(1312-04-20) Grumpy Old Women
Summary: Fresh from his latest tournament victory, Yves Valliers falls into the councils of grumpy old women who are quite sure they know better than he does.
RL Date: 20/04/2020
Related: Spring Tournament: Duel Contest.
athenais philomene yves 

Wine Cellar — Noble District

Stairs lead down to the heavy oak door, above which the sign of the place, the likeness of a Hellene amphora spilling over with wine painted upon wood, swings lazily in the occasional breeze. Beyond that door the entrance hall comes into view, where various kegs and casks of differing sizes are arranged in oenological allure before the roughly hewn walls of ancient stone. There is a chill down here on hot summer days, that will be efficiently battled in the colder months through the heating of a giant hearth to the back. The place has a decidedly cavernous character, alcoves to the left and right offering seating at small tables for two or three. Lamps are dangling by chains from the ceiling, shades of milky glass work from La Serenissima offering sufficient lighting. There are no visible windows, which means lamps will be in use even during the day.

Further to the back there is a small hallway branching off from the main area, leading to a medium sized chamber where the bigger barrels are stored. Here, a larger group of up to eight people can sit about a round table of heavy oak, while they are being served the rarer vintages or even the heavier spirits that are stored in a wooden cabinet to the back. Staff is mostly male, clad in black breeches and white shirts with dark red vests, knowledgeable sommeliers of superior training that will be glad to wait on guests in person and offer insight into the variety of wines, red and white, not only d'Angeline but a variety of specialties from abroad, that are available here.


It is a not at all negligible benefit of being a dueling champion, that plenty of people infused with the public spirit (amongst others) take it upon themselves to stand one drinks. The glass of Eisandine red which reaches Yves with delicious speed, when he’s hardly had a moment to glance around and sit himself down, isn’t the first and it won’t be the last.

Questioned, the waiter indicates the far end of the bar, and a blonde woman sitting alone there with her back angled toward the cellar’s cold stone wall and clearance enough allowed by habit for the rapier she wears at her hip in a plain scabbard of black leather. Her dark coat is draped over the low back of her barstool, leaving her in a loose red silk shirt tucked with no particular precision into well-worn leather riding breeches. One of her booted feet is hooked round the stool’s crossbar; the other, stretched out at the end of a long, lean leg. Rather than watching to see how her offering is received she’s sipping pensively from a glass of the same red. One might infer that it came from the bottle which stands open in front of her on the bar, next to a small notebook and a traveler’s spherical inkwell of dark red leather over brass.

Wearing his customary garments with red and white accents, a knee-length jacket made of almost burgundy colored leather and matching boots with a black scabbard at his hip with silver filigree holding a blade at his hip. Having come for a drink, having one promptly put in his hand without having said a word, Yves is pleasantly surprised. A small smile crossing his face, he gives the wine a light taste to see if he approves of the choice and apparently it passes whatever remedial level bar he has set. Looking in the direction of Athénaïs, he starts down the bar in her direction. "Thank you, I suppose since you sent this to me I don't need to introduce myself. Might I ask your name, my lady?" he asks, giving her a polite smile as he glances briefly at the inkwell and notebook at hand, curiosity evident.

By his approach Yves triggers some spider-sense of Athénaïs’s. Her blue-grey eyes flick up from her glass to his face, and she watches him steadily as she takes another mouthful of her wine and sets it aside to leave her hands free. Nearer, the wine cellar’s soft lighting fails to disguise the lines etched into her elegant features by the passage of many years, or the share of white woven through her shaggy, shoulder-length blonde hair. Her sleeves are rolled up over muscular forearms bearing a tracery of fine narrow knife-scars, none of them fresh. She has the hands not of a lady but of a labourer — strong, callused, with short plain nails and a suntan deeper than that of her arms and her face. Without looking away from Yves she extends one of those competent hands and casually slaps shut her notebook. Curiosity denied.

She looks him over for a moment longer. “You’re welcome,” she says at last; then, feeling something more is called for, she lifts her hand from her notebook into a small gesture indicative of the glass in Yves’s hand. “I made money betting on you,” she explains.

