(1312-03-16) Night Court Customs 101
Summary: With your hostess Émilie Perigeux nó Lis d’Or.
RL Date: 15/03/2020 - 16/03/2020
Related: A Heathen in the Garden.
andrei emilie 

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 letter arrives bearing the seal of the House of Mercury, a well-respected consortium of bankers who maintain branches in Elua and Marsilikos and stretching eastward round the middle sea. It confides to the Salon de Lis d’Or (and the Second doing business on its behalf) all due reassurances regarding the staggering wealth and unimpeachable credit of the Anghelescu family and its head, Count Podgrabczyna, who is indeed (they vouch for it, absolutely) paying a long visit to Terre d’Ange in general and Marsilikos in particular. Enclosed is a bill of exchange which would take a patron a long way in any house of the Night Court.

The bill of course is put away for safekeeping. The letter lies open on one corner of the Camellia Second’s desk as the hour approaches which she has named in a letter of her own, to Andrei Anghelescu in his (it is understood) temporary lodgings at the Leaping Fish.

The flowers are different; the lighting comes more gently and from other directions, oil lamps standing in for a sun which still lowers early in this season; the woman is the same. Émilie sits close to the fire with a lamp just behind her shoulder and a tambour frame in her lap. As she calls, “Come in,” and the novice who has escorted Andrei to her door pushes it open and bows the visitor inside, she draws a length of delicate violet silk through the expanse of white linen stretched taut across the frame and then tucks her glinting silver needle through the cloth for safekeeping. Her gaze rises to Andrei’s approaching figure and she lets her smile deepen as she looks him over; and then she sets down her work and rises likewise.

Today her hourglass figure is swathed in spotless cream-coloured silk, her gown long-sleeved but sitting so far off her pale sloping shoulders and so low upon her pleasingly rounded bosom that it’s a wonder it doesn’t slide right to the floor whenever she moves. She can hardly be relying upon that glittering diamond camellia pinned between her breasts to secure it, after all, though other diamonds threaded through her earlobes perform exquisitely their duty of anchoring milky-white pearl drops that sway with the turn of her head. Pearl-tipped pins gleam softly against dark strawberry-blonde hair that has only grown more elaborate and shapely in its arrangement since last Andrei set eyes upon her. She seems also, as she steps nearer and enfolds him in her faintly musky, flowery scent, to have grown two further inches in height, which with the hair as well makes her the rare lady he can’t look over the top of— “My lord comte,” she says pleasantly, offering him a slight and regal curtsey and then a bare silken hand with rose-petal nails, “what a delight it is to welcome you again to the Lis d’Or.”

Said Count Podgrabczyna, Lord Anghelescu, etcetera, still doesn't dress the part. He prefers shades of dark slate and midnight blue under that long, black coat trimmed in silver, and while impeccable, he still leaves most with that impression of being a not too flashy member of the merchant class — a deception that might not work quite so well on a courtesan trained to evaluate and determine exactly who and what she is dealing with, but it certainly keeps a great deal of Marsilikos' higher crust from even noticing him. He is, after all, not Somebody. Which is very likely the man's very intention, considering that he has yet to announce his presence in the city to anyone but a jaded invalid, his healer, and now, the courtesan whose help he has sought in pursuing that very same illusion.

He inclines his head politely at the Camellia Second, perhaps just a little deeper than etiquette actually requires; a token of respect, perhaps, or possibly a mockery — who can tell with a stranger? "And you, Mademoiselle. You do appear quite ready to conquer the world, or at least all the hearts in it. I shall try to not keep you from your evening plans for too long. Somewhere in this city, a gentleman is going to get a lovely surprise."

Ah, but the presence of a known Lis d’Or courtesan ornamenting his arm will, in and of itself, raise Andrei’s head above the parapet of Marsilikos society— even if the girl chosen for him is not yet so senior in her profession that she might match the Second’s regal grace, her polished speech, her excellent jewels, all much in evidence as Émilie’s fingertips curl softly, fleetingly into Andrei’s hand. She is the first to break away. “… Oh, what a kind compliment,” she observes, her smile lingering upon his face as her hand in withdrawing from his turns palm-up in a fluid gesture which invites him to his choice of her silk-upholstered sofas. “But there is no particular patron awaiting me this evening, my lord. I’m dining at the palace,” she explains simply, “and I dressed a little early just so that you and I need not hurry our talk… Will you take a glass of wine with me?” she suggests. “The same, perhaps, or something new?”

