(1312-01-23) Take a Foreigner for a Ride
Summary: A walk around the tournament fields turns into a guided tour.
RL Date: 2020-01-23
Related: None
andrei fenris philomene zalika 

Tournament Field — Eisande

The wind sweeps long and low over a generally flat stretch of terrain, here. There are some signs that areas of the plain might have been built up to help flatten it— one corner in particular overlooks a steep downward hill. The plain has been trodden bare of grass in huge, haphazard patterns, giving it a patchy, threadbare look, but the patches of dusty ground are practical, useful for hemming in a spar or using as the start and end points of a footrace, and on any given day you might find some house or hired blade out here honing his or her skills. Sometimes larger war games are held out here, as well, where the Eisandean army or Marsilikos city guard can be put through its paces.

For structure, well. It's sparse. Perhaps a wooden plank has been set up on two stakes to serve as a bench where soldiers and blades may sit and rest. Perhaps a few haybales have been toted out to serve for archery practie. Perhaps someone has even staked up a flapping canopy to help keep the sun or the rain off of their heads, or their gear. But all in all the place is given to the dust and the clover and the odd sound of steel against steel.

It is a winter morning. The weather is cold and fair.

The weather is cold and fair, good for training as while there is snow on the ground the earth is not soft. Fenris is out in the cold wearing thick hunting pants and a light shirt. He is holding a training broadsword and he's training with proper D'Angeline knights. They are fixing footwork and how he holds the blades yet when it comes to fight, Fenris throws them all into snowbanks using his size and a very Skaldic way of fighting. They have patience though as they keep trying to teach the giant man how to fight like a knight.

It's not quite clear when he got there; maybe he's been there for a while, watching. A tall, fair-haired man with an unfamiliar face, wearing a monocle over one blue eye, stands quietly off to a side, resting one hand on a silver-tipped walking stick. Warmly dressed in a long black coat trimmed in silver fox fur, he looks very much like he's not dressed for battle, and — well, very foreign. There's probably more than one d'Angeline knight who's actually seen war in foreign lands giving him odd looks, because with a bit of goodwill and squinting, the man could pass for a well dressed Skaldi.

By contrast, Philomene's arrival is obvious to all. Not just because she's a tall, somewhat imposing woman with a glare that you can see from space, but because she's mounted on a gloriously well groomed dun mare whose high hooved gait shows as much disdain for the snow as the rider does for the world in general.

Fenris is getting better quickly as he was born and raised in battle. Though he's still adding in a little Skaldic flair, picking people up and tossing them like a bag of potatoes. When he starts using the blade, the man has incredible skill. His movements show he's been fighting a long time. He's surprisingly graceful for the size of him but that is the Camlach in him.

The foreigner in the fur trimmed coat glances away from the man currently using the supposedly strong and powerful d'Angeline knights as his personal chew toys, and towards the woman on the dun horse. Recogising her, he raises two fingers to his forelock in a polite greeting — startling a couple of squires who had not yet noticed him. "My lady d'Aiglemort," he says politely, speaking with a northern accent.

Philomène doesn't look down from her mount, gaze fixed with a sort of mild disinterest over towards Fenris. "Monsieur Anghelescu," she responds cordially, leaning forward just a little in her saddle so she can pat the side of her mare's neck. "Observing, or partaking, today?"

Fen turns to see Philo and a man talking but he's mid scuffle so he ends up getting hit with a sword in the hip. He slowly turns to the young knight that hit him and he growls then unleashes a barrage of strikes against the young one's back and legs. The rest of the group chuckles a little before moving in to help.

"My health is not quite suited for such sport," Anghelescu says with a mild tone of regret. "Give me a sword for five minutes and I will be lying in a snow drift, coughing. I was just… curious. Did not expect to see Skaldi fighting here in Marsilikos." He glances back at the man just in time to wince as the sword connects with his flesh. "I'm pleased to note that you have learned my name, my lady. It is an honour."

"Mm, son of angels, is it?" Philomene notes with quiet amusement, absently running a hand through her hair as she watches Fenris fight. "Either it's presumptuous of you, as a foreigner, or you've some d'Angeline blood somewhere along the way. I think I'd like to believe it's the latter." She reaches absently into the inside pocket of her sombre black jacket, retrieving a battered looking copper flask with a small chain leading to the cap. This she unscrews, takes a quick swig, then casually offers it down to her fellow member of Fenris's audience cum fan club. "That young man," she informs him blithely, "is technically one of ours. Spend rather a long time on the enemy side, though. Make of that what you will."

