(1312-03-07) Hardly Scholars
Summary: Two would-be scholars meet by chance in Raziel’s and hatch a plan— or, to be more accurate, a fantasy.
RL Date: 06/03/2020 - 07/03/2020
Related: A Ship of the Line, Two Delights, Meeting Needs.
emilie hugo 

Raziel’s Sanctum — Grand Plaza

Pedestrian traffic flows past the tall, multistorey temple to knowledge without ever daring to glimpse within. Their loss proves the academic community of Marsilikos' gain. Watery light passing through greenish tinted windows throws a distinctly sylvan enchantment over the narrow ground floor. Awash in jade shadows, the built-in bookcases heave with the treasures of the deep and wide world. Volumes mass-produced by printing press in d'Angeline dominate the front shelves, a wild assortment of topics contained within some obscure system of sorting known only to the regulars. Herbalism and gardening stand abreast of architectural sketches from the City of Elua and Kusheline manuals on horse breeds.

A journey up the twisting stairs past the bric-a-brac acquired by years of travelers trading in their goods leads into the true heartland of wisdom. Candles set before stained glass throw rapturous kaleidoscopes of painted colour over a long hall. The open central aisle hosts low couches set back to back on woven Bhodistani rugs. The most treasured volumes — and hence, the most costly — occupy the floor-to-ceiling shelves overseen by the grumpiest of caretakers, an ill-tempered marmalade cat with his own stuffed chair that no one sits in.

The third floor holds a repository of maps and scrolls, aged texts too fragile to hold, and a bookbinding and mending service at a cost.

On the first floor of the bookshop, happily ensconced in one of the couches with four or five large, open books spread around him on the seat, arm and floor, is the littlest Trevalion.

The early evening sun is at just the right latitude to send sprays of colour right the way down the room, making the dry mathematical tomes he’s studying look more like children’s colouring books after too much sugar and not enough grown-up supervision.

In just his shirtsleeves (and trousers, because despite how liberal the country might be, these are still considered to be if not essential then certainly recommended), with his everyday uniform jacket slung over the back of the sofa underneath a malevolent ginger cat who is delighting in clawing threads from it, unseen, Hugo has in his hand a stack of papers and a pen. The ink, carefully balanced by his foot, is probably going to cause a mess at some point, but so far he’s been lucky. Every now and then he pauses from sucking on the end of the pen to scribble some new insight gained from the tables, graphs and prose from which he’s working.

Courtesy is the lifeblood of a shop-keeper.

And courtesy to a well-to-do Siovalese servant of Naamah who will charge twenty volumes to her account without batting an eyelid, and indeed settle the said account once in a while (if not on an ideally regular basis), just makes sense to a bookshop-keeper— despite or perhaps even because of the bewildering enthusiasms she brings in, the tangents she runs off upon, the queer remarks she murmurs aloud without thinking whilst paging through something tasty.

Thus as Émilie’s halcyon-blue skirts graze over the carpet of Raziel’s Sanctum she is attended by one of the higher clerks and trailed by one of the lesser, who with his arms full of today’s selections hurries along with a care not to step on her slight train. The lower clerk’s arms are already tired. This shows in his pale and pinched features, as he hastens to add to the pile a slim volume of Tiberian poetry in translation which the lady has just plucked from a shelf. The higher clerk only compounds the situation by leading her onward, along an avenue of shelves which leads from philosophical literature into natural philosophy and thence, by some system of Raziel’s own, into the mathematical realms… Another book joins the pile, on no better or sounder basis than Émilie’s sudden quicksilver enthusiasm for what she hears said of it.

That slender avenue debouches into the shop’s richly-carpeted central aisle, where at first Hugo (small personage that he is) passes beneath the notice of the majestic Camellia Second as she glides forth — ship of the line that she is — sleekly-gowned, fur-caped, crowned by a splendid plumed hat and illuminated by the glean of curiosity in her own brown eyes — to renew her acquaintance with the ginger cat who really runs the place. She’s already stripping off a thin white doeskin glove, as she didn’t for the books. Clutching the shed glove in one hand she offers him the other, her pale palm turned up. She draws a breath. She waits.

… Yes! She is well-known here and so is her scent, carrying to a delicate feline nose just a whiff of compatriots. She is blessed by a rough pink tongue. Her manicured nails sink deep into orange fur and she smiles down at the cat as though he’s a handsome fellow indeed, oh yes he is. (Well. He already knew.) The man with his back to her is no more than a head and some shirtsleeved shoulders, as she murmurs sweet nothings to her ginger boyfriend.

