(1312-05-29) Hidden Depths
Summary: Running into Zéphyrine again over kahve and lokum, Étienne reverts to his perennial favourite subject…
RL Date: 29/05/2020
Related: Reference is made to Imagining Sea Shanties; also, The Adventures of François.
zephyrine symon etienne 

La Perle Noire — Grand Plaza

The face this establishment shows to the Grand Plaza is a window display of coffee beans in a fantastic blown-glass vase, against figured silk which changes with the seasons; and a pair of heavy oaken doors guarded by a swarthy, bearded, well-muscled man in Ephesian costume, who bows patrons out of Terre d'Ange and into a foreign land redolent of fine coffee and cinnamon and tobacco, lit by countless candles suspended each in a gleaming glass lantern from a ceiling that billows with ruby-red silk and cloth of gold. Layered carpets of many colours, intricately woven and warmed in winter by a hypocaust, soften the music of pipes and drums and mandolins that filters through this sanctuary of civilised pleasures. Here a friendship might be forged or renewed, a deal struck, or a day simply whiled away in Eastern opulence and ease, amidst the red and the gold and the smoke.

In the middle of the main lounge is a raised circular stage upon which an horologist's glass marks the lapse of two hours between performances by Ephesian dancing girls, or minstrels singing joyously in the tongue of that land, or even a local d'Angeline bard telling tall tales. Low tables of dark wood radiate therefrom, surrounded by lounging cushions and richly-upholstered divans; the outermost are set in alcoves which may for privacy's sake be screened by shimmering silken curtains. If one desires amusement, one may summon at any hour alluring dancers whose brass finger-cymbals chime to accent the undulations of their hips. If one wishes to smoke, one may command a water pipe. But the true business of the house is the coffee. Perfumed young men in loose trousers and embroidered tunics move to and fro like angels dispensing this liquid mercy: strong, fragrant, frothing kahve, brewed cup by cup from the fine-ground black pearls of Ephesium, served in elaborate copper vessels beside tall glasses of pure spring water and plates of esoteric and delectable foreign sweetmeats.

Several sets of doors at the rear of the lounge lead away to the kitchens; to a stairway ascending toward smaller chambers which may be reserved for private parties; and outside into a courtyard, open in fair weather.

Étienne and Symon are thoroughly ensconced. Étienne has clearly been drinking the specialty of the house from the way his leg is shaking. They have a big plate of the sweet toffee that many eat with the bitter but strangely alluring drink served here. Étienne keeps casting sly glances at Symon as they chat.

Symon is perhaps slowly warming to the brew they serve here, given that he's been found socializing here quite a bit lately. But he has never had the taste for it that Étienne has. "…So he says, 'If that w…was the horse, then who are you?'" he says, concluding an amusing and surely untrue anecdote he got second-hand from another friend.

Zéphyrine enters in a fairly bouncy mood and then pauses to look around for a table. Her guard is behind her, as usual when she's not at home, looking extremely bland today.

Étienne laughs, all delight and sunny skies. Then he spots Zéphyrine and gives her a big friendly wave.

Symon turns to follow Étienne's gaze, and smiles broadly. "Oh, you m…must join us," he invites. "Only I'm sure Laurent said he'd b-be stopping b-by any m…minute. I shall have to go w…with him w-when he does. His letter sounded excited."

Zéphyrine beams. "Étienne! Symon! Of course I shall join you. And if you have to leave, I will understand. Business before pleasure, after all." She settles in and waves over a server, ordering her kahve and also a plate of lokhum and sweet soujuk. "How have you two been? It's been a little while since I've seen you around."

Étienne beams at her, "We're really, really good. How have you been, my lady? How goes the shopping?"

"Mm, yes," Symon says as though he'd ever done business a day in his life. He sips from his cup and turns to look at the door. "Oh, I think that's him," he says. "P-pardon." He gets up and heads for the entrance.

Zéphyrine grins. "The shopping goes well. I am making trade progress, at least. Less progress on finding suitable husband candidates, but…" She watches Symon go and gives him a little wave.

Étienne touches Symon's hand and gives him another bright smile as he goes, then turns back to Zéphyrine, "I'm sorry the hunting is so hard. I think… things may be looking up in that area for Symon, but we won't know for a while yet. Perhaps the Lady Chimène might help you, if you are in favour with her."

Zéphyrine sighs a little. "I'm working with her. At least theoretically. I'm supposed to give her a list of three things I want most in a husband and three things I absolutely won't stand for, but she wants them to be concrete things and… I am having a hard time with it. And the one absolute thing I really, truly wouldn't be able to stand is… rather famously an attribute of the lady, herself, and I'm not entirely sure how she'll react to that. Even if she will, probably, recognize the need in this case." She huffs a little. "I'm glad Symon may have found someone, though."