Fenris growls as he takes a step back and stares at the group. He drops his wooden sword and stares at them. "Come on!" That accent is very Skaldic. The knights nod and rush him as a pack. It's hard to see what's happening as practise swords are flying and fists are being landed. The giant stands up and just throws one of the younger knights into a snow bank and the battle cry that comes out of his lips is rather loud and gives the rest pause. Not too long though and they start smacking him with their fake swords again. It takes some time but when the group and Fen part, they are all panting and Fen picks up his blade before turning to Philo and then looking to the man she's speaking with. He walks over to the two and grunts a greeting.

The slender foreigner nods politely at the big man; there is a reservedness to his blue gaze — a kind of appraising look that Fenris no doubt has seen before in the eyes of men who fought against the Skaldi forces in the past. He's certainly not got the air of a soldier about him though; some well groomed merchant or other member of the wealthier upper class. And indeed, not a d'Angeline if one goes by the work of his tailor.

"My mother was d'Angeline, as a matter of fact," he murmurs up to the woman on the horse. "The name refers to… another faith's angels, though." Not that he lets that stop him from accepting the bottle, sampling it, and returning it to its owner.

Philomène nods thanks as her flask is returned, double checks the cap is secure, then slides it back into her pocket, dislodging the dark material just long enough to give a flash of something metallic, definitely foreign, and heavily encrusted with jewels at her belt. "Lord Valliers," she greets Fenris impassively. "I see you've not been trusted with a real blade yet."

Fenris shrugs a little. "I don't mind not having a real blade. Don't want to kill anyone." He points out to her. He turns his eyes to Andrei and he flexes a little before upnod grunting at him. He turns his eyes to Philomene again and grumbles. "What brings you here? Checking up on me?" His accent is strongly Skaldic.

The fair day seems to have drawn people out of their houses. A lone rider on a fine black horse can be seen approaching from the distance, clearly on the way back into town. But seeing people, she guides her steed closer to the tourney grounds and as the fur-lined hood of the cloak falls back, the rider is revealed to be the Lady Zalika Trevalion.

The slender man quirks an eyebrow over his monocle, looking at the far heavier and burlier Fenris. "I do not believe that you are mine to check up upon, my lord," he replies. Yep, that's definitely a northern accent, though not quite Skaldi — just very close. "I'll admit to being curious, though. I had not expected to see anyone in Marsilikos fight in a Skaldi style."

Philomène glances over as a second horsewoman comes to join them, lifting her chin briefly in greeting before returning her attention to the big not-a-Skaldi in front of them. "If you can't control what you're doing enough not to kill anyone, it's probably for the best that you're training," she notes scathingly, then shrugs it off, once again leaning to pat her horse's neck.

Fenris turns his eyes to Andrei. "I was stolen from my home and raised Skaldic. I fight Skaldic. I'm learning another way." When Philomene scathes at him he growls right back at her. "I was raised to kill. It was all I knew for thirty years. I CHOOSE to fight with a wooden blade." He shakes his head. "I will always fight with a wooden blade until real battle comes and I pick up my sword once more." He turns his eyes to the new lady that approaches and he bows his head to her.

Zalika doesn't need to rein her horse in, the animal happy to find a companion and coming to a halt beside Philo's horse. "Lady Philomene.", she greets the other rider politely, then looks at the men. "Mr… Andrei, wasn't it?" The other one she doesn't know, so she just gives him a curious look, waiting for an introduction.

Anghelescu realises a bit belatedly that the person possibly checking up on the giant not-Skaldi is in fact the lady on the dun horse and not himself; for a moment he looks puzzled, then dismisses it all as yet another d'Angeline eccentricity. Instead, he doffs his forelock politely to the rider of the black horse. "My lady de Trevalion. Andrei Anghelescu, indeed."

At the large man's comment the foreigner turns his blue gaze back to him and responds politely, "It is not my place to judge you either, my lord, nor am I in any position to demand explanations. I am merely a traveller from abroad, and certainly not in a position to hold Opinions."

"Oh, monsieur, let me help with that," Philomene notes with amusement to the foreigner beside her, "I have more than enough Opinions to go around."

Fenris nods his head. "She does." He grumbles a little before looking over to Andrei. "Have your opinions. D'Angelines will certainly have opinions about you." He grumbles before he turns and walks away from the group, stretching out his arms.

Zalika quirks a brow when the big guy turns and walks away without introducing himself. But she shrugs it off and looks at Andrei again. "Doing some sightseeing in Marsilikos then?"

"What better way to learn the customs of a foreign country than to go out and watch the people who live in it, my lady?" Anghelescu looks after the big not-Skaldi as he walks off. "I'll wager from that outburst, however, that the big fellow there has heard more disparaging commentary on his nature and accent than I have — everyone has been quite polite to me so far. Then again, I suppose I am not quite so physically intimidating, either."

