(1312-06-20) The Great Benefits of Matrimony
Summary: Poor Symon is summoned to tea, and also to the altar.
RL Date: 27/06/2020
Related: You’re Like A Mule.
chimene symon 

Ducal Suite — Rousse Residence

This expansive salon is paneled in soft grey boiseries with dainty and understated details picked out in fresh white, and many mirrors embedded in simple gilded surrounds. Crosshatched parquet underfoot is executed in rare amber and golden hardwoods, and polished to a glorious beeswaxed sheen; overhead, there hangs a large crystal and gilt chandelier surrounded by four smaller satellites, capable of providing a ferocious blaze of light on evenings when the mirrored and gilded candle-stands placed here and there are considered insufficient.

Opposite one another, set in the walls to the left and the right as one enters from the landing, are two sizable fireplaces in blue-veined marble, and above each a painting by a master of two centuries ago: views of Namarre as it was then, of old Courcel castles long since abandoned and gone to seed. Gilded chairs and chaises, covered in white silk embroidered with garlands of spring flowers in pale pinks and blues and greens, and honeybees in sparkling thread-of-gold, form strictly symmetrical arrangements in association with occasional tables. In cool weather these center upon the fireplaces. When it's warmer they migrate toward four pairs of tall casement windows which open upon a broad white marble terrace leading down into the gardens. Drawing closed the white silk drapes reveals an indoor garden as well: flowering vines pick up motifs from the upholstery, in their ascent of a crosshatched trellis picked out in thread-of-gold.

Doors likewise to the left and the right of the salon open into two sets of palatial private chambers, for the use of each half of a married couple.

The summons to afternoon tea is written, in fact, before Chimène’s return to Marsilikos, and carried that far in her carriage in a bundle of other correspondence before covering the last few miles of city streets in the pocket of a smartly-liveried Rousse lackey. One can tell at a glance that it’s definitely a summons, not an invitation: it’s sealed with wax in a distinctly Courcel shade of blue, impressed with a seahorse that has got a little coronet on.

When the next day Symon retraces that seahorse’s route all the way into his old friend’s clutches, he finds her salon open to the fragrant summer breeze from the gardens below, and a table set with an exotic, wafer-thin porcelain tea service that must have come all round the globe in the hold of some Rousse vessel, without a single chip or crack or scratch upon its gilding. There are three cups set out, small and bowl-shaped, without handles or saucers. The pastries are in a more familiar style, he’s had them in her company before. He might also recognise the maid who is occupied in brewing the tea. Then again, he might not.

Chimène arrives a breath after Symon, wafting through a different door in a cloud of delicate silk gauze dyed just exactly the hue of a robin’s egg. (It’s not quite slipping off her shoulders, but give it time—?) Her own latest scent gathered from the flower fields of Grasse is summery too, with just a touch of fresh, crisp citrus; it enfolds him pleasantly as she takes both his hands into her own richly bejeweled paws and declares: “Congratulations, darling.”

Symon is undoubtedly nervous, from the seal alone. He doesn't know what to do with his hands. "I, um… W-what?" he replies in return for her greeting, looking bewildered at the same time he tries to smile smoothly.

“Why, upon your imminent betrothal,” Chimène answers with a whimsical little triangular smile; “we’re taking tea with your bride, if you decide you’ll have her.” Oh, he’ll have her — he’ll have to have her. But surely he’ll feel better for the pretense that he still has a choice. “I thought you and I would speak first, though,” she adds, more soothingly, as she tows him tablewards by both hands almost as if they were dancing and she with all her experience the lead, “rather than put her through the embarrassment of so chilly an audition, don’t you think—?”

"Oh, I…Yes. Of course," Symon stumbles, nodding. "Yes, w…we ought to discuss it. And of course I don't w…want to b-be rude."

It is, naturally, another factor in Chimène’s calculations that the stutter will be less pronounced once Symon has had a little time to accustom himself to the pace at which his affairs are now moving under her direction— not to mention, a strengthening cup of tea.

