(1312-06-01) Sitting Quietly Now
Summary: The next stage of Iphigénie and Raphael’s relationship seems to be adopting a child together… They compare notes regarding the adept Alienor.
RL Date: 01/06/2020
Related: An Owed Apology, This Season Shall Pass, and White Rose Fallen. Oh, also The Temptation To Linger.
iphigenie raphael 

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.

Calling at the Maignard residence outside his usual hours, Raphael finds Iphigénie outside her usual place: not at work or at prayer in her chamber or her garden, but, whilst he waits in the foyer and a servant seeks her out, calling softly to him from above. “Monsieur…?”

She has just come out of one of the upstairs rooms to stand in the gallery which encircles the foyer’s upper level. It’s rather dark up there and the soft cloud of her white hair lends her a ghostly aspect. She stands some distance from the stairs, with one white hand upon the black-painted balustrade and the other curled about the handle of the elaborate walking stick Raphael himself carved for her, its length visible between the black railings and her black skirts. “I thought I heard your voice,” she confides, smiling down at him.

"It's rude of me to turn up at such an hour," Raphael acknowledges. "As you might imagine, my schedule has been somewhat disturbed lately." He speaks from the foyer, looking up at the pale figure above.

“I find you a welcome sight at any hour, monsieur,” Iphigénie counters, her low voice filtering down to her lover easily though her hand, lifting from the balustrade as if in offering, is far too far away for him to reach. “I’ll come down,” she says sensibly, and turns toward the stairs. The costly dark cloth of her skirts rasps along the balustrade’s railings as she makes her way with it always in reach, to add its support to that of her stick carved with flowering vines.

Raphael seems, in his body language and glance, almost as if he would prefer to go up and get her rather than watch her make it down the stairs, but he comes to the foot of the stairs only and waits, face upturned.

Iphigénie’s progress slows when she reaches the top of the stairs; and before she begins to descend she sets her sharp-featured face into a mask, rather the way Philomène de Chalasse does when sitting down in chairs and getting up out of them. It is difficult to conceal pain from a connoisseur, though, and so after a few careful and determined steps taken with her eyes downcast, she pauses to meet Raphael’s eyes. Her smile turns wry. “Do you remember when we met, monsieur? I was coming down the stairs in the Rose Sauvage…”

"How could I possibly forget that?" Raphael asks, eyebrows lifting slightly. "It is all I'm thinking of. Besides my impulse to come up and carry you down."

Her expression softens at the thought, and her eyes lower from his— though for practicality’s sake more than flirtation, with so many stairs yet to be conquered.

The maid Nadège appears behind Raphael, intending to apologise to him for her mistress’s unaccountable vanishment; seeing they’ve found one another she withdraws instead into Iphigénie’s chamber, to make sure all is in order for its imminent use.

Between her stick and the good solid oaken bannister Iphigénie attains terra firma, eventually, and lets out a breath as if to say: there, that’s done. She has brought the scent of blood oranges and honey with her toward Raphael, almost into his very arms. “That day too,” she remembers, her intelligent green gaze again finding his, “we spoke of White Roses.”

Raphael reaches out for that hand Iphigénie extended earlier, squeezing it if he can capture it. "That's true," he acknowledges. "You were coming down from the Solar. These days I seem to speak of little else."

Well, yes. Once she has switched her cane back into her strong right hand — which, when braving a flight of stairs, she prefers to reserve for the bannister — Iphigénie’s damaged left is easily caught and easily held, for as long as it may be Raphael’s pleasure to retain it.

“Thank you for bringing me Alienor’s letter, monsieur,” she says softly. “I hope you don’t mind that I suggested you for a courier. An adept doesn’t always have pin money to tip an errand boy, and I thought— if something was troubling her in particular, if something happened, it would be a sure way of bringing her straight to your office,” she admits. Her gaze searches his face, as her fingertips press gently into his. “How are you, monsieur?” she asks.

"I don't mind," Raphael confirms. "I think it is best for a very sensitive matter, and the adept herself still young and learning many things." Such as what to put in writing and what not to, perhaps. "And it was a good reason to give her tea and remind her that life will go on." He lets some air out of his chest, audibly. "It's all a bad business. I want more control."

Iphigénie’s eyes hold his, and she nods. “I know, monsieur,” she says tenderly.