"You've yet to prove yourself a complete idiot," Philomene points out smoothly. "But I'm sure, given time, you'll do your best to oblige. What you'll see here, mostly, is big, strong, tough men, each trying to prove to their fellow big, strong and tough men that they are the biggest, strongest and toughest. And that you'll see in any city in any country. I think," she muses, "that it must be a more satisfying alternative to just whapping out your cock and measuring it directly."

Fenris turns to stare at Philomene. He shakes his head and grumbles something in Skaldic. He tries not to take offense but he does tense. He throws the wooden blade into where it's held and grabs his cloak, pulling it up over his shoulders and wrapping himself in it. He keeps his back to Philo and the others.

Zalika bursts out laughing at Philomene's words. "Mylady, I think it would be unfair to ask them to whap out their appendages in this weather. And with the cold, there wouldn't be much to measure anyway." She pauses for a moment to think. "Back home, our boys have different kinds of cock-measurign contests. They go into the jungle - and if they come back with a dead tiger - well, that's proof enough for a big one. More often than they not, they end up a tiger's dinner."

"My Lady d'Aiglemort, even at my finest health I have always been a slender man, and thus not in any particular rush to prove myself the strongest, toughest boy on the field," Anghelescu notes with a straight face and eyes that glitter with quiet laughter. "I am tempted to note, though, that at least a man may improve his swordsmanship with practise, whereas the length of his sword remains somewhat constant after a certain age. They are fine fighting men, give them credit for what they have achieved, rather than what God gave them — or indeed, did not give them."

And then, perhaps because Philomene is Philomene, he adds in a quieter tone, "Indeed, I must agree with the Lady Trevalion that with current temperature and weather, it is probably for the better that your gentlemen at arms wield blades rather than choose to drop their breeches and line up for your amusement."

Once he's dressed well for the weather he turns to the nobles. "You wonder why the common people do not like the nobility when all of you belittle and make fun of a man if he tries to improve himself." He grumbles at them. He turns and walks away from the group, meaning to leave.

Philomène holds up a hand. "In fairness, they're not all here for that," she mentions, nodding off to one side where a somewhat less impressive young man is wielding a practice blade as though it might bite him, lunging, beating an imaginary other sword aside, and recovering. "That fellow is training. He might not be the fastest, or the strongest, or the most skilled, but you can't fault his dedication. I make fun of you, Lord Valliers, because you don't try to learn. You barge in and wrestle and throw your weight around, and you show off, but you don't push yourself beyond your own comfort zone. Nobody learns through winning."

Zalika is now mightily confused. "Lord Valliers? Why is he speaking of himself as the Common Man then?", she inquires of Philomene, "Did you challenge him to a fight? That might persuade me to linger a little longer, though my horse is tired, I'm cold and I'm hungry."

"At least they do train," the slender man says quietly. "I wish I could say the same for all of our boys back home, but a fair number of them tend to get sent onto the field untested and live about as long as you'd imagine."

He turns and looks up at her. "Oh I forgot, milady… you read minds and intentions. You also seem to know of everyone's abilities without once having properly assessed." He shakes his head. He looks to Zalika, "I am a savage. Ask her and she will tell you of all the horrible things I've done. Excuse me, I have to go water the plants in my greenhouse." His eyes look sad as he turns and leaves them.

"The Skaldi are not merely simple savages," Anghelescu says, perhaps unexpectedly. "There's much more to them than raw brutishness. Enjoy your day, Lord Valliers — I can only begin to imagine the conflict that you must feel at times."

Philomène shifts her reins to her off hand, absently patting her horse again as it too starts to shift restlessly. "I think you're an idiot," she corrects, "but not necessarily a savage. If you want to train, train hard. Take on a real challenge. If you're stronger than them, fight from a disadvantage. If you actually want to learn, then find your limits and push them, rather than just running off because somebody said nasty things to you."

Zalika looks distinctily unimpressed. "And you don't think I have not been considered a savage because my skin is not the right shade and I did not know how to talk and move properly at first? One learns. And as the lady says, one doesn't learn by winning. One learns by getting shouted at." Or being lectured. Which is clearly what the Vicomtesse is doing instead of fighting and not what Zalika signed up for. "Mylady. Mylord. Monsieur Andrei." She inclines her head to them, then nudges her horse forward - and it's only too happy to make its way back home to the stable and food.

Anghelescu glances up at the remaining rider. "It seems tempers are no less strong in these lands than at home," he observes blithely.