It takes some time before Hugo, engrossed in his second favourite hobby, notices that the sounds of his marmalade overlord shredding his jacket have faded and been replaced by distinctly feminine purrs and coos. He exhales firmly, leans to set down both his paper and his pen, and turns with a frown on his face to berate whoever it is interrupting his study, no matter how quiet she might think she’s being.

“Do you mind?” come the words before his brain engages, he notices this paragon of loveliness, and he lets the words hang stupidly there along with his jaw. Well, clearly she doesn’t mind. The clerk still carrying her books on the other hand… who knows.

And that’s the end of the Royal Navy’s reprieve, for as soon as Émilie turns the perfect oval of her face toward Hugo, as soon as her rose-petal fingernails cease to offer proper tribute, the orange cat’s paws resume their rhythmic kneading of his doffed uniform jacket. (The cat hasn’t had a manicure lately, has he. No wonder nobody likes to tell him ‘no’.)

The roses — the camellias? — are blossoming in the lady’s cheeks now, too. Her gaze rests only fleetingly upon Hugo’s face before she looks down to the open book still in his hand. “My lord,” she murmurs, in that beguiling Mont Nuit accent of hers uncontaminated as yet by the lilt of Eisande, “it’s always a pleasure to see you… But I fear I’m interrupting.”

Hugo stares, catches himself staring, deliberately looks away and to his books again, then realises quite how rude that must look and turns his full attention back to her. Details he hadn’t quite spotted before are suddenly very apparent. That artfully placed lock of hair at the side of her face. The length of her neck. Yep, back to staring.

“I can think of several dozen worse ways to be interrupted,” he admits with a little smile, the dimples just beginning to show. “And really, it’s my fault for taking up all the space. Here, let me move my things for you.” Because then he’s got something practical to do, gathering papers, books, pens and ink and clearing her a space in case she wants to read one of… gosh, she does have a lot of books, doesn’t she?

The clerks hover with the books. Actually, they’re staring too.

“No, no— please.” Émilie’s ungloved hand gestures to Hugo’s mess and his oddly ineffectual efforts to clear it up. Strange that he’s treating a shop like a private library, but that’s hardly her chief concern in the moment. “Oh, the Principia Mathematica—?” she remarks absently, as her eye catches upon the heaviest volume in his present collection.

It’s not a massive surprise that she’s able to name the book. It is, after all, embossed in gold letters down the spine, that being visible as he closes it and puts it to one side with the other books he will surely, any minute now, actually finish buying. Still, he can’t help but smile as though reading the words on the side of the book is the cleverest thing he’s seen all day. “It is! Yes, although it’s all in Tiberian. I’d been hoping for a d’Angeline translation but alas, apparently there doesn’t exist such a thing here. Makes it all a bit heavy going… but you don’t care about my studies, I’m sure. How are you? How are your kittens?”

“Yes, it’s a shame there isn’t a translation yet,” agrees Émilie. “I could only puzzle out the first couple of chapters,” she admits, lowering her voice to make so shameful an admission of intellectual defeat. “The economy of the author’s language is delightfully neat but sometimes I feel I’m missing some of what’s implicit in a given phrase, something a proper mathematician would understand without it being put down directly — and then I left the book lying open at the same page for so long that Miel was wont to sit on it to wash her ears,” she explains, her smile growing luminous as it does for kittens rather more than for men; “and it became more her book than mine, you understand… My girls are both very well, my lord,” she confides next, “and I shall be sure to tell them how kind you were in asking after them. They’re growing up so quickly, too! If I said they were twice the size, now, I’d exaggerate— but only a little.”

Still smiling, she turns to the clerks and gestures toward her own trove of treasures. “Will you have those sent to the Lis d’Or for me, please? I think I’ve found everything I need today… Oh, I’ll take the Horace with me,” she decides suddenly, extending the elegant curve of her hand and her wrist to claim the slimmest of her chosen volumes from the one clerk, whilst the other bends into an obsequious bow and emits the correct ‘but of course, Mademoiselle’.

