(1312-03-14) A Heathen in the Garden
Summary: That foreign nuisance Andrei Anghelescu makes up his mind — or has it made up for him? — to approach the Lis d’Or with an unusual request…
RL Date: 14/03/2020 - 15/03/2020
Related: Other scenes with Andrei and Niobe; also, Hardly Scholars.
andrei niobe emilie 

Patron Room — Le Coquelicot

The silent-hinged door to La Coquelicot's Patron Room opens to the swell of a wide black column around which the room is built; it steers a soul, entering, to veer left, to a short wall graced with a beautiful round window of stained glass depicting Naamah, hands outstretched, glowing with the power of healing. Below the window is a small altar, and just beyond, in the corner, is a small, cozy table set for tea, with a chair on either side, lush in draped fabrics, easy enough for one to be seated, but perhaps just large enough for two, in a pinch.

Velvet curtains of red mirror the red veins in the great marble column dividing the room, coaxing a visitor to follow the narrowing path to the other side of the column, where the room curls in on itself like the sworl of a seashell into the innermost sanctuary, where a bed has been fashioned exquisite to fit in the secluded, peaceful nook lit only with a lamp of clarion amber hanging overhead, letting serene light shift over the blankets of grey and of crimson, of silk and velvet and fur which line the ample comfort of the bedding.

It's torture. Oh, sure, she calls it massage. She claims to be a healer. Andrei Anghelescu has no doubts whatsoever that Niobe is in fact an avenging angel, out to make him suffer for some more or less imagined outrage committed by a distant ancestor, and she's -good- at it.

The Carpathian buttons up his shirt after her most recent round of violent abuse, still wincing. And then says, "There is… One other issue I need to ask somebody about. You might be a convenient somebody, since it concerns ladies of your profession."

"Ringing praise," Niobe notes with wry amusement as she goes to wash her hands in the small basin. For twenty seconds. While singing happy birthday twice. None of that Skaldivirus here, thank you. "I don't think I've ever been told before that I'm convenient. Are you looking to spend the night after all?"

Anghelescu reaches for his cravat. "No. Actually, I'm somewhat considering the opposite. Paying somebody to cling to my arm every now and then, pretend that I do. Too many people in this city care too much about who sleeps with who. I don't have time for that kind of pointless drama, and hiring someone to look pretty and make the occasional flirtatious comment in my direction might spare me a lot of wasted breath."

Niobe glances back over her shoulder, one brow raised. "I should definitely be offended, then. To come to a servant of Naamah and to be put off sleeping with her?" She dries her hands off, turns, and leans back against the basin to watch him. "Is this for a particular function you're going to, or just to stop everyone asking questions?"

"What happened to love as thou wilt, where wilt means I don't want to?" Anghelescu quirks an eyebrow while tying his cravat knot. "But yes, that's essentially the idea. My life is too bloody short to get eyed up by every bored individual wondering what my taste in bed antics runs to."

Niobe considers for a moment, pushing herself away from the basin so she can go over and lend a hand with the man's necktie. It's just irritating to watch somebody doing it wrong (or at least in so foreign a style). "Much as I'd love to take your money, I'm sure interest in you will die down over time. Those people who wanted a sniff have had a sniff, and if you've told them you're not interested they'll move on to somebody else. Without meaning to be rude, Anghelescu, there are richer targets for them to hone in on than a foreign merchant, even if you do insist you're going to die soon."

"Myes. That's part of the problem. I'm not a merchant. Or rather, I am, but I do hold a title on the side, and some of them are beginning to take notice." The Carpathian sighs at the realisation that at least today, he's going to wear a cravat knot that follows Marsilikan fashion whether he likes it or not. "I would make you the offer but I get the impression that you are otherwise engaged with the young Rocaille, aye?"

