(1312-03-11) Scholars and Coffee
Summary: It is a truth universally acknowledged that caffeine conduces to scholarship, whether one’s field of study is d’Angeline culture, Ephesian music, or the dregs in one’s cup.
RL Date: 11/03/2020
Related: Blind No More.
andrei azalais cyrille 

La Perle Noire — Grand Plaza

The face this establishment shows to the Grand Plaza is a window display of coffee beans in a fantastic blown-glass vase, against figured silk which changes with the seasons; and a pair of heavy oaken doors guarded by a swarthy, bearded, well-muscled man in Ephesian costume, who bows patrons out of Terre d'Ange and into a foreign land redolent of fine coffee and cinnamon and tobacco, lit by countless candles suspended each in a gleaming glass lantern from a ceiling that billows with ruby-red silk and cloth of gold. Layered carpets of many colours, intricately woven and warmed in winter by a hypocaust, soften the music of pipes and drums and mandolins that filters through this sanctuary of civilised pleasures. Here a friendship might be forged or renewed, a deal struck, or a day simply whiled away in Eastern opulence and ease, amidst the red and the gold and the smoke.

In the middle of the main lounge is a raised circular stage upon which an horologist's glass marks the lapse of two hours between performances by Ephesian dancing girls, or minstrels singing joyously in the tongue of that land, or even a local d'Angeline bard telling tall tales. Low tables of dark wood radiate therefrom, surrounded by lounging cushions and richly-upholstered divans; the outermost are set in alcoves which may for privacy's sake be screened by shimmering silken curtains. If one desires amusement, one may summon at any hour alluring dancers whose brass finger-cymbals chime to accent the undulations of their hips. If one wishes to smoke, one may command a water pipe. But the true business of the house is the coffee. Perfumed young men in loose trousers and embroidered tunics move to and fro like angels dispensing this liquid mercy: strong, fragrant, frothing kahve, brewed cup by cup from the fine-ground black pearls of Ephesium, served in elaborate copper vessels beside tall glasses of pure spring water and plates of esoteric and delectable foreign sweetmeats.

Several sets of doors at the rear of the lounge lead away to the kitchens; to a stairway ascending toward smaller chambers which may be reserved for private parties; and outside into a courtyard, open in fair weather.

La Perle Noire is unusual amongst the noble district's watering-holes in that it attracts not only the idle detritus of peacock society — the well-born d'Angelines with nothing to do all day but flaunt their beauty at one another over an endless succession of breakfasts and teas and suppers — but a sprinkling of the city's wealthier merchants swapping self-aggrandising lies and dealing to their own advantage, and travelers from a dozen lands about the middle sea: adventurers cosmopolitan enough to recognise the true taste of Ephesium, and to crave it.

Small wonder, then, that the people-watching possibilities attract from time to time the pale blue eye of Andrei Anghelescu. They include, at this hour when those who rise early are thinking of their luncheon (whilst those who rise late are, well, rising), a lady of about his own age whose modest garments of cream-coloured and leaf-green linen anticipate the spring. She has a few simple pink cabbage roses embroidered upon her bodice; where she sits upon a dark red divan, propped against a pile of cushions and cuddling one of them in her lap, her green overskirts hint at something ruffled beneath, some petticoat in the same shade of dusky pink. Her chief beauty is the mane of vivid dark red hair which spills loose and unadorned down her back and over her shoulders, falling away from a strong-featured face turned up toward the central stage upon which a trio of Ephesian musicians have gathered to play a queer and haunting melody of their own land… But only a short one, Safiye Hanim preferring to offer her clientele merriment, with only the occasional venture into pathos. One tune segues into another. The red-haired woman hears the change faster than others do and her concentrated expression turns suddenly to a smile, and she draws in a quick breath that seems a precursor to laughter.