"As it pleases you, Mademoiselle. Were we to speak of Chowati wines I should make a few suggestions. As we are abroad — from my point of view — I find myself more eager to see what others will suggest to me, than I am to demonstrate my knowledge, or lack of it, to them." The Carpathian allows the courtesan to direct him to her seating arrangements, shrugging out of his coat lest he find himself chilled once departed, and folds it over one arm with a casualness that belies his supposedly elevated rank; one could get the impression that this man is military first and gentry second. When he deigns to lay aside his merchant persona, in any case.

"I assume that my banker's letter meets with your approval? The celebrations of spring are still a month off but I imagine that I might find it helpful to have had at least a few conversations previous with whatever young lady you have decided might end up adorning my sleeve." He pauses a moment before adding, "Also, I do need to ask for some clarification on the whole matter of who can be seen, indeed with whom. I have been offered contrasting information a few times. Am I correct in assuming that courtesans are allowed to offer some services to foreigners, but that some, also, are restricted? I will need to know about the latter, so that I do not accidentally give off the impression of breaking law and custom."

As her visitor turns to sit down Émilie’s full silken skirts swish behind him. She’s reaching to help him out of his coat— but he’s done it himself before she can get there, and the gilded mirrors placed about the chamber reflect, too late, the sight of her long white arms lifting and her fingers almost, but not quite, brushing the dark cloth of his garment as it lowers. She hesitates, her weight forward on one foot. Then with a heavenward roll of her eyes (the first crack he has yet glimpsed in her mask of perfection) she vanishes from one looking-glass and reappears in another, beside the drinks cabinet, her back toward him now and delicate pink camellias blossoming downward from her nape to the low line of her pale silk gown.

“Yes, my lord, the documents are in order,” she confirms; “and the Lis d’Or is pleased to consider you a patron of our salon. We might make an introduction today if you wish it.”

Swish, swish. A wealth of fine fabric billows gently about her as she returns to Andrei’s side bearing a cut-crystal glass of white wine, the twin of the one which kept her company as she sat demurely stitching lavender, waiting for him. She places his glass on an occasional table at his elbow and herself upon a fauteuil at the other side of it, from which she can lean casually forward to reclaim her own glass and make a party of it. His concerns about the legality of the arrangement bring her perfectly-plucked eyebrows arching upward; playing for time while she decides how to answer a question she hasn’t had before, she lifts her glass too and proposes: “To new friendships, my lord, and to Naamah’s blessings in all their rich variety…”

Clink, clink. And Émilie drinks a deep mouthful of sweet Siovalese sauternes and ventures, “I might wonder where you heard such talk, my lord— but the truth is that those who visit the Night Court rarely, or not at all, are often mistaken about our customs. Talk goes round and round with very little foundation beneath it.” She smiles benevolently across at him; she’s a big enough woman to forgive such chattering fools, or at least she’d like to appear so. “It is not uncommon for the Lis d’Or to host foreign dignitaries who wish to experience the pleasures of such an ancient and revered d’Angeline institution — and, my lord, I assure you,” the fingertips of her empty hand curl inward against her corseted bodice, just to the left of her diamond camellia, as she makes him this solemn and quiet pledge, “we do not divide our patrons so, into a first class and a second.” Their finances rank them very nicely already, thank you very much. “We do not offer you such a half-hearted welcome into our house,” she promises.

"When I asked I was admittedly not a foreign dignitary, merely some Chowati mercenary." Anghelescu decides against commenting on his evident faux-pas in not letting the lady take his coat; customs differ from nation to nation and indeed, from man to man. He tastes the wine and nods his approval of it. "Merely a foreigner. The people of Marsilikos seem very divided on the subject of such; some warn me that I am filth and should act as if I know it, while others treat me as an honoured guest. Yours is a society that seems undecided on many issues."

He hitches a shoulder, dismissing the subject of d'Angeline xenophobia for the moment. "Now, pray tell, what obligations will be placed upon me? I rather imagine that there are rules and courtesies that patrons are expected to observe."

Émilie tilts her head, considering. “I think no society is a monolith, my lord — there will always be some people who think one way and some another, according to their fears, and where they may judge their own benefit to lie,” she suggests. “And so too there will always be some in whom the natural pride one takes in one’s own homeland and its ways, becomes corrupted into a single-minded hubris, and some,” she lowers her chin and her eyes gleam with amusement, “whose parents just didn’t teach them the manners of the angels.” Another quick lift of her glass to her visitor; she sips, and conspires with him to change the subject.

“Much of what a new patron would wish to know,” she explains, “is contained in the salon’s standard contract, which is intended to make clear the reciprocal obligations of both parties and of the salon itself. We sometimes include special provisions— the use of a particular patron room upstairs, or a particular act the patron desires to enjoy, or a particular garment he would have his adept wear to suit his taste… you understand,” she murmurs wryly.

