(1312-06-19) Honing Edges
Summary: One afternoon in Iphigénie’s garden, artistic pursuits turn to theological disputes. Also, there are some daisies.
RL Date: 19/06/2020 - 21/06/2020
Related: Previous scenes with these characters and/or Alienor.
iphigenie philomene 

Garden — Maignard Residence

The garden is girded by a high wall of plain grey stone, lined with trellises which climbing roses and honeysuckle are being trained in the strictest Kusheline style to ascend. It is chiefly laid out as a parterre in which beds of colourful flowers are separated by low, angular, meticulous box hedges and raked pathways of dark gravel, about a bronze fountain celebrating a Maignard ancestor.

The spreading canopy of a mature elm tree provides shade over a small lawn and its own more haphazard growth of bluebells, crocus, borage, and nasturtiums, arisen during years of neglect, kept because of their great interest to the plethora of bees whose buzzing sets the air aquiver as they partake of their floral feast. Their home is a neat stack of wooden hives in the far corner beyond the elm, amongst bushes of lavender and fennel, rosemary and sage.

Spaced along the house's rear façade three sets of heavy dark doors lead into chambers well-lit by mullioned windows of thick, distorted glass.

Not quite as early as her usual furtive excursions into the garden on a Tuesday morning, it's mid-morning today when Philomène enquires politely at the door whether she'd be intruding.

On being assured, if only for the sake of politeness, that she is not, she is let through, revealing that rather than just a sketchpad and pencil today, she also carries with her a small potted plant from which bright, vivid yellow giant daisies bloom. This is handed off to the servant to present at a later time to the interim lady of the house, after a brief and polite exchange about the weather, whether said servant's family remains well, and the usual complacent non-conversations that accompany these things.

Once divested of her floral tribute, the old Camaeline tramps through to the garden with her usual bullish demeanour, and once she's sure nobody is watching, lowers herself with a wince and a hiss until she's prone, and can more easily sketch the plants at eye level.

The unkempt grass upon which Philomène has with such pains stretched herself out, softens Iphigénie’s footfalls to a whisper which might escape the notice of a passionate artist engaged upon a great creative work. But as she circles at a polite distance round the supine Camaeline, her dark red skirts gradually enter into her field of vision, along with her sturdy and sensible flat black leather shoes and the vine-twined walking stick she has been affecting these last several months. From this angle the mandrake flowers carved near its base are more visible, being at eye level for Philomène— along with a pretty little bee, the twin of the one who came not long ago to nestle hungrily in the violet petals of the very crocus she has been sketching.

In greeting, Iphigénie simply offers, “Thank you for the daisies.”

The great creative work in question, for it is no doubt visible as Philomène scratches her pencil across the paper, is dubious at best. The kindest thing one could say is that it is almost certainly a flower, but the proportions are wrong, and there is no depth to the picture. If she intends to use these as studies for embroidery or for further interest in the crocus, she's going to have her work cut out for her.

At the greeting, the pencil pauses and the woman half rolls to one side with her elbow as leverage, looking up at her hostess. "You'll excuse me if I don't get up." Not quite a question. Still, she gives Iphigénie a faint smile and shrugs offhandedly. "Can't move for the things at home, and I thought you might appreciate something bright to look at when you're not up to walking in your garden. Water them every few days over the summer, maybe once a week in the winter." There's a pause, then the honest confession, "I admit it, I'm trying to give them away to everyone right now just to empty my house."

Iphigénie’s empty hand moves in a gesture of acceptance. “Of course,” she murmurs, regarding the unfeasibility of getting up to exchange courtesies. “I might put them in Alienor’s chamber,” she admits, “it’s rather dark for a young girl, I think, and she’s fond of the colour yellow… I understand the two of you have become acquainted lately,” she mentions. Then she tilts her head — with the sun at her back, her white hair is a halo of light — and looks down at her friend through narrowed green eyes. “How many daisies are there in your house?”

