(1312-06-16) A Room Of One's Own
Summary: Dismissed from the Salon de la Rose Sauvage, Alienor comes to stay at the house of a friend — who has promised her, of all incredible things, a room of her own. (Warning: Some mature themes, and discussion of signales.)
RL Date: 17/06/2020 - 18/06/2020
Related: Follows closely from The Borders of Freedom.
iphigenie alienor 

Alienor’s Chamber — Maignard Residence

It is late in the day, and the Dowager Vicomtesse de Rothéneuf is thinking of tea.

But Alienor must be settled first; and Iphigénie’s progress up the stairs in her own residence, holding tight to the bannister with her right hand and to her vine-carved stick with her left, seems to take longer than the carriage-ride from the Rose Sauvage. With a maid at their heels carrying Alienor’s bundle of belongings, Marsilikos’s newest marqued courtesan has naught to do but take step by step patiently beside her, through this last slow phase of the journey that has brought her, however temporarily, under House Maignard’s roof and its protection.

Attaining at length the balustraded gallery that runs round three floors of the foyer’s upper level, Iphigénie sighs and steps out of the way of the others, and pauses a moment to rest. She switches her walking stick back to her stronger right hand and leans her left forearm upon the black wooden railing for support. “… More usually, my dear,” she remarks to Alienor, favouring her with a dry and apologetic smile, “I’ll call for you to come down to me.”

“Unfortunately, I cannot be a dashing gentleman and carry you up the stairs,” the slightly short young woman admits with an easy smile, quite understanding. She pauses to watch the older woman rest, peaceful and patient for the moment. “It is much easier for me to just run up and down the stairs for you, I think. I shall come whenever you need me or want me, of course.

“You didn’t have to come see me to my room, strictly speaking,” Alienor points out a little impishly. “You could have stood at the bottom of the stairs and I could have yelled through the house about how nice it is!”

Iphigénie’s finely-drawn eyebrows rise at Alienor’s remark and so does her hand, from its place draped over the balustrade. “… Ah, but I trust there won’t be any occasion for yelling, my dear,” she says gravely, though her gaze is none too forbidding as she lays down this gentle stricture, “no matter how pleased you might feel… Shall we see it, then?” And she turns again and sets off round the corner and along the side of the gallery farther from her own chambers, at a similarly dignified pace and heralded by the echoing thump of her stick.

The heavy door of Alienor’s promised chamber swings open easily upon well-oiled hinges, revealing a perfectly square chamber lined with perfectly square oak wainscoting. Straight ahead is a massive double bed; the wall to the left is anchored by a fireplace of dark marble, whilst to the right, windows overlooking the front courtyard are curtained in green linen over a pale yellow silk gauze which even on grey days turns light into sunshine. The bed's sturdy dark frame is hung about with curtains in a deeper shade of green, held back with tasseled cords of yellow-golden silk. Its good feather mattress is made up with spotless white linen sheets and plenty of pillows, and a light silken coverlet for summer nights; a built-in shelf above holds a candlestick, a tinderbox, and a couple of small leatherbound prayer-books between bronze bookends. Two square tabourets upholstered in green velvet stand together against the foot of the bed, and Iphigénie makes straight for the nearer one, to take her weight off her knees whilst the maid sets down the bundle just inside the open door and Alienor explores.

There’s a comfy dark red armchair and a little working-table by the hearth, and a washstand in the corner equipped with blue and white china and clean towels just like Iphigénie’s own. Another, broader table stands under the windows where it receives far better light. At one end of it two many-branched candelabra stand neatly next to a fat bundle of beeswax candles, and a small square wooden box carved with geometric patterns; the three wide and shallow drawers built in beneath its surface are empty, and likewise the bureau in the corner to the left of the hearth, which is surely just waiting to be filled with new and colourful garments.

