(1312-05-21) I Used To Sing
Summary: Taking coffee at La Perle Noire, Azalaïs L’Envers unwittingly draws attention to herself— including that of her late husband’s loveliest cousin…
RL Date: 18/05/2020 - 22/05/2020
Related: None.
azalais soleil safiye 

Courtyard — La Perle Noire

The courtyard is a narrow rectangle reaching far from the noise and bustle of the Grand Plaza, girded up and down and on all four sides by gracious white marble colonnades in the Hellenic style so favoured by the architects of Marsilikos. Orange trees in terracotta pots stand beside each column, perfuming the air.

In the downstairs colonnade the dark wooden tables are of an ordinary height, and surrounded by chairs save where sofas are set against the walls. White marble steps climb from either side of the doors, into the upper colonnade where tables crouch low upon a cushion-strewn, tiled floor. The orderly and geometric patterns of the tiles pick up the teal-blue and yellow-gold of the upholstery and cushions, toy with them, and augment their hues with cinnabar, azure, and rose.

The middle of the marble floor is left empty around a rectangular pool, too shallow for bathing, tiled in a blue to echo the sky above. A two-tiered bronze seahorse fountain rises from it; on even the warmest Eisandine summer days the water cascading therefrom and flowing slowly through the pool lends an impression of coolness, as well as obfuscating conversation beneath its own murmur. Morning finds seasonal flowers adrift upon the surface of the water; towards evening candles are launched in gleaming glass dishes to illuminate the dusk.

Wet weather closes the courtyard, for the marble becomes treacherous.

This morning the Eisandine summer skies drizzled on and off, and the courtyard of La Perle Noire was very nearly closed for the day. But around lunchtime the horizon clears and Safiye Hanim sends out a couple of local lads with mops to dry the marble— and then one of her Ephesian youths who has quite a way with his flute, the foreign and silvery song of which serves to beguile some of her patrons out of the lounge and into the fresh air.

One such migrant is a lady of about thirty, modestly garbed in cream-coloured and leaf-green linen. Her overskirts unfurl across the vivid yellow upholstery of a sofa tucked against a wall of the lower colonnade and hint at at something ruffled beneath, some petticoat in the same dusty pink hue as the cabbage roses embroidered upon her bodice. Her chief beauty is the mane of vivid dark red hair which spills loose and unadorned down her back and over her shoulders, falling away from a strong-featured face turned pensively toward the flautist.

When the song ends the boy bows deeply to his audience and makes to withdraw— and Azalaïs L'Envers lets go of the cushion she’s been cuddling in her lap and raises her hands in impulsive applause. He looks back at her, startled, and bows again. By which time plenty of other people are looking at her too, some murmuring to their companions out of the corners of their mouths as they eye this thoroughly gauche display of enthusiasm by a woman not yet well known enough in Marsilikos for her high rank to ameliorate and justify her peculiarities. She doesn't seem to notice. Perhaps she just can't see the whispering through all that hair.

"Your Excellency," comes the sweet tones of sunshine, stepping close with the soft swish of expensive fabric and the tiny jingle of musical bells. Momentarily, Soleil is sitting next to this migrant lady, smiling in a distracting sort of way with her lovely blue eyes warm, just the hint of violet in them. "This perhaps is not the best place for such enthusiastic appreciation of the boy's performance, though it was lovely. Why don't we just sit and chat about it? Perhaps he'll play more in a bit."

At the approach of Soleil’s bells Azalaïs turns from watching the flautist’s discreet exit through a staff-only door at the rear of the courtyard. She’s charmed more than taken aback to find her solitude so unceremoniously augmented; she looks up into the younger woman’s face and brightens as if the sun has indeed come out, and just for her. “But if this is where he performed, then where else?” she asks reasonably. She tilts her head. “It’s Mademoiselle Soleil, isn’t it? Your grandmother speaks of you so often— I wondered if I might run across you, at the house or somewhere else,” and she sounds thoroughly pleased to have done so.

"Yes, indeed," Soleil replies with a soft laugh, beaming brightly at Azalaïs gently. "Oh, and don't let Granny comment on your sartorial choices; she's pretty sure what was in fashion before we were born is still decidedly in fashion. You look lovely as you are and certainly don't need any extra brooches. Granny loves brooches almost as much as she loves sofas, after all." She waves a hand lightly at the musician. "More lightness, if you applaud. And really, I suspect that the boy would be even more appreciative if you offered the manager a bit of coin in appreciation of his work."

