(1312-06-04) Chiseling Away
Summary: Gal attempts to get to the truth of a wild accusation, but finds the Dowager Vicomtesse de Gueret less straightforward than previously imagined…
RL Date: 04/06/2020
Related: Koningsdag.
philomene gal soleil 

Wine Cellar — Noble District

Stairs lead down to the heavy oak door, above which the sign of the place, the likeness of a Hellene amphora spilling over with wine painted upon wood, swings lazily in the occasional breeze. Beyond that door the entrance hall comes into view, where various kegs and casks of differing sizes are arranged in oenological allure before the roughly hewn walls of ancient stone. There is a chill down here on hot summer days, that will be efficiently battled in the colder months through the heating of a giant hearth to the back. The place has a decidedly cavernous character, alcoves to the left and right offering seating at small tables for two or three. Lamps are dangling by chains from the ceiling, shades of milky glass work from La Serenissima offering sufficient lighting. There are no visible windows, which means lamps will be in use even during the day.

Further to the back there is a small hallway branching off from the main area, leading to a medium sized chamber where the bigger barrels are stored. Here, a larger group of up to eight people can sit about a round table of heavy oak, while they are being served the rarer vintages or even the heavier spirits that are stored in a wooden cabinet to the back. Staff is mostly male, clad in black breeches and white shirts with dark red vests, knowledgeable sommeliers of superior training that will be glad to wait on guests in person and offer insight into the variety of wines, red and white, not only d'Angeline but a variety of specialties from abroad, that are available here.


Having completed her walk this morning, tended to her plants, and not yet begun to prepare for a ride this afternoon, Philomène finds herself in the only other likely place. Sat at a table in her shirtsleeves with a wine bottle and a glass in front of her, her jacket slung on the back of the chair behind her and her glass and the papers spread in front of her getting approximately equal attention.

Gal doesn't come in here often. Sure, he walks by it, when his patrol route takes him this way, but his usual haunt for the drink is the Kraken's Den— worse fare, but plentiful, if the job that needs doing (on a Guardsman's salary) is filling up a fellow to his back teeth with it and sending him to bed numb. But when the quarry goes to ground, you know. Gal is in his bright blue cape and armor, though the only weapon he carries is the sword secure in his baldric. It would be unweildy to wander down here with his duty polearm, and he's not on patrol, anyhow. There's other business. That business, at present, being the upward tipping of his chin to try to catch the Lady's attention on his approach without going so far as to get into her personal bubble.

Philomène doesn't even look up. It's uncanny. Instead she takes up the bottle and tops up her glass, greeting him simply, "Good morning, monsieur. Wine?" Only when he doesn't immediately respond does she turn to look the man over, inspecting him with the sort of scrutiny one would expect of a sergeant major on a parade ground, not a middle aged cripple already half way through at least one bottle of wine. "You've lost somebody?"

<FS3> Gal rolls Composure: Failure. (6 4 6 2 2)

Gal is about to say something when she doesn't seem to notice him, so her greeting catches him with his mouth open and words just on the threshold of being set free. Stymied, they settle along his tongue, leaving him wordless for a moment at the offer of wine. Well, best be companionable, yes? "… Sure, thanks," he agrees, stepping once, twice more forward to officially join her without hovering too too near. Her next question, well, it withers at his heart, it sure does— he tries his best to put his lovesickness off of his face, but that's just… not happening, it looks like. Are his eyelashes a little damp, now? Fuck. Maybe the wine will help. "I actually, um. Needed to talk to you about something else, if that's OK?"

"Well, sit down, you're making the place look untidy," Philomène pronounces, lifting one slender finger to catch the attention of a server and thus both a second glass and, crucially, another bottle. She offers a quiet thanks as they are brought over, gathering her papers together to pile them to one side and habitually turning over the top one to prevent prying eyes on her accounts. "It's rather miserable, isn't it?" she notes mildly. "My sympathies. I could tell you it gets easier, but it really doesn't. Drink up."