Full of giggles when she enters the room, Alienor quickly quiets when she stares around the place in amazement, tears springing unbidden to her eyes. Her mouth hangs open slightly as she processes towards the window, pausing to run her fingers across the mattress of the bed as she turns and wanders towards the fireplace. She touches everything with the lightest of touches, utterly entranced by the majesty of it all. She studies the spines of the prayerbooks, touching them, too, as if to ascertain that they are real, and she brushes a hand lightly over the armchair. Furthermore, the bureau must be inspected, and she inhales like she is trying to get a full sensory picture of this most magical place so that she can store it in her memory forever.

“Oh! My lady!” she whispers reverently, almost tiptoeing back to Iphigénie with wide eyes. “It’s amazing! You are so good to me, and I love you.”

Before the end of Alienor’s initial perambulation the front door opens below and footsteps echo sharply through the foyer— Iphigénie’s eyes light and she smiles faintly to herself, but makes no remark. Instead, she lifts her chin to look up into Alienor’s face from her seat upon the green velvet tabouret, and says firmly, “I hope you’ll be comfortable, my dear. Now, look in that box,” and she lifts a gaunt white hand from her dark lap to indicate the little wooden box where it sits at the nearest corner of the table under the window. Alienor will find inside an iron key, wrought in a style so angular it must belong to this house, and a small yellow leather purse heavy with coins— but each in a small denomination. Petty cash — pin money for a young girl.

“The key is for your chamber door,” Iphigénie explains, “though it would be a convenience for the servants for you to leave it unlocked when you’re absent, particularly in the mornings. There is a spare key tucked away in the steward’s strongbox, but that would be a lot of trouble for the maids to go to just to fulfill their duty to you,” she points out with a wry smile.

“Oh. Oh! Oh, thank you!” Alienor replies with incredulous wide eyes as she peers in the box, touching the things and just being overwhelmed with them for a moment. “What can I do to repay you? I need to do something to repay you. You can’t just give me money, and… I mean, I’ve budgeted out what little I have from selling drawings, and… this is just so much. You’re giving me so much.”

She hurries back over to Iphigénie with tears on her cheeks, but joyful tears this time. She is young and feels emotions so very strongly, and she just stares at the older woman. “What can I do to help you? What can I do for you?” she murmurs.

“Now, now,” says Iphigénie, producing a handkerchief and passing it over. Her empty hand then turns to pat the empty tabouret next to hers. “Come and sit beside me,” she orders gently. Then, when Alienor has obeyed, she takes the girl’s hand in her own and administers another such reassuring squeeze as she provided in plenitude at the marquist’s. “I hope you know, my dear, that when I show you kindness it is not in the expectation of any particular return,” she reminds Alienor, looking downward now into her young friend’s glistening eyes. “You do know that, don’t you? … Good. Now, the coin is necessary for my household’s benefit as well,” she goes on matter-of-factly. “I wanted to make sure you had the wherewithal to tip my servants for any particular services you might ask of them. For instance, if you would have a lackey carry a letter to your friend Raimbaut at the Rose Sau— Rose Blanche,” she corrects herself.

And, knowing that this is Alienor’s first time residing in a noble household, she explains the customary tariffs for these sorts of errands and favours and extra tasks, including what one owes to one’s chambermaid if one should empty one’s stomach anywhere but into the appropriate vessel. “These things do happen,” she ends, her voice growing grave once more even as her green eyes glint with amusement, “especially to the young.”

Everything must be taken and internalized. This is important, and Alienor is paying rapt attention. She may ask for a reminder later, about some of these things, for she is new at this, but she is determined to get it right and be well-mannered with the servants, and that is clear from her very serious expression. “I shall endeavor not to be ill,” she says finally. “If I can help it. As it’s rather unpleasant all around.” She wrinkles her nose for a moment.

“And I know that you do not expect a return, but I want to… I want to pull my weight, as much as I can. You’ve given me this fantastic gift of having the freedom to choose my own path, to not have to immediately scramble for an apprenticeship, time to heal physically and mentally and spiritually,” the young woman says to the older one with a serious look in her eyes. “I want to be as good to you as I possibly can, because I think you’re wonderful and you deserve the best. And you certainly deserve my best, and…” She shakes her head, not certain how to continue the thought.