Hugo laughs, tilting his head to read the spine of the book she’s claimed to take with her. “What is that? Something a little easier to follow than the Principia? I admit, though,” he confesses quietly, dimples deepening in his cheeks, “I mostly just pick out the equations, as those are at least a universal language. I can’t make head nor tail of most of the text. I’m trying to put together a library of texts while I’m in Marsilikos that might help with modelling planetary motion, if you’d believe it.” He pauses, then explains (because she clearly wouldn’t manage the long words), “I’m studying how we can use the moon to help navigate. It’s a lot of numbers and tables and not very exciting measurements, but if I’m right it’ll change the way the whole Navy, the whole seafaring world can figure out where they are. It’s…” he hesitates, trailing off weakly, “I promise it’s more exciting than it sounds.”

Instinct tells Émilie to turn the spine in towards herself, to keep her own private tastes private— but she arrests the gesture and consciously displays it to Hugo. Epodes.

Meanwhile she’s listening, and nodding. Two disciplines in which any courtesan gets plenty of practice in Hugo’s company. “My lord, I remember you telling me something of your studies before,” she murmurs. She tucks the Horace under her arm and begins slipping her bare hand back into the doeskin glove she shed earlier, whilst the shop’s marmalade monarch looks on balefully from the corpse of Hugo’s jacket. “A sure route across the western seas would be a great thing for Terre d’Ange,” she agrees, with a becoming respect for his efforts, “and I shouldn’t wonder if someone of your knowledge and your passion were to find it…”

The glove fits her hand to a nicety; she stands there scissoring her fingers together. “But if you’ve competition, my lord, I imagine it’s in Tiberium,” she suggests. “Perhaps you had better persevere with Tiberian, to keep up with the latest research. Scholars always do write for other scholars, don’t they, without thinking the rest of us might like to read along too.” There are three pearl buttons inside her wrist, and the gloved fingers of her other hand seem to be having a hard time with them. Aha, she’s got one of them through its tiny buttonhole.

“I don’t read a single word of it,” Hugo admits despondently, turning more fully to face her rather than get a crick in his neck from staring. That would be embarrassing. “But you do,” he adds, with a little nod towards the book under her arm. “I didn’t realise you were a scholar. Do you want a hand with that? Your glove?”

Émilie takes a step nearer and surrenders her wrist into Hugo’s hands. In the gap left by those two buttons yet unfastened, her veins show violet and blue beneath delicate skin.

“Oh, hardly a scholar,” she disclaims, directing a wistful smile downward to him from beneath the tilted and curved brim of her hat. “But this winter I decided I ought to give up prevaricating and just learn it… there was a book I wanted to read, too,” she admits.

Hugo takes her hand and cradles it as gently as he would her kittens, doing his very best with surprisingly nimble fingers to make fastening two buttons take far longer than it needs to. “And so you just learned it? Just like that? My goodness, I do envy you,” he admits, taking a moment to look up from her glove and into her face. That is enough to stall any button progress anyway. “I don’t suppose you’d like to… uh… I just mean that the Trevalion house has a lovely study. You’d like it. You could talk me through the Tiberian and I could explain the maths?”

With Hugo paused between pearls, apparently indefinitely, Émilie has the leisure to think it over for a moment or two. “… Nobody has ever asked me to be a tutor before,” she murmurs, giving a soft laugh at that image of herself, even whilst it’s seducing her, “but I could help you a little, I’m sure. Tiberian really isn’t very difficult,” she maintains, stalwart in her belief that if she can do it, anybody can. “Perhaps together we might even get past the early chapters,” she speculates. And she waits patiently for him to recall the third button and do something about it.

Alas, the third button remains sad and neglected as Hugo just beams up at her, mind already forming cosy little vignettes of the pair of them studying, Émilie laughing at his wit and erudition, their hands brushing as they reach in the same moment to turn the same page, the pleasures of the intellect turning suddenly to the pleasures of the flesh…

It’s really far too long before he realises that he’s daydreaming happily, and has thus been just gawking at her for five or ten seconds and he hurriedly clears his throat, drops his gaze to her wrist, and sets about completing the task he actually offered to do.

“If you came over one night,” he suggests diffidently, “I could show you my telescope?”

Of course Émilie affects not to notice she’s having her usual effect upon Hugo— inwardly she’s thinking, here we go again. When he recovers his senses she reclaims her fully buttoned wrist and takes half a step backward. Her personal wave of expensive scent recedes, barely a caress now upon his senses. She turns over her hand and offers it the other way now, to be kissed.

“Thank you, my lord Trevalion… I’ll look forward to receiving your invitation,” she pledges, smiling dazzlingly down at him, “for an evening’s study together.” And she leaves him to gather his things and brush off his jacket, assuming he hasn’t lost it for good.

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