<FS3> Azalaïs rolls Subterfuge: Great Success. (7 5 4 2 8 5 3 1 1 3 2 1 5 8 1 8 7 3 1)

Soleil’s compliment seems at first to have the opposite effect to what’s intended, as Azalaïs looks down at herself in search of what might be wrong after all. She looks up again into Soleil’s eyes and accepts her lecture in good part. “More li— oh, yes, I see,” she says humbly. “Sometimes, though, one can’t help but be moved by beauty.” The copper cup of kahve which came with her out into the courtyard, is still there on the table. She takes it up and sips, the taste of it pleasantly bitter and sweet though the temperature now leaves something to be desired. “I know I’d feel rather maudlin if I’d been singing as well as the boy was playing just now, and I thought nobody had listened to me at all,” she adds quietly, shrugging.

"It'd rather feel awful, I imagine, to perform so nicely and think no one cared," Soleil agrees with a soft laugh. "But quiet applause and an appreciative smile is also quite appropriate, especially when you follow it up with a heartfelt gift." She motions for a server to bring her a cup of kahve, but maintains focus on her cousin. "Do you sing, Your Excellency? I hardly recall. We've had no opportunity to spend time together, I fear."

The Ephesian waiter bows to acknowledge Soleil, and moves away.

Addressed again as a marquise, Azalaïs shakes her head. “No, all that’s over now—” she says softly. “Azalaïs, please. I used to sing,” she adds, “when I was a courtesan too.” Lifting her cup she bows her head to meet it, far enough that a thick wave of red hair falls forward to screen her features while she sips her cooling kahve. “I suppose I thought it would be different in Eisheth’s province,” she muses, taking one last sip and straightening her head to let her hair fall back again, “that people might be more inclined to listen… Even if one’s own affairs are urgent, what a blessing to have a few minutes’ respite from them.” She smiles at Soleil. “But the baronne de Vézelay tells me that your affairs are prospering here. Congratulations on your new appointment, mademoiselle. I’m sure it’s very well deserved.”

"I suspect that it becomes the natural expectation that there are going to be things to entertain at all times, and so one gets to the point where one never actually listens to anything. It's there, in the back of hearing, pleasant and unassuming, but then, when someone actually listens to it, people are startled to think that someone is applauding that which is just the beautiful background of their lovely day," Soleil muses after a moment, considering Azalaïs' words with perhaps more depth than one might expect. "Many people feel entitled to this sort of luxury. It is a blessing to be able to take a moment and relax, though." She takes a deep breath and lets it out. "Thank you, sincerely. Yes, I am doing quite well here. I am enjoying Le Coquelicot."

“It does make me wonder,” admits Azalaïs in an undertone, glancing about the courtyard and its complement of kahve-sipping idlers, “if the privileged lives we lead are as fortunate as they seem… I just think,” and she smiles faintly apologetically at Soleil, “what’s the point of being surrounded by beauty and luxury, if one no longer notices it anymore—?”

A soft and golden sound deeper than that of Soleil’s bells announces the passage of Safiye Hanim, the proprietress of the establishment: a matronly figure in blue and orange and turquoise silks and fragrant, as always, of the East. She has brought out into the courtyard a heavy and finely-wrought Ephesian silver tray with a coffee service for two, the copper cups and the glazed pottery dishes more elaborate than those Soleil has seen here before, and the spring water served in crystal glasses painted with what would be the flowers of the season, were one in Constantinopolis. She approaches the two L’Envers ladies and, having eased the tray onto the edge of their table, steps back to bow to them over her clasped hands.

“Your Excellency, what a pleasure it is to see you in Marsilikos again,” she murmurs, her d’Angeline flawless and her accent somewhat smoothed by custom. “I feared your coffee might by now be cold. Please, accept another cup,” she suggests with a smile, “and a new sweet my cook has just taken from her oven… We would so like to know your opinion of it. My lady,” this as she turns her warm brown eyes upon Soleil — the flattery is intentional, “how do you do? I am Safiye Hanim, and it is my honour to welcome you to La Perle Noire.”

“Thank you, Lady Sophia, you’re very kind,” is Azalaïs’s quiet answer, spoken with a dignity she didn’t trouble to put on for a friendly courtesan cousin of her husband’s. But it’s always there, like a court gown tucked away in a camphor chest to bide its time.

"A pleasure," Soleil replies to the hostess with her characteristic warmth, the soft lilac of the L'Envers line just hinted at in her lovely blue eyes. "New sweets! What a delight! It is always so pleasant to come and spend time here. There are new experiences to discover and I have the added bonus of being able to spend time with Her Excellency." She is demure, letting Azalaïs take the spotlight in an easy sort of way, and she just waits, letting the proprietress be social with her companion. She does take the opportunity to sip at her kahve, though, and it is clear that she enjoys the delightfully bitter taste.

As the new confections are sampled the dowager marquise and the foreign lady pass courtesies back and forth — exchanging Azalaïs’s thanks to Safiye for brewing her coffee with her own hands, for Safiye’s solicitude for the health and spirits of her daughter, Lady Grace — their manners equally polished on both sides and a tad deferential on one. Soleil is introduced; the sweets are pronounced very fine, as they were bound to be at La Perle; and on that note Safiye withdraws with a bow of her head, a clear golden chime from her earrings, and a last wish that the L’Envers ladies be at home in her house, as the welcome guests they are.