Pleased by Alienor’s attention to these small courtesies which do so much to oil the machinery of a well-regulated household, Iphigénie does her in turn the courtesy of listening seriously to her present concerns— which do seem to mean so much to her, as well as doing her credit. “You’re a good girl, Alienor, and I think you too deserve the best we can give you,” with which unconscious plural she draws the absent Raphael into their talk. “I’ll enjoy seeing you thrive,” she explains simply, “and I’ll enjoy having your company so close at hand for a while. We might make a custom of taking luncheon together, in the garden if the weather is fair,” she suggests, “and I hope you’ll come with me sometimes when I’ve errands in the city, too.”

Then she nods toward the door they left open. “I heard my consort come in a few minutes past,” she adds. “You’ll meet him soon, I should think.” Just as soon as he inquires after her, hears that she’s upstairs, and comes charging up to the rescue. “I’ve told him about you, of course, but not in great detail. That you were harmed by a patron, who then paid your marque; that I have offered you our hospitality; that I’m fond of you,” she concludes with a smile.

“I’m fond of you, too,” Alienor says with utter seriousness to Iphigénie, fixing the woman with her wide gray-green eyes, and she smiles with deep appreciation and almost canine devotion. The love of a puppy for someone who has treated it kindly, fed it, and given it a cozy place to curl up. “I look forward to meeting your consort. Sometimes I’m not sure that he’s real. It always seems that he’s just leaving when I’m arriving or vice versa. I hope that he likes me. I shall endeavor to make a good impression.”

“I’ve gone into the matter thoroughly over the years,” Iphigénie assures her, green eyes once more a-sparkle; “I can tell you he’s quite real, my dear, and that he’ll like you. I should add,” and she lets out a breath that might be mistaken for a sigh, and sobers again as she studies Alienor’s face, “that there are some who will assume that I have brought you under my roof for him, or perhaps for the both of us.” She gives a small shrug, and a rueful smile. “I should advise you not to pay too much heed to such insinuations. People will always think what they want to think; and the more one tries to convince them otherwise, the more one confirms them in their views. The truth will be understood by those whose opinions should matter to you.”

“Oh, you mean, oh,” Alienor replies, deflating slightly. “Well, I shall not worry about it overmuch. It is not worth fretting over. Let them assume. Love as thou wilt, and I very well can love you without being, erm, for him. Or, you know, any of that. Though I’m perfectly happy to curl up next to you on a cold night. You say you’re a rough sleeper, but it doesn’t trouble me at all.” Probably because she’s a teenager and could sleep through the end of the world, wake up at noon, wonder sleepily what happened, and then take a nap through the afternoon.

“Besides, I feel like there is much I could learn from you on how to be a grown-up, so I am excited by the opportunity to do so,” she admits after a moment, perking up again a bit. “Really, I think I have a lot to learn about life. I’ve just begun, everyone reminds me.”

“Not at all worth fretting over,” Iphigénie echoes with quiet firmness, and one last gentle pressure of her fingertips in Alienor’s before she restores the girl’s hand to her lap, across the divide where black skirts meet white. Then the prospect of having such a large, warm, snuggly puppy beside her on chilly nights restores her smile. “Perhaps if you’re with us when the nights begin to draw in we might appoint you Monsieur Lefebvre’s deputy,” she teases. Of course it’s too soon yet to settle the span of Alienor’s visit. The invitation was an open one, deliberately so. “You know he won’t sleep all night with me because I toss and turn— he gets no rest.” Quite apart from the other reasons a Mandrake gentleman might be wakeful in her bed.

“Perhaps it’s your White Rose training that has made you one of the rare young people who knows she doesn’t yet know all there is to be known,” she observes wryly. “You know you may ask me anything, my dear, and I’ll answer as truthfully as I can.”