"I don't think I've met a Lady Alienor," Philomène admits, after a moment or two with creased brow and a certain amount of tapping the end of her pencil against her teeth. "Is she close family? You didn't mention anyone, but perhaps I've seen her in passing." She shifts position to lie entirely on her back, then with a single, unlikely, smooth movement made possible through a brutal regime of daily exercise pulls herself up to sit, her good leg curling beneath her. "I'll send a few bunches over for her, too, then." She gives a wry smile. "And in answer to that, when I came home the other day it was maybe a dozen bunches? And then every day this week there's been a steady delivery of more. You've seen my house. It's overflowing with the damn things."

The bright white halo wavers with a shake of Iphigénie’s head. “My visitor is not a relation of mine, no. She is a Mademoiselle Alienor nó Rose Sauvage,” she supplies, “who tells me that one day in Eisheth’s gardens you invited her to draw a picture of you, and then you were quite surprised when she did,” and though her smile might be lost in shadow, it’s found again in her voice. “I’m sure she’d be enchanted to accept however many of your ardent admirer’s marguerites you might wish to be rid of — perhaps she’ll even draw them.”

"The grey rose?" Philomène clarifies, arching a brow. "Oh, well, in which case I've already suggested she come and help herself by the cartful to the damn things. For the record, not my ardent admirer, but that of a former guest who didn't have the foresight to pass on a change of address. No, as it will no doubt come as a surprise to you, I am rarely the recipient of bunches of flowers as a display of anyone's affection for me," she adds drily. "I should have guessed, though, that you'd pick up a poor lost little flower and see her right. It seems to be your modus operandi. I told her to learn a trade - plumbing or something. There's always a need for a good plumber. Making a living trying to sell pictures is going to be more problematic for her. There are only so many sketches even I'm prepared to buy."

“Plumbing,” murmurs Iphigénie, her smile deepening. “You won’t mind if I sit?” she suggests to Philomène, and with the aid of her intricate carven cane she takes the few steps to where her cushioned sofa is waiting under the elm tree, and lowers herself into her usual place.

The garden is still enough that they can hear one another as well as the bees.

“The grey rose,” she echoes thoughtfully as she smooths her skirts and props her stick safely against the sofa’s arm, where it will be to hand when she wishes to rise. Her eyes lift to Philomène’s face, now rather more on a level with her own. “Not the most flattering epithet,” she says simply, “with its implication that she is tainted and besmirched.”

"I hadn't considered it that way," Philomène admits, setting down her pencil and automatically beginning to seek out her flask. But then she catches herself, the hand hovers for a moment close to her chest, then she lowers it. "I had meant to evoke images of steel. Stone. A strength she's finding, rather than a taint. But then I don't hold a high opinion of the imagery put forward by a white rose. Innocence?" She snorts. "There's enough naive, wide eyed idiots in the world without dressing in white and pretending to be one too."

“You’ve a singular imagination, Philomène,” is Iphigénie’s opinion. “Most would see her transition from white to grey as a loss of something precious, rather than a gain. But in essence I think you’re right about what she is becoming. The painting and sketching, that will suffice to keep her in pin money for the time being,” she points out, “even if it doesn’t blossom into a profession. I have counseled her not to hurry into anything,” she admits.

Her servants meanwhile are on the march, bearing trays laden with the component parts of afternoon tea, which Iphigénie has ordered early in Philomène’s honour.

Philomène considers her own sketches for a moment, then turns the paper over. Nobody needs to see her amateurish attempts.

“I’m just saying that if you come down with a bout of fever, you don’t mourn your previous fine health, but you do celebrate your recovery,” she points out, eyes tightening for a moment as she shifts position to better be able to get at and then pour the tea when it’s brewed. “And you’re stronger for it, once you’re recovered, at least. It’s like I was saying to Aurore the other day, nobody who’s never had to go through any sort of hardship is interesting in the slightest.”

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Politics: Great Success. (5 7 6 2 2 8 7 1 7 4)

According to their invariable habit Iphigénie’s green eyes are elsewhere when Philomène heaves herself into motion. She’s busy, that’s all, overseeing the placement of the tea things and measuring fragrant golden-brown leaves into the infuser with a cautious, steady hand.

