come back in time for breakfast. If we stay much longer they’ll wonder why. I don’t suppose… well, at the risk of sounding completely insane, will you stop with me tonight? Not for anything… just, for company?”

Aurore, rises, straightening her skirts, “How about a warm toddy before bed? I doubt either of us are in a mood to be entirely sober, and I am happy to keep you company.” She offers her hand, “I don’t have many friends, you know. I value you more than I can say.”

“How about several warm toddies,” Philomène counters, heaving herself to her feet with an obvious wince of pain before accepting the offered hand. Of course she could have taken Aurore’s help to get up, but this is Philo and since when would she ever take the easy path for anything? “I’ll keep the booze flowing, and you can keep us entertained with stories about yourself that don’t involve…” she gestures vaguely back towards the bed and the empty bowl. “Or… I don’t know. Recipes. Or amusing facts about rare orchids. Anything. If you ever wanted to know about wheat farming, today’s your lucky day, Aurore,” she adds with a short, hollow chuckle, stepping off to lead the way out.

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