(1312-06-16) The Borders of Freedom
Summary: The last of Alienor’s marque is attended by the same friend who was with her at the first.
RL Date: 15/06/2020 - 17/06/2020
Related: Purposeful Pain and Ready To Heal, and a variety of other Alienor scenes.
iphigenie alienor claude 

Workroom — Marquist Shop

This modest workroom is occupied by a lowish, lightly padded table of a size to be lain upon by most clients; a smaller, more moveable table with drawers built into it, its surface scrubbed clean but stained with the inks of decades; a three-legged stool that has also seen better days; and hooks for garments, a shelf for small belongings, a cubbyhole for shoes or boots.

Louvered shutters high up on the back wall let in a surprising amount of natural light during the daytime, whilst thwarting prying eyes. Candle-holders are everywhere, built into the walls or standing free: in them only the finest, whitest beeswax burns. A cupboard beneath the padded table contains folded linen sheets dyed in harmony with the velvet curtain over the doorway, a fresh one for each client, whilst a second cupboard hosts the laundry-basket.

The marque is paid, the marquist’s understanding solicited— and so the green velvet curtain in Claude Lanthenay’s shop has been sweeping shut behind Alienor every third day, sometimes at quite unaccustomed hours, depending upon what other appointments have had to be moved or fulfilled to allow Marsilikos’s master marquist to bring to so speedy a conclusion this recent episode in the history of its Night Court, of which she has heard a fair amount (she could hardly help it) but expressed herself little, save by her regret that the girl should be in pain.

But this present venture into Claude’s workroom — a small, square space, not designed for the ready accommodation of the marquist, the canvas, the Rose Sauvage chaperone squashed into the corner (adepts are so rarely plagued with those), and latterly Iphigénie Maignard as well to hold the canvas’s paw and provide conversation and the occasional prayer — is to be Alienor’s last, and a good thing too, given how decidedly the city is warming into summertime. There’s no breeze coming through the louvers to lift the stuffiness, or ripple the velvet, or stir the tendrils of Claude’s brown hair come loose from her headscarf as she bends conscientiously over the canvas laid bare by the unbuttoning of its garments right the way down the back. She has her sleeves rolled up to show her inked bracelets, magnificent beyond what any great lady could match in gems. She’s taking this slowly, cautious of the lingering swelling from Alienor’s last visit. Each bite of her needles seems to follow the last only after agonising deliberation. What she’s humming to herself, well, that doesn’t deserve the noble name of tune.

Occupying a small, hard-backed chair and perspiring grimly through the tedium, the chaperone moves only to mop her forehead every so often with a red handkerchief.

The only one immune to the heat is the Dowager Vicomtesse de Rothéneuf, fresh and cool as only a Kusheline can contrive in a high-necked gown of heavy dark cloth over corsetry that seems less to have been sewn, than engineered. Her hair is swept high and shaped into elegant white waves — like a sculpture of snow, but better adapted to withstand the weather. She is seated in a similar chair (but with a thicker cushion), placed next to Claude’s stool on the side away from Alienor’s upper back; she rests one arm upon the sheet-draped, padded table, her hand reaching out to her young friend’s in a clasp comfortable enough for them both. She is, however, neglecting the stated reason for her presence: as those last petals blossom upon Alienor’s nape she has fallen into her own contemplations and grown silent with them. There are some things one simply can’t speak aloud, with one’s own maid and a guard from the Rose Sauvage sitting side by side just beyond that motionless green velvet drape.

It has taken quite a lot of patience to get to this point, considering how sore her back is already, and to have someone continue to work on it is exhausting, yet Alienor soldiers on. If anything, her utter bone weariness adds to her pain tolerance and allows the marquist to work without much fidgeting from the girl. Her hair is tied up in a simple twist, and she looks almost feverish between the heat in the studio and the inflammation of her skin.