Étienne says, "Oh, he hasn't met her yet. We think it's best… she meet him first, given how some people…. You may not have noticed he stutters sometimes." He sips his drink, "I remember you talking about your list. What… attribute were you thinking of?"

"A tendency to sea sickness. It just simply won't do. My lands are on an island." Zéphyrine responds immediately. "And, of course, when I'm with child there will be a number of months when I really should stay home and not be on a ship and my husband would be the logical choice to be handling trade at that point, even if I do it much of the rest of the time. So… it really is quite essential."

Étienne nods, "Ah. Well surely she wouldn't object given the practicalities of it? It seems essential to me that he have good sea legs and a strong stomach."

Zéphyrine considers. "Maybe. She can be… touchy about things and I made a slight miscalculation due to not knowing everything about a situation and so I am, possibly, not entirely in her good graces." She glances towards the door and then back to Étienne and lowers her voice. "I had noticed the stutter, yes. It wouldn't bother me, but I suppose there are people it might."

Étienne winces, those angel kissed eyes all empathy, "Oh! I'm terribly sorry, Zéphyrine. It's so hard keeping abreast of all the politics here." His tone turns dark, "Some people mock him. If I were a better swordsman I'd… but he hates when I fight." He calms himself, "It's why I call him Sweet Symon. People sometimes call him Simple Symon and I hate that they turn his name into a… a cruelty, so I decided early on that I'd change it. I want to make everything good for him. He deserves that."

Zéphyrine thinks and then is distracted by smiling brightly at the server who brings her drink and snacks. She sips a little from her cup. "He does seem very sweet. Though also like… he doesn't do well with change or at least with things moving too quickly. I can't quite tell." She flashes Étienne a smile. "I do like him, quite a bit. But… he seems to have a hard time, sometimes, and I wasn't quite sure… is there anything I should know to keep him from being uncomfortable?"

Étienne ducks his head, "He's been through a lot, without anyone much to… to support him and help him." He eyes her, and says carefully, “How much do you know about his family?"

<FS3> Zéphyrine rolls Politics: Good Success. (2 7 8 3 3 4 4)

Zéphyrine hmmms. "Well, I know he wasn't the heir, despite being eldest. And I know that they're an old family, well regarded, but… not doing very well financially. I don't really know any details of any of it, though."

Étienne says bitterly and with a quiet, but white hot anger, "They don't value him. They never loved him as he ought to be loved. He's not perfect, so they… but he's better than perfect; he's Symon. I think for every flaw that made them… half abandon him until they had no other choice, I see a strength."

Zéphyrine nods, slowly. "I… can't imagine what that would be like. My parents loved us, even if my father was gone more than half the time and my older brother with him. Though, I believe Lady Chimène likes him, surely that must count for something in their eyes. I mean, she rather has to put up with me, but she likes him for himself, presumably."

Étienne nods, "I can't imagine how… how lonely that was for him. I grew up never doubting for a second I was loved. Everything he is… he had to make of himself. I am incredibly proud of him. I admire him. I…" He takes a breath, "He's sweet and kind and generous and charming and he deserves the world. He's not simple, but you're right, he has trouble adjusting to new things." He looks in her eyes, "You and I have roots and good solid earth to stand on. He doesn't really. We had a chance to grow in the best soil; he's one of those trees that grow in sandy soil at a weird angle because of the wind and manage to hang on and bear fruit regardless. He needs encouragement and better soil, but the fact that he's here at all being cheerful and charming and kind? That's a testament to a strength I've never needed to have."

Zéphyrine nods slowly. "Who holds the title currently? I'm not sure how much I could do to help, other than being his friend. And if he really would rather not visit the island, I won't hold it against him. Particularly if, at that point, he's planning a wedding."

Étienne looks like he wants to spit, "His father." He takes a breath, "I am hoping he will come, though I don't know when. we need to settle the question of his match and… some other things before we can really commit to anything and he often takes to new things if he has time to adjust to the idea of them." He touches the back of her hand, "I’m not asking you to help beyond being a friend to him, my lady. He needs friends who like him for himself. Like I do. Like the lady Chimène."

Zéphyrine nods. "Well, obviously. And I need to at least make some progress on finding a husband for myself. You don't happen to know of any unlanded noblemen who like boats and islands and maybe trade? And who aren't too stodgy or… abusive or… very, very old? Or… I don't even know. It doesn't have to be love match. Marriage is for business. But… I should like it to be someone with whom I can talk and laugh and work."