Niobe laughs aloud to that, a broad, impish grin on her face. "Well, the moment the title gets out, you'll have them flocking to you. A title, decent looks, money, and on your deathbed? I'm tempted to propose to you myself. Pin?" she asks, holding out a hand. "The Rocaille? Well, I don't mind parting a young man from his money and showing him Naamah's comfort, but I'm not about to accept an exclusive offer any time soon. Look, I'll be honest with you, I could very easily take your offer and hang on your arm, but if you want to sell it properly you want one of our neighbours from the Lis d'Or. Nobody goes out and about showing off a Coquelicot. It's not what we do. Get your boots on and I'll take you through and we can talk to somebody over there about it instead. You can just keep paying me to crack your back and ease your breathing. That is what we do."

Anghelescu sighs. "That's exactly what I was afraid you'd say, and why I ask your advice. I have every intention of keeping you as my personal healer, Niobe. What you do, you do well." He puts in the pin himself — not infirm, damnit! — and pulls on his boots indeed before standing. "Very well. I suppose it is time for me to walk into one of these places actually looking for the … usual business. At least I have confidence you'll introduce me to somebody with a smidgen of political ability."

"Just bear in mind that what you're asking for is… unusual," Niobe warns, grabbing her rust red silk scarf from the back of the door and looping it around her neck. "Some of my fellow courtesans will certainly take offence that you refuse to partake in Naamah's gifts, so tread lightly." With that, she offers her arm (despite having just said they're not there to be arm candy) and leads him back out of the salon, to the courtyard, and over to the much more elegant and less cosy looking building next door.

"I do wonder what happened to love as thou wilt," Anghelescu remarks, again, under his breath, as he is dragged along.

Second’s Office — Le Lis d’Or

White boiseries, discreetly gilded with a pattern of lilies in which a sharp eye might discern the occasional camellia or dahlia, cereus or eglantine, panel the walls of this airy and well-proportioned chamber in which the business of the Lis d'Or is carried out in an atmosphere of impeccable elegance.

Long gilt looking-glasses mirror the positions of long windows framed by lavender silk drapes: each revealed and reflected prospect upon the salon's gardens seems more ideal than the last. Dainty mahogany or gilt furnishings are arranged in perfect harmony about a porphyry hearth, the tables topped with alabaster and the chairs and sofas upholstered some in white silk and others in lavender and white stripes. Flower-woven Akkadian carpets soften footsteps and lend the warmth of their own rich hues. Gentle light comes when needed from curvaceous glass oil lamps upheld by bronze-doré figures of beautiful nude youths of various sexes, for which some of the salon's earliest adepts are said to have posed.

In the corner farthest from the double doors leading out toward the salon proper stands a desk, in an unavoidable nod towards the chamber's more official purposes. The top of it is never cluttered, but laid out with fine parchment and a tray of pristine white quills, and a statuette of a golden lily from which one may draw violet ink like nectar. Above it shelves set in an arched recess hold ledgers leatherbound in soft shades of blue and lavender and yellow and rose.

Even in the depths of winter fresh hothouse flowers bloom in a rotating array of priceless vases and bowls, scenting the air just sweetly enough.

The Lis d’Or novice Niobe flags down for the purpose deposits the visiting Coquelicot and her companion in a very pretty little salon whose pretensions to officehood begin and end with the dainty gilded desk tucked into one corner; and then he runs to fetch the Second.

During the brief interlude in which they’re left alone, a nosy person — but surely there are no nosy people here? — might gather that the work in progress upon that elegant article of furniture from the workshop of Marsilikos’s master marquetière, has little to do with the business of the salon. Resting in pride of place upon a lacquered bookstand is an enormous and expensively-bound mathematical treatise, open about a fifth of the way through and displaying two pages of dense Tiberian text illustrated by abstruse diagrams. Several smaller volumes lie open about it, one a Tiberian grammar and another a journal of blank pages which an unmistakably feminine writer is in the process of filling with violet-inked notes exquisitely inscribed but nonsensical to anyone but herself. The glass of red wine standing amongst the bookish impedimenta, half-full, testifies to the would-be scholar’s intent to return… And so she does, the quicker for having been so summoned, spreading open her office doors with both hands and standing for an instant poised, framed, upon her threshold.