“Well,” Alienor says with a soft laugh. “If he decides that he desires you and thereby doesn’t need me cluttering up your bed, he can just send me upstairs.”

There’s a long pause, and the girl looks down at her hands. “I have been considering continuing in the service of Naamah,” she admits slowly. “But I am afraid. And I want to be safer. And I need to know if you know about contracts and signales. And how to choose a signale, and what is appropriate, and all of the business side of things that I’ve never really considered but that the salon threatened to thrust upon me.”

She looks up to meet Iphigénie’s gaze seriously. “I do not think I can advertise myself as a White Rose, though. I cannot be that passive any longer. I do not want my ‘petals bruised.’ I want to be a more active participant.”

Iphigénie returns her gaze, steady and attentive. “In my youth I served Naamah for seven years,” she says softly, “and I’ve been a patron since — I can certainly teach you to write a contract, my dear, and advise you upon what you might wish to include in such a document to make it your contract, a guarantee of what you require in an assignation. In the sharper canons we are careful to rule out certain acts as well as to consent in advance to others the patron may desire, and I think you might find our specificity conduces better to your own sense of security than the standard contracts the Rose Sauvage offered for White Roses.” Which she has read and signed several times, since her arrival in Marsilikos last summer.

“And I can teach you about the customs and responsibilities of a signale— I’ve always had one,” she adds, smiling wryly, “and had occasion sometimes to speak it, too.”

“I’ve never been terribly drawn to the Red Rose side of things, and there just isn’t any mixing of Thorns and White Roses. Or any mixing of anything with White Roses. Which is unfair, awkward, and puts us in a strange position,” Alienor declares with a bit of a pout. “I would like to be warned when a patron does something, for one thing. I don’t want surprise penis anywhere.” She seems pretty firm on that point. “Penis is not something I ever want to be surprised by.”

“I’m told a name works well for a signale,” she adds after a moment, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “That it should be meaningful, but unlikely to be used in the normal course of interaction. I thought about using my friend’s name, Raimbaut, but I feel like he needs protection even more than I do. And then I thought about using Monsieur Raphael’s name, because he protects me, and the thought of invoking him as a protector, even just in spirit, appeals to me. I don’t know. What do you advise?”

Iphigénie, who rather likes surprises, bites her tongue and makes an effort not to smile.

“You might write that, prior to a certain act, a certain question must be asked and answered or a certain word spoken,” she suggests. “It’s true, some dislike being hemmed about by what they feel are too many restrictions upon their worship of Naamah, but the lovers worth having will always be pleased by the opportunity to reassure themselves of your consent… A signale doesn’t only protect you, my dear — its use protects your companion as well, against the risk of committing sacrilege,” she says seriously. “And such assurances of real willingness, of real pleasure, can be rather more intimate and erotic than a consent left implicit and unexpressed. A man who is baring some part of his soul to you usually likes to hear that he is welcome. There is an art to it, which you might add to your own as you consider what kind of courtesan you might be in the future.” She smiles. “When you’ve settled all these precautions for your confidence and your safety, it will be soon enough then to discuss whether you truly wish to return to service and in what guise. You might like to grow into yourself a little more first, perhaps.

“And yes, a name is a good choice,” she agrees, “but the most important criteria are that a signale should be a word that could not otherwise be spoken, and could not be mistaken for other than it is, during Naamah’s worship. Clarity is the key. And ‘Raimbaut’ sounds rather like ‘rainbow’, don’t you think? You wouldn’t say ‘Raimbaut’ during an act of love, but ‘rainbow’ isn’t beyond possibility,” and though she enunciates both words clearly enough, the point is made. “I think of those two names ‘Raphael’ would be the most practical,” she advises; “I think too that he would be honoured by your choice, and by being invoked for your protection. You remember I showed you my hand signale—” She demonstrates it again, her fingers bright white above her dark skirts. “Monsieur Raphael insisted upon it in case I should be breathless,” she explains, and something softens about her vivid green eyes as she recalls that day.