Despite a youth spent training with blades, the backs of Yves' hands are mostly unmarred. Lifting one of those powerful young hands up, he sweeps it through his hair and scratches a bit at the brusque manner of the woman. Feeling a bit like he's speaking his father, he puts on his best pleasant face, somehow trying to stride the line between pleasant and not looking like a fool who grins for no reason. A delicate balancing act. "I see, did you bet early or just on the last matches?" he inquires, thinking that there is a small difference in the attention one would have to pay between the two bets. One requiring that she'd know who he was before the contest, the other that she'd simply seen his early fight against Ezio- which probably skewed the betting for the final matches drastically in his favor.

A huff of amusement from Athénaïs. “Last week,” she drawls, a smile just barely quirking at the corners of her wide, unpainted mouth, “before the odds got even shorter. I won’t bother next year,” she concludes drily. Then she nods to Yves. “I enjoyed those last matches. Rare to see down here. Why are you wasting your youth in Marsilikos?”

"I feel like I should have been able to beat him more cleanly," Yves mentions with a small shrug, he is still smiling genuinely, but seems to feel that his performance was subpar. He doesn't say anything further however, he won and it'd be even poorer sportsmanship to stand around harp about how he should have beaten Ezio quicker. "My father sent me to find a wife, and to acclimatize me to the way the courts work and ingratiate myself with the Duchesse," he adds. None of this was a mystery or a secret. "I still don't know your name, my lady," he adds.

“Lovely,” drawls Athénaïs, sounding very Eisandine— though there are notes of Elua too in her voice, suggestions of courts not unlike those Yves has been set to conquer. She sniffs.

She adds, not unkindly, but with a similar understanding that even a champion still has work to do in the training yard: “The Aiglemort boy’s stronger on defense than you are.” A beat. “He’s older than you are,” she clarifies. “He can’t take the same damage anymore, so he’s worked harder to ward it off. And he’s learned a little more caution over the years, maybe.” She shrugs, not particularly concerned either way provided it’s a good show. And then, after another moment spent considering Yves, she states flatly: “My name is Athénaïs de Belfours.”

"Yes, lovely," Yves concurs flatly and sips at his wine a touch. Not bothering to say anything further, to comment about what proposals might have been thrown around or what he feels his odds are so far. Settling his weight back on his heels slightly, he turns and pulls out one of the nearby chairs so that he can talk with Athénaïs without needing to have the whole conversation standing. He hasn't winced or anything, but he is favoring his right leg every so slightly and he doesn't twist a whole lot, indicating some sort of tenderness likely in his torso region. "I missed him more than I should have, no matter how good his defense might be. I can always move the tip of my blade faster than anyone can move their body. I was just sloppy," he declares and sips again, staring off into space for a moment as he replays the duels in his mind. "But enough of that, I guess. Did you win a lot?"

Though Athénaïs didn’t invite Yves to join her, she makes no protest. “Nobody’s as precise in his sixth bout as he was in his first,” is her opinion, which neither condemns nor exculpates Yves, but points again to the truth that there’s always room for improvement.

His question elicits another of those huffs which don’t quite become laughter. “Did I win a lot,” she echoes slowly, mulling it over, showing no particular emotion. She takes another mouthful of her Eisandine red. “Ask your father next time you see him,” is her advice, as her glass clinks down again onto the polished wooden bar. “I’m trying to remember if it was him, or one of your uncles, whose head I held down in a bucket of water once till he tapped out.”

Philomène lowers her hood as she steps down into the Wine Cellar, flicking away droplets of rain that had dared to gather. Despite the miserable weather, or perhaps because of it and the fact that it seems to make everyone else so grumpy, she looks decidedly chipper today. There's a half smile on her face that can only mean that she's either just come out of a fight or she's about to begin one, whether physical or verbal, and the distinctive limp is perhaps a little less pronounced today as she eases her way between the maze of tables and chairs towards the bar, giving the back of Yves's chair a little shove with one hand as she passes. This is apparently what counts as 'a polite greeting' for Philo.

