(1312-04-28) Matutinal Misandry
Summary: Iphigénie’s garden is in flower again, prompting Philomène to a request… after, of course, they’ve taken a canter round the lawn on their usual hobbyhorses.
RL Date: 27/04/2020 - 10/05/2020
Related: Enlightening Afternoon.
iphigenie philomene 

Garden — Maignard Residence

The garden is girded by a high wall of plain grey stone, lined with trellises which climbing roses and honeysuckle are being trained in the strictest Kusheline style to ascend. It is chiefly laid out as a parterre in which beds of colourful flowers are separated by low, angular, meticulous box hedges and raked pathways of dark gravel, about a bronze fountain celebrating a Maignard ancestor.

The spreading canopy of a mature elm tree provides shade over a small lawn and its own more haphazard growth of bluebells, crocus, borage, and nasturtiums, arisen during years of neglect, kept because of their great interest to the plethora of bees whose buzzing sets the air aquiver as they partake of their floral feast. Their home is a neat stack of wooden hives in the far corner beyond the elm, amongst bushes of lavender and fennel, rosemary and sage.

Spaced along the house's rear façade three sets of heavy dark doors lead into chambers well-lit by mullioned windows of thick, distorted glass.

Springtime’s advance brings the dawn earlier and earlier to the city of Marsilikos and to its outdoors in particular, forcing Philomène’s morning constitutionals earlier as well if she wants her privacy— and yet rewarding her with an ever more dazzlingly fragrant and colourful array of the flowers of the day, so much more congenial to her than those of the night. She has seen, now, almost a full year’s turning in the life of the Maignard garden, and witnessed its transformation from a neglected urban wilderness into a place where Kusheline order tempers Eisandine beauty, to the delight of walkers as well as her friend Iphigénie’s bees.

And a knock at the door of the garden chamber always produces a strengthening cup of tea and a few minutes’ talk, and an excuse to allow weary and aching legs to rest before their owner levies further demands upon them. She’s just being polite to her hostess, see?

This morning, though, she doesn’t get as far as knocking. She hasn’t completed her set number of laps through the parterre before servants emerge from the house carrying familiar pieces of Iphigénie’s furniture — a sofa, a chair, a sturdy rectangular table over which a spotless white linen cloth is soon unfurled — a ritual of last summer, performed for the first time this spring. Blue and white china begins to blossom upon that white cloth. Cushions are arranged. Pastries appear — bacon, too. A candle is lit, and Nadège comes out to brew the tea.

The central portion of the picture appears last of all. Iphigénie herself, clad in a simple black gown the silhouette of which makes plain the severe corsetry beneath, walking slowly but steadily toward her breakfast with the aid of a new cane. She has cut her hair lately; the white cloud encircling her immaculately painted features is smaller and fluffier than usual. Seeing Philomène turned toward her she pauses and raises a hand, in silent invitation.

Despite rumours to the contrary, Philomène is capable of both civil conversation and a smile. Still out of the range of the conversation, at least for now, she does at least crack a friendly sort of expression in Iphigénie's direction, holding up two fingers. Presumably it's a count, rather than a gesture of defiance. Two more laps. As she limps her way closer, she raises her voice just enough to be heard, "You're looking rather well this morning. I'm almost loathe to interrupt."

At this distance Iphigénie’s eyes, weaker than they once were, can’t make out the gesture. But the general idea of it she takes on trust; and as Philomène continues her determined slog round the parterre her hostess seats herself on the sofa under the elm, and pours out a cup of tea, and sweetens it with the richly floral honey she’s once more gathering in plenitude from her hives. She tears open a croissant too and smears it liberally with honeycomb, and eats it in small bites in between discussing some of the day’s domestic matters with Nadège.

The maid is gone and so is the croissant, by the time Philomène strikes out across the lawn: whereupon Iphigénie wipes her sticky fingers on a napkin and pours a second cup of tea, plain black and trailing only a wisp or two of steam as she pushes it toward the other woman.

“Good morning, Philomène,” she greets her, the words more formal but the tone faintly amused. “Are you intent, then, upon revealing to me a piece of news so dreadful that it will spoil my beauty?” is her wry inquiry. “Do sit down,” she suggests then, “and tell me anyway.”

Her new walking stick is propped against the sofa’s arm. The handle follows that of her usual silver-tipped ebony cane — but the shaft of it is ornately carven, twined about with vines which bear not only blossoming roses but wickedly curved thorns. Closer study of it might reveal sprigs of lavender, a mandrake flower or two, and even the occasional bee.

"Ah, leave it with me," Philomène insists, resting a hand on the back of the seat put out for her rather than actually doing anything as demeaning as sitting down when she's asked to. She does, however, accept the tea with a grateful look and a murmured thank you. "I'm sure I can come up with something horrific. It's not usually something the world is short on providing, although nothing leaps to mind this morning. Other than the fact that the new ambassador from the Flatlands is the poisonous little creature who hired that savage last year. The one who tried to kill me. It's a damn insult! Have they no other people in the whole country they could send?"