Émilie Perigeux nó Lis d’Or is a Camellia to her flower-petal fingertips: we need say no more.

“Mademoiselle Niobe… what a pleasure,” she exclaims softly, in the mellifluous and aristocratic accents of Mont Nuit. Her warm brown gaze rests upon her fellow courtesan’s face before moving to Andrei’s in turn; along the way it gathers up a yet more luminous smile as a traveling companion. She turns (of course the composition of her appearance has been considered from every angle, and polished to her own ideal) and draws the doors soundlessly shut behind herself for their privacy. Bell-shaped blue silken skirts sway gently about her as she comes forward. “Will you both take a glass of wine with me?” she suggests, looking again between her two visitors and raising her perfectly plucked and painted eyebrows in question.

Some men's attention might focus on the people who occupy a room such as this; Anghelescu's gaze wanders over the open books and texts and he pauses briefly to readjust at least some of his preconceptions. These are not beginners' works; these are not the sort of cheap reproductions he would expect to lie around some cathouse with pretensions of literacy, either. Whoever owns this room can actually read, and furthermore, they can very likely dissect him on all matters Tiberian because his own interest in Tiberium pretty much boils down to baths, aqueducts, and public sanitation.

It's possible he could hold his ground on some of those subjects. It's possible he will at some point find out.

At the moment he lets Niobe — Mademoiselle Niobe, not Lady Niobe, duly noted — take the lead, assuming an air of mild puzzlement that is only part affectation. He knows what he expected. This is not it.

It's not that Niobe doesn't have a little flair of her own. One doesn't become a courtesan of any canon without the looks to back it up, but she pales rather in comparison to the perfection of the Camellia. Stood close enough, she looks… not tacky exactly, but certainly not in the same class. Still, she has confidence enough to stand straight and give her fellow courtesan a bright smile. "Mademoiselle Second," she responds rather formally, then the smile widens and she relaxes. Formal doesn't suit her. "I wouldn't turn one down, and I'm sure Anghelescu here wouldn't either. How are you? Up for a little business talk?"

<FS3> Émilie rolls Perception: Amazing Success. (7 4 5 7 2 4 7 8 8 1 3 2 5 7 7)

The eyebrows lift another fraction of an inch and then return to their usual station, as Émilie smooths the subtly-painted oval of her face into a more neutral expression.

“You intrigue me,” she admits to Niobe; then, addressing Andrei: “Do sit down, my lord Anghelescu,” she suggests, replicating the syllables of his odd foreign name perfectly on her very first try. She has an acute ear; and it’s one of the fundamentals of the profession, isn’t it, to make the patrons feel they have one’s full and sincere attention—? “Red or white?” she inquires then, gliding across to her drinks cabinet. “We have rather a fine and fruity Cote du Rhône this week — a gift of a dozen cases,” she explains, “from a patron…” Impossibly delicate lace cuffs fall back over the fitted sleeves of her dark blue mantua, baring the slenderness of her white wrists, as she opens the cabinet and reaches first for two fresh glasses.

The Carpathian inclines his head slightly, perhaps a little surprised and pleased after having listened to certain other people's attempts to pronounce his name; some of those attempts were — not quite close. "It is a pleasure. I have not previously visited this salon. It is certainly — educational." He studies the woman in front of him with the kind of gaze that someone in her profession might associate not so much with having her measurements taken as her posture and intellect evaluated. This man fancies himself intelligent, that much is evident.

Niobe moves automatically over to help with the wine, only stepping back when she notices that she's doing it and giving a little laugh at herself. "Lord Anghelescu finds himself subject to a certain amount of scrutiny," she explains, glancing back at Andrei to make sure she's got the right end of the stick. "And he was looking to divert any further unnecessary prying into his own particular preferences by boasting a courtesan on his arm. And while I'm very good at what I do, it's hardly my forte to dazzle and glide around parties."