A watcher of people and politics, and indeed, very much the combination thereof, Andrei Anghelescu is immediately interested in anyone who stands out from the norm. The redhead matches the initial impression that high bred d'Angeline women have made upon him so far — attractive, beautiful even, well dressed, dedicating a fair deal of attention to her appearance. That she sits alone does not surprise him — not in this country where women and men indeed share many pleasures and freedoms. There are probably men at arms somewhere nearby, but as far as he is concerned, not needing them to hover over her like walking symbols of status speaks in her favour.

It's her interest in the musicians which causes the foreigner to pay her more attention than any other pretty angel-faced woman in the establishment. Ephesian music is not his forte. He pauses and looks around for an excuse.

No empty tables. Well, isn't that convenient. Time to be as subtle as a not very subtle thing. He wanders over to the table the young lady is seated at and, silver-tipped walking stick in one hand, offers her a mildly apologetic look. "I am finding myself a little deprived in the places to sit department. I wonder if it might be safe to inquire as to whether this divan and table combination might be imposed on?"

Close to, the small details of the lady's toilette bear out Andrei's initial impression of modesty. Her handsome high-cheekboned face is either bare or barely touched by maquillage, the effect in any case very natural — she wears several rings, the settings fanciful but the stones turquoise and topaz and jade, rather than anything sparklier — her gown rises to her unadorned pale throat — her scent is that of freesias, and other springtime flowers. When he intrudes himself so boldly upon her notice she startles for an instant. Then she looks up into his eyes and drinks in his words with curiosity, and a slower kind of smile.

"Yes— please," she decides, lowering her own changeable pale gaze to her table and lifting a hand from the cushion in her lap to gesture vaguely to her vicinity, welcoming Andrei to sit where he wishes. Her copper cup is half-empty of coffee. Her glazed dish of Ephesian delight has been emptied of all but the traces of powder which mar its pattern of stylised red and green and golden feathers.

For those not particularly paying much attention, it wouldn't be difficult to miss Lord Cyrille de Rocaille, the Siovalese noble tucked away in a corner nearer to Azalaïs with a book splayed open in his hands, and a mostly full cup of coffee on the table next to him. Or, what might be considered coffee, with a much more creamy color to it. The beverage now seems to have been weighed down with an overabundance of sugar and milk.

There are, of course, probably a pair of his guards somewhere nearby, chatting at their own table and sharing a cup of coffee while they look over the Lord. But otherwise, the young Lord sits alone at his table, oblivious to the outside world. That is, until a yawn stifles out of his lips, the book in his hands lowering just a touch in the process, allowing his eyes to fall on Andrei. He peeks towards the foreign man for a moment, blinking as though waking himself from his literature, and placing himself back into the real world. Finally, one hand peels away from the pages, lifting to cast a light wave towards Andrei.

The foreigner is as easily recognisable as usual in his black coat trimmed with silver fox-fur and the silver-tipped cane; the foreign cut of his clothes stand out to a point where someone with a bit of subterfuge skill might eventually start to question whether he's doing it on purpose — and what he wears when he doesn't want to get recognised. Come on, now, that monocle…

Anghelescu settles next to the red-haired lady with a small smile. "Thank you, my lady. This establishment seems surprisingly popular at this hour — which is of course what drew me in here, along with the promise of sweet, strong mint tea. You are interested in Ephesian music?"

Then he spots either glare of a certain female guard or the young lord that she supposedly protects. He nods to the gentleman in question and offers a light smile; one that carries a trace of approval, perhaps, for the fact that the younger man is hiding behind a book. Perhaps the other night's assurances that the Siovalese are the intellectuals of the house of Terre d'Ange were not unfounded.

Azalaïs gathers her leafy skirts to one side, to make room for Andrei amongst the cushions which so liberally litter her divan. She has of course the usual d’Angeline lady’s nonchalance about sitting cheek by jowl with a man to whom she hasn’t been introduced. “I know very little about Ephesian music,” she says candidly, “but that’s why I find it so interesting.” He glimpses another smile curving her lips— until she turns to pick up her glass of water and that curtain of flame-red hair falls forward to screen her face from his immediate view.