I might be interested in such a mythical creature,” she murmurs, “if only as a curiosity… Lady Aurore— one of your Chalasse kinswomen, I think?” she suggests, looking up again to Philomène as her maid Nadège pours water into the teapot. “I believe I met her once last year at the Rose Sauvage,” she muses, “on the occasion of the debut of a White Rose. Our Alienor must have been there as well, serving the tea, though I don’t recall her.”

“Thank you, Nadège,” Philomène murmurs to the maid, no matter how this might break with the approved etiquette of ignoring any maid not ones own. But since when did Philomène care about those sorts of niceties?

“By marriage, I hasten to add,” she insists, opening her mouth and shifting her jaw from side to side, then touching her chin. There may be no visible bruises or scratches today, but this is still Philo and the chances that she hasn’t been fighting recently are slim. “She married old Jean, gave him a good few years so he died happy. One of the few Chalasses worth getting to know, Iphigénie. Most of them are bland and interchangeable. And very possibly your mythical creatures you’re so interested to meet. Did you hear that the Duc’s youngest brat’s taken over the town house? No sooner in the door than she’s stripping the place out and putting it all back her way.” She snorts. Such arrogance. Who would insist on everything being exactly their own way all the… oh wait. Right.

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Empathy: Good Success. (8 8 1 5 5 8 3 2 1 6 4 1 2)

Iphigénie has indeed heard and so she nods along with this last. “Lady Marguerite,” she supplies, “yes. I gather she and Alienor met at the coffee-house and she has since made her several very generous gifts… Gowns,” she explains, “in last year’s styles, which perhaps a duc’s daughter didn’t like to wear again. Though why she brought them with her to Marsilikos this year, and why she handed them down to so new an acquaintance rather than her own maids, I don’t know,” she goes on thoughtfully. A slight shrug. “Perhaps she intended to have them made over, and then changed her mind when stirred to charity by the thought of another girl’s rather more meagre wardrobe. Or perhaps she hopes to be Alienor’s patron, one day.”

She gives up her attempt to deduce Marguerite’s motives, and addresses herself instead to lifting the infuser from the pot into its accustomed dish and pouring out two cups of tea. And then Nadège offers unto Philomène her usual unsweetened cup and a slight bow.

“Or her maids made their opinion quite clear about hauling furniture around without a moment’s rest after a long journey, and Marguerite is a petty little brat,” Philomène offers her own nuanced opinion on the likely cause. “I admit, I’ve rather enjoyed putting her nose out of joint.” No, really? What a shock. “Anyone who comes in throwing their title around instead of earning some damn respect can go hang as far as I’m concerned. I don’t give two shits who your father is, sunshine, I care that you at least attempt to act like a decent human being. It’s enough to drive a woman to drink.”

Not that some women need much driving, Iphigénie can’t help but reflect as she stirs her own fresh dark honey slowly into her tea with a perfectly polished silver spoon.

“How mortifying for the girl,” she murmurs with an ironic lift of an eyebrow, “to encounter a circumstance in which name and blood are not enough to conquer. That can’t have happened to her very often in L’Agnace, can it? But you do surprise me, Philomène,” she goes on, laying down the spoon in her saucer. “I thought you preferred more equal sport.” And she quirks both her finely-drawn eyebrows together, and takes a scalding sip of tea.

Philomène wrinkles her nose as she takes up her tea, nonchalantly cradling it against her outstretched left leg where the warmth can do something for the constant ache there. “Fine, fine, you make your point,” she admits grudgingly. “At least until the girl can fight back. Perhaps I ought to train her first?”

She takes a breath, considering the tea in its cup for a while before looking back up to her hostess. “I’ve been musing over that, though. Offering training, I mean. And something a bit less weak and handwavey than you get from most of the temples. What do you think?”

Another sip of tea, and Iphigénie is smiling as she sets down her cup. “Alienor wishes very much to learn how to use a knife,” she reveals, “and I’ve already suggested that she might like to ask you for lessons, if she should come upon you one day in my garden.”

