(1312-04-28) A Bold, Fresh Vintage
Summary: Domestic and dynastic matters, dished up in a Rousse residence undergoing rapid renaissance…
RL Date: 28/04/2020
Related: Nothing in particular.
chimene zephyrine 

Rousse Residence — Noble District

In recent weeks the fragrant fields of Grasse have been the site of a long and leisurely fête champêtre honouring the thirtieth natality of Chimène Rousse de la Courcel — and what a pleasure for her, for once, to gather together and serve as hostess to so many of her own particular cronies and none of her mother-in-law’s. Her ivory complexion has, despite all precautions, gained a faint golden glow from the spring sunshine. Returned to Marsilikos at last — no inmate of the family’s city residence could have failed to notice, or at least hear tell of, the train of carriages and wagons rendering the courtyard impassable for several hours earlier in the day — her first thought is to bathe and to rest, and her second to make a close inspection of what colours the house’s public rooms have turned during this same sweet season.

When several months past she compiled a book of samples of colour and cloth, and marked certain walls for destruction with chalk crosses in her own hand, it was the culmination of so long an ambition that she knows already in her mind’s eye just how each chamber ought to look— moving now from room to room, seeing her vision either become real or betrayed, inspires a flutter in her bosom that no mere gentleman could hope to put there. Gone! All that depressing, light-devouring dark wood. Gone! At least half of the eleven hundred paintings and drawings of fucking boats, which used to cover every wall upstairs and down and even the inside door of the privy, as if they were the true ancestral portraits of House Rousse. Gone! The blue velvet runners on the stairway, worn to a shine by the passage of too many boots. Gone! The largest and ugliest of all Chi’in vases, upon which the duc de Roussillion was wont to hang his cloak and hat when he entered the house during his rare visits to shore.

Of course nothing is ever done perfectly unless one oversees the doing of it oneself — which Chimène did consider, before electing to leave all the noise and dust and inconvenience to others — and from time to time as she makes her progress, her lips tighten or her eyes wearily close, in a manner which the steward accompanying (and keeping a watchful eye upon) her knows all too well as a precursor to some withering soprano remark. And she never lets him down, of course; her sarcasm is as light and airy as the gown of layered white silk gauze which floats about her without ever quite slithering off her unexpectedly sun-kissed shoulders. Thus the circuit ends where it began, at a turning where the staircase of pale Mediterranean stone — now carpeted in a cool and clear sea-green velvet! — gives upon a foyer overlooking the courtyard, sparsely furnished as yet, but just give her time.

There’s a girl just coming up. Chimène regards her with polite inquiry, and allows her smile to widen as if in recognition even before her mental register of those Rousse cousins in Marsilikos for the tournament (of course there was a list waiting on her desk when she came in) has yielded the name and title Zéphyrine Rousse, the new baronne de Filitosa.

“… Lady Zéphyrine,” she pronounces then, holding out to the young woman a large, well-kept, long-fingered white hand which bears nobly its burden of sapphires and emeralds, its own prodigious share of the Rousse riches. “My dear, I heard you had come to town. You find matters are more settled now in the barony?” she inquires solicitously.

Zéphyrine looks up and beams like a ray of sunshine. Her dress today is a light, but saturated, blue with silver embroidery around the hem, neckline, and sleeves. She takes the hand and curtsies. "Lady Chimene. How lovely to have you grace us with your presence again. I've been enamored of most of the changes you've been making. The house seems much lighter than I remember it being. Though it has been a while." She considers a moment. "I do miss some of the ship portraits. But yes, the Barony is in good hands between my mother and the seneschal. I can devote my attention to court for a bit, at least."

Which indoor sunlight doesn’t quite succeed in brightening Chimène’s hazel eyes, as the outdoor kind has done her complexion. Her manicured fingertips press Zéphyrine’s just once and then withdraw. “Most of,” she breathes out in echo, but moves swiftly on. “The paintings are all in one of the warehouses,” a vague waft of her hand; “you might go and choose one or two more for your chambers,” she suggests, “if it would please you. Myself, I like the landscapes.” And the seascapes, a happy medium between her taste and that of the majority of her in-laws. “How else to bring the pleasures of the country into the city.”

Zéphyrine laughs and nods. "I would appreciate that, yes. I'll speak to one of the staff. The landscapes are quite pretty, though, I agree." Her complexion has the look of someone who has spent large portions of the last four or five years on ships and a good portion of the rest out of doors riding. There are even some freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose. She smiles. "I did bring a good selection of the new vintage of wines from the island with me, though they'll probably be best in a year or two. Maybe three." The smile kicks up another tiny notch, showing off a dimple. "And how was your birthday fete?"

