(1312-02-10) The Wine Before the Dine
Summary: Andrei Anghelescu was told to call on Lady Philomène with wine, so he did exactly that.
RL Date: 1312-02-10
Related: precedes A Taste of Fish.
andrei philomene 

Maison aux Herbes — Rue du Port

In contrast to the gaily painted yellow door with its fragrant pots of vibrant green herbs which guard either side, the interior of this house is austere to the point of severe. The whitewashed walls bear little to no decoration, if one precludes the single, almost full length mirror in the main room, and the tiny, framed pencil sketch of a pair of horses beside the door. The front door enters directly into a spartan salon, equipped with a single dark leather sofa and a comfortable chair in front of the fire, where a square section of the rugged brown carpet has been stripped away to facilitate drying out firewood or cleaning out the grate with minimal upkeep.

To one side of the room, an opening leads through to an equally minimalist dining room, containing no more than half a dozen stiff backed wooden chairs and a table that could comfortably fit only four of them, and from there a door leads to the small kitchen and on to simple quarters for a single servant. On the other, a plain staircase leads upwards, the carpet laid in a strip down the centre, with bare, unpolished floorboards visible to either side, to a pair of small bedrooms and a cramped privy. Where furniture has been placed, it is mismatched and looks more as though it's been bought and dumped in the closest available spot than that any sort of thought to interior design has been paid.

There is a significant time delay between the knock on the door and the opening of the door, not least caused by some audible confusion over 'who the fuck is that?' between Philomene and her young, steadily emboldening maid, and then a further argument about opening the damn door anyway and whose house is it and more to the point whose door is it, and by the time the door is opened by the dowager Vicomtesse, it is at least with a triumphant look in her eyes. Not that there's any great triumph in prevailing over the young woman who relies entirely on you for her livelihood, but still.

Dressed warmly, in what should probably be all black, but with a dark brown, worn riding jacket over the top, Philomene might well be on her way out, or, more likely, is just being rather frugal about the amount of firewood she's prepared to use this winter. The door opens, she eyes her visitor for a moment, then simply steps back. "Come on in, then, you'll let the cold in standing about much longer. I'm not paying to heat the whole fucking city."

"The whole city does seem to dedicate surprising amounts of energy to keeping warm doing exactly that," murmurs her guest — one Andrei Anghelescu who is absolutely, totally just some randomly visiting foreign merchant and most assuredly not actually the head of state of an admittedly very, very small country in the Chowat. He dangles a bottle (and seems to have another tucked under one arm). "You told me to bring my own damn wine. I brought my own damn wine."

"You," Philomene pronounces firmly, "may stay." She gestures in and to the small sofa by the struggling fire. The chair is apparently hers, judging by the mostly empty glass beside it, the small, squarish box beside that, and the rumpled blanket on the floor by the hearth which may or may not have been thrown off her legs in the recent past. "Grab a seat. Caroline, can we have another glass?" she calls back to her maid, who disappears with admirable speed to do just that. "And no, the city as a whole spends its energy fucking instead of wearing more layers of clothing like a sensible individual, and as such tend to heat their rooms to a bloody sauna. What are we drinking?"

"Slivovitz. My homeland's equivalent to your schnapps. It's made from plums, not tubers or wheat, but it has about the same potency." Anghelescu wanders into the room and looks about curiously before eventually settling on a convenient chair not too long from the lady's personal blanket and furniture pile. "I owe you for sending me to that ball. You may consider the headache you'll have in the morning my proper revenge for subjecting me to a parade of gilt peacocks, one cawing louder than the next, all trying to determine who's going to spend the night with who."

Philomène stares for a moment, then the corners of her lips curl upwards into a delighted grin and she points one long, slender finger at him. "You went! Aha! And was it as truly mindnumbingly awful as I thought it would be?" she asks, eyes sparkling with mischief. She settles into her chair again, wincing a little as the very act of sitting puts strain on her bad leg, then pulls the blanket up again to cover any sign of that old injury. "How many of them decided to target you for the evening?"

"I promised you that I would go. I went. You left out the part about you not going." A glower from Anghelescu's blue eyes, though it fails to quite convince anyone; there's too much amusement in there, a man who realises he was soundly beat in the game of words and paid the price. He places both bottles on whatever horisontal surface services to contain Phil's glass, assuming that eventually, it'll have a companion. "And, the answer to that is none. The Lady Zalika did ask me to escort her, but I suspect that that was more of a 'let's us foreigners weather the storm together' affair — she left when she had done her duties. I spent the rest of the evening essentially just minding my own business and watching very overdressed noblemen trying to get laid."