Philomène exhales, rubbing at the bridge of her nose. "I have no issue with most men, but frankly all he was doing to those gentlemen who were attempting to help him train was plain bullying. Showing off. I've not time for that sort of nonsense. That young man, though," and again she nods to the unassuming skinny young man off to the side, on his own, going through the same drill over and over, "is doing everything he can to learn. He's struggling, and he's pushing himself. Give me two dozen of him over a hundred strong bullies and we could take and hold the border."

The Carpathian gentleman reaches up to pat the horse's neck with a gloved hand. "I've had command of men in battle but I'll be the first to admit that I should not have. I will not make myself the judge on this matter — I do not know your border or your fighting tactics. Where I fought, archers were valued higher than swordsmen simply because swordsmen are not at their best in woodlands."

Philomène smirks a little, shrugging. "Ah, well, like I said. I do have a lot of opinions. You ride?"

"Reasonably, but I cannot say I brought a horse," Anghelescu notes. "I don't mind walking along though, as long as you do not take off at a canter. Don't think I can keep up if you do."

"I was more thinking for another day," Philomene admits, expertly backing her mare a pace or two, then nudging her sideways. It's not impressive to the average onlooker, not like a gallop, but the precision of the movements might be enough to indicate that she's certainly no stranger to horses. "But if you wanted to ride out, my Hirondelle will comfortably take the pair of us. You've seen the worst of the city now, did you want to see some of the best?"

"I want to see it all," the foreigner replies. "Are you suggesting, my lady, that I jump behind you in the saddle?"

"Unless I've managed to offend you to the point that you'd be ashamed to be seen with me?" Philomene suggests, flicking a quick grin. "Bear in mind that you will be subject to scrutiny. A dirty foreigner, riding with the recently widowed old battleaxe from Camlach? Should be enough to get a few stares."

"It seems to me that the Lady d'Aiglemort might be the one stared at for riding with a dirty foreigner," Anghelescu says with a small smile. "If you'll lend me the stirrup a moment…"

He swings himself up behind the older woman with a grace that does not scream experienced cavalry officer by any means, but at least speaks of some practise riding. "Who knows? We can always pretend I'm a mysterious count from some foreign country come to abduct you for nefarious political reasons."

"I suspect they'd hold a parade in your honour if you did, monsieur," Philomene points out drily, nudging her horse into a walk the moment she feels the man's weight up behind her. "Certainly seems a more pleasant reason to be here than to consult with our healers. On which note, have you had any success yet?" she queries, urging the horse up the slope and back towards the road from where she can begin to offer her own unique take on a tour of Marsilikos.

"I have not, no, but then, I am in no particular rush. I've taken three years to die so far and I don't imagine I'll wake up dead in the morning, either." Anghelescu slips a hand around the lady's waist to steady his balance lest he bounce uncomfortably against the back of the saddle; for a slender man, at least his grip is firm. "You dedicate a great deal of time to picking fights, my lady?"

Philomène laughs easily. "An old woman needs to amuse herself somehow, doesn't she? And nothing makes you feel more alive than a good, honest fight. A debate. An argument. A hard gallop out over a tough course. A bloody challenge, monsieur, else why even bother?" She glances briefly back over her shoulder and without even bothering to shift the reins, adjusts her heels and weight enough to move up to a trot. "Where have you seen already?"



The road that leads from the city winds its way through lush countryside. Drenched by the sun in summer months, it provides a fertile ground for fruits and crops, with well-tended vineyards that produce some of the finest grapes for summer wines. To the south, a rocky coastline slopes down to the silver sands of beaches, and where coves and inlets are littered with fishing boats that plumb the depths of the sea for the fish and seafood that makes up the traditional Eisandine diet. Small stone buildings crouch in the fields to provide shelter from the sun for those that work the land during the heat of the summer months, and there's an open-fronted wooden stall set back from the road where produce such as melons, peaches and a variety of other fruits might be bought when in season.

Trees line the banks of a river where it cuts along dividing fields towards the end of its journey that started somewhere in the Camaeline mountains. Swallowed by a rocky gorge to the south it disappears from view, though a well-trodden path that follows alongside allows a person to track its course towards the ocean.

It is a winter day. The weather is freezing and flurrying.


"A challenge is indeed something I can understand," the man cedes. "Never been good at refusing one myself, though health has taught me a lesson or two in humility. I think I have limited myself mostly to the main streets — I wandered into a place earlier thinking it to be a wine house but it was very obviously a brothel. But then, the challenge of wandering and watching is the challenge I enjoy the most."