Émilie’s posture is faultless; what intellect may be tucked away behind those wide and warm brown eyes, is her own business. Seeming unconscious of the Carpathian’s scrutiny — perhaps she’s just used to it? — she moves unhurriedly and with an easy grace, pouring wine from a decanter in which it has been placidly breathing and conveying to each of her visitors a generous glass, Andrei first. Heavy cut-crystal, engraved with the emblem of the Lis d’Or. The Cote du Rhône, neither of them having expressed a contrary preference. The terroir of it is complex and smooth; it’s as fine a vintage as might be had in Terre d’Ange, and so as fine as might be had in the civilised world. Her glide toward her desk to collect her own glass, and then back to join them, has the quality almost of the steps in a courtly dance.

Her skirts sigh softly about her as she perches at the edge of a chair upholstered in striped lavender and white silk, chosen to allow her to glance comfortably from Niobe — still speaking — to Andrei — the cynosure of her attention. “… Yes, if one shows people something they think they understand, they seldom pry into what might lie behind it, do they?” she remarks sympathetically to him, and takes a sip of her wine. “Perhaps we can indeed accommodate your needs at the Lis d’Or, my lord. Might I inquire into the occasions upon which you may wish the companionship of one of our courtesans? And the impression you wish to create? Any one of our adepts would provide an elegant and desirable distraction from your own affairs,” she suggests, “but each of the canons beneath our roof offers… different subtleties.”

Anghelescu accepts the glass with a small smile. "I believe that my main intent of purpose is to convince certain people that I am not a man of interest. I do not wish to be propositioned. I do not wish to receive suggestions, or inquiries as to my tastes of pleasure. What I do desire is peace and quiet — my health is poor, and my time here is not to be wasted on playing bedroom chess. I will not actually be requiring the lady to occupy my bedroom — only to give the pretence of doing so."

"I have tried to convince him of the merits of a good night's sleep with a caring woman at his side," Niobe notes with a half amused smile, throwing up both hands in a 'what can you do' gesture before picking up her own wine. This she swirls, leans in for a good sniff, then finally deigns to taste. "But alas, he only wants me for my oils."

Gathering, as she’s intended to do, that Andrei is already a patron of the Coquelicot and of Niobe herself — and my, how that simplifies one’s initial delicate inquiries as to finances — Émilie nods slowly as she turns this uncommon proposal over and over and around and about in her agile, angel-blessed mind. “Then what would you require of such a companion, my lord?” she asks of Andrei with gentle frankness. “A guaranteed number of public appearances together in each month, perhaps, and her absolute discretion? … I imagine,” a gracious nod to Niobe, “Mademoiselle Niobe has brought you to me because you desire to take a certain place in the social life of the city and the ducal court? It is true that in Marsilikos a lily may enter chambers that are often barred to a poppy, a wisteria blossom, or a wild rose.”

"I'd prefer to take no place whatsoever in the social life and the ducal court but I am warned by several that I may not be able to roam unnoticed much longer," Anghelescu replies with a hint of wryness and sips his wine. "I will not require an exclusive contract unless that is what the lady in question prefers. I will require the lady to accompany me when I find myself unable to weasel out of such duties. I will pay the occasional visit for the sake of appearances. And I will require her to — maintain the illusion that I am a quite ordinary man of quite ordinary tastes. I do not want attention. That is the baseline."

Niobe takes no part in these negotiations. She has done her part in directing Andrei here, and realistically she might as well leave now, but the wine is good. Very good. It would be a crying shame not to take advantage of it, and so as the pair of them talk details she holds her glass up to the light, examining the colour and the way the wine sticks to the sides. And, if we're honest, considering meal pairings to go with it, should she be able to convince whichever patron it is who delivered it to deliver a similar case next door.

The firelight sheds a warm glow upon Émilie's bosom and her throat as she leans forward to set down her glass, already almost empty; and the golden lily pendant she wears suspended from a narrow black velvet choker glints evocatively against her creamy skin. She straightens and her arm comes to rest upon that of her chair, elegantly draped, her other hand lying idle in her blue silken lap— she seems positively arrested by something Andrei has said, and she attends to his careful, accented words as if their savour quite exceeded that of her wine.