“I’ve reviewed them all, you know,” she goes on, squeezing Symon’s hands in her own long white fingers before letting him go as a lackey draws out her chair and seats her, “and I think her much the best for you… Yes, thank you.” This last, distractedly, to her secretary, who has followed her out of the suite’s inner chambers to lay down a blue leather folio at her elbow. There was an empty place reserved for it; the tea-table’s pattern now seems to be complete, as the maid revolves round it pouring tea and sweetening Symon’s just to his taste, having looked him up ahead of time in the book in which all the habits of her lady’s friends are recorded. Chimène takes hers black, though on this occasion it doesn’t seem to interest her. She leans her bare forearms against the edge of the table and twines her fingers together in a marvelous jewel-studded alabaster sculpture, while she waits for the servants to retreat.

Then: “A daughter of the comte de Cannes,” she reveals. “Celeste Rousse. I don’t suppose you’ve met her, have you? She has lived so much in her own world these last few years,” she comments, “and she was never the vivacious one amongst her sisters…”

Symon is comforted by the touch, and relieved that he isn't being instantly ambushed by a bride. He reaches for the tea as soon as it's available, just to have something to hold. His eyes scan as he searches his memory. "I don't recall m…meeting her in the p-past," he says. "B-but Celeste is a nice name."

“She’s not the prettiest, either,” in Chimène’s cool opinion, “for all she’s a scion of Eisheth. But she’s had offers before — she’s five-and-twenty — she has been unwilling to make any marriage that would take her away from her particular lover in Eisande,” she explains. “But all that’s over now,” and she unclasps her hands and avails herself at last of a sip of tea, “or Celeste claims it is, anyway.” A flick of her other paw, the one that isn’t curled round the gilded cup, dismisses the relationship as a relevant factor. “She has usually preferred women; I gather she often finds masculine company abrasive… I’ve assured her that you and your northern boy are perfect lambs about the house,” she adds drily, “gentle-natured and a little bit woolly.”

Symon looks very serious, a little uncertain. He nods slowly and sips his tea. "W…well, that's all right. I'm not going to…shout at her or… Is she especially b-bad looking? I m…mean I understand…"

Chimène’s finely-drawn eyebrows rise in twin arches of affront. “She’s a Rousse,” she asserts, in a tone of absolute finality. Another sip of tea and she sets down her cup.

“… Anyway that’s a matter of taste,” she goes on. “I’ve told her how sweet you are to me, and if she brings home a woman friend eventually you’ll hardly mind that. She’ll like being a marquise, I daresay,” she muses — one can’t expect the next duchesse de Roussillion to suppose that any woman wouldn’t rejoice in such dignities as she herself has sacrificed for these many years, “but I think what she wants most is to settle herself properly, away from Eisande. And she has some acquaintance in Siovale already,” she pauses for effect before airily delivering her coup de grace, “from the three years she spent studying literature and languages in Angoulême. Don’t you think your parents will find that rather pleasing, mmm?”

Symon seems especially not comforted by that response. He lowers his eyes, looking into his tea. "No, I don't m…mind," he says quietly. He nods his head several times at the last question. "Yes, if she w…would like to b-be in Siovale, that w…would b-be ideal."

“One of the great benefits of matrimony,” agrees Chimène lightly; “it confers the ability to be and act in two places at once…” Her hand comes to rest, fingers splayed and jewels glinting, upon the blue leather folio. “I’ve had the necessary documents prepared by our lawyers to send to your parents, and I’ve drafted a letter for you to copy out in your own hand,” quite as if he were a puppet speaking in her voice, but did he really want to have to put it into words himself? “Now, a provision I insisted upon is that House Perigeux provide a budget and a staff for opening a proper Marsilikos residence for you as heir— your family does own a house here, I was surprised to discover,” she quirks her eyebrows at him, “however long it’s been shuttered and sheeted. It’s only reasonable that you and your wife will wish to divide your time between Siovale and Eisande. Though how you intend to divide it, will be up to you.”

Symon eyes the portfolio, perhaps a little suspicious of having someone else's words to copy, but he does slowly nod. "I…yes, that sounds…fine. I suppose it w…would b-be time for a p-p-proper house." He looks up. "Do you think all this is going to m…make them angry w-with me?"

“Well, you can hardly take a wife to those squalid little flats down by the port,” in Chimène’s opinion. Not that she’s ever set foot in Les Tanières herself, you understand. “They’ll be surprised,” she allows candidly, “and perhaps suspicious of why you’re suddenly willing to do your duty— I’ve put all that in the letter,” she adds by the bye, “in terms I think they’ll find plausible. But they won’t be angry, you know, they’ll be relieved. And you’ll find, Symon, that by giving them a daughter-in-law, you can get a great deal of what you might want for yourself, at a cost of significantly less personal inconvenience than you suppose. Give Celeste a child every couple of years and they won’t care who’s in your bed the rest of the time,” she explains patiently, “or that you make it in Marsilikos, or Elua, or where you will.”