"I admit I haven't spent much time investigating the brothels at the docks," Philomene muses thoughtfully, "but then I'm not a great one for casual sex. An oddity, I realise, but frankly I'd rather be out riding. A horse, that is. You'll note that 'love as thou wilt' allows for those of us who wilt infrequently as well as those who like a new partner every night." She shrugs, finally pulling up onto the road. Gesturing widely in one direction she notes, "the forest out that way, good for mushrooms and so forth. You'd probably know more about woods than any of us so I won't go on. Trees. Good hunting. The usual. Follow the river a little further upstream and there's a rather nice waterfall, worth a ride out on a nice day." Those pointed out, she eases the horse a little faster, moving up to a smooth canter towards the city gates.

"An oddity in Terre d'Ange, perhaps." Anghelescu shrugs lightly, keeping his balance. "What is expected elsewhere but for wealthy nobles — but I doubt that propriety in all its forms applies to those anywhere. Is the hunt reserved to the gentry or the ducal house, or are your common people allowed to own dogs and weapons?"

Philomène answers him. Correctly. Because she knows the answer, even if her player does not. And then swiftly moves on so we can paper over the fact that her player is useless. "I have no idea of your customs when it comes to matters of love," she notes, but in the sort of tone that implies that she's never had reason to learn and sees no reason to start that sort of nonsense now. "To the south, of course, the ocean. I'm from inland, myself. I find it frankly unsettling," she admits with a smirk. "Too big, wide, and unknown."

"I am fascinated by it, and somewhat terrified," Anghelescu admits. "Part of me does want to accept the challenge, indeed, and head to sea. Another part of me fears spending the entire trip hanging over the railing, coughing up what little lungs I have left. I do wish to speak with merchants from overseas if possible at some point — there are goods I think my country would benefit from gaining access to."

"I can introduce you to a few of the fellows I have agreements with," Philomene allows shortly as they approach the city gates and slow once more in order to enter. "Provided you're not selling pigs and wheat and undercutting my tenants that way."


Rue du Palace

A cobble stone road leads from the heart of the city up on the slightly rising terrain, upon which the Dome of the Lady overlooks Marsilikos, standing tall and proud in its otherworldly splendour of white marble and use of foreign elements of architecture. The golden shimmer of the dome in its center can be seen from afar, and the slender minarets that surround it add to it a unique middle-eastern flair. The road to the palace is flanked by a number of statues of Hellene style, thus referencing the origins of Marsilikos' ancient past, and ends at the gate house that is guarded by two white towers. The portcullis, when lowered, shows the intricate iron work of local artisans, in the way the Mereliot crest - a pair of fish chasing each other's tails - has been worked into the grate. A detail, that like so many other things points to the love of beauty and arts common to Eisheth's own.

At the foot of the hill, the road forks off in southeastern direction, leading out through the city gate towards the Eisandine countryside.

It is a winter day. The weather is cold and fair.


"Podgrabczyna trades primarily in lumber, my lady. Pigs and wheat would be what we seek to import, though admittedly, we have sources closer to home than Marsilikos." The Carpathian easily ignores the stares from people on the road trying to sort through the unusual pairing in their minds; isn't the usual constellation of two people on a horse that the woman is young and pretty and the man holds the reins?

"Closer, but poorer quality," Philomene states with the absolute confidence and certainty of generations of farmers watching metaphorically over her shoulder. "Agnacite wheat keeps this country running, and there's not a pig more delicious in the world than the Gueret Old Spot. If you've a mind to talk business before you return home, monsieur, I think it could certainly be beneficial to all of us. What kind of lumber?" And then a casual hand flicks out to what is some of the most supierb architecture along the south coast. "The dome. The Lady of Marsilikos lives there — you can tell by the fish, of course. I did tell you it's all fish here, didn't I? Stables just here if you want to hire a horse." Then another casual flick of her hand to an unremarkable part of the cobbled road. "I almost died there. Maybe a little to the left."

A smile finds its way to Anghelescu's thin lips; not so much at the information that the lady nearly died, nor at the promise of delicious pork — but at the casualness of it all. Food, wood, architecture, casual death; this woman breaks most schools of polite conversations and he seems to find it all quite entertaining. He schools his face back into its usual polite facade behind her back. "Our woods are primarily spruce and oak, depending on the elevation. Do tell me, did you suggest I hire a horse for now so that we may continue our ride? I think I might not mind hearing the rest of a story that begins with 'I almost died', if you are willing to tell it, my lady."


Place des Mains

Even if usually referred to as Place des Mains, the full name of this square is actually Place des Mains d'Eisheth, and it has earned it for a reason. According to legend, Eisheth herself once descended from the heavens to save an ancestor of House Mereliot, who had collapsed right here in this spot, shaking with a heavy fever. When Eisheth placed her hands upon the lady's shoulder and forehead, a light and warmth emanated from them that pulled the disease out of the Mereliot's system, and she came to, refreshed and as healthy as she had ever been. To honor this tale, a 12 feet tall statue has been erected in the center of the square, a depiction of the patron of Eisande, clad in wide flowing garments, with her hands outstretched to dispense her blessing and to apply her powers of healing. Both the statue and the pedestal she stands upon are of white marble, the pinnacle oeuvre of a local master stone mason who managed the rare feat to have features of d'Angeline beauty chiselled with striking realism, high detail there in delicate fingers and the fall of the garment.