By the time he draws his baseline she's smiling reminiscently.

"In Elua I kept company for a time with one whose relation with me was intended to cloak a different, less politically advisable liaison," she confides. "We came to enjoy our outings together and the game we were playing… Such arrangements are unusual, Lord Anghelescu, but not unknown to the Night Court. We servants of Naamah pledge to meet what needs our patrons bring to us — and as you know already from your assignations with Mademoiselle Niobe,” another nod, “those needs may vary greatly from one patron to the next, and may extend beyond the bedchamber or remain entirely outside it. No relation between patron and courtesan is entirely like another, after all. Each is a unique synthesis born of a unique meeting in Naamah’s name.” She smiles gently. “If you should trust the Lis d’Or with your own particular need, my lord, we should seek to provide you with a companion suited to lifting your social burdens, and turning a convenient pretense into one of the pleasures of your sojourn in Marsilikos. Such friendships, such services, are sacred too to our Bright Lady.”

"You are telling me what I was hoping to hear." Is that a small smile of relief flickering across the pale man's face? He turns the wine glass in his hands with a thoughtful look, weighing his words. "I have been made aware that I am turning my back on your faith after a fashion. I mean no disrespect. I have my reasons to keep my heart to myself and my bed empty. You might find them blasphemous or silly, but then I give you my permission to consider me a heathen, and a silly one at that. I will not ask anything unusual or disreputable — I am not possessed of some cruel vice that I wish to cover for. I simply want to be — not worthy of attention, whether from the marriage hungry, the curious, or the intrigant. Do you think you might be able to help me out in this fashion, Mademoiselle, or am I wasting your time?"

Oh, my, a veteran courtesan telling a potential patron of her salon what he’s hoping to hear? How astonishing, how outré, how entirely without precedent. Ahem.

Émilie regards Andrei with one of her finest serene smiles — she practices them at her looking-glass — and seeks to provide him also with the desired theological reassurance. “On the contrary, my lord, it is an article of our faith that provided one does no harm to others, one ought to follow the dictates of one’s own heart. It seems to me, though I concede I know little yet of your case,” she disclaims, “that that is your plan… and I know Mademoiselle Niobe would not have brought you to us, if she lacked confidence in your character or your intentions,” she says seriously. “I do think we can accommodate you, my lord, if you will give me a degree of guidance as to the nature and the appearance of the companion you wish. It will be a simpler matter for you to counterfeit an attachment which at present excludes the possibility of others,” she points out, “if there is a fondness, an affinity between the two of you.”

Anghelescu taps a finger against his lower lip, thinking for a moment before he replies. "I care little about appearances. Women of my country are often tall and fair, and I might as easily be seen as seeking the familiar as I might the exotic; it makes no difference to me. But as I must spend a night in her company every so often I would not mind finding my companion possessed of at least some interest in matters political and economical. I am not looking for a confidant, but learning about your culture and ways is a never-ending study, I suspect."

With a small, lopsided smile he adds, "An interest in a board game or a discussion about a recent novel is a bonus, but what I value the most is discretion and understanding. I am not looking to fall in love. I am not looking to be won over in spite of myself. I have attempted to make this arrangement before, and I find that inevitably, when a woman agrees to such a state of affairs, she secretly expects for me to change my stance. Perhaps my ideal companion is someone who is already in love, with somebody else."

“… I should hope,” Émilie murmurs wryly, “that any one of our adepts would remain professional under such circumstances as we are discussing. But I can certainly make discreet inquiries as to which of our girls might at present have engaged her affections elsewhere, and be all the less susceptible to unreasonable and unwelcome hopes.” She sits forward again to reclaim her glass and wet her throat after so much measured and courteous talk — she sips — she inquires, “As it is your first visit to the Lis d’Or, may I ask whether you are acquainted with the different canons of our salon, my lord? Is there one you find more sympathetic?”

