(1312-06-21) Acquired Tastes
Summary: Yet again, Alienor finds herself catering to the eccentricities of the wealthy without a full understanding of what’s going on. Well. It’s a living.
RL Date: 21/06/2020
Related: None.
odile alienor 

La Perle Noire — Grand Plaza

The face this establishment shows to the Grand Plaza is a window display of coffee beans in a fantastic blown-glass vase, against figured silk which changes with the seasons; and a pair of heavy oaken doors guarded by a swarthy, bearded, well-muscled man in Ephesian costume, who bows patrons out of Terre d'Ange and into a foreign land redolent of fine coffee and cinnamon and tobacco, lit by countless candles suspended each in a gleaming glass lantern from a ceiling that billows with ruby-red silk and cloth of gold. Layered carpets of many colours, intricately woven and warmed in winter by a hypocaust, soften the music of pipes and drums and mandolins that filters through this sanctuary of civilised pleasures. Here a friendship might be forged or renewed, a deal struck, or a day simply whiled away in Eastern opulence and ease, amidst the red and the gold and the smoke.

In the middle of the main lounge is a raised circular stage upon which an horologist's glass marks the lapse of two hours between performances by Ephesian dancing girls, or minstrels singing joyously in the tongue of that land, or even a local d'Angeline bard telling tall tales. Low tables of dark wood radiate therefrom, surrounded by lounging cushions and richly-upholstered divans; the outermost are set in alcoves which may for privacy's sake be screened by shimmering silken curtains. If one desires amusement, one may summon at any hour alluring dancers whose brass finger-cymbals chime to accent the undulations of their hips. If one wishes to smoke, one may command a water pipe. But the true business of the house is the coffee. Perfumed young men in loose trousers and embroidered tunics move to and fro like angels dispensing this liquid mercy: strong, fragrant, frothing kahve, brewed cup by cup from the fine-ground black pearls of Ephesium, served in elaborate copper vessels beside tall glasses of pure spring water and plates of esoteric