Four avenues of cobble stone are crossing here: The road to the northeast leads away towards the Noble District, another road heads southeastwards, winding higher upon the rising terrain towards the Dome of the Lady; a third in northwestern direction leads towards the town square with the harbor beyond, and a fourth can be used to reach the Night Court of Marsilikos, through the impressive red sand stone archway that looms to the south.

It is a winter day. The weather is cool and flurrying.


"A Skaldi spy," Philomene explains succinctly. "She went for her blade, I drew mine, but like the slippery little bastard she was, she got beneath me, pierced me right here," and she adjusts the man's grip around her waist to rest very slightly higher, to the right. "Right into my lung. I did say that the healers here are the very best, did I not? Ah, here we are. The Place de Mains d'Eisheth itself. You know the legend, of course?"

"I cannot say that I do, no. These stories are considered little short of open heresy in my homeland. My mother never spoke of such matters lest my father lose his temper." The foreigner notes the location on the rider's chest and winces; not that she can see his face but all commiserating all the same in the fashion of someone whose lungs are indeed ruined. Moving his hand about reveals, though, that under his silk gloves, he's wearing some kind of ring or other that feels a little broad for a wedding band. A signet, quite likely.

Philomène makes a sort of 'huh' noise, more to herself than anything. "Well, the story is that long ago, one of the Mereliots… I forget which one exactly… was very ill. Collapsed right here, close to death. So, cool as you like, down pops Eisheth herself, gives the woman a little tap on the shoulder and right between the eyes, and boom boom boom, right as rain." Again she glances back at him, taking a moment to examine his features. "And from which family was your mother?"

"Some branch of the house of Bonnel," Anghelescu replies blithely. "I'll admit that my knowledge of d'Angeline bloodlines and their holdings is next to non-existent. It never really became an issue for me until I came here."

Philomène snorts an amused laugh at that, sudden and unexpected. "I see," she resumes, shaking her head, quietly tickled. "In which case," and she gestures towards the Court de Nuit, "I'm sure you'll be welcome at any of the salons in there. There are four, depending on your tastes. From what you've told me, though, the one I'd recommend is La Coquelicot, and talk to somebody there about herbs and oils and all those sorts of things. It won't be cheap, but you won't find a better courtesan this far south. Temples are that way," and again she gestures. "You've found the gardens already… word of warning, if you're going to visit the temples, show some respect even if you are a dirty heathen. Shoes off and so forth. Infirmary is up the back of Eisheth's, useful to know, and the baths are out the back of Naamah's."

"I rarely walk into somebody's house only to piss on the carpet, my lady," Anghelescu murmurs. "Regardless of whether they're farrier, lord, or deity. I may indeed want to talk about herbs with your courtesans but I think I mentioned earlier that I did not come here to expand my erotic horizons? Tell me, is that stance so remarkable in Marsilikos that I am simply assumed to be lying? Nevermind the whole being a foreigner and not d'Angeline gentry and so forth."


Grand Plaza

No humble, cobbled, crowded town square, this: the grand plaza of Marsilikos gleams, a true centerpiece of a wealthy, international port city. The marble tiles of the square itself are fitted smoothly together, alternating white and greyish-blue with obsidian equal-armed crosses inset at the intersections. Four raised planters, ten meters square, offer cool travertine seating around swaths of raised ground, grassy and tended in all seasons with foliage best beautiful and suiting to the weather, positioned in each of the corner quadrants of the square, and, in the center, a concrete-laid pool is lined with marble, into which four ichthyocentaurs are pouring cool, clean water from carved vases of striking white marble. On a pedestal half-hidden by the winding tails of the ichthyocentaurs is an ancient obelisk, one solid piece of red granite, imported with great expense from Menekhet, mounting twenty one meters into the sky and casting a winding shadow around the corners of the plaza as the day progresses.

On the western edge of the square a grand marble stairwell overlooks the port and the harbor below; to the north, two strips of marble extend far between the stoate pillars of the marketplace, embracing a well-cultivated spina of greenery.

It is a winter day. The weather is cold and flurrying.


Continuing to ride, albeit more slowly now as she has to negotiate her way through more and more people, the closer to the market they get, Philomene eventually pulls to a halt in the grand plaza. "I think," she confides to him, "you might be a little mistaken about the purpose of a courtesan. They're company, skilled in their craft and their canon, entirely confidential to talk with, and, in the case of the Coquelicot, can provide you with everything up to and including the poppy to ease pain. Love doesn't have to mean sex."