That chair, and the other one, have almost got permanent impressions of Philomène’s fingerprints by now. But Iphigénie still sometimes forgets not to be civil to her, so here we all are. Pouring herself another cup, too, the Kusheline lady raises the neatly-drawn dark arches of her eyebrows at this news— but it brings, fortunately, no diminution in her severe glamour, or in that air of calm alertness which speaks of her having had a good night’s sleep for once.

“Is he indeed… I wonder, though,” she muses after a moment, “whether the other men of influence in his land might not prove equally unpleasant upon acquaintance.” She shrugs; one cannot really know unless one goes there oneself, and what right-thinking d’Angeline lady would suffer such indignity? “Their women would no doubt behave with greater civility, but I daresay it’s too much to hope,” and she gives Philomène a world-weary look and an infinitesimal shake of her fluffy white head, “that any of these foreign countries would send us a sensible woman, rather than whichever oaf about their courts has earned the honour of representing his fellow oafs by impressing them with his own displays of coarseness and bestiality.”

Philomène allows herself a laugh at that, finally deigning, after the necessary moment to steel her expression, to sit down in the offered chair. Finally having two hands free for her tea now, she takes a long, grateful sip, closing her eyes for a moment. "I see what you're doing there," she accuses fondly. "I don't think just any woman would be useful. And I've met ambassadors who are women and I'd equally as well chuck them in the damn river. And yes, I would make an awful ambassador, but then I've never tried to suggest otherwise."

Another shrug from Iphigénie, this time only one shoulder. “I think you know I’m tremendously fond of men,” she says drily, “but most of the best and wisest governors, administrators, negotiators, healers, lawyers, and priests I’ve known in my life have been women. I never expect foreign lands to send Terre d’Ange their best people, when they keep at least half of the best they have locked up at home spinning and sewing and breeding sons for their husbands.”

"I wonder," Philomène muses, cradling her tea with both hands, "if they're terrified that if they were to dare let the women out they'd be found out as second rate. They have built a culture on the myth that men are greater than women, and any sort of proven evidence to the contrary would crack their entire philosophy in half. One has to feel pity for the women there, too. I mean, they don't even understand the concept of love in foreign parts. What are they even doing to their women, I wonder?"

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Intimidation: Amazing Success. (3 7 3 8 8 8 1 8 2 7 6 2 5)

For Philomène it may be rhetorical. For Iphigénie, widely read if not widely traveled, widely experienced too in human nature and unswerving in her judgments when once she reaches them, it’s a matter of fact, and it’s never too early in the morning to feel that swell of righteous anger against perhaps the greatest and most widespread injustice under the sun.

She lifts her chin— and by that gesture her gaunt figure seems to gain a new and fierce majesty, perhaps something atavistic in her, something Kusheline. Her eyes, intelligent and deeply green, fix upon Philomène’s and don’t let go. “For the crimes foreign men commit against their women,” she states, quietly and with an absolute certainty, “in the heretical belief that they are exercising God-given rights— for such crimes,” she repeats, “we send d’Angeline men straight to prostrate themselves before Lord Kushiel’s flaming throne.” From somewhere she summons a slight, arid smile. It is not a kindly or a comforting expression. “Those others, beyond our borders,” she regrets, “must wait longer to receive his justice, and to earn his mercy.”

“One does have to wonder,” Philomène notes delicately, pausing to take a sip from her tea and to allow Iphigénie her righteous rage, “why we allow borders to prevent us doing anything about their barbarism.”

“How many d’Angeline lives,” is Iphigénie’s answer to that, voiced quietly and with the same fluency and certainty suggestive of her contemplation through the years, “should Camlach spend, and Azzalle too, for a whisper of hope that those raised in sin might be corrected—? No,” and she exhales a quiet sound of regret, “we may kindle a torch and hold it aloft, but we cannot compel them to crave the light. A forced conversion is never genuine.”

Philomène allows herself a small smile. “Well, ask on the borders and I don’t know a single Camaeline who would refuse the order to fight on, but then we’re not exactly renowned as the most level-headed of people. The Aiglemorts would throw themselves over the border until there were none of us left, so perhaps it’s a good thing that we’re too busy defending what we have to go out and try to convert the masses.”

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Presence+Composure: Amazing Success. (2 7 6 7 5 6 1 8 7 5 6 7 3 6 7 4)

Iphigénie draws a slow breath of spring-fragrant garden air, as if she might have more to say in this vein, words which must be weighed with care— but then she looks deliberately away from Philomène to the tea table laid between them, and voices a suggestion somewhat more practical than a holy crusade into Skaldia. “Another cup of tea,” she says briskly, and reaches out a hand across the table to draw her visitor’s cup nearer to herself.

“Perhaps you’ve seen how well the hemp is flourishing,” she adds, looking up to nod towards the plants in question as she pours tea for them both, “and for that I must thank you again, Philomène. I find myself looking forward to a summer even more comfortable, and more productive, than I enjoyed last year when I first came to Marsilikos.”

“It’s going to be a hot summer,” Philomène pronounces, glancing over towards the plants in question. “They like the heat, so it’ll be difficult to stop it flourishing this year, I think. I hope the same can be said for you.” She claims the tea, cupping it in her hands as she takes in the garden as a whole. “Would you object if I brought things here to sketch and paint some of the flowers? I’m no damn good, but it’s the thought that counts. And I’d do it when you’re not using the garden, obviously.”