It seems the Carpathian has sidled in past the staff. One of the perfumed young men who pass to and fro in silk slippers catches up with him at last and bows low, and solicits his order in good but accented d’Angeline. Well, they learn the phrases by rote, don’t they? The youth beetles off again, followed by Azalaïs’s gaze as she sips chilled spring water.

Lo and behold, not but another table over, the pair of guards are seated with coffee, made in the traditional Ephesian style unlike their Lord. As soon as the still unnamed female guard makes eye contact with Andrei, her eyes narrow sharply, watching the foreign man suddenly like a hawk. Even still, her cup of coffee lifts to her lips, and she sips at it lightly.

For the Lord in question though, Cyrille seems to have lowered his stealth book a sliver, his eyes tracing over Andrei for a moment more before his lips part. "Hello." He murmurs, his voice still barely louder than a whisper. Clearing his throat, he shifts some in his seat. "How are you this morning, Monsieur Andrei?"

"Alive, no doubt much to the consternation of your guard, my lord," the Carpathian returns with a small smile that absolutely dares the guard in question to say something about it. "I was hoping to enjoy a cup of mint tea and perhaps learn a thing or two as I do. My study of the d'Angeline is on-going, and with all due respect, you are a lifetime project, I suspect." He looks back to the young lady next to him and inclines his head politely. "I also seem to have left my manners at the inn at which I am staying. Andrei Anghelescu at your service, my lady." Foreign name — foreign accent.

Young lady, bless. She’s older than he is — but d’Angelines seldom have the decency to look it, do they? “Azalaïs L’Envers,” she supplies, and takes another sip of water and sets down her glass to offer Andrei a long-fingered porcelain hand brightened by turquoise. As she turns to him her slight smile travels to encompass Cyrille as well, sitting just beyond the foreigner, at the next table along. “Ange— Anghelescu?” she repeats slowly. “Is that Ephesian, my lord?”

Blinking a bit, Cyrille peeks towards the guard, who suddenly diverts her eyes, looking anywhere else but at the Lord and CERTAINLY not towards Andrei. A soft grin cracks its way onto his lips, and he turns back towards Andrei. "Oh, Lisette? I wouldn't worry yourself too much over her. She and Martin both can be overbearing for my safety, and sometime even… Social health, but they mean well." He murmurs back towards the foreigner. As Azalaïs grants him a smile, he returns with a shy smile of his own, dipping his head towards her.

"Chowatti, my lady. I am a traveller from one of those fifty-odd citystates in the Chowat that no one else's heard about." Anghelescu's lip curls in a small smile; it's a political fact. There are a few kingdoms on the Chowat, and the kings of said kingdoms no doubt consider themselves the rulers of those fifty-odd citystates too — and each other. Half the citystates consider themselves rulers of each other. Anyone who actually gives a fig about foreign politics is prone to shake their head and either sigh or laugh at what the Chowatti call 'politics'. "The Chowat does share a border with Ephesos, though, so this kind of establishment is — I would not say familiar, because my country snuggles up against Skaldia instead, but I have at least visited places like this in the past."

The justice of this is so plain, from her own question, that Azalaïs laughs softly — the sound almost lost beneath the efforts of flautist and harpist and zitherist — and bites her lower lip as she nods, listening to Andrei’s explanation. “I’ve never met anyone from the Chowat before,” and the note of curiosity in her voice suggests that for this d’Angeline lady, at least, foreignness is a selling point. “And your friend?” she asks, glancing again to Cyrille.

Seated comfortably with his book still hovering in front of him, opened, though not drawing his attention quite so much any more, Cyrille seems to be shifting into a stance of listening to the conversation between Azalaïs and Andrei. "I've probably read about the Chowatti a few times, but most of my studies include the sciences, when I do study." He murmurs, then peeks at Azalaïs and he pauses, his lips curling into a soft smile. "Lord Cyrille de Rocaille." He offers, plucking a silk ribbon up from off of the table and carefully laying it out along the seam of his book before folding it closed and setting it down on the table.