"I am, usually," Yves retorts at the comment about missing after six matches. He doesn't press the question of how much she won, though he does suddenly have the urge to make a few bets next time. Of course, the first time he does, he'd inevitably end up losing. Such is his luck sometimes. "I will find a way of bringing it up at the right time," he proposes, not really making any promises, though perhaps the idea of watching Athénaïs putting one of his uncle's heads in a bucket does make him smile. Glancing over at the bump, he nods at Philomène, but doesn't rise to pull out her chair for her. Looking back to Athénaïs, he says, "It's usually even odds whether she remembers when we meet," by way of explanation.

Depends which uncle, of course, though in any Camaeline family there are a few who have it coming… Speaking of, Athénaïs knows that chiseled profile, and also that limp: she clicks her fingers to the man behind the bar and indicates by sign language that she’d like another glass, pronto. It arrives in front of her. She pours from her open bottle of Eisandine red — indeed, the label suggests it’s from the vineyards of House Valais — and shoves it along the bar toward Philo, in her own style of ‘polite greeting’. Without a glance at the other woman she addresses Yves, whose own remarks she absorbed in silence. “Oh? I take it she’s finally managed to get as many knocks on the head as she’s been spoiling for all her life,” she drawls.

Philomène turns to eye her surprising benefactor, then gives a slight nod by way of thanks and takes up the wine. She takes a moment or two to swirl it in its glass, holding it briefly up to the light as though she knows what she's looking for in a wine, then takes a small sip. "What can I say," she notes in the pair's general direction, although her eyes remain on her wine. "Most children look the same to me."

Sipping his wine when he notices it being pushed around, Yves tips it back for a breath and stares at the side of his goblet in thought. He doesn't comment on Philo's addled brain, just nods ever so slightly with a smirk. He laughs heartily when she calls him a child in a roundabout manner and lifts his goblet in salute. "How have you been?" he asks of Philomène, since he hasn't spoken to her in some time. As he talks with her and Athénaïs, he throws the occasional glance around the room. After one such glance, he remarks, "After my last tournament, I had the feeling there were people looking for a chance to brawl with me, so they could brag about beating me," sort of conspiratorially.

Athénaïs shifts on her stool to face Yves more fully, stretching out her legs toward his chair and crossing her booted ankles, whilst keeping Philomène in her peripheral vision in case she should chance to strike. (It happens.) She keeps her glass in one hand and leans her other elbow on the bar behind her, and sips idly as she leaves a space for the familiar banter between the other two. “People think it’s a quick way to make a name,” she agrees with a shrug, “as if winning against a champion transfers all your victories to their credit. Of course,” she goes on with a deadpan expression, “they’d have to tell you apart, first.”

"Been better," Philomène admits with a shrug, despite appearing to be the most relaxed and cheerful either of the pair have perhaps ever seen her. Maybe she's just never prepared to admit when she's actually doing rather well for herself. "This old bat giving you tips, is she? I think her tips would differ from mine. She'll tell you never to pick a fight you can't win. I'll tell you never to pick a fight that's not a challenge. And most importantly," she adds, tilting her glass towards Athénaïs and inclining her head very slightly, "when you're done fighting, no matter who goes home in a wheelbarrow, buy each other a drink. Winning or losing doesn't actually matter so much as having the courage to stand and fight regardless, and the good grace to acknowledge your opponent's effort."

"There is that," Yves admits with another laugh, his 'forgettable' face creasing into a grin. Easing up slightly. He isn't seemingly too wary, but there is the occasional glance thrown around the bar to keep track of people who look drunk enough to do something stupid and then the sort who just look like they might want to make a name. Glancing over at Philomène's advice, he says, "I'm pretty decent at sizing up how strong an opponent is, you know, forearms and neck- and sometimes you can see how someone moves and know they've had training in their footwork, you know, like," he pauses, "How they put their feet places. So they can always move. But, I can't really tell how good people are at a glance, I have to see them fight first," he explains. "But if someone tries to jump me while I've been drinking, I'm pulling out my knife and we can sort things out in the hereafter. I'm not letting anyone jump me."

"Pulling a knife? She has been giving you tips," Philomène adds with an easy grin.