Étienne smiles a little sadly, "I might have done if we'd met when I first came here. I could have abdicated as heir for you and gone off to your island heaven, but… not now. Have you considered asking Symon if he knows anyone? He's better at… mingling than I am."

Zéphyrine studies him for a moment and nods. "Ah, well. I wouldn't want to take you away from him, but… he will eventually need to return home. Are you planning to go with him?"

Étienne lowers his eyes, "It's up to our families at this point, and not to be gossiped about, but my hope is yes. Once he's wed and fully settled. If I have any say in it, he'll have one person in his life who will always put his interests first." He blushes, "We are terribly obvious, aren't we?"

Zéphyrine shrugs. "Love as thou wilt, but… yes. Quite. At least it won't result in succession issues." She looks amused, though. Not in a mean spirited way, just… amused. "Well, you are still both welcome to come and visit my lands if we can find an agreeable time."

Étienne is quite earnest, "I'm sorry, Zéphyrine. I know it might have been the simplest solution for you. My people are coastal and trade dependant and I have the right training, but I thought about it long and hard, and I realized I couldn't leave him, even for a temptation as… compelling as you. Can we… still be friends? Real ones?"

Zéphyrine blinks and then laughs all sweet and summery. "Of course, Étienne. My friendship is not dependent on a marriage contract. What sort of friendship would that be? I like you for you. And it would be simple, but I am assured there are other men out there. If his lands and mine were closer or…" She waves a hand. "Well, they're not. So, no matter. Your heart is given to another and I would surely not stand in the way of that."

Étienne smiles back a little sheepish, "I suspect you can find better anyway. You deserve the best really, and I'm not even close to that."

Zéphyrine raises an eyebrow. "I do, do I? Well, maybe. Why would I deserve the best, but you not?"

Étienne smiles, "I have Symon." He shakes his head, "I meant I'm not the best."

Zéphyrine tilts her head. "I suspect Symon would disagree about which of you is best." She takes another sip from her cup and picks of one of the pieces of lokhum all dusted with sugar and nibbles at it. "While I am stalled on finding a husband, I am trying to familiarize myself with the night court. I still need to visit more, I think, but I wondered if you had any recommendations."

Étienne has a piece of lokhum himself, even though he clearly does not need more sugar. He blushes, "Um… I've no idea who is good at the… upstairs parts. I've mostly just been to the Glycine for the gambling and Lis d'Or for performances. If you wanted company for those things we could go with you if you liked? There's a dancer named Sarielle I once saw dance something so… transcendent, I still dream of it.”

Zéphyrine grins. "Maybe, if I know ahead of time that I'm going to Lis d'Or I'll try to send an invitation around. I did promise I would go commission someone there to sing and or play some pieces for me. I should really do that."

Étienne leans towards her all delight, "I'd love that, I really would. There is nothing in the world like the performances at the Night Court."

Zéphyrine laughs. "I think… I was at Glycine, but I ended up in Orchis section rather than the Bryony-like part. There was a pillow pit. And giant chairs. And… it was honestly the most fun I've had in a while."

Étienne's eyes go wide. "I didn't even know that was an option! We mostly go for the kottabos. We're not actually good at gambling, but it's fun. We might like pillow fights too though.”

Zéphyrine grins. "Apparently, sometime soon, they're going to be doing mud wrestling. I'm trying to decide just how annoyed Chimène would be with me if I participated."

Étienne's eyes go wide, “That would be… something. I'm not sure it would be… the best idea just now considering. What did you do to vex her or is it indelicate to ask?"

Zéphyrine scrunches her nose. "Invited someone to the house she feels would not reflect well on the Rousse name as a regular guest. I don't think she's that annoyed at me. It was a rather mild warning. But… still."

Étienne shudders, "She's terrifying anyway. Like a real swan. When those things come at you all snakey-necked, wings flapping aggressively, and have you seen their beaks up close? I'd rather face raiders in battle than an angry literal or metaphorical swan."

Zéphyrine laughs, but nods. "Not many actual swans, but I've dealt with geese which are somewhat similar, if not as pretty." she takes a piece of the soujuk- nuts wrapped in a sort of thick, chewy candy and shaped into things which look like sausages and then sliced- and nibbles on it.

Étienne sips his kahve again. He's not much one for sweets, but orders them for Symon. The one or two he's had today are his limit. "She terrifies me and she looks like… she's a lot closer to the companions’ blood than the rest of us."