“I went to the temple this morning,” she says to the elderly noblewoman who holds her hand, her words pitched just above a whisper, edged with pain that’s being suppressed. “The priestess there says that I’m making quite a lot of progress. She’s very proud of me. She’s very hopeful for me. I have a lot of hope. I’ve been going every single morning, and she’s very glad to see me every time.”

This of course draws Iphigénie back into the present moment — it was she who chose the priestess, and set in train those religiously observed meetings. She squeezes Alienor’s hand in her own and answers her in a voice smooth as honey and pitched just as low.

“I’m sure she’s as delighted as I am, my dear, to know you’re finding comfort, and hope as well, in our Bright Lady’s love for you… And aren’t the flowers beautiful? You must see new ones every morning,” she suggests, thinking both of the gardens outside the temple and the offerings to Naamah laid out within it. “Have you visited any new places these last days?” she asks next, for Alienor’s gradual discovery of the city where she’s lived her entire life, has been a regular feature of their conversations beneath Claude Lanthenay’s gaze. The marquist seems, as usual, impervious to distraction— but she’s stopped humming, which may be a clue.

“Yes, the flowers are so nice. I’ve been walking in the gardens after we talk, and it makes me happier. Calmer. Sometimes I draw them. Sometimes I draw the people. Oh! And I had kahve again, since I had a bit of coin. I bought painting supplies, and saved some, but I included kahve in my budget. One of the servers always spins the tray with my cup on it to try to impress me. He’s kind of goofy, but he’s really sweet. Like the kunefe. On the best days, I get a bit of kunefe to go with my kahve, and it’s just wonderful,” the girl meanders.

“A nobleman gave me a bit of coin for a drawing of a rose, and Lady Philomène ordered some sketches from me with sword forms and poses. They’re annotated. I gave them to Lady Marguerite when I went to visit her for lunch. Lady Philomène wants her to prepare them and frame them for her,” Alienor offers in a pleasantly chatty sort of way that is clearly meant to distract from the discomfort. “And Lady Marguerite gave me some fine dresses, in new colors. She really liked me in the yellow one, so when I get it tailored just right, I’ll have to wear it for her,” she continues conversationally, ever amiable, even under distress. “I never imagined someone would just give away dresses like that. They’re so expensive!”

Iphigénie bobs along upon the flow of girlish chatter, steering and encouraging it with the occasional quiet, soothing, but interrogative sound. The names, she has never heard before in Alienor’s discourse; one of them in particular inspires her eyebrows to quirk upward, but etiquette dictates that first of all she should marvel at the dresses: “Really!” she exclaims softly. “How generous of her… I think, though, my dear, that if I received such costly gifts from a new friend, I might wonder what she desired of me in return,” she muses mildly.

“I’m not acquainted with a Lady Marguerite in Marsilikos,” she admits, “but I do know a Lady Philomène who has an interest in swordplay. Aiglemort de Chalasse, the Dowager Vicomtesse de Gueret—?” she offers, and at an affirmative sound from Alienor on her bed of pain, she smiles. “Lady Philomène comes to walk in my garden every Tuesday morning,” she reveals, “and sometimes on other days to draw my flowers. I’m sure she’s someone who could well appreciate your sketches — and I’m sure you’ll meet her again, staying with me.”

“I might say, then,” Alienor replies, talking to get through the pain of the marquist’s work, relieved that her companion is so willing to listen to her chatter. “That I liked Lady Philomène’s demeanor. She’s very soldierly. Very handsome with nice cheekbones. Fierce, too. She’s got opinions and she seems fairly forward about sharing them. I am certainly of more use to her as an artist than as a courtesan. I shall look for her in the gardens on Tuesdays.”

“And Lady Marguerite is the daughter of the duc de Chalasse, and she’s very certain people should know that. Which is fine, if she’s going to show off her wealth and generosity by being kind to me, I shall offer extra prayers for her well-being to the Companions. That she may marry well to a wealthy man who appreciates her more than her father does. She could learn quite a bit about agency from Lady Philomène, I think. No one questions Lady Philomène’s backbone.” Here, she whimpers slightly, as if her own backbone may be in question.