Athénaïs’s hand closes in a viselike grip upon the neck of her bottle of wine. She tops up her own glass liberally, and then makes an impatient gesture for Yves to hold out his glass to receive similar treatment. Even Philomène gets a drop more. Then she takes a good long swallow and— well, she’s made an effort to calm herself, but then in lieu of pulling a knife, the other woman twists it. Mt. Athénaïs doesn’t yet erupt, but has surely begun to smoke. Time to gather the children and the goats and cower under the kitchen table.

“Fuck’s sake, Philomène,” she exclaims in irritation, swiveling to face her for the first time. “I was the one who sent the lad for the wheelbarrow. But you were flat out for how many days and I was supposed to wait around on my arse in fucking Chalasse for you to ask me out—? Twenty-five years and you’re still bitching about it. Is that good grace?” she demands.

And then she rounds on Yves. “And you. Always pull a knife,” she praises fiercely, “because you never fucking know who else has got one. They don’t tell you in advance.”

"It's not as though you had anything better to do with your time," Philomène shoots back, nonetheless nodding thanks as she gets more wine. She takes another sip, enjoying the flavour. Say what you like about Athénaïs, her taste in beverages is absolutely superb. "How are your grapes these days?"

Yves takes the offered wine and sips at it, glad for the change of topic. He listens in on their private conversation, guessing at the context of the conversation. Up until Athénaïs comments about his pulling a knife, and he nods. Maybe not necessarily taking the advice literally, but probably not ignoring it entirely either. The question about grapes seems to be directed to Athénaïs, but he answers all the same, "The joie has been doing well, last I heard," with a shrug.

Is it really a private conversation when at least half of it is being carried on at a volume that’s turning heads several tables away—? Is it? Athénaïs snorts at Philomène’s dodge; “You don’t even know who I was doing with my time,” she flings back, with a scornful edge to her tone.

But once she’s taken another swallow from her glass she lowers her voice into a more conversational register. “The spring planting went well. If it’s as mild in your mountains,” she suggests to Yves, his remark about joie having piqued her professional interest, “you’ll have good picking come the time… I’ve got a week or two off,” she drawls to them both, “to watch the children at play.” She inclines her head to Yves, then says to Philomène, “I was just telling your young friend what a heavy purse I made betting on him the other day.”

"Good thing you're buying," Philomène notes amiably, draining a little more from her glass before using it to tilt in Yves's direction. "Because this young man cost me a few ducats. I'm a d'Aiglemort," she points out. "I had to bet on family, even if I think the man's a puffed up waste of air. Can't say I'm terribly upset to have lost my bet. He'd have been even more insufferable if he'd won." She turns to lean back against the bar, resting one elbow on it. "And I can tell you now it'll be a hot summer. That much I'd bet more than one or two ducats on. Make sure you've got your irrigation in place now, before your flowers are gasping for it, Lord Yves." Turns out she does know who he is. "I've spent my last twenty five years turning hundreds of acres of farmland around. It might not be glorious, but it's a useful skill to have when your sword arm's too tired to carry on."

"I'm sure that'll please everyone back home," Yves confirms, assuming that Athénaïs speaks from an educated and experienced point of view on the matter. That was never his area of studies, he even goes as far as to mention, "I'm so far from inheriting the family lands, I was scarcely really tutored in that sort of thing." A bit of an excuse, but he says it in a way that makes it clear these aren't sour grapes. Shifting his feet around under his chair, he spares another glance for the room, noting people who have moved and new arrivals. "Actually, she was decidedly mum on how heavy the purse was, only saying that she'd won, and offering me a little wine," he points out to Philomène. "But yes, I have as much to do with the planting and harvesting as I have to do with the harvesting of wool and the shipping of wood."

Athénaïs glances down at her glass and, lifting it indicatively, disclaims her financial responsibility. “Oh, I’m not paying for this,” she drawls. “It’s a business expense. Got to make sure they’re storing it properly, for the sake of the house’s reputation.” She quirks her eyebrows and takes a sip. “Might need to check another bottle,” she theorises, and raises her other hand to summon and instruct the barkeep by the clicking and pointing of her fingers.