Gal turns his hip between the seats, slipping between and settling on the edge of one of his own even before Philomène completes her castigation. His eyes drop to his baldric, long upper lashes hiding his dark, soulful eyes, and it's handy he's got a leather pouch there to fumble with, opening it up to take out a little note-book about palm-size, and a nub of graphite sharpened for the purpose, both of which things he sets before him then looks up with a grateful expression to he-who-brings-wine. "Yeah, it… yeah," he confines himself to agreeing, and, again, is happy enough to drink when she says drink. The wine — it's good. I mean, obviously, this is a high class cellar. But the last time he had any quality wine was in the house with the blue door, and now— damn it. He'd do better with the sack-wine from the Den. He finishes it, though, the glassful, tipping it over his tonsils and setting the glass back down for the remains around the curvature of the glass to gather back in the middle at the bottom and slowly try to figure out what that apocalypse was all about. "I needed to ask you about the Flatlandish ambassador," he tries to get back on track. "I think there's been enough talk around town you probably know why, but he's filed a complaint at the citadel and has asked us to look into it. And, really, throughout the whole thing last year you were pretty straightforward about what happened, so I thought… why not come straight to you and get a statement? The Ambassador thinks you had him poisoned. Could you comment for the record?"

Philomène leans back in her seat, idly swirling the wine in her glass as she looks the young guardsman over. "I'm not sure what sort of comment you're expecting, monsieur," she notes drily, then pauses to sip from her wine, watching him coolly over the rim. "Am I correct in inferring from your words that the Flatlander is accusing me of dishonourable conduct? And tell me, guardsman, of all the words you might use to describe me, would 'dishonourable' be one? Misanthropic. Scathing. Bitter. These I'll accept. Dishonourable, though?"

When Soleil makes her way into the establishment, it seems likely that she is looking for pleasant company. She approaches Philomène, but pauses awkwardly just as she is about to make her greetings, and turns to study Gal curiously, looking the man up and down seriously.

Gal lifts the sharpened bit of graphite and uses it to scratch slightly at the back of his head, then lowers it to tap between a flutter-kick of his first two fingers, patting the flat of the nub against the paper and leaving a faint, blurry patch of grey. "Uh, I mean, really, I don't need much more than a yes/no answer. Though a 'yes' answer would probably be best accompanied by a few more details. And I don't think there's anything really left to infer… it's… a—" there's a Soleil looking at him, and he glances back, worried, briefly, at the serious look, but then, well, he was in the middle of a sentence, so he turns his attention back to Philomène, "A pretty straightforward accusation."

Philomène glances over to Soleil, then stretches out one leg to push out a third chair at the table, the legs complaining and screeching against the stone floor. She gives a small nod, an indication that the courtesan is welcome to join them, then returns a long, hard stare to Gal. "It is, isn't it," she agrees flatly. "And what do you intend to do about this idiot foreigner flailing about accusing innocent women of misdeeds? I was assured by the Lady of Marsilikos that he would not be immune to d'Angeline justice, ambassador or not. The obvious solution, of course, is that I request his second, and as soon as he's well enough to face me, he brings a blade and puts that where his mouth is. Mademoiselle Soleil, how do you do," she adds with a small, dry smile for the woman. "Tell me, how would you react if somebody were to bring into doubt your good name?"

"Why, I'd be rather upset, Lady Philomène, and ask a dear friend of mine to aid in championing my cause. I'm afraid I'm not much of a fighter," Soleil notes with an almost coy smile as she slides gracefully into the chair that has been offered to her. "It seems rather rude to accuse someone of such things without evidence, I must say. Really, I cannot imagine you doing something so subtle as poisoning. Your ways are far more direct." She offers Gal a radiant smile, considering him for a moment. "Why do you think my lady might have been involved in such a thing?"

Gal's eyes dart from Philomène, to the chair, to Soleil, then complete the triangle as the first corner of it offers the third corner a seat. "If you intend to challenge him once he's recovered, that— I guess that's really up to you, then." If Gal had come into this thinking Philomène to be straightforward, maybe he's regretting that presumption, by now. She deflects and obfuscates and sends them off into other directions. It's enough to make a fellow actually suspicious. He takes a deep breath, squaring up his shoulders and looking to Soleil. "There was an accusation and a report was filed at the citadel. I just need the Vicomtesse to answer, yes or no, did she arrange to have the Flatlandish ambassador poisoned. Then I can add it to the official file, that's all this is for, really."

Philomène sets her glass down on the table, then leans in on her forearm, eyes narrowing at Gal. "Monsieur, if I were to kill that snivelling waste of good air, that man who ought to apologise to villages everywhere for making their idiot look so intellectual by comparison, I am deeply insulted that you could even contemplate that I would sneak around to do it. If that man were dead and it were by my hand, you'd find my blade in his chest. And," she adds, with a nod towards the notebook, "you'll find that the Vicomtesse de Gueret is one Eleanor de Chalasse, my daughter. I lost my husband last winter. Lady Philomène will do."