And then she looks away towards her own chambers. “Shall we go and sit down?” she suggests, for though the foyer has no lack of seating, this isn’t really a foyer sort of conversation. “I’m sure Nadège is already plotting a pot of tea for us.”

Garden Suite — Maignard Residence

Opening from the garden of the Maignard residence, via a single heavy oaken door opposite the elm tree, this chamber is decorated as a painted garden. Faded by the passage of years, pale flowers and birds of unnatural provenance are depicted against a backdrop of green that runs down to skirting boards of tarnished gilt, carved to echo the floral intricacies of the cornices and the high coffered ceiling which reflects so gently the light from iron candlestands below.

The furnishings are sparse in relation to the room's long rectangular spaciousness: all of antique mahogany, all of a century ago, their age betrayed by style rather than wear. Inside the high mullioned windows of distorted glass, there's a desk to the right and a marble-topped washstand to the left, with a screen just past the latter to create a triangle of privacy in one corner. Adjacent to the desk is a comfortable armchair upholstered in dark red leather; next to the washstand, a smaller white-painted chair makes up in convenience what it lacks in arms. A broad dark marble fireplace is set into the house's innermost wall. Directly opposite it stands an uncurtained four-poster bed made up with hemstitched white linen sheets and bountiful pillows. From each bedpost dangles an iron chain adorned with a soft, padded red leather cuff.

Two large, sturdy, travelworn oak chests stand against the wall between the bed and the desk; the broad windowsill above the desk is home to a collection of books legal, theological, and botanical: no fiction, no poetry, no frivolity. Alone beyond the fireplace is a single mahogany armoire. There are no looking-glasses, no pictures, no objects unnecessary or decorative. Away from the windows and the garden's green the chamber's other, darker half is left bare.

At the end a door opens into a small square salon such as might be found in any noble house, albeit appointed in a more Kusheline taste: all straight lines and angles, dark wood and tarnished gilding, and narrow hinged looking-glasses which fill each corner from floor to ceiling and offer unsettling reflections.

Through the open garden door Iphigénie’s usual furniture can be glimpsed outside under the elm tree, but even with Raphael’s support — twice over, the stick he carved for her and his hand itself — she goes no further than her desk, where she lowers herself with a sigh into her red leather armchair and lifts her Thorn’s hand to her unpainted lips.

The kiss she leaves upon his skin is a fleeting one. She looks up again into his eyes.

“Monsieur, I can’t say I was not myself when last we spoke,” she admits, “but I was, perhaps, too much myself. I have dealt with such matters before, of course, but when this one arose so unexpectedly, and in my private life rather than my religious life— I lost, for a few hours, something of the balance I strive to maintain. I spoke with less care than I normally would speak to you. I hope you understand.”

"It's useful if you have, because I haven't," Raphael says, standing by her chair and keeping his hand in hers. "Not to this degree. I understand that you don't want me to make a mistake that will ruin a girl's life in a most delicate matter." He makes eye contact to underscore this point. "But. I would also like to believe that you trusted me and my judgment, and could feel confident that I will do my best for a girl that should be under the protection of the salon I have dedicated myself to."

Iphigénie’s eyes hold his. Without a shred of hesitation she answers: “Monsieur, I trust you.” There is a pause. “The nature of my life,” she adds more softly, “is that for a long time I was as much accustomed to taking charge outside my bedchamber, as to surrendering myself within its walls. I try to remember that my position in the world has altered in recent years, that not every problem is my responsibility anymore, and not every wrong is mine to correct…” A bittersweet smile crosses her upturned face. “But in the moment, of course I wanted to rush to her rescue as much as you did. Unnecessary as it was, when the matter was already in your hands. I trust you,” she repeats, “and I am sitting quietly now, monsieur, as I must.”

"The matter is not entirely in my hands, as we both know," Raphael says softly, moving behind her chair and putting his other hand on her shoulder. "I would handle it differently than the Dowayne does. But the part that is mine to handle…I am trying to do so in a way that supports the girl. None of this is her fault. If she made any mistakes in the process or in her performance as a White Rose, it's a failure of training, I believe."