While it’s being fetches she says to Yves, “You don’t have to be in the line of succession to make yourself useful. If the Skaldi don’t get you young, you’ll have to do something.” She shrugs. “Especially if your kinfolk decide to marry you out, the way they did to her.” And make no mistake, marriage was something done to Philomène d’Aiglemort, from which the recovery was rather longer than her stint in bed following that ill-advised duel with Athénaïs herself.

And yet somehow Philomène will always find something to argue about. It's her nature. "Turned out for the best, though," she points out drily. "Three fine daughters and the best pigs in Terre d'Ange. You know if I'd stayed in the mountains I'd have been dead before I was thirty." She pauses, draining her glass and sliding it towards Athénaïs, one finger either side of the base and gripping the stem in case there was any confusion about whether she intends to take it back again when it's refilled. "And can you imagine the chaos from so very many people flocking to Camlach in pilgrimage just to dance on my grave?"

"I'm going to start a fencing school, here or in Elua," Yves tells Athénaïs, giving no room for negotiation on the matter. He has been rebuffed on this concept in the past. Told that he is too young for such a thing, but eventually that will no longer be the case, and he can use whatever tournaments he has won to help him finance it. "I don't care who they marry me to. I mean, I'd like if she's pretty with big," he starts to gesture at his chest area, and then swallowing his wine, realizes he has been drinking too much and stops talking for a second, "But in the end, after a few months, maybe a year of living here, I finally understood why my dad sent me here, and that's to break me of whatever romantic notions I had of marriage. I think," he guesses. "But anyway, when all is said and done, I'll leave my mark with my school."

<FS3> Athénaïs rolls Blades: Great Success. (2 1 5 8 4 5 2 8 5 2 4 8 1 8)

A bark of laughter from Athénaïs, as she pours the dregs of the first bottle into Philomène’s pointedly extended glass. “Yeah,” she drawls to Yves, “we’d all like that.”

Out of nowhere there’s a knife in her hand, with which she swiftly and competently breaks the seal on the second bottle. (The staff know she likes to do this herself.) In a single movement, and with an easy grace sure to be irritating to some, she tosses the knife up and catches it out of the air and tucks it away in its sheath. Then she extracts the cork and lines it up neatly next to the previous. Pouring for them all, she remarks, “There are good schools in Elua. I don’t know about here. The Eisandines prefer poetry about swordplay, to the real thing.”

"They could stand to learn," Philomène points out, nodding thoughtfully to Yves. "They're not as far removed from the border as they'd like to think they are. It's a telling sign when a tournament in Eisande is dominated by Camaelines. Teach them to handle a blade, and hope they never need to use it. Because if the Skaldi get here, it's because we've failed to hold them back in the mountains." She reclaims her wine, lifting it to her lips for a sip.

"But teach them to fight, not fence. Fencing is for show, for sport. Teach them to kill. If you're going to pull a blade, you should mean it."

"Well, my school will be better than theirs," Yves tells Athénaïs, matter-of-fact and shrugs a little. He isn't about to debate how good his school will be, it just will be. "I mean, my teaching would be functional, I don't know how to use a sword in any way but functionally, but I don't plan to change anyone. I'll be glad that the flowers have grown thorns, and the rare wolf that shows up, I'll help him sharpen his fangs," this with a shrug as well. "But that's all for a long way off. My father was certain that nobody would take my tutelage until I was at least, you know, old. Like mid-twenties at the earliest."

The second bottle must indeed have been stored improperly, for Athénaïs’s initial taste from it seems to go down badly. She presses a hand to her chest till her coughing turns to laughter. The Look she casts then toward Philomène, and shares with her, may very possibly to do more to bond them together even than their constant bickering has managed to date. “… Ah,” she drawls, shaking her head. “But every tournament’s dominated by Camaelines,” she complains, to neither of them in particular; “every time I competed I had to slice up a few of you.”

She punctuates her discourse with a sip of wine to soothe her throat. She’s looking at Yves, now, and pursing her lips. “I thought you meant in twenty years,” she remarks drily. “If you listen to her,” she jerks her head toward the other woman, “you’ll hear that I only pick fights I can win. Take my advice, then, and wait to pick this one till you’ve a hope in hell.”