“So young a wine can sometimes provide a bold kind of amusement,” Chimène allows, with a shrug of her squarish, almost-bared shoulders. Meanwhile her steward stands awkwardly by as she ignores him and narrows her eyes at Zéphyrine. “Why don’t we sit for a moment,” is her next suggestion, though the lack of a lift in her voice reveals that it isn’t really a suggestion. Then she dismisses the steward with a look and rests her hand upon Zéphyrine’s arm, fleetingly, to guide her toward an elegant but uncomfortable gilt-framed sofa.

She seats herself in a froth of white gauze. “You can’t truly wish to hear about my fête,” she conjectures, in a drawling soprano which still carries certain of the inflections of Mont Nuit. “There numbered among my guests hardly any unmarried young men.” And there, yes: a glimpse of the intuitive intelligence behind her façade of idle femininity.

Zéphyrine settles and laughs. "Well. I do like hearing about things others enjoy so I might want to hear about your fete." And for the first time this encounter something like a frown flits across her face. "I suppose I should hear more about your opinions on unmarried, eligible young men. I do, probably, need a husband sooner rather than later. If only because the succession gets a bit murky after me. We'd have to consult the family tree and I think it might end up with a third cousin."

Chimène draws a meditative breath. “… Unlikely,” she purrs after a moment, “I think we should arrange it better than that.” A defunct and heirless barony might be just the right plaything for her youngest, after all. Till something better should chance to come along. “But a husband has more uses than just the one, my dear, especially in your present position. The right alliance might improve your influence at court as well as offering fresh trade opportunities. And the great thing of course is to have a partner in all the conundrums you now find yourself facing. You know the custom that has served our family so well through the generations—” She smiles coolly. “The husbands manage matters at sea and the wives on shore.”

Zéphyrine laughs a little and her sunshiney smile is back. "Oh, I am sure that husbands do have multiple uses and I suspect it will depend rather a lot on who I end up marrying, really. I may stick with managing the ships. I do so enjoy being out on the sea. Perhaps my husband can manage matters on land. Or we could trade off." She frowns a little. "At least while I'm expecting, I should probably stay closer to home. But that is a long way off and there are several things which have to happen before I need worry about that."

“Yeeeeees,” says Chimène slowly, drawing out her own elegant vowel, “but you’ll at least need a man who can stand in for you competently at such times… We should hardly wish to see you end up like poor Leonide,” and she gives an airy sigh and looks away, to the bright rectangles of the courtyard windows and the pale curtains billowing there. “Of course if you’d like my advice, my dear,” she murmurs, looking back to Zéphyrine, “you need only ask it.” Her hazel eyes are cool and clear and serene, and yield nothing. “I’d be delighted to help you find the right baron for Filitosa — someone who’ll gain my papa-in-law’s blessing,” she suggests.

Zéphyrine glances towards the windows and then back. "I shall certainly take any advice you have to give to heart. I shall also, obviously, consult with others and with my own sense of who will work well with me. But I would be delighted to hear your opinions of the men currently at court and any who aren't, but who you think might suit." Her eyes sparkle with amusement and the hint that she may be cheerful, but that doesn't mean that she's not also clever in her way.

“The ducal court or the royal court?” is the natural question voiced by the swanlike Courcel lady next to her, who has these many years been intimate with both. “How broad a net do you intend to cast, my dear?” she wonders, regarding Zéphyrine with a slight, catlike smile.

Zéphyrine hmmms and considers, looking towards the window again while she thinks. "Let us start with the ducal court and if there is no one suitable there, we can always expand. Though, obviously, non d'Angelines can be included so long as they are willing to make their home here and don't have other reasons for being poor choices."

One perfectly-plucked dark eyebrow arches at that. “Magnanimous of you,” Chimène murmurs silkily, “but I think the feeling is that we have seen enough foreign unions in this generation and the last, and that now might, indeed, be an appropriate time to consolidate House Rousse’s superb Eisandine blood… Water down one’s wine too liberally and even the boldest, freshest vintage,” a faint smile from this Namarrese lady, “loses its powers.”

Zéphyrine laughs a bit. "Very well. I've just run into some people with…" She frowns and shakes her head. "Nevermind. And fate and circumstance may well throw all our careful plans out the window. But I shall take that under advisement, of course."