He’ll feel the tension in Iphigénie’s shoulder, as her fluffy white head bows before him. “I didn’t put it to her in those words, monsieur,” she admits, “when I couldn’t be sure how long she might have to remain in the salon, under the care of those same teachers… But certainly, I told her it wasn’t her fault. A girl in that position always does blame herself, I think, and that makes it all the more difficult for her to speak, because she feels she’s incriminating herself.”

She breathes out a sigh, and consciously attempts to relax her shoulders. “I imagine you read the letter? She left it unsealed for you… It’s a blessing to know that she’ll be free. I’ve been thanking Elua and all his angels in order,” she sighs, “and then beginning the list over again.”

"I didn't," Raphael says. "She said it was for you and so I brought it to you. But I have been trying to help her envision another life. The salon is not all there is, but at her age it will seem that way."

At that Iphigénie squeezes his hand, good man that he is. “She’s frightened of going back to her family, I think,” she says quietly; “she feels she has failed both her families. I was upstairs choosing a chamber for her,” she admits, leaning her head gently against Raphael’s arm where it’s draped over the back of her chair to reach her. “I’ve invited her to come here for a time when the salon releases her. I imagine not till her marque can be finished…?”

Raphael moves his hand to Iphigénie's chest to provide more of his bicep for her to lean upon. "A chamber for her?" It really shouldn't be terribly surprising, but he hadn't thought of it. "I haven't been told about the terms of release," he says. "I'll ask the Dowayne when I speak to him next. But I'm sure it would be a great relief to her to have a kind place to go."

Fortunately for Raphael’s black silk shirt, Iphigénie isn’t wearing her usual maquillage; unfortunately for his hand, the severe construction of her corset affords no more tactile pleasure than one might find in caressing the shape of an iron-bound barrel. But she, at any rate, feels better for leaning into him and keeping her hand warm in his. “I daresay it will put an end to our sport in the garden for this summer,” she observes, “but where else is there—? She needs room to breathe,” she says sympathetically, “and to arrive at some kind of decision about her future without being hurried into it by the urgency of losing her home… That, at least, I can do for her without interfering in affairs that are more properly yours, monsieur.”

"I approve," Raphael says. "Though of course it is your decision and not to do with me. As for sport in the garden…" He looks toward the outside. "We shall see. She might always end up finding a suitable apprenticeship of her choice early on."

Though Iphigénie can’t see the direction of her lover’s gaze from where he stands behind her chair, her own eyes are exploring the same rectangle of green visible in her garden doorway. “She may well — it would do her good to be busy, just now,” she murmurs. “She’ll be safe here, monsieur, whenever the time comes. Till then I know her to be safe with you.” Her thumb strokes tenderly over the back of his hand. “But what may I do for you, monsieur?” she asks him gently. “I know these troubles can’t have left your heart quiet, either.”

"Far from it," Raphael agrees in a tone that is quiet, but heavy. "I wonder about the way the salon is handling the matter, and what the true extent of my moral and human responsibility is."

“That I can’t answer,” and Iphigénie brings his hand back to her lips for a longer kiss. Forward, by her standards — but such are the times. “Would you like to pray together, monsieur?”

Raphael pauses to consider, then nods once. "I suppose it is the only thing to do," he agrees. Though he does take a step back and lean over so that he can put his lips to Iphigénie's neck. Just lightly.

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Religion: Great Success. (2 8 3 3 3 2 8 1 5 8 2 2 8 3 5)

As she’s kissed, Iphigénie smiles into her garden. “Not the only thing, monsieur,” she corrects her Thorn mildly, if that is in fact a correction of his words rather than an agreement with some subtler cue, well understood between them. “But we begin at the beginning.”

Her next words are those of a traditional prayer to Naamah, intimately familiar to all her servants from the bedtime devotions of a childhood in the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers, and made freshly sweet to Raphael’s senses by the rhythmic rise and fall of her honeyed voice. From there she segues into an extemporaneous plea, woven through with apt phrases borrowed from scripture, for their hearts and their deeds to be guided by the angel’s wisdom as they seek to act, in this Terre d’Ange, with the loving compassion of the Terre d’Ange beyond. She keeps her fingers threaded through Raphael’s, anchoring herself with him in her chamber and in her chair as she’s all too quickly overcome by an intensity of feeling… She doesn’t speak for very long, before reciting a last formal blessing and then just pressing his hand to her cheek.

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