"Oh sh— I mean," Gal tries to Do Manners. "I'm sorry, Lady Philomène." He puts down his graphite and lifts both hands to the sides of his nose, pressing in at the inner corners of his eyes (nice graphite smudge landing up in one corner) as he leans back in, elbows on the table. So much for manners. "I mean, OK, it's no secret there is bad blood here. And you keep, just, like… talking in circles around it, which is a little bit, like… you know?" Interrogation skills, this kid, really. "Not really what I expected when I came to find you," he lays that out there, hands coming away from his face to be presented palms-upward in a sort of help-me-out-here posture.

"You've come to interrupt my breakfast." A distinctly liquid breakfast, but we'll let that slide. “And with an accusation from a jumped up foreigner that I would be deceitful, dishonourable and craven enough to poison him," Philomène points out sharply, that magnificently sculpted jaw setting proudly. "I think I've been very reasonable in not just punching you square in the face for even considering there might be any truth in such a wild accusation. Look me in the eye and call me poisoner, I fucking dare you."

"Honestly? I was pretty sure he just made himself sick eating a whole lot of gross crap all at once," Gal answers. "But there's a complaint on file. I need to investigate. So I figured, what, I could go around and make a hundred appointments and take statements from everyone, tie us all up in it forever, or I could come straight to you for a statement, 'cause I figured, you know, if you did it, you'd be the first to tell me. Maybe you didn't want to kill him, just give him the shits for a while as a kind of joke, like, y'know, with the cheesevalanche," now of popular fame, no doubt. "And if you told me you didn't arrange to have his food tampered with, you know, that would go a long way with me and probably an even longer way with my bosses. But you won't answer me and it's like… it's really hard for me to know, anymore, right now."

One hand slams down on the table, setting the glasses trembling and the wine sloshing dangerously close to spillage. "I have told you flat out, monsieur, if I intended that man dead, you'd see me with my blade in his chest after a fair fight," Philomène shoots back, eyes flashing as the anger that always bubbles slightly below the surface begins to show. "How fucking dare you conceive otherwise. Every man deserves to die with honour, fighting for what he believes in, for his country, his family, for the Companions themselves. I am a Camaeline, and a d'Aiglemort! Of course I didn't fucking poison the little shitweasel! Is he bleeding? No? Then look to the fucking potato headed shit for brains idiot's gluttony for foreign food as to why he's crapping through the eye of a needle. I will accept your apology, monsieur, before dawn tomorrow. Did I fucking poison him… give me strength." She exhales, snatching up her wine to down a good mouthful or two as a calming measure. "For future reference, for your career as a guardsman, you'll always be quite aware if I attempt to kill anyone, because I will do it in public, with a sword in my hand and the blessing of Camael behind me. And if you even consider that sort of stain on my honour again, I will be very pleased to demonstrate first hand."

Gal jumps a little at the sudden loud noise and he clutches at the wine glass near him to help it withstand the tablequake. "You… did say that… you… keep saying that," which is a little bit of a red flag on its own, "But you don't need to intend a man dead to have him poisoned," Gal points out. "You could intend to have a man sickened, or just… embarrassed. Both of which things were completed with as much efficacy as I have no doubt you could kill either him or me…" he furrows his brows, having got lost a little bit in the syntax, "… with," he adds, with a nod, thinking that that put it together, though she might upbraid his ending things with a preposition. But then she finally outright says she didn't do it, and he sighs in relief and takes up his graphite again. "Great. So you did not have his food tampered with. Cool. I'll file that statement with the original report."

"Monsieur," Philomène notes in a deceptively quiet tone, "I will remind you that I lost my husband to sickness. It is no joking matter. We are a very simple people in the east. If we intend you harm, you'll have a blade in your guts. To suggest any sort of underhand trickery is the highest insult you can give an Aiglemort. I do not want to have to send a second to you as well, but I will have your apology one way or another. You keep chiselling away at what little patience I have left, monsieur. I am trying very hard to give you the benefit of the doubt, given that you are suffering, but while we are a proud family we are very rarely a patient one."

Gal takes a few more notes, but seems, no less, to listen, looking up with a tinge of sympathy. "I understand. And you've said you didn't do it, which, you know, is all I really needed. I'm sorry that I pushed you on it and offered insult. None was meant, but that doesn't mean none was given," he gives his apology without further prompting, and without compunction, either, offered openly and with a full heart.

Philomène nods once, going to top up the man's wine in tacit acceptance of his words. "And then you can tell that little scrote that as soon as he's able to stand, he'd better find himself a letter of apology or a second and a sharp blade where I will show him exactly how we deal with insults. I can't fight our wars any more, I have no lands to tend any more, my husband's in his grave and my body's been on its way there for years. All I have left to me is my honour. I'll die before I let any bastard take that from me, too."