"I believe that his lordship is Siovalese? I am only learning to keep track of the d'Angeline provinces, and indeed, the characteristics that their natives claim. My mother was Kushelite — that's what drew me to Terre d'Ange as it happens. That, and the famous healers of Marsilikos." The foreigner gestures vaguely to Cyrille in a fashion that one might — might — perceive as a tad presumptuous if one wished to look for a reason to be offended; lords order people, not the other way around. "Join us? If we are getting acquainted it seems a bit silly to talk loudly enough that we might find ourselves disturbing the musicians. I rather enjoy Ephesian music."

Azalaïs raises no objection to Andrei’s doing the honours of what was, mere moments ago, her very own table— indeed she gathers her glass of water and her copper cup of cooling kahve nearer to her own side of it, to make way for Cyrille if it pleases him to accept, and for the similar coffee service being delivered even now by another of the perfumed boys, for Andrei’s benefit. When the boy sets down a different colourful pottery dish of Ephesian delight, next to Andrei’s cup, his hand moves to hover above Azalaïs’s empty red and green and golden one: she nods, and murmurs, “Yes, you may take it.” And that relinquishment too guards the three of them against overcrowding, as they settle together about the L’Envers lady’s table.

“I heard a little Ephesian music at gatherings in Elua these last years, when the embassy was there— the sound of it is familiar in one moment, and then so strange the next… Coming here to hear it again was one of the pleasures of my last visit to Marsilikos,” she confides to the two men, “and of this visit too… Have you been long in Terre d’Ange, my lord?” she inquires of Andrei, a more diplomatic question than: so, what’s wrong with your health, then?

While the pair of guards might have taken offense to the gesture Andrei makes towards Cyrille, the Lord himself doesn't seem to. Rather, he has a more… Reserved approach to most things. So as Andrei gestures towards him, he slowly begins to gather his things and start to rise. With coffee in one hand, and his book in the other, he carefully moves the few steps it takes to place his coffee down on the table first, and then his book. "Yes, I rather dislike speaking loudly." He murmurs softly, and even with the close proximity his voice may be low enough to be hard to hear, considering the music in the background.

Settling into his seat, he peeks back at Andrei, giving him a soft smile and a nod of his head. "That's correct. You seemed to have an interest in the scholarly pursuits of Terre d'Ange?" Though as Azalaïs speaks up, his attention shifts towards her, his coffee lifting to his lips for a light sip. It's likely no longer steaming by this point, having been neglected for a bit.

"I sustained an injury to the lungs while fighting on our northern border," Anghelescu murmurs and in doing so, perhaps gives away why he tends to speak softly. "My own physician gives me weeks — though in fairness, he has done so now for three years. I decided that if I was going to keel over soon anyhow, I might as well reach for a medical miracle and get to see my mother's homeland on my way out."

He nods slightly at Cyrille. "I liked to think myself a scholar. I am told that the universities of Terre d'Ange shames ours though, so perhaps — a persistent amateur might be a more appropriate term."

Though Azalaïs has never met anyone before who came from the Chowat, men who are self-confessedly on their way to some quite other world are much within her recent experience. Her clear alto voice (coloured, did the men but know it, by the murmurous and beguiling inflections of Mont Nuit) softens further to match the others as she ventures, “Lord Anghelescu, I’m sorry it took such a dark purpose to bring you to our shores— but if anyone can aid you, you’ll surely find them here, at our Temple of Eisheth,” she says earnestly. “Sometimes it pleases our angel to work true miracles through her servants and her scions. Only last year there was a man whose sight was restored by a priestess of Eisheth… He had been blind since boyhood, but she put her hands upon him and he could see. I’ll pray for you,” she suggests, smiling a little sadly, “pray that you’ve been drawn here to find a miracle of your own.”