Philomène meets Athénaïs's eye, both brows shooting up as they share that Look.

She sets her glass down quite deliberately, leaning forward a little and poking one bony finger into Yves's shoulder. "Just because mid-twenties is twice your age doesn't mean it's old, young man. I think perhaps your father might have been suggesting that it would be cruel to drag you away from your nanny and your sippy cup of milk right now in order to show people to wave a blade around."

Yves just looks at Athénaïs for a moment between sips of wine and then, glancing over at Philomène, "No, I don't think that's what he meant." Since he has had his fill of wine, and is not an experienced drinker, he speaks plainly in a way that takes all inhibitions he usually has off. "It was more like, 'nobody wants to learn from a boy no matter what he has done,' and that sort of thing. But once I have a wife, and I've done my duty and made babies, I can do what I want," he declares, definitely a little drunk. Shifting in his chair a touch, he looks around again, and starts to get to his feet. Lifting his drink toward the people in the tavern, he declares, "I'm gonna do it!"

Some of their fellow drinkers look round at Yves’s declaration; some laugh, some shake their heads indulgently, some are far enough along to raise their glasses right back at him in salute. What’s he going to do? Er… never mind! Good on him! Let’s all… do something, right?

Athénaïs meanwhile regards him with a jaundiced expression and drawls, “You can’t teach what you don’t know. And you’re too young to know how much you don’t know.”

"I'm sure we can find you a suitable wife," Philomène muses, lips pursing in thought. "Somebody of good breeding to pop out a few babies for you, and look after your books so you can concentrate on playing soldiers. I've a few ideas I'll send your parents."

"Maybe we all don't know what we don't know, you know?" Yves says and then looks over at Philomène, suspicious. "Not yet you won't, I'm not old enough, I've got a /year/ left," he declares triumphantly, and lifts his goblet again in salute to the whole of the tavern. Then with one breath, he inhales the remainder of the wine in one go, declares, "I'm off!" and starts to walk his way between the tables of the tavern, swaying only ever so slightly. Hand on his sword, there is no doubt he'd still be a dangerous opponent, and not the least bit hesitating to draw, enough so that it might be worthy to ward off wouldbe opponents. Or maybe not.

Athénaïs watches Yves’s footwork as he wends his wavering way.

Then she swivels again on her stool, to face Philomène, and drinks down her glass of wine one steady swallow after another. Setting it aside empty, she breathes out. She raises one eyebrow at the other woman. “Elua’s balls,” she comments.

Philomène snorts a little laugh, shaking her head. “Ah, come on, we were all young and stupid once. Some of us never grew out of the stupid stage. Are you telling me you wouldn’t dearly love to be that young, and that certain that you know all the answers again?”

She reaches for the bottle, doing the honours on Athénaïs’s behalf this time. “I certainly wouldn’t mind being that quick again. Mid-twenties might not be old, but I’m starting to feel like I’m getting there.”

“I find your remarks deeply offensive,” Athénaïs deadpans, nudging her empty glass along the bar toward the bottle Philomène has taken into her charge. Yes, they need more. “Where did you go, anyway?” she asks as she raises her replenished glass to her lips. “Nobody chasing me down at all,” she explains, “the last few weeks I was riding out of the city.”

“These last few weeks?” Philomène questions, raising a brow. “Either you’re riding later than usual or you’re taking a trip out somewhere new. I’m still riding where I always do, but I haven’t seen you. Why, are you missing the company or the sweet nothings?”

Athénaïs shakes her head. “Last year,” she says shortly, “before I went home.” Which is as far as she’ll go in expressing concern, before just sitting back and slowly folding down the sleeves of her red silk shirt to cover the fresh suntan, and the ancient scars, upon her forearms.

Philomène takes a long breath, holds it for a moment, then slowly and deliberately lets it out, whole body losing some of the casual ease it had previously been showing. Her thumb taps absently against the rim of her glass and she reaches for the bottle again. “Home,” she admits after a moment, considering, then pouring herself a generous top up from the wine. “Louis-Claude passed away. I had to see to things. Smooth transition for Eleanor, that sort of thing.”