Gal looks at the wine with both gratitude for the forgiveness it shows and wariness for the memories it inflicted upon him earlier. Still, he takes it closer to himself, at least, looks at its surface while the Lady Philomène speaks, and even for a while after, giving her proclamation the respect of some space of silence before, "I will let him know," he promises. More quiet. "I'm sorry." It's not another apology, this one, just an expression of sympathy. "How long were you guys married?"

"Would have been thirty years this summer," Philomène replies after a moment, lips pursing. "I grew really very fond of Louis-Claude. But then, everyone did. He was a man who made friends easily. I'm fortunate that my eldest takes after him rather than me, I think. I came to l'Agnace in the summer of '82 and wedding was within weeks. I suspect, of course," she notes wryly, "that it was expedited in case I took a blade to him before I'd done my duty and borne the necessary spawn."

Gal's eyes narrow slightly, as if in a reaction of pain. "Thirty years… wow," he kind of just whispers to himself, not interrupting. He fiddles with his glass but is yet to have a second taste of the wine, the pained tension fading from about his eyes when he looks into hers. "It was that bad, to start? I'm glad you made friends… but I guess that's a long time to get used to someone."

Philomène laughs quietly, lifting her glass as though to encourage him before taking a sip herself. "I'd just spent the best part of a year in the infirmary, dreaming of nothing more than getting back out on a horse, in a cavalry charge with old comrades, fighting for Camlach and Terre d'Ange. To suddenly be told I was going to spend the rest of my life raising wheat and babies with a man I'd never met…? He could have been Elua himself and I'd have hated him then. Not for who he was, but for what he represented."

"Oh, damn," Gal murmurs. "You got, uh. Put out to stud, huh? Did they think you wouldn't be as good on the line? After…" he realizes he doesn't know why she was in the infirmary for a year, but it can hardly have been anything good. "That really sucks," he gives his, you know, very in-depth opinion.

"They were right, damn them to hell," Philomène points out with considerable irritation. "You'd be surprised how your riding style, tack, even the way you mount up has to change when one of your legs doesn't do as it's told any more. I'd have been a liability and likely dead by twenty five if I'd gone back on the line. But as you can imagine, I don't let little things like actually being right get in the way of good, old-fashioned, self-righteous anger. My point, though," she notes, eyeing him, "is that it's fucking horrific having things you love taken away from you. It doesn't get easier, but it does get less intense."

Gal even smiles a little bit at the Lady Philomène's entirely ornery admission, unable to help being a little tickled by the contrast. But then she's bringing it all around on him again and he's back to scrying in the surface of the wine he can't make himself taste. "I guess so. My brother died… gosh, like… four years ago, now," he shakes his head. "It kind of wrecked me, I turned into such an… asshole." he half-laughs into the word. "I was just mad, and I took it out on all the wrong people. My dad finally kicked me the fuck out the house, and I got accepted as a recruit on the citadel. And… they don't put up with that kind of bullshit up there… at least from anyone under the rank of Captain," he snerks. "They work you hard enough you don't have time or energy to be angry anymore. But now… like, I know this is nowhere on the level of that. But still I just… hurt. Inside. All the time."

"I'd go out and beat the shit out of some straw dummies if I were you," Philomène recommends, leaning back in her seat with her wine. "Or start a fight at the Kraken's Den. Nothing gets the blood pumping quite so much as a good scrap. Reminds you you're alive."

Gal looks possibly less than enticed by the suggestions. "I dunno. I don't feel like a fight. Or a spar. Drills this morning were so tedious. But what I do need to do" he adds, with a sigh, "Is go file your statement. Thanks for the wine, though," and, as not to insult the wine she'd already poured and obviously won't get drunk otherwise, he steels himself up and swallows it down. "And thanks for… y'know."

Philomène gives an unladylike grunt. But then what exactly is ladylike about her? "Tell that little shit that if I don't get a written apology I'll run him through, too."

"Yeah, OK," Gal agrees, and, stuffing his graphite into the crack of his note-book, he shuts the latter around it and puts it back in the baldric-pouch where he'd gotten it from, standing from the table. "Lady Philomène," he seems almost to be waiting to be dismissed.

Philomèe arches a brow, looking him over as though waiting for the question that must surely follow, and then when it's not forthcoming simply gestures helpfully towards the door. In case he'd forgotten where it was since he came in.

Gal had, evidently. Once she points it out to him, he dips his head to her, turns, and heads for it.

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