Alienor cannot help but giggle slightly about that look, and she bites her lower lip in girlish amusement. “You did. You showed me your hand signale, and I am interested in adopting it,” she admits with a little nod. She’s quiet for a moment, looking a little enamoured with the idea of the older woman and the protective Thorn Second for a moment. “I probably would be more open to implicit consent if I had not been burned so badly by patrons deciding that I’d consented to everything under the sun.”

She looks up at the ceiling for a moment, trying to hide her tears at the welling emotion that comes with that memory. “So,” she says in a little whisper. “For now, explicit consent.”

Once more Iphigénie takes possession of Alienor’s hand; she gives it a gentle squeeze and they sit together in silence till the fledgeling courtesan has regained her composure. Small sounds echoing from the foyer suggest the household going about its business below them.

"I've told you before that I have three sons at home in Kusheth," Iphigénie says slowly, but then she seems unsure of what comes next. "I had a daughter as well, but she died," she says at last. She turns to meet Alienor’s gaze, her own green eyes steady and dry even now. "I didn’t see her grow up, and that's why I often find myself susceptible to young girls who need a little help, or a second chance, at the beginning of their lives." Which tidbit of cold-blooded self-knowledge she offers to Alienor because it seems to be the time for it, and because it does explain so much that has passed already between them. "Her name was Chrysanthème… my favourite flower in those days," obviously somewhat less a feature of her gardens since, "and my signale. Before that I used the name of my confessor," she adds, "though even a priest of Lord Kushiel wasn't quite so anaphrodisiac as a lost child. I've seen men, fathers in particular, shrink like that," and she snaps her fingers softly, "at the sound of her name. You might find that Monsieur Raphael has a similar effect upon patrons acquainted with him.” What passion for a nubile young girl can withstand a reminder of her knife-wielding father figure—?

“I am sorry that you lost your daughter,” Alienor admits sadly, leaning her head against Iphigénie’s shoulder for just a moment, squeezing her hand. “Any girl would be so lucky to have you for a mother.” Perhaps that explains some of the chemistry between the two; the older one desiring to mother the younger who desires to be mothered.

“He told me that once I finished my marque, he would teach me to use a knife,” Alienor says, and it’s almost a nonsequitur, but not quite. “Once I was free of the salon. That he couldn’t teach a White Rose such things, but I wouldn’t be, so it’d be different.”

“Chrysanthème,” she murmurs, almost too quietly, repeating the name reverently.

In a tactile conversation underlying their spoken one, Iphigénie’s hand returns that pressure and then adjusts its grasp upon Alienor’s hand to be more comfortable as they linger together. “Thank you,” she murmurs, “for always having something sweet to say to me.”

Then her eyebrows lift at that thought of Alienor’s which curiously parallels her own. Or is it so curious, when speaking of a Thorn—? “Yes, a great deal is different for you now,” she agrees diplomatically. “I’ve no doubt Monsieur Raphael will keep his word to you, but you might try Lady Philomène as well if you should meet her in the garden one day. She would enjoy being asked for help — but, my dear,” and a chuckle rises to her lips, “I caution you never to offer her help. I know you like to be of use, but in her case the greater courtesy is to abstain. Even if she should fall down a well,” she says drily, “she would prefer to climb out by herself.”

“When she was exercising, and I was watching her, she snapped at me to paint a picture, so I pulled out my sketchbook, and then she kind of got mad at me for doing exactly what she’d told me to do, but she let me draw her anyway,” Alienor explains with a wry little laugh, amusement lighting her eyes once more. “Sometimes I’d get the poses ‘wrong,’ though, because I didn’t realize how she was compensating, so I let her correct me, and I think she was a bit annoyed that I was agreeable and did not let her pick a fight.”