When the glass is brought, Philomene wastes no time at all in dismissing the maid and pouring slivovitz in exceedingly generous measures from the first bottle into both glasses. "I found I had other pressing business to drink that evening," she intones solemnly, nudging his glass towards him then lifting her own in a mute toast. "At the very least I hope you found it instructional, though. The dance of the sugar plum fatwits, trying to get their leg over using only the weapon they find unilaterally the most complicated and untrained, their wits. God, I hate the young."

The Carpathian laughs softly. "It was not much different from the Chowatti court if I must be honest — except that here, I was not addressed by a number of ladies attempting to introduce me to the blushing maidens they call daughters, at least. I've never enjoyed such formal affairs to any great extent. I will say that your countrymen are — shall we say, quite more direct in their approach. I am absolutely positive that 'come riding with me to the waterfall' is a euphemism."

Philomène shakes her head, taking a brief, exploratory sniff from her glass before knocking back a sizeable gulp of it. "If it's a euphemism, I take back my offer to ride with you. No, I think a ride out to the waterfall really is an invitation to just that. It's possible that I speak only for myself in these matters, but if I intend to bed somebody I'll tell them I intend to bed them. And," she adds, with the ghost of a smile, "that rather seems to work."

Anghelescu fingers his glass before taking a generous swig. "I doubt it. The gentleman made quite certain to stress where they would be escorted by retainers and at which inn with good beds they would not be. I rest my case. Either way, I suspect that personally, I'd prefer your approach, indeed. Saves a lot of time, too." He shakes his head and then adds, "I'll have to say, your duchess does seem quite pleasant. Quiet, a bit withdrawn. Can't say I blame her for the last part."

"She has a province full of soft, useless noblemen to govern," Philomene points out cheerfully, lifting one finger from her glass to gesticulate vaguely to the window. "And an obligation to put on occasions for their entertainment. If it were me, I'd be a little quiet at these things, too. It wouldn't do to say out loud exactly what I think of most of them. Which gentleman was it in particular inviting you to the waterfall with him?"

Anghelescu shakes his head, and laughs softly. "Not me. Some young fellow, and Lady Justine. I wasn't bothered by anyone. I was just some merchant who couldn't even properly follow dress code, brought in by some foreign woman whose name no one could remember. I was functionally invisible." His tone of voice seems to imply that this in fact suited him very well.

Philomène takes another swig from her glass, apparently unfazed by the potency and even enjoying the taste. "That does sound about right for these things, yes. I suppose it's good training for them, at least. The young boys, playing at being men for an evening, trying their best to impress the unimpressable."

"Ah, she is unimpressable?" Anghelescu stretches his legs and makes himself quite comfortable in his chair. "She seemed very polite, in a kind of — how to put it, 'I will go for a ride with you, monsieur, but I have made you no promises kind of way'. Which, I believe, came across to the other man something along the lines of 'let there be shagging like rabbits'. I imagine, though, that the ladies of this court are not strangers to the idea of predatory men."

"Despite the fact that we share a name, I don't know a great deal of Lady Justine," Philomene admits. "We've had supper, but little else. Still, one doesn't survive as a Chalasse without a certain bullheadedness. The symbol on the coat of arms is rather apt, after all. More likely the young man would have taken 'fuck off and die' as some sort of statement to mean he was a step closer to her bed. Some men take no hints."

Her visitor cants his head and then nods. "Well, that is a very good point. Let me assure you, though, that if I ever should decide to ask your cousin to bed, I will ask her outright and take the slap when she declines." He smiles lightly at the mental image of that; the blonde ray of sunshine punching someone in the face. "I do wonder how you people ever get anything done. It's not a week hence that I was all but openly propositioned by a very young man — at least I think that's what he was doing. Maybe he just needed someone to listen. I am not really a people person, I'm not good at telling these things."

"I would imagine it was a proposition," Philomene agrees readily, leaning forward in her seat and resting her fingertips on the small metal case on the table. "You're not bad looking on the whole. You're relatively whole, you smile enough, you're polite, and most importantly you're new, fresh meat for the grinder. How are your lungs? Do you mind if I smoke?"

Anghelescu shakes his head. "Unless you plan to light the house on fire I will be all right. I struggle far more with fog and damp air — smoke, at least, is dry. I am seeing some of the people you recommended — a lady from the Coquelicot, and I still have the address for the chirurgeon as well. I dare say, I smarted all over for a day after that massage, but it actually does seem to make me feel better afterwards."