Azalaïs watches her go and remarks to Soleil, sidelong and with a rare jaundiced note in her Elua-educated, Eisande-inflected voice, “Of course, it’s never really over.” Then, more softly and upon a sigh: “But I’m grateful that people are still so considerate of me.”

"As well they should be! You have done much over the course of your marriage to the Marquis in service to your family and your people," Soleil points out with a little shake of her head, reaching out a gentle hand to touch Azalaïs' shoulder lightly in a comforting way, making physical contact to soothe. "As his widow, you still have much to do to aid your stepson and see to it that your daughter turns out well. You may be lonely, but there are new things to experience and more life to live. You are only getting started on this stage of your life, after all."

The courtesan withdraws a bit so that she can sip at her warm beverage, noting after a moment, "Perhaps I will bring my lute with me the next time I visit my grandmother, though I am not a particularly accomplished lutist. It is a pleasant hobby, and perhaps I might induce you to sing with me."

<FS3> Azalaïs rolls Subterfuge: Good Success. (4 3 7 4 1 5 2 1 7 4 3 4 8 4 5 1 4 4 5)

At that touch upon her shoulder Azalaïs turns to smile at Soleil, though with a suggestion of the pensive in her sea-coloured eyes. “Yes, of course every phase of one’s life brings its own duties,” she agrees; “you must have new duties of your own, too. I’d like to hear you play,” she says sincerely, “if you find you have the leisure… I have been in Carcassonne lately, but I think I’m settled in Marsilikos now for the rest of the year, or till next spring.”

"I do. And I am thus far enjoying those new duties," Soleil admits with a coy little smile. She laughs softly, looking thoughtful. "I find that leisure for me is choosing not to take on another patron or the like. Everything is a choice, of course, but sometimes it is worth the free time and relaxation." She runs her fingers against her face for a moment, tucking a lock of golden hair behind her ear casually.

“Your service is of a kind that ensures your freedom,” says Azalaïs simply, smiling at the younger woman. Then she takes up her fresh cup of kahve and essays a dainty sip to test the temperature. “The country people, you know, they have a saying that one ought not to place all one’s eggs in a single basket,” she adds with deceptive mildness, sipping again.

"Does that mean that I shouldn't allow a wealthy lover to whisk me away?" Soleil wonders with a curious smile, arching a brow for a moment as she also moves to sip her kahve. "I presently have the security that he cannot buy my marque to have me for himself, for it is finished and I shall continue to enjoy my independence."

Azalaïs shakes her head. “You should love as thou wilt, of course,” she counters demurely, as any d’Angeline lady must; “but perhaps consider too that one can never really go home again, nor depend upon reclaiming what one has relinquished for love… The world never ceases to turn; and, as you so wisely point out, every choice carries its price. You’ve done so well for yourself, mademoiselle. Why not rejoice in that for a time?” she suggests.

"Oh, I do plan to," Soleil reassures Azalaïs with an easy-going smile, content, it seems, with her present situation. "It is a delight to help the adepts as they learn and grow, and that sort of experience is not one I care to give up so quickly. It is my hope that my lord will remain in my life for the meanwhile, and as time passes, we may come to a greater understanding of what we desire from one another. There is no need to rush, I think. No urgency."

And that good romantic sense brings to Azalaïs’s lips a smile gentler and more luminous, befitting a scion of Eisheth. “I wish you joy of your time with him,” she says simply; “and perhaps if we do make music together we’ll have a little joy of our own, too. I ought to go, though, to collect my daughter from her dress fitting… It’s too bad that Lady Sophia brought me more coffee,” she frets, “I hope at least you’ll finish the sweets for me.”

"Yes, I think I can handle the sweets, and if I cannot, I shall have them boxed and brought back to the salon, and someone will be happy to devour them for me. In fact, I may go order a cake for later, just to spoil them," Soleil muses thoughtfully, though she waits to see if Azalaïs rises just yet so that she may see off the Marquise properly and politely. "I look forward to seeing you again soon. It is a delight to spend time with you, and I hope, then, I may serve as your companion in the future."

Absent a lady-in-waiting to perform such offices Azalaïs looks about herself as she rises for whatever gloves and handkerchiefs and other accoutrements she may have shed in her hour of idleness, and finds nothing— though next time she comes in for a cup of coffee she’ll be presented also with a refugee from under the table, freshly laundered for her.

Then she looks to Soleil and offers her hand in parting as they stand together, half in the afternoon sunshine and half in the colonnade’s shade. “I’m so glad we met today, mademoiselle,” she agrees; “and do remember, please— bring your lute.”

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