“If she just wants to learn to use a knife, Raphael might be a better tutor,” Philomène admits, moving the cup a little to a slightly different part of her leg. Not that she’s using it for the pain. She’s just… er… not thirsty right now. Or something. “He can teach her all the delicate nuances. Me, I could teach her to kill. Which might not be what she had in mind.”

She exhales again, finally lifting the cup to her lips for a sip, but as quickly again returning it to rest on her leg. “I’ve known a good number of old soldiers go to the temple when they retired. I don’t have land to manage any more, I don’t have children to raise - they’re old enough to look after themselves, as they keep writing to tell me - and I’m at least as good as some of those priests. I’m seriously considering it. A third lifetime. What do you think? I could be a damn good priest.”

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Presence+Composure: Great Success. (5 4 2 3 3 5 5 7 3 8 8 5 7 2 5 1)
<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Religion: Amazing Success. (7 7 8 3 1 7 7 2 1 8 5 3 5 6 5)

“… Ah,” breathes Iphigénie, her eyes narrowing in quiet fascination, “you think of Camael’s order, I suppose? Yes,” she nods, tasting the idea in tandem with another, longer mouthful of her tea. “With your martial expertise and your knowledge of the world I cannot think they would expect you to begin as the children do, as a novice sweeping the temple yard — but, Philomène,” she says seriously, “older priests most usually receive their theological training in seminaries attached to the major temples of the angels. I might wonder how ready you really were to go back to living in barracks and taking orders, and letting other people, perhaps people who are younger than you are and have less experience of living in the world, have oversight of your conscience… letting them tell you not just who to fight and when, as in your youth, but what to believe and what you may teach to others, and being judged upon how well and how sincerely you reshape your beliefs according to shared doctrines. I daresay you share a great commonality of thought with the Camaeline order already, but in points upon which you differed, how prepared would you be to silence your tongue and accept correction? The clerics of a particular order must strive to act as one and to speak with one voice,” she murmurs, with a note of apology in her voice, “as a single intellectually disciplined force. I confess I find it difficult to picture you content as such an obedient holy soldier. There are many priests of Camael, but there is only one Philomène Aiglemort,” she pronounces, shaking her head.

“But if the doctrines need to be challenged,” Philomène points out, pressing her fingertip to her knee as she makes her point, “what could be more Camaeline than to fight your corner and back your beliefs? If what they’re looking for in a priest is a quiet, obedient automaton who rabbits off a string of dogma without ever thinking for themselves, then the entire order needs to be reformed.”

“I see. You would join a thousand-year-old holy order not for commonality of belief and a desire to give yourself in humility to the service of your tutelary angel, but to overturn its entire structure from within and rewrite its dogma, all of this during your initial theological training,” Iphigénie summarises, and her painted mouth forms rather a delighted curve. “There is,” she repeats, “only one Philomène Aiglemort.” The Chalasse half hardly seems pertinent, here.

“Well, I might give it a week or two first,” Philomène admits, quirking her lips to one side as she rather graciously acknowledges the point. “But just because it’s stood for a thousand years doesn’t automatically mean it’s infallible. You think I ought to just stand outside the temple with a huge sign and yell scripture at passers by instead?”

“In both scenarios,” Iphigénie points out frankly, sipping her tea, “you’d have to learn some scripture first. And then, how to develop arguments more sophisticated and more subtle than pivoting to the most absurd alternative you can imagine on the spot, ascribing it to your interlocutor, and expecting her to talk you down from it— as if it were a serious proposal worth her effort to address, rather than a cheap attempt to knock her onto the defensive… A little more tea, Philomène?” she suggests. “Yours must be getting cold by now.”

She says none of this unkindly, of course. Far from it.

Philomène actually laughs at the pointed critique, inclining her head and holding up her cup for a top up. “Ah, but training aside, and the fact that there would probably be more than one serious injury in the seminary, tell me I wouldn’t make a good priest? If an unorthodox one. I do, at the very least, have an unshakeable faith. It just might not entirely be as prescribed by a thousand years of monotonous repetitive chanting.”