Philomène squeezes the catch on the case. The lid springs open, revealing a number of rather fat, stubby little cigars of sorts, wrapped in fine paper with straggling trails of dried plants poking from the ends. She claims one of these for her own and politely offers the case in his direction. "I should warn you, then, that the chirurgeon is the worst one of them all," she notes, tucking her joint between her lips so her words lose some of their crisp consonants. "You'll smart for weeks, but it'll be some of the best damn treatment you've ever had."

"Suffering for weeks is a reasonable price to pay to live for years," the foreigner says with a small shrug. "And should she prove useless, then at least I can say that I have tried everything short of a miracle. A discussion I had with that young man, at that — he seemed quite baffled that one might not wish to beseech your angels for relief." A glance towards Philomène's leg — perhaps there are reasons not to, or situations where indeed, the miracle is denied.

Philomène reaches for a taper, lighting it from the fire, then turns that to the end of her own particular brand of herbal remedy, inhaling until the end turns pink, orange and white and continues to glow. That task completed, the taper is shaken out and set down. "Pray all you like, but it'll be a damn sight easier for the companions to help if you do at least a little something to help yourself." She lifts the cigar from her lips, breathing out a neat ring of smoke upwards. "This particular plant eases some of the pain, the booze does a good job in topping that up, and if it gets too bad, the Coquelicot house can provide milk of the poppy. The angels can work from that basis instead of the raw pain itself. You might find," she notes companionably, "that it's too late to repair your lungs, in the same way it's too late to repair this." A very slight nod towards her blanket covered leg. "But you can stop it getting worse, and you can repair the damage that the pain causes, and you can learn to ameliorate the pain. Not everything has a holy solution."

"That young lad claimed that he was struck blind in a fall from a horse, but cured by the angels." Anghelescu's tone implies so much that he thinks the young man was lying as perhaps that something might have been — left out. "He seemed very perplexed that I do not simply go ask for the same. I eventually gave up on explaining the concept of different faiths to him."

"Now I know the man you mean," Philomene smirks. "He's a fucking imbecile. Elua alone knows why the angels chose to restore his sight, but I have my own particular theories on the matter, namely that his 'blindness' was nothing more than his brain choosing not to see what was put in front of him. His eyes were always fine, but his mind told him not to see. Fucking idiot."

Anghelescu chuckles at the blunt verdict and upends his glass; without much care for ceremony he pours himself another and offers to top up Philomène's as well. "I did somewhat feel that we were speaking different languages. Although I'll give that when it comes to matters of finance he is remarkably sharp. Give him another ten years and I for one will be finding someone else trade with, while I still have anything to trade."

Philomène nods, leaning forward with her glass. "I haven't forgotten that you're here to sell lumber, you know," she insists keenly. "And that your wood's a lot more reasonably priced than some here. Let's talk wheat."

A smirk dances across Anghelescu's lips. "Certainly. But I think we should agree that nothing will be signed until we are indeed both sober, because I have every intention of getting exactly as drunk as you hinted that you'd like to get. That said, that kid really is sharp. Had me on my heels, and I do not consider myself entirely inexperienced in these matters. Perhaps I should start a rumour that I will sleep with whoever is willing to get me an overseas trade route."

Philomène wrinkles her nose. "Well, I'd rather not, if you don't mind. My bed is purely by invitation only, and as fond as I am of you, you're not invited. What is your staple grain in Chowat? What do you farm, other than trees? And, apparently, plums to turn into whatever the fuck this is?" Again she raises her glass, then does a quick switch of joint for drink, has a sip, then back again.

"You didn't offer me an overseas trade route," Anghelescu points out gently. "Our primary grain is wheat, but our land is not suited for grain arming to any great extent; too mountaineous. Farmers manage, but the towns must import. We have a fair amount of beans, cabbages, fruit — all of them things that can grow in soil that is fertile enough but decidedly not horisontal. Pig is by far the most common farm animal, as we can send them to the woods in half the year to take care of fattening themselves up."

"Gueret raises the greatest bacon pigs in the world," Philomene states simply, an uncounterable fact as far as she's concerned, "but we also grow some of the finest wheat. L'Agnace land is perfect for it - the breadbasket of Terre D'Ange. If you grow it, then you already have the infrastructure in place to mill it and bake it. We can export it to you if you can guarantee a route inland from your closest safe port?"

"I shall have to conduct some research on where that may indeed be," the foreigner murmurs. "Probably somewhere in the Hellene area, and then transport by caravan north. That, at least, is something I can work out. Our infrastructure is not something that'll impress you but on the whole, my country is not poor."