Raising her own cup to her lips Iphigénie smiles suddenly across the rim of it. She sips, then assures Philomène, “Of course you’d be welcome. You know I adore the garden here — I’d be interested to see it put down on canvas,” she adds, by way of pledging a friendship so true that it extends even to the admiring of amateur artistic efforts. Then, studying Philomène with a spark of mischief in her ever-vivid green eyes, she sets down her cup. “I wonder— I don’t suppose you’d be terribly shocked,” she decides, reaching for her gown.

The unfastening of a few buttons down her bodice, the drawing apart of black cloth and something soft and white beneath, reveals fine pale skin veined visibly with blue and drawn tight across Iphigénie’s collarbones — and the glimmer of a silver chain necklace — and then a suggestion that her formidable steel-boned corset might be edged in red silk.

The latter does on the whole a marvelous job of suppressing whatever bosom so gaunt a woman might possess— but there, tucked into the top of it as if her slight cleavage were a vase, is the likeness of a posy: a stem of fresh bluebells, a violet crocus, a ruddy red nasturtium… Sitting in the midst of her flower lawn and its blooms one cannot help but perceive that she’s had her marquist recreate it, not upon canvas but inked into her own flesh.

She quirks an eyebrow at Philomène. “You see, I’ve felt the same temptation.”

<FS3> Philomène rolls Botany: Success. (2 5 7 2 2 4)

Philomène taps her fingers on the rim of her cup as the skin is revealed, noting with dry humour, “I’d usually at least buy you supper first.” But then the reason for the stripping becomes more clear, and she leans in with a critical eye to examine the handiwork.

“This is art,” she decides. “You wouldn’t grow these three close together in the real world. The nasturtiums would be all leaf and no flower if they’re in with bluebells.” She glances up to Iphingenie’s face, gives her a rueful smile and a shrug. “I’m afraid I’m no artist, but I was hoping to make notes for their cultivation. More science than art.”

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Botany: Good Success. (5 7 3 6 8 2 8 6)

The younger woman’s close scrutiny of her bosom in no way discomposes Iphigénie; after all, though it may be rather more flesh than she is wont to exhibit to anyone but a lover, it’s no more than many a d’Angeline gown offers to the eye. “It’s true, I didn’t plant them,” she murmurs; “the lawn was here just as it is when I arrived, poor nasturtiums and all. I’ve wondered whether it was someone’s design, at some time in the past, or just a beautiful chance that scattered such flowers together. I find the parterre very pleasing too, of course,” and she runs a meditative fingertip over her own nasturtium, as if stroking its red petals, “but perfect order risks becoming dull. I recall Monsieur Raphael observing as much,” she mentions, adjusting her garments again and beginning to do up her buttons, “the first time he came to tea with me here.”

“The world as a whole turns to chaos in the bat of an eye,” Philomène reasons, leaning back again to sip her tea. “I rather like the idea of order. There’s something very satisfying about seeing, let’s say rank after rank of regimented stalks of wheat, or a neatly trimmed lawn. The natural disorder of things tamed by human hand. I would have thought that more Monsieur Raphael’s philosophy, but then it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been wrong about him.”

The breeze plays impudently with Iphigénie’s soft, fluffy white hair as she remarks, “Really? Well, he and I agreed together that a note of disorder— a note,” she specifies, smiling faintly as she fastens the last of her buttons and reaches to reclaim her tea, “can be charming and provocative… I wonder, now,” she sips, “what else you found you’d mistaken in him.” Her eyebrows lift, inviting whatever confidences it may please Philomène to offer.

It’s too early in the morning yet for Philomène to be sufficiently drunk to answer that, and so she just gives the woman a slight smile. “I’ll leave him to answer that one. Suffice it to say that I never could leave a good argument well enough alone, and I may perhaps have dismissed him as yet another idiot at one time. Don’t you dare tell anyone I admitted I might have been wrong, though. I have my reputation to maintain, that of a stubborn old bat who can’t listen to reason.”

Iphigénie’s teacup hides her own smile, then reveals it. “I’m sure I see a different side of his character,” she suggests in a wry murmur. “I’ll keep your secret, though I think there’s no shame in revising one’s views if one learns something truly new that has bearing upon them.” Another sip, and she offers: “More tea? I think there’s a little left in the pot.”

“I would imagine you see a whole lot more of his character,” Philomène notes, covering her cup with her hand and shaking her head. “A whole lot more of him, too, mind. But no, no I won’t, but thank you. I’ve taken more of your time than I’d intended anyway, and I’ve a new horse who needs tending this morning. Thank you, as ever, for your hospitality.”

“I’m a dowager,” Iphigénie points out, still wry, to Philomène who more than most must be coming to understand such a condition; “I have nothing but time.”

She sets down her cup in her saucer and her saucer on the table, and offers the younger woman her hand in farewell. “A new horse? You’ll have to tell me all about her,” she suggests, her smile turning whimsical, “when you come to study my flowers.”

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