<FS3> Athénaïs rolls Politics: Success. (6 8 5 3 1)

There’s a pause. “That’s your husband,” Athénaïs guesses quietly— and then, seeing that she’s correct, she’s quiet a little longer. Her own lean figure displays likewise some of the tension of the moment. Guessing, again, she ventures, “I’m sorry for that.”

The Chalasse straightens, holds up her wine to examine by peering through it to the light behind the bar, then flicks a glance over to Athénaïs. “I don’t doubt it was for the best. He’d not been well. Better to have it over and done with than to leave the family in limbo, not knowing.” She smirks a little, then takes a sip from her drink. “If I’d known you were pining for me I’d have hurried back sooner.”

And that’s the end of the tender sympathy and commiseration, before Athénaïs twists Philomène’s own words around and sends them back along the bar to her. “And sat on your arse for a few months,” she drawls, “while I was pruning, and burning, and planting—? Luckily you had something better,” a significant pause, “to do with your time.” Another pause; she turns away and grouses into her glass, “Shit, I never know what to say to people.”

“I’ll let you express your admiration for my arse,” Philomène allows, ever magnanimous. “That seems about your level. We getting another bottle of this or do you want something a bit more grown up?”

“Can’t admire what you’ve never seen,” is Athénaïs’s immediate thought, perhaps not a wise one, but who among us is a Socrates when so far down in the second bottle—?

“This,” she adds, nodding to the bottle in question, “is at least older than Yves Valliers, I daresay. Another vintage,” is her proposal, “but no liquor when I haven’t eaten. The food here’s just pointless shit,” she opines as she signals to the man behind the bar. “Nibbles.”

“I’ve had fresh oranges older than Yves Valliers,” Philomène points out, lifting her hand to her chin and cracking her neck noisily. She exhales with relief, rolling her neck and taking another sip from her wine.

“Bring your bottle, then. I’ve got a leg of cold ham waiting for me at home and it’s not going to eat itself. You might as well admire that cut of meat if nothing else.”

“I’ve taken shits that were older than Yves Valliers,” Athénaïs chuckles, shaking her head and running a hand through her tousled blonde and white hair. “Yeah, all right,” she agrees, consenting with a crisp nod to accept Philomène’s invitation; then she turns to the barkeep to debate, briefly but heatedly, the ages and qualities of what he has to offer.

When she’s made up her mind and he’s gone off to fetch her bottle (hiding his relief at finally seeing the back of so testing a patron, and her weaponry), the legs of her barstool scrape harshly across the stone floor as she pushes it back and stands up. Her light, plain, admittedly rather stylish black coat is the same one Philomène has seen before, lined with silver-grey silk shot through with red, and dusty about its hem. She shoves her arms briskly into its sleeves and then packs away her notebook and her writing things, each in its own familiar pocket.

“You are a shit that’s older than Yves Valliers,” Philomène retorts easily, not even thinking about it. She sets both palms on the bar to steady herself, sets her magnificently sculpted jaw, and pulls herself to her feet without a hint of a wince. Sure, there’s some tension, and it’s not a natural way her face freezes, but she doesn’t, and this is crucial, display weakness. At least as far as she’s concerned.

“Better bring another bottle, too,” she decides after a moment, nudging in her seat and folding her arms over her chest. “If I’m spending an evening sharing a meal with you I’d better be properly drunk.”

In the anticipation of a mild spring evening Athénaïs leaves her coat open over her red shirt and her riding breeches; she hasn’t bothered with gloves, or the woolly hat which was her constant companion in the winter when Philomène wasn’t knocking it into the mud.

“If you invited me when you’ve got nothing else to drink at home,” she fires back, and pauses to pick up the latest bottle from the counter and nod to he who deposited it there and is even now inscribing it upon her tab, “that’s your own look-out. Let’s just go.” And, cradling the wine rather delicately in her left arm, she turns in an insouciant swirl of coat-tails.

“I’ve got shit wine or good uisghe,” Philomène informs her matter-of-factly, pushing an unfortunate chair out of her way as she limps for the door, holds it open for a moment for Athénaïs, then steps back out into what by now is no more than a light shower at least.

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