"I see." The Carpathian mulls on that for a moment. "Then yes, I might in fact want to avail myself of that option. Except that I do believe that you and the Lady Zalika both pointed out to me that courtesans only very rarely accept appointments outside the gentry, and I am indeed not d'Angeline gentry. Still, I can ask — the worst they can do is turn me away, is it not?"

"You could tell them your mother's name, and take off your gloves," Philomene suggests simply, then shrugs. "But it is of course entirely your choice. La Perle Noire," she points out, a finger raising in that direction. "If you like Ephesian coffee, there's a genuine Ephesian who runs the place. Books, there," and the finger switches to Raziel's Sanctum, "and then further up the road you'll come to the market. I'm not about to ride in there, there's no space to move, let alone bring a horse. And the docks you've seen already." She nods over to the west.

"I've never had Ephesian coffee." Anghelescu takes mental notes, looking at each location as they are pointed out to him. "I do, however, have a very acute sense of touch and I rather prefer to keep my gloves on for that reason. If it is my ring you allude to, my lady, I doubt that it would be recognised this far from the Chuwat, but I could be mistaken. Tell me about the Winter's Ball, something something, while we are on the subject? Lady Zal — actually, tell me that as well. Is it Lady Zalika or Lady Trevalion, when one speaks of a noble lady in your language?"

"Technically it's Lady Zalika," Philomene explains, pursing her lips briefly. "It can sort of be Lady Trevalion, but never the Lady Trevalion, as that would be…" she squints for a moment, thinking. "…I think Lady Christine? If she held land, she could also be Lady whatever the land is, but that's slightly old fashioned these days. So my eldest daughter would be Lady Eleanor, Lady Chalasse, the Lady Gueret, but not the Lady Chalasse. Really, I'd stick with Lady Zalika, it's probably easiest to remember."

"Then I have indeed being getting it wrong," the foreigner cedes. "In my country, one would address a lady by her first name only if married to her, or otherwise blood kin — or if she was indeed the lady, the wife or widow of the ruler. Anyhow, Lady Zalika assumed that I had come to the city for the Winter's Ball. I had to admit that I do not even know what that is, though I can draw some obvious conclusions — it's a ball, and it's in winter."

Philomène smirks. "Well, you're right, of course. That about sums it up. I don't tend to attend these things, for obvious reasons. Dancing and I don't get on, as you might imagine."

"Myes. My disability may be less visible, but I am not one to dance, either. Never enjoyed it, finally have an excuse to avoid it. My curiosity went more along the lines of what is being celebrated, and who indeed does the celebrating." Anghelescu cants his head slightly. "We have winter celebrations in Podgrabczyna — solstice feasts, to celebrate that the light is returning. It is a very old custom."

"Longest Night," Philomene agrees, then falls silent for just long enough for one to wonder if she's somehow lapsed into narcolepsy or suffered from a brief, silent, deadly heart attack. "We celebrate Longest Night. As you say, for the returning of the light and so forth. This is not that, but a more formal affair for the nobility. It'd be foolish to hold a ball on Longest Night, as you'd never get a courtesan on your arm. They have their own customs that night."

Anghelescu has tact enough to recognise that there are questions one should not ask. Instead, he inquires, "Pray tell, does no one attend these affairs with their wife?"

Philomène raises a brow. "Well, I suppose one might," she allows, puzzled by the question. "Although I don't think very many men's wives are as skilled at entertaining as a courtesan. Perhaps your wife is an excellent dancer and conversationalist. Certainly I'm not, and I'd expect my late husband to have taken a courtesan to these sorts of things if he attended, and given the opportunity I might do likewise."

"… Back up a moment. Ladies attend with courtesans as well?" The man's tone is not so much disapproving as it is blank; it is obvious that he doesn't quite manage the math on this one. "So, er… How does that work exactly? Sounds like there'll be a frightful shortage of dance partners."

Philomène reaches into a pocket and pulls out a handful of sugared almonds which she leans forward to feed to her horse. Hirondelle, the mare, whickers quite happily and begins slobbering them up. "A shortage, my lord? How do you come to that conclusion, when everyone brings a partner who can dance?"

"It seems to me that unless the ladies will be dancing with each other, there must be a somewhat obvious discrepancy in that picture," Anghelescu notes, and then shrugs lightly. "I'm sure it makes more sense if one is there to watch it happen. I will not deny that I find your customs quite… different, in many ways, from what I expected. Not all in a bad way, quite to the contrary. But certainly puzzling."