Philomène smirks a little, puffing another ring of smoke upwards and away from him. "Ah, you'd be surprised what'll impress me, I'm sure. The speed at which the sea captains here can load and unload thirty tons of grain never fails to impress, for example. Once it hits land on your side, you'd be responsible for its safety, though, does that seem fair?"

"I'd say so. I'll break a few arms, twist some elbows, and bribe the appropriate people to make certain to get shipments from there and to the Chowat as intended. You may find that I will be willing to trade for more than we can consume — Podgrabczyna is a very small country. However, the Chowat is full of very small countries, and there is something to be said for having other very small countries ruled by very small but highly territorial people depending on you, don't you think?" A smile, and indeed, a swig of destilled plum alcohol. "I think the greatest barrier we will find is that of my people trusting yours, and they will not need to — they'll only need to trust me."

"Trusting you sounds like an almost insurmountable barrier," Philomene notes drily, taking the joint between two fingers and offering it over casually while she takes a sip from the liquor. "And yet here we are. How much would you be looking to trade for? It's been on the whole a good few years, and it looks like we'll have a few more solid years yet. I'd lay good money on a healthy spring and a long summer this year and next, and I'm rarely wrong when it comes to the weather."

Blue eyes go wide. "Trusting in me is difficult? Have I ever lied?" Oh, the innocence. The hurt little soul. So wounded.

"If you're any sort of merchant at all, then daily," Philomene responds simply, flashing a slight smile. "How much grain can you take?"

Anghelescu nods with a slight smile and states a number of bushels that is considerably higher than one would expect for a mountain nation of just three little towns; but then, he did just mention attempting to make deals on behalf of neighbouring other little tiny countries, so perhaps it makes sense after all. "I will of course be willing to provide samples of our lumber. You will need to tell me what you are looking for as well — I am told there is a considerable difference between spruce for ship's masts and oak for furniture."

"Building materials," Philomene tells him frankly. "We have a lot of wide open flat land, and materials to build structures, houses, barns and so forth are rare. The opposite issue to you, I think. I can see how this can be a profitable trade all round, provided we lose little to wasteage."

"And there will indeed be wasteage. Some grain will spoil, some harbourmasters will skim a bit, a few extra tolls will be paid. That's how long distance trade works, indeed." He leans back, resting his head against the chair, and looks remarkably comfortable. "Settled. I'll draw up my side of the paper work, you do yours, we look it over and become partners in crime. Now, does this require me to actually be introduced to the duchess as you spoke of a while back?"

Philomène rubs at the bridge of her nose with two fingers as she leans back, glass in hand. "Ah… technically no. Technically this is a trade between Podgrabsha and Agnace." It's a fair attempt to pronounce the country, at least, you have to give her that. "However, the trade will pass through Marsilikos and will be subject to tariffs here before we take it upriver. We might be able to waive at least some of those if we speak with the Duchesse directly. Press upon her the benefit of a long term trade agreement, which can only prosper if import tax at this port is not overly inflated. A percentage rather than a flat toll would be to our advantage, I feel."

"I have no objections to meeting the lady," Anghelescu points out. "She's not the one I am hiding from, if indeed, I am hiding from anyone. It's your glittering peacocks on parade that I have little interest in. I want to know this city as it really is — not as prancing courtiers think it is in their endless infinity of pursuit of veneral diseases."

Philomène half smirks. "It's a wealthy city, with a lot going for it. Peacocks notwithstanding. And, as I've said, the Lady of Marsilikos is a good sort. I'll see if I can leave you out of it and make the appropriate arrangements through my usual contacts. Like I said, I'll take responsibility as far as your closest port in Hellene or wherever. Are you hungry? I'm hungry. You want to go grab something?"

"I think I could probably eat a little." The foreigner upends his glass. "Any preferences? And indeed, any courtesies of which I am not aware? Any obligations to lead you on my arm, order for you, or for that matter, punch the maitre d' in the face?"

Philomène takes another puff from her by now almost completely smoked joint, knocks back what's left in her glass then lets the glowing end of the cigar fizzle out in the dregs of the clear liquid. "I'm thinking about crisp, battered whitebait," she notes, showing what is for her a decidedly unusual interest in food. But then she has just happily smoked her way through a pungent herbal remedy. "There's a fellow by the docks, just opposite the chandler, who fries it fresh daily if we hurry. And I'll take your arm if it means getting there faster."

Anghelescu laughs softly and stands up, shrugging into his coat. "Nothing like sampling the local cuisine, indeed."

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