“Your particular requirements, my lord, I have not noted.” A slight bow of her head. “There will be no written record suggesting that your assignations are anything out of the ordinary, only a verbal understanding between ourselves and your adept — a courtesan and a patron always agree together upon what each may and may not say to others about their time together, and such understandings are regarded as sacred, so you need have no concerns for your privacy,” she assures him. “Your unwritten obligation is to present your adept with a patron gift after each assignation. By tradition it’s a freely offered expression of your heart’s gratitude for Naamah’s blessings,” again her eyes gleam, appreciating the irony of what she’s about to say, “but in practice most hearts express themselves freely to the tune of ten percent, or more in consideration of an unusual request or a night of especially intense delight.”

Anghelescu's pale eyes glitter with amusement. "That, at least, is good to know. If I am to give offence, I should like to so based on a choice, not mere ignorance." He cants his head slightly, glancing not merely at the lady in front of him but also at her various reflections in those large mirrors, and quirks a gold eyebrow over his ever-present monocle. "Pray tell — the tattoos that you sport. It seems a little too coincidental, does it not, that a lady who calls herself a camellia does indeed wear them. Is there a religious pretext, perhaps?"

The Second’s long dark eyelashes blink twice at that. It’s something so obvious, something so deeply ingrained in d’Angeline culture, that for an instant she registers surprise that anybody could not know— but then the mask settles once more over the lovely oval of her face.

“My lord, such a tattoo is the marque of Naamah,” she elucidates smoothly. “While a courtesan is an adept she works for the profit of the house which raised her, and the patron gifts she receives go to pay for the marquist’s services. When her marque is complete so is her period of bondage, and she may freely choose to leave Naamah’s service or to remain… Each house or salon of the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers has its own unique design. Those who were adepts at the Lis d’Or of course have golden lilies — I have a camellia marque,” she explains simply, “because I came to the Lis d’Or from Camellia House, on Mont Nuit.”

"And thus I believe that I have indeed demonstrated my ignorance. Would it be safe for me to assume that a courtesan who completes her marque yet chooses to remain in the service of her salon is held in some higher regard? That such a position might in fact be prestigious?" A small smile dances across Anghelescu's thin lips. "I ask out of idle curiosity, of course. I will appreciate any young lady that you deem suitable for my needs, whether she is of high rank or low. If anything, low might speak in her favour insofar that I truly do not wish to attract the attentions of the court. I may have three weeks to live or three years. I do not wish to spend what time I have watching peacocks dance."

Émilie’s elegant head turns slightly at Andrei’s self-confessed prognosis; but she resolves not to be distracted, and just tucks it away to think about later. “Then perhaps I’ve made the right choice in selecting one of our young Dahlia adepts for you,” she suggests, “rather than an Eglantine dancer… To answer your question,” and she takes a sip of her wine and exhales thoughtfully, “a marqued courtesan, a servant of Naamah who has completed her service, has of course a certain status anywhere in d’Angeline society, regardless of whether she was born to a low estate or a high one. But within the salon itself it is less a question of prestige than of freedom… The freedom to choose one’s own patrons and set one’s own price, to keep one’s earnings, to come and go as one wishes and enter into different kinds of relationships with patrons. Marques are usually earned between the ages of sixteen and eighteen or nineteen, you see. For a courtesan it is the rite of passage into adulthood. We watch our adepts closely and their consent requires the salon’s seal, but marqued courtesans are considered to have gained sufficient knowledge and experience to govern their own professional lives.”

"Then it seems to me that the young lady has something to gain from our arrangement as well." The Count nods in the fashion of someone considering a business transaction and finding that there are indeed benefits on both sides; a situation which is by far preferable to that in which only one side benefits, largely because the side that doesn't tends to look for alternate ways to come out on top. "May I ask the name of the lady that you have in mind for me, Mademoiselle?"

A becomingly modest smile from Émilie. “Yes, I thought an adept for you, my lord,” she confides, “because the young ones are more accustomed to being sent hither and yon as the salon requires, and because with her marque to make she will be all the more grateful for your kindness… Her name is Susanne nó Lis d’Or. She is waiting outside,” she nods past him to her office’s gilded double doors, “to make your acquaintance, if you wish it.”

His nod is her signal to rise and move away in another costly silken rustle, to open wide the doors and produce as if by magic a poised and startlingly lovely young creature — tall, blonde, simply attired, her chief adornment the radiance of her seventeen years. Her honey-coloured curls are done up in a lavender ribbon, echoing the colours of the Lis d’Or.

Whilst behind her the Second discreetly shuts the doors she, of course, comes straight to Andrei and sinks into a low but dignified curtsey at his feet. “My lord Anghelescu,” she murmurs, having been drilled by Émilie in how to pronounce him, “I am Susanne.”

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