The story is received well enough, Cyrille proving to be a quiet, attentive listener while Andrei speaks. Aside from the occasional sip of his coffee, of course. Then there is Azalaïs' piece she adds, and his lips curl into a pleased smile, peeking back towards Andrei. "There is a reason you yet live. Whether it is from an error on the part of your past physician, or if the angels have some purpose for you remains yet to be seen. As for your scholarly pursuits, I would argue that anyone attempting to learn and grow and study more is a scholar regardless of their skill level." He mentions, taking another sip from his coffee. "It isn't knowledge that marks a scholar, but a drive to learn more. Someone with a wealth of knowledge but no interest in learning more doesn't fit the title very well." A pause, and he blushes a touch, peeking back into his coffee. "At least, that is my observances. I do not mean to lecture."

Anghelescu glances at the (totally not but he thinks so) younger lady and shakes his head lightly. "I am certainly not a d'Angeline lord, my lady. But I have met the young fellow of whom you speak — he seems a very lonely sort, who's lead very bitter life. Talked about dead horses and parents who rejected him." He taps a gloved finger against his lips and nods. "We all carry our scars, I suppose. The lady Niobe has been most helpful to me in her capacity as a healer, though I would not label her treatments pleasant. They largely involve physical exercises that are quite painful, and herbal concoctions that taste like they must be very medicinal, indeed."

“How kind you are in giving us the benefit of the doubt,” Azalaïs murmurs wryly to Cyrille, “though it’s true, isn’t it, that even the most learned and accomplished scholars still have a way to go, and always will…” Then, looking again to Andrei, she tilts her head. Waves of red hair tickle at her cheek and this time, instead of hiding, she brushes her hair away behind her ear. “I don’t know of a Lady Niobe,” she admits, mistaking the other woman’s status entirely, “but I’m glad you’re finding help with your ailment… Still, I’ll pray for you,” she maintains.

On which note, an interjection from another Ephesian, this one larger and older and more richly clad than the boys who carry the trays. He has brought with him from the far east a tremendous coal-black moustache such as Terre d’Ange has seldom, if ever, seen— and a sonorous bass voice which rolls out across the table even as he bows low to Azalaïs.

“Your Excellency, a thousand pardons,” he apologises, straightening again and spreading his hands in a helpless gesture that invites Azalaïs’s understanding and forgiveness, “I was not notified that you honour us with your presence today. Your usual private chamber has been prepared above, for you and your party, with the compliments of the house.” He’s clearly under the impression that the men seated with her must be her invited guests this morning, rather than a pair of opportunistic strangers who just fancied the look of her table.

The lady’s chin lifts just a fraction. “No, no,” she insists, gently but without a trace of shyness or uncertainty; “it’s quite all right. I’ve passed a very pleasant hour listening to the music here,” her hand lifts from the pillow in her lap to make a discreet gesture to the stage, “which is what I wished — I wouldn’t put you to any trouble when I ought anyway to be leaving soon.”

If the foreigner notes the elevated title of the lady he does not let it show on his face; probably for the best, considering that a number of people in this xenophobic city might not at all find it appropriate for some lowly foreign merchant to breathe same air as a Marquise — and they probably would have few reservations in telling him so, either. He stands when the lady does and offers the bow one of the merchant class would to someone of a higher birth. "Perhaps we may meet again some day, my lady. I have a fondness for music and good conversation, and as the young lord noted, for academical pursuits."

Azalaïs puts down her cushion and smooths her leaves about herself.

Then she rises to a chorus of masculine pleasantries, Andrei’s self-advertisement and Cyrille’s polite farewell being swiftly succeeded by the Ephesian’s hope that music and kahve alike have been to her entire satisfaction this morning, and then condolences upon her great loss, offered on behalf of La Perle Noire and its proprietress, who was reportedly saddened to hear of it. She answers his next low scrape of an obeisance with an inclination of her own flame-red head — she murmurs the right words in the right order, confiding her pleasure and her thanks with courtly grace — yet as she takes leave of her unexpected companions, one might be forgiven for conjecturing that it’s their very courtesies which speed her on her way.

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