<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Persuasion: Great Success. (5 8 6 6 3 8 6 8 1 7 8 2 5 3)
<FS3> Iphigénie rolls Religion: Great Success. (7 5 8 2 6 1 1 8 6 1 7 5 4 5 2)

And so Iphigénie’s gaunt and fine-boned white hands curl together around the teapot — she never minds the heat — and she lifts it carefully, to pour a little more tea into Philomène’s cup. She sets it down again upon its silver stand before giving her answer.

“I think,” she says, looking over her friend, “that you are too certain of your own correctitude — and too ready to throw away knowledge, ritual, and tradition handed down by good people striving to fulfill the will of our Blessed Elua and his angels amidst the dust and suffering of this Terre d’Ange — and before you’ve troubled to examine it and reflect upon it, because what has no immediate and obvious value to you, you cannot see as useful or precious to others — too eager to create yourself a higher authority, and at the same time too unwilling to question yourself and submit yourself to that which is truly higher, to be a good priest.”

She pauses. “You would be striving against your own nature, Philomène, and making yourself and everyone around you miserable in the attempt,” she prophesies frankly. “But a woman of your ingenuity can surely serve Camael and incarnate his virtues of loving and protective strength, by a means which flows with rather than in opposition to your nature, and so would make the most effective use of the God-given talents you’ve spent your life in honing. Your idea of training young people, young women especially, in the arts of self-defense,” all right, she’s embroidering it a little, but giving her friend the credit, “seems worthy of you.”

“Or to put it another way,” Philomène replies with a wry smile, thumb absently tapping the rim of her cup, “You’re too stubborn, arrogant and ornery to be a priest, Philo, stick to waving swords about because you’re less likely to anger the entire clergy that way.” She holds up her free hand, dipping her head. “Noted, I assure you. I’d just like to think that maybe when I’m dead Camael will take a look at me and decide I did right by him after all. Despite everything, I mean. I just… surely I must have more to offer than just standing up in front of some wide eyed sixteen year old and demonstrating the twelve forms.”

She lifts the tea to her lips, draining a much more significant portion of it this time, partly to give her time to reflect and partly because it’s that perfect temperature and that’s not an occasion to waste, rare as it is.

“Indeed,” Iphigénie murmurs over the rim between sips of her honeyed tea, “you’re too dogmatic to be a priest,” she agrees, with a fleeting and mischievous smile.

“But let’s consider those wide-eyed sixteen-year-olds, shall we,” she goes on with a more serious, sympathetic mien, “who haven’t grown up under the tuition of a master-at-arms, and who would never take themselves off to study at a Camaeline military academy… who might, even,” she suggests delicately, “respect the authority of a vicomtesse more than that of a priest. Are they not also children of the angels, worthy of the safety and the confidence they might learn from you? Would not Camael be pleased to see even unlikely young people equipped with the skill to defend themselves and the people they love the most? A task is not unworthy,” she says softly, “only because it is humbler than we think our merits should warrant. And then, if a girl is attacked, and she succeeds in fending off the one who meant her harm, how humble would her teacher feel—? On the contrary, I think she might be quite proud. And so too if with her aid a girl who was hurt, learned to make sure it never happened again.”

“I’ll train your steel grey rose,” Philomène allows, setting the teacup back down on her leg. “I’ll train her to defend herself, and if it comes to it, to kill. Give her the confidence she needs to build that strength, and the tools she needs to see justice done on the man who hurt her.” This may not entirely have been Iphigénie’s thrust, but Philo’s going to run with it anyway. “And remind me that I’ve yet to win an argument with you, so I’d better up my game.”

Well, it’s a more practical channel for Philomène’s famously wayward pride, than taking on the entire Order of Camael on her first day — or in a week or two, if she lasted so long as that.

“I suspect that rather than enshrining him as one of her life’s purposes, Alienor might prefer never to think of that man again,” Iphigénie murmurs, “but I am grateful, Philomène, truly so, for your willingness to— hone her edge a little. And as for yours,” she raises her cup of tea in an ironic salute, “I shall look forward to testing it again another day.”

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