Symon tucks his chin a little, definitely quietly insulted. "I see," he says about what she's put in the letter. He glances up. "Chimene, w…we had fun once, didn't we? You found m-me charming, or entertaining, or something?"

In the middle of opening the folio to produce the dreaded draft Chimène looks up too, at the sound of her name. Symon’s question seems to catch her off guard. Her lips part, and then close again— and so does the folio. She lowers it into her lap to rest against the edge of the tea-table. “Yes,” she agrees softly, “we did…” But then she returns to the dry and matter-of-fact tone of her recent years. “I do usually find you pleasant company, you know.”

Symon glances aside, leaning forward just a little. "Then w…why have you gotten so cold w-with me?" he asks. Then he looks down again. "I know it's rude to ask, w…when you're doing a kind thing for m-me, taking on a lot of trouble. B-but lately you treat me… I know I've m…made m-mistakes, I just… Is it that?" He looks up again. "I know I'm… I know other p-people do this m…more easily, b-but I thought…"

And Chimène looks away, as if distracted by the birdsong filtering in from the garden. Her manicured fingertips stroke the corner of the leather folio as if taking some absent-minded comfort from the texture of it, while she considers her friend’s words.

“Marriage is business, Symon,” she says at last, as her clear hazel gaze returns to his face. “You and I had never talked business together till lately but it occupies most of my time, you know. I have lands to administer, favours to supply, petitions to deny, contracts to negotiate, a mother-in-law who’s never really pleased with anything I do, a husband who’s never here and who relies upon me to carry more and more of his own burdens, children of an age to cause trouble well beyond the confines of the nursery, cousins who descend upon me in droves wanting me to show them the city and take an interest in all their affairs, and three more meetings today after our tea, all of which I’m worried about in different ways. I’m pleased, of course, enormously pleased, to be trusted more than I used to be,” she admits without hesitation, “and to have real work to do for my family, but to see all the pieces on the board and to move them around at will does require a cool eye and a cool head. Or then again,” she favours him with a brittle smile, “there’s the other school of thought, which suggests that I was always cold as snow inside and my moments of apparent warmth were the exceptions.”

Symon listens quietly to all this, and he nods, the gesture small. "I don't b-believe that," he says softly, "B-but I understand. And I know I'm taking your time. B-but you know I w…will say yes to everything you p-put b-before me. And I have to trust you b-because if you tried to fool me, I p…probably couldn't catch it. So I… W…we can do the p-papers. I'll agree to it, if you think it's the b-best for me."

“Well, I’m not trying to fool you,” says Chimène frankly; “if I were I’d be more charming and flirtatious about it, and I’d give you something stronger than a cup of tea. It would work, too,” she agrees, “because it would remind you so beautifully of the playtime we used to have together. But one can’t just have playtime with one’s friends forever, Symon, there does come an age at which people like us must pay for our pleasures.” She taps the folio. “For you the price won’t be untenably high, I’ve seen to that,” she promises him. “But when you’ve paid— then, you can let out a breath I don’t think you even know you’re holding, yet.”

"I know," Symon says quietly. "I've b-been lucky, thanks to m…my friends. And I appreciate it." He meets Chimene's eyes openly, with trust and gratitude in his. "I know you've traveled and spent a great deal of time thinking on who w…would b-be a good m…match to m…make everyone happy, w-when there is no p…perfect answer. I'm grateful."

This seems fair enough tribute, and Chimène accepts it with a nod — and offers in return a hint of the whimsy of old. “Next time,” she suggests, “we’ll open a bottle of joie and I’ll tell you all about the ones I didn’t think would suit you… Shall I take you through the details of the contracts now,” and she taps the folder again, quite prepared to try, at least, “or would you rather meet Celeste before she expires from sheer nerves? It’s rather an odd day for her too, you know,” she points out, “meeting the man who’ll father her children.”

Symon smiles at the levity, and he nods, setting his tea aside. "I don't w…want her to feel anxious," he says. "W-we can have her in if you think she w…would feel b-better that way. I'm sorry to have kept her w…waiting."

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