Zéphyrine hmms. "I'm not terrified of her. I just recognize that she is, effectively, the local head of my house and while I am a Baronne, that could still lead to complications, especially with how well she's established and how new I am to the role. It's like Philomène. People keep talking about how grumpy and scary she is, and I've found her nothing but pleasant and helpful."

Étienne considers, "Philomène. Is she the handsome one that loves horses? I think I met her once."

Zéphyrine bobs her head. "The horse she got for winning the race in the tournament is absolutely stunning. But she has several other very nice horses as well. And she approves of Knot. She sort of invited me out to go riding, if I can keep up. I really should do that sometime."

Étienne smiles a little shyly, "I came in third. I wish my sister Agnès could have seen her ride. She was marvelous."

Zéphyrine sighs wistfully. "I am still very sad that I missed it. But I believe you that she was marvelous."

Étienne says quietly, "I could gaze at her jaw line all day…." Then he's blushing and hiding his face in his cup, which he drains, "You won't repeat anything I said about Symon, will you?"

Zéphyrine blinks, looking confused. "Why would I repeat what you said about Symon? I mean… I don't think I will, especially if you don't want me to."

Étienne nods, "Thank you. A lot us up in the air and it's best if my feelings about his family weren't known. Nor the rest either until the match is secure."

Zéphyrine nods. "Then I won't say anything. And… I don't think I know anyone else from his family personally."

Étienne touches her hand again, "You're a true friend then. I've never met any of them, but I've seen their effects. I wish I could have met his grandfather though. Him, I think I would have liked."

Zéphyrine nods and flashes him a smile. "Well, particularly if you're wanting to move with him, it wouldn't do for them to be predisposed against you."

Étienne beams at her, so terribly trusting, "Thank you for understanding. I just… love him so much you know? And he saved my life one time with his quick thinking."

Zéphyrine blinks slowly, possibly trying to work out 'Symon' and 'quick-thinking' being combined. "I do see that you love him, yes. How did he save your life?"

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Étienne=Perception Vs Zéphyrine=Composure
< Étienne: Failure (5 4 5 5 5 6 3 2 3 2 4 6) Zéphyrine: Success (2 8 2 3 6 4)
< Net Result: Zéphyrine wins - Marginal Victory

Étienne smiles at her, "He's not… bookish, but he's really clever. He won us a token for the Night Court Longest Night celebration the year before last in a game of wits. He's got hidden depths!" He seems happy oblivious of her doubts and the implications of her response. He barrels on, "The frog escaped, you see, and i went to catch it to put it back only its skin was poison and I couldn't move and nearly stopped breathing."

Zéphyrine blinks slowly. "Oh… Yes. I do remember him mentioning the frog. And that something… his frog poisoned you? What did he do to save you?"

Étienne considers and ends up stealing on of her nut candies to try after all. "He came in, saw mw on the floor, worked out right away that it was the frog, cleverly used a fencing gauntlet to return him to the box to prevent further accident then ran for help. They kept me breathing 'til the toxin wore off and he took very good care of me after. It was very scary for him, but he couldn't have managed any better. I'm really proud of him, you know."

Zéphyrine nods slowly. "Well… I am glad he managed to reach you in time and got the frog back into its cage and got help to stabilize you. Yes."

Étienne seems really impressed by the result of his theft. "This? Is really good. What is it?" He is terribly earnest, "It wasn't his fault, you know. A woman asked him to hold on to her frog for a bit and he likes helping so… Only neither of them knew it could kill."

Zéphyrine smiles. "Sweet sujuk. Actual sujuk are sausages. They're kind of spicy. But these look similar. It's usually walnuts or almonds, sometimes hazel nuts that are strung and then dipped in cooked down grape must and allowed to dry." And she smiles a little. "Yes, he does seem very helpful. If he didn't know it could kill, then I am very glad he determined the frog was the cause of your state."

Étienne perks up even more at the thought of spicy sausages, "I wonder if we can find any for sale around here." He nods, "He figured it out right away. We only knew the frog came from Terra Nova. It took a while after I recovered, but we found it a safe place to go."

Zéphyrine blinks. "What, actual sujuk? I… maybe. Probably somewhere. They keep fairly well, so they make good travel food. We'd often get in a supply on the ships, but as provisions, we don't necessarily import that many. Though I think we do some. There are always expatriots who want a taste of home. I'll see if I can find out who we sell to. And I can pass word that I'd like some for my personal use."

Étienne beams at her, "I love trying new things. If you do find some, I'd gladly pay you." His knee is bouncing very fast, "I think… Maybe I should go in search of dinner. Thank you again for everything."

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