(1312-05-28) An Owed Apology
Summary: Iphigénie is late in keeping a promise to a young friend, and finds that a great deal has altered with Alienor since last they spoke…
RL Date: 27/05/2020
Related: Four Curtseys, Purposeful Pain, Tea Among Angels; and then, Uncertainty, Wise Advice, Fatherly Advice.
iphigenie alienor 

Maignard Residence — Noble District

Built a century past and unaltered since, placed entre cour et jardin and protected behind grey stone and iron spikes and broad oaken gates, the Maignard residence is the smallest of the great houses in the Avenue de Kusheth. Considered unfashionable for decades, it is now recognised as a gem of its style.

The house's grey stone façade is rescued from bleakness by its plethora of tall mullioned windows set with panes of thick, distorted glass. It rises to the height of three generous storeys, between the lower peaked slate rooftops of wings which contain the concierge's lodge next to the gates and the stables opposite. Gargoyles squat ominously on the main house's roof and peer over the edge of it; two of their ilk have infiltrated the lower reaches, their open mouths forming the termini of downspouts at either side of the small recessed portico.

Ironbound double doors hewn from the same oak as the outer gates, though less weathered, open from the portico into an enfilade of reception-rooms leading through the ground floor and out via a similar doorway into the garden.

Each of these three square marble-floored chambers is populated by angular old furniture of walnut and mahogany, which has lately been put into perfect repair and beeswax-polished to a fine rich glow, and then upholstered in dark velvets and silks and aligned in absolute symmetry. The effect is uniquely pleasing to eyes trained upon Kusheline aesthetics. The walls are decorated with scenes from the Eluine Cycle, including a scantily-clad Naamah with wrists bound kneeling to bewitch a cold-eyed King of Persis. These are separated by half-columns of tarnished gilt, seemingly the only curved surfaces in this house of rigid lines.

The outermost reception-room serves also as a foyer, from which black-painted staircases built against the walls at both sides ascend into a balustraded gallery which affords access to the house's upper floors. A door at the foot of the left-hand staircase leads into the small central salon of the garden suite, while its counterpart to the right opens upon a well-stocked library.

The plan was made so long ago that it may take Alienor by surprise, when her afternoon is given over to Iphigénie Maignard — and by the terms of a contract conveyed back and forth rather than being signed together on the premises of the Rose Sauvage.

The carriage which transports her to this unusual assignation is not the salon’s own but her patron’s: an opulent conveyance though none too new. Dark reddish-brown wood, well-kept and well-polished, with upholstery of burgundy velvet just beginning to show wear. Curtains of the same rich cloth are bound back from the windows at either side by golden ropes with flourishing tassels. The coachman and the lackey who hands her inside are dressed smartly, in hard-wearing black cloth accented with House Maignard's other hues of dark red and gold. Her journey through the city is briefish and her welcome courteous, and she’s left with nothing to question, but shown pointedly through the reception-rooms and into the garden.

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.

The maid opens the heavy oaken backdoor and ushers Alienor from a chamber celebrating the foundation of an earthly paradise in Terre d'Ange, into a corner of that Eden girded by another high plain wall of grey stone, and lined with trellises up which roses are being trained in the strictest Kusheline style to climb. Flowers are everywhere, some new-planted in neat beds and others growing up haphazardly from the grass surrounding a mature elm tree. Beneath its arching branches stands a table laid for two with simple blue and white Chi'in porcelain, a basket of pastries kept snug inside a folded linen cloth, and the other accoutrements of a lazy afternoon tea. Next to it stands a sofa upholstered in smoke-blue velvet and amply sized for two, and a matching chair, from the same suite as the chairs in the foyer.

An unusual number of bees are in evidence, buzzing about, passing the time of day, partaking of their floral feast. They must have come from the neatly-stacked wooden hives in the far corner— and Alienor's hostess is coming that way as well, walking slowly but smoothly without the aid of her chair or her stick. The skirts of her plain dark red gown sway with each step. She appears to be carrying a plate. Her aim is that grouping of furniture beneath the tree, which her little visitor with far younger legs could surely reach first, did the mood but take her.

Clad all in bright white, naturally, in a simple gown that covers her from throat to her toes but is nonetheless fitted quite prettily to show off her girlish figure with a fluffy voluminous skirt, Alienor is quite eager, grinning under her diaphanous white veil which has been pinned in place atop her dark curls with several fresh white roses. And she can hardly wait for her hostess, and so rather than carrying herself at a dignified pace, she goes skip-hop-scampering across to intercept rather than pause at the furniture which has been set out for them.

“Oh, let me help!” she offers brightly to her aged patron with a beaming and excited smile, offering out her hands as she skids to a stop with a swirl of white skirts and the susurration of silk. “I mean, my lady,” she adds momentarily, with a bob of a curtsey. “Please.” She is a giddy girl for once, hardly somber at the moment, hardly serious, and not at all sad.