Claude murmurs an offhanded rote apology for that stab of pain coming sooner than it was expected; Iphigénie presses Alienor’s hand sympathetically, and does her duty by keeping up their desultory low talk. “Yes, she’s a handsome woman,” she agrees of the Dowager Vicomtesse de Gueret. “My consort thinks so as well,” she confides, and she chuckles softly as she recalls just how Marius Lefebvre nó Mandrake chose to express this sentiment. On a more pensive note, she adds: “I can imagine any young lady benefiting from association with Lady Philomène, provided perhaps that she did not take her as sole preceptress… She has had a hard life, in part because she chooses to make it harder for herself,” she says frankly.

“We’ll speak of her again, my dear,” without the marquist, the chaperone, the maid, and the guard hanging upon every word, “and I shall say a prayer for your Lady Marguerite too. If her dresses are suitable for you, she must be quite near your own age—?” she wonders.

“Oh, yes. Just a couple of years older, I think,” Alienor replies with a smile that’s a little dimmed by the pain and irritation of her back. “I am excited about having a female friend so close in age to me. Most of my other younger friends are boys. Like Raimbaut. He is a novice at La Rose Sauvage. He is worried about losing me. And about moving to La Rose Blanche. He is very shy. It was so hard to tell him that I’d been dismissed. We both cried.”

“There are other boys, too. At La Perle Noire, I met a young nobleman,” she continues, a little wearily, though working to keep her spirits up. “He seemed quite interested in me. As a courtesan. On some level, I felt flattered. Even though I’m certain that it’s not really about me and just about having a courtesan to entertain him for a bit. He didn’t really want to accept that I could not provide him with my services. I had to refuse his request for assignation several times. But it did make me think on perhaps whether I might like to continue in Naamah’s service, once I’ve healed.”

Above her Claude pauses and turns to Iphigénie, a frown creasing her forehead.

The two women share a speaking look; and, looking at the marquist rather than the canvas, Iphigénie murmurs, “Well, it can be flattering to be so pursued… But I hope you will let me provide you with one of my house guards to accompany you about the city, to La Perle Noire and your other favourite places — just as a precaution, my dear, to ensure that you may always offer your companionship freely, and not because it might be awkward to step away.”

That smoothes the marquist’s frown; Claude sniffs and returns to her work, delaying Alienor’s answer but raising herself another notch or two in Iphigénie’s esteem.

There’s a moment where the wheels just turn in Alienor’s head, and she just lies there quietly, processing this idea that hadn’t even occurred to her as yet.

“Because I can consent now,” she says a bit soberly, and with a measure of dread, too. “Because I won’t have the chaperone or the Rose Sauvage guards protecting their property.” She closes her eyes, which is not the best idea since it lets the pain of her back rush to the forefront, and she squeezes Iphigénie’s hand tightly for a moment as a tear rolls down her cheek silently. “Thank you. I sincerely appreciate that. I promise you, I will strive to be safe.”

Nor has Alienor anyone to reach out and mop away that tear for her. The grown-ups politely ignore it, and allow the girl her moment of perceiving her new freedom’s borders— then Iphigénie adds, soothingly and with a return of that squeeze, “I’m sure you will be, my dear. Sometimes one’s path is smoother when one is seen and understood to be protected.” And sometimes, as all four women cooped up together in this airless chamber have cause now to reflect, such protection is brushed aside as easily as the workroom’s velvet curtain.

Then Claude’s vertebrae crack back into place as she straightens on her stool and lays down her tools on her work-table. “Do you want to tell her or shall I?” she asks Iphigénie.

“… Alienor,” Iphigénie states softly, her gaze resting upon the girl’s bare back as it blossoms and it swells, her white roses framed by a bold edging of pink, “your marque is complete.”

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