"I am not. I am aware that you label yourselves for flowers, and that the meaning of these flowers describe your nature, but I am not familiar with the code." Anghelescu's little smile turns equally wry. "My knowledge is limited to Mademoiselle Niobe's offering to restore health by whatever means necessary — and to some gentleman calling himself a thorn and speaking to some extent about finding pleasure in inflicting pain in his patrons. Although he did refer to them as pets."

“Ah, a Mandrake,” supplies Émilie; “a Thorn, as they are known in Marsilikos. Of course if you did possess some cruel vice, Lord Anghelescu,” she teases gently, recalling his earlier words, “I’m sure our neighbours at the Rose Sauvage could arrange to gratify it. But our garden at the Lis d’Or grows gentler flowers. Here you’ll find united the four canons of Camellia, Dahlia, Eglantine, and Cereus — the nature of such a combined salon is that each adept may study to embody just one of our canons, or to compose her own bouquet of several.”

She clasps her hands in her lap and changes tack. “Perhaps you know the legend of our Blessed Elua’s captivity in Persis, and the angel Naamah descending from Heaven and lying down with the King of Persis to ransom him with her body—?” And if he didn’t, he does now, having had the fundamental point fed to him in few and flattering words — phrased as a reminder of knowledge, not of ignorance — at the commencement of a lecture as smooth and as polished as he must be coming to expect of all that Émilie Perigeux might do.

“Each of the thirteen canons of the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers tells the tale of their coupling with a different emphasis,” she goes on. “As a Balm might tell you that Naamah lay with the king in compassion, to heal the wounds of his soul, a Mandrake might counter that she whipped him into a frenzy of violent pleasure that left him exhausted and half-dead.” After which helpful clarification she lingers rather more upon the flowers she has already named as blooming under her supervision— three, at least, of those four. “The Dahlias, whose canon is Dignity, say that Naamah came to the king as his equal and he recognised her as such; the Eglantines, whose canon is Creativity, say that she beguiled him with sweet music. We Camellias hold to the canon of Perfection,” she says simply, placing herself for him last amongst this landscape of nocturnal blossoms, “and our tradition is that when Naamah unveiled herself before the king, the sight of her flawless beauty blinded him for a fortnight.

“Though perfection is a nebulous concept,” and her smile grows wry again, “and some patrons discern its flowering in another canon entirely— as perhaps you, Lord Anghelescu, will find amongst our garden the perfect answer to your present need.”

The Carpathian listens carefully and intently in the fashion of someone who perhaps prides himself a little in picking out at least the important pieces on the first telling; a man who understands the importance of nuance. It is only when the courtesan is done elaborating on the flora of the nocturnal gardens that he admits, "I have not heard this story before. The tales of the d'Angeline canon are not told in my country. Pray tell, would it be rude of me to leave the choice of canon in your no doubt very capable hands, Mademoiselle? I am finding this all to be — a quite new experience. The d'Angeline customs are often very, radically different from ours."

Another serene smile from Émilie. “Then why don’t you leave it with me, my lord—?” she suggests confidingly. “If you return in a day or two to complete the arrangements, I’m sure I’ll have a suitable adept waiting to make your acquaintance… A letter of credit from your banker in Marsilikos will suffice for us, as for the Coquelicot,” she assures him. Such d’Angeline banking houses are accustomed to paying off the Night Court in their clients’ names.

"Money is not the issue." Anghelescu makes that statement in a quiet, matter-of-factly tone — not the tone of a man who boasts his wealth but much in the fashion of someone who states that the sky is blue, or that gravity does in fact work. "I will make the necessary arrangements. Perhaps you might send word to my lodgings at the Leaping Fish when it is convenient for us to meet again? I am looking into finding something more suitable, but everything in its time. Foreign merchants do not live in palazzos."

Émilie’s head inclines gracefully toward Andrei, like the head of a flower.

“Of course, my lord,” she murmurs. Her warm brown gaze draws him with her as she rises— and then by means of a glance to Niobe she gathers up her other visitor, too, and ushers them from her office with a few last faultless, fragrant, soft-voiced hopes for the future.

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