Iphigénie presents an altogether more dignified figure, severely corseted and wraith-slender beneath her red gown, her back straight and her head carried high as befits one of her years and her lineage. Her steps subtly slow as Alienor bounds across the flower lawn to meet her; she leaves the exertion to one who can so well manage it and just smiles at her in greeting. Her lips are painted to match her garments. “My dear, I owe you an apology,” she states at once, sincerely, in that Kusheline accent as honeyed as the comb she’s just purloined from her hives. “But please,” and she surrenders the plate; “this is for you to eat, anyway.”

“Oh, but you look so lovely today! I love your lip paint. It’s such a dramatic color and looks so fine on you,” Alienor gushes as she takes the plate, with the sincere enthusiasm of girlhood. “You’re so lovely. I hope that I can be like you someday.” She offers an arm, if her hostess would appreciate the aid, but she seems to be in high spirits now, particularly. “Why would you owe me an apology? I’m so happy to be here with you!”

Iphigénie touches Alienor’s arm lightly but doesn’t take hold of it; she sets her own stately pace toward the elm tree and the comforts arranged beneath its spreading branches. The compliments, she takes with an indulgent smile, but doesn’t let them distract her.

“We spoke some months ago, you know, at Naamah’s temple,” she reminds the girl gently, “and I wouldn’t like you to think I forgot my promise to you. But I was ill for a while — I think it was that day at the temple that I caught a cold, and it settled in my lungs — and after that I was occupied a great deal with… various matters,” she concludes, inconclusively.

“But everything happens in its own time and season, my dear, and I think we shall have a prettier day to spend together now than we would have done in the winter. Will you please put down the plate just there,” she gestures with a gaunt white hand, the nails of it short and well-kept, “and then you may see how you like fresh honeycomb upon a croissant, before you try my cook’s lemon cakes. Oh… I know very well,” and her voice and her nod are sympathetic as she glances aside to Alienor, “that novices and adepts are discouraged from eating sweets. But if you have it from a patron you may eat what you like,” she chuckles softly.

Placing the plate where indicated, Alienor looks concerned for a moment, all wide-eyed. “Oh, goodness. I’m so glad that you’re feeling better now. I hope the weather now is better for you. It’s been kind of a rainy spring, but it’s nice and warm and the flowers love the rain, so the gardens are all so beautiful,” she says, and she glances around for a moment at the gardens they’re in. “I love that you have an apiary full of fat honey bees.”

“May I remove my veil for you?” the girl wonders, even though it is all charmingly pinned in place. “You will be able to see my face better, and I will be less likely to get sticky things on it, which is the most dreadful thing about wearing a veil: getting it dirty. I hate to be dirty.”

“I quite see that it must be a trial to you,” Iphigénie agrees, amused. She smoothes her skirts with one hand as she steps between the table and the sofa, and lowers herself into her usual place upon the latter. Convenient to her teapot and her silver bell— and an elaborately carved walking stick, just in case. “Of course you may take it off, my dear. I’ll admit,” and she tucks a cushion behind herself and looks up with another smile for Alienor, “I’ve looked forward to seeing your face. Do sit down,” she encourages the girl. “Shall I help you with your roses? We might put them in your hair instead,” she suggests; “they look so fresh and pretty.”

"Oh, that would be lovely," Alienor says brightly, moving to settle next to the older woman and holding her head at an angle so that it can be reached. "Here, there's a hairpin here, and here, and one through the roses." Her hair under the veil has been curled into fat ringlets, soft and dark and bouncy.

Iphigénie’s careful fingers seek out Alienor’s hairpins as directed. “I was never clever with my hair,” she confides absently, “even before the accident which damaged my hand… I keep mine short so I needn’t do more than run a comb through it.” The summer breeze has made free with it since then, though, giving her a halo of silky white fluff. “… Ah, there,” and she plucks the white rosebuds safely from their place and displays her prizes to Alienor, the flowers in the palm of one hand and the correct number of hairpins glittering in the other. She leaves the unveiling to the girl herself, and as their eyes meet for the first time without the interference of silk or of gauze, she pronounces: “You do look lovely. Your salon must be very proud.”

"They are very possessive of me and do want me to succeed, very much so, though I must admit that I do not enjoy the vast majority of the assignations I find myself in," Alienor admits with a little smile, hopeful as her grey-green eyes meet the gaze of her patron. She is careful and neat about folding her veil, and she sighs softly. "Sometimes service to Naamah is very painful. And sometimes it is traumatizing," she whispers as she tucks the neat square of diaphanous fabric into a hidden pocket in her white dress, blinking to hold back tears. "Forgive me, my lady. I shouldn't burden you with the drama of youth."

The tremour of pain in her little visitor’s voice makes Iphigénie forget for a moment about all the flowers but one. “Alienor, what has happened in these last months—?” she asks, with a trace of incredulity. “You seemed such a happy child in the wintertime.” Her hand curls about the hairpins and the back of it nudges beneath Alienor’s chin, lifting the girl’s face so that she might look again into those lately-revealed, sea-glistening eyes. Her own gaze is a far more brilliant green, and as incisive as any Thorn’s. “Would you like to tell me?” she asks gently.

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