In her lap Chimène unfolds and refolds her large white hands, each of them graceful and richly bejeweled. “I should think a careful plan a more reliable foundation for matrimony,” she murmurs, not quite to the young woman beside her, but perhaps to that view from the cliffs at Nice, “than mere circumstance… Good,” she agrees then, with a nod for her young companion. “Will you think on it, my dear, and write me a little letter,” she suggests— that is, she decides, for in her mind it is already settled that Zéphyrine shall, “naming the three qualities you most desire in a husband, and the three things you absolutely couldn’t abide. I think three is a convenient number, don’t you? It obliges one to consider the essentials.”

Zéphyrine nods and looks down at her lap for a moment. "Oh, of course, I merely meant… sometimes things happen and once they have there's no use wishing that things could have been better planned or prepared for." Then she looks up and smiles again, if a little more ruefully than her previous smiles. "However, I absolutely can write you a letter with the three qualities I care about most and three which would ruin an otherwise good match."

“Try to be specific and measurable,” Chimène advises aridly; “if, oh,” her hand rises in an airy and glittering flutter of fingertips, then subsides as she goes on, “you can’t bed a man with ginger hair, that’s rather more to the point than hoping he’ll be a good listener, or enjoy playing with the children.” A tinge of disdain in her voice suggests her own vantage upon such considerations. “Of course fate may take a hand,” she agrees, “but there’s not a whit of use in concerning yourself with that now, any more than in lamenting it later.”

Zéphyrine grins mischievously. "Perhaps, but I do find 'able to compromise' of far more use for living with someone long term than their hair color. I realize it's more difficult to measure, but it's also of far more value in a partner. Still. I shall do my best." She pauses for a moment and looks puzzled. "Are there really people who worry so much about the color of someone's hair that they would refuse someone for that?"

“It wasn’t just the hair on his head my friend objected to, my dear,” purrs Chimène, by way of elucidation. “Or his eyebrows,” she adds as an afterthought. “Some of her comparisons— well, I shan’t repeat them,” again that triangular, feline smile, “but you may believe me that she was entirely sincere in her repulsion… How long do you mean to remain in Marsilikos?” she asks then. “Until you’ve settled your betrothal? Or have you simply not decided upon your plans yet? It isn’t,” she explains with a deliberately gentle smile, “marked down in my book.”

Zéphyrine hmms. "I hadn't decided, yet. Probably at least until betrothal or until I decide that there's no one here who will suit and I must, as you say, cast a wider net. But I hadn't set any kind of firm timeline. I wasn't sure how long it would take me to acclimate myself to court. And, even beyond the betrothal question, I should really spend some time doing so, don't you think? For the sake of the barony."

Chimène lowers her chin in a dignified nod, a concession of a sort to the younger woman’s good intentions and good sense. “You might spend your time profitably, just now,” she agrees, “in Marsilikos or in Nice…” Where Rousses foregather and other d’Angelines make certain pilgrimages, and Aragonians besides, to the smaller court presided over by her mother-in-law. “I heard your last visit to Nice came off well,” she offers candidly, “brief though it was.”

Zéphyrine's smile now adds a tinge of relief, though it's largely well hidden. "That's good to know. I was trying to be on my best behavior, but I have spent rather a lot of time with sailors in the last few years and I did worry my court manners might have suffered. It's good to hear that they didn't."

“Haven’t we all,” drawls Chimène, “spent a lot of time with sailors, in the last very many years.” Her hazel eyes roll ceilingward in an airy implication of martyrdom, then flick back to Zéphyrine’s face. “You’ll notify one of the stewards, of course, if you should chance to make a decision about the duration of your visit, or if you find that anything else might be done for your comfort,” she suggests. “I’ll give orders to admit you to the warehouse where you’ll find the paintings we took down.” And she rises in an expensive rustle. “The closing feast of the spring tournament is in two days’ time; it might be a suitable occasion for me to introduce you at the court. Have you something to wear? I’ll send my maid to see,” she adds kindly.

Zéphyrine smiles. "Thank you. I shall be sure to let them know if I come to any decisions about the duration of my stay." Then she, too, rises. "I… am sure that I have dresses which would do, but they are probably not up to the current local fashions. So if you would assist me in arranging for a suitable dress, I would greatly appreciate it. It wouldn't do to look too provincial."

“We’ll see to it,” Chimène promises, with the easy benevolence of a woman accustomed to watching local fashion follow what she herself brings back in chests from Elua. “The feast will be excruciatingly dull,” she assures her next, “but it’s as well you get used to that.” On which quelling note she quirks her eyebrows at Zéphyrine and repairs to her own chambers.

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