Her story has Iphigénie chuckling again too. “I can well imagine it,” she admits. “Lady Philomène does revel in a good argument, with anyone,” she confirms, “and she’ll never be offended with you for standing up for yourself or telling her the truth about something. You needn’t treat her as cautiously in conversation as you might other ladies of her rank,” she adds, by way of reassuring a commonborn girl of sixteen whose experience of dowager vicomtesses is limited— though admittedly growing by leaps and bounds; “just make sure to ignore her injured leg as much as you can, as I’m sure you’ve realised she prefers. For instance, it pains her to sit down and to stand up, so when she does I always make sure I have an excuse to be looking elsewhere. I’m always pouring the tea, or putting honey on a pastry, or looking about for my maid, or something like that,” she confides. “You might adopt a similar stratagem to—”

But she breaks off, at the sound of a bold booted stride echoing across the foyer and then thumping noisily up the stairs two or three at a time. Her smile turns catlike. “Speaking of tea,” she murmurs, “I think I know how I might get downstairs again.”

“I try to treat everyone with deference and respect,” Alienor says, and then perks up a bit at the sounds from below that Iphigénie calls attention to. “Oh?”

All at once Iphigénie’s mythical consort is made flesh — and occupies the entire doorway. Marius Lefebvre nó Mandrake is a man something over six feet in height whose present shirtless state reveals the powerful arms and shoulders and torso of a master smith. If Iphigénie’s gaunt figure could serve as an artist’s lesson in the bones of the human body, so could her consort’s solid and sun-bronzed frame teach all there is to be known of male musculature in its most developed state. He's beautiful, too, as any son of Mont Nuit must be beautiful — Monsieur Raphael's age or a few years younger — with eyes curiously cool for their brown hue, and wings of white in his black hair. He wears the latter long and woven into a thick braid that hangs forward over his shoulder, neatly tied with a leather cord. His black cloth breeches sit low on his hips. His boots, so loud on the stairs, might belong to any Thorn. He brings with himself into the chamber the fresh scent of Iphigénie’s honeyed soap; a few droplets of water caught along his hairline, glistening there, likewise suggest hasty ablutions since his return to the house.

“Good afternoon, Monsieur,” Iphigénie murmurs. Look, the woman has a type.

After a quick, penetrating glance up and down his seated consort (no missing limbs, no hairs harmed upon her head, therefore no need to rush out again on a murdering spree) he looks to Alienor as she stands. His handshake, offered at once in tandem with his confident and considering gaze, is firm but not extravagantly so; his palm is warm and work-roughened, far from the pampered silkiness of the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers. "You must be Alienor. My consort," he drawls gently, and his eyes flicker over Iphigénie, "has spoken well of you."

Alienor is a bit surprised, truth be told. He’s real! And he’s shaking her hand, instead of expecting a curtsey, and she manages to be both surprised and delighted about this. She looks up at him with bright eyes and smiles. “Yes,” she says with warmth. “I’m Alienor. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir. Your consort is an incredible woman, and I am indebted to her greatly. I appreciate the opportunity that she has offered to me.”

And then she grins a bit impishly. “And I’m rather glad you’re here now, sir, for I was a bit worried about how we were going to make it down the stairs after our conversation.”

“I had the same concern,” Marius confides gravely as he releases Alienor’s hand.

And he seems to have decided that their conversation has reached its end, for without further ado he scoops up Iphigénie into his powerful bare arms and stands there holding her, draped over him with her skirts trailing, as if she and that heavy gown combined weighed nothing much. He dips slightly to allow her to reach the handle of her walking stick, which she takes up into her own charge. Her other arm is curled in a familiar way about his neck and shoulders.

Smiling at Alienor, and with a breathless note in her voice (perhaps Monsieur Raphael was right to take precautions), she suggests, “Why don’t you unpack a little, my dear, and refresh yourself—? And then you might come down and join us in the garden for tea.”

“Yes, my lady. Thank you, my lady. Thank you, monsieur!” Alienor calls, and when they have left the room and she can hear Marius’s heavy footfalls on the stairs, she closes the door gently behind them before throwing herself into the bed: still in her clothes, face down, completely emotionally and physically exhausted. She is asleep almost at once.

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