"I'm genuinely baffled," Philomene admits, half twisting to look at him fully. "Why can't the ladies dance with gentlemen if they want? Do only ladies dance in Chowat?"

The foreigner scratches his chin with the hand that he is not using to hold on to the rider in front of him. "I'm certain that they can, but not at once? If each lord turns up with a courtesan, and each lady turns up with a courtesan, then it seems to me that the females present will end up outnumbering the men three to one?"

Philomène squints at him. "Well, I've never really counted, I admit, but I'd say that the number of ladies who bring a female courtesan with them are roughly the same as the number of gentlemen who bring a male one, so… I think it mostly balances out? Are more of the women in Chowat fonder of women than men, then?"

Anghelescu looks back at the lady with an expression that essentially goes 'duh' as the proverbial coin finally drops. "There are male courtesans. Yes, of course there are. I should have guessed this."

Philomène stares at him a moment longer before the angle becomes uncomfortable and she has to twist back round, although as she does she laughs quietly, shaking her head. "My goodness, can you imagine if there were only women? There would be a riot! I'm sorry, I shouldn't laugh. I suppose you only have female courtesans at home, do you? Well." She gestures back the way they came. "If that changes your mind about visiting the salons for more erotic reasons, you do at least know where they are now."

"That's… what I was thinking. So many women! I'd be trying to meld with the nearest potted plant if I had to attend a function at which the fair gender outnumbered mine by that ratio." The Carpathian can't help laughing softly either, shaking his head at his own ignorance. "We don't really have courtesans at all, at least not in the meaning of the term that you describe to me. And, ah, no. Sorry, no. I don't think I'm quite open-minded enough for that experience."

"If potted plants are your thing," Philomene intones solemnly, "then it's definitely the Glycine for you."

Blue eyes still glitter with slightly embarrassed amusement. "I think I shall perhaps look up that lady you recommended — the one who knows a great deal about herbs. Apart from that, though — perhaps I may take an interest in this particular aspect of your culture once I am more familiar with the rest. I think I've embarrassed myself enough for a day or two just now as it is."

"Oh come now, I think you can probably still manage a little more embarrassment today," Philomene encourages, a grin tugging at her lips. "If you try very hard. But perhaps on a more serious note, thank you. I've not been myself recently, but you've given me a good reason to come out and… well, mostly mock you, if I'm honest. But I'd hope you'd do the same for me, so I think we're fairly even."

"My lady, if you consider this to be mockery I have to say that the famous d'Angeline wit is not quite as vicious as I was warned." Anghelescu's words may contain a hint of mockery of their own but his expression and tone is gentle enough. "I have not felt mocked. I have managed to prove on a few occasions that I am indeed an ignorant foreigner, something which I am quite ready to admit on my own. I've enjoyed our conversations. I should not mind continuing them when it seems convenient."

"In which case," Philomene decides, easing her horse back round to begin returning towards the city gates, "if you don't mind being the subject of further staring and gossip and you find yourself at a loose end of an evening, you'll find me on the Rue de Port. Look for the house with the yellow door and the pots of rosemary either side. Bring something to drink with you, or I'll force you to drink the shit out of my cellar, though."

"That seems like a reasonable plan," Anghelescu agrees. "And convenient, considering that I am staying just down the road at that Fish inn. Comfortable place, I should add — can't quite see why anyone would object to it. It certainly seems quieter than anything I've noticed in the Noble District. You're quite welcome to call upon me there as well if you so wish — though I should hurry to add that I genuinely have no idea whether it is appropriate to suggest such a thing to a d'Angeline woman. At this rate I think I'm just going to assume that you're all essentially men, it seems safer."

"Of all the ways you could choose to insult me…" Philomene growls, then rolls her eyes goodnaturedly and leads her horse down the road. "I assure you, my lord, I'm no man."

"Better to treat you essentially as one than continue to insult you by listing all the things I did not think women could do or wanted to do," the man points out. "I am very far away from home, and it does indeed show. Besides, you've told me a couple of times now that you are in fact a battle-axe, and while I do realise that this must convey a particular meaning in d'Angeline, I find myself wondering what your tailor thinks of that."

Philomène holds up a finger. "There are a few topics off limits, and that's one of them," she insists, perhaps obliquely. "You can make your way home from the stables without getting lost? I'll stay and see to my Hirondelle." Another oddity, when surely one pays a groom for these things.

"If I get lost, I shall consider it to be an adventure," the foreigner agrees and slides off the horse's back without losing neither his footing nor the walking stick that seems to be a favourite accessory. "And indeed, let us agree on that — if I manage to inadvertedly stick my nose where it does not belong, simply tell me to unstick it. I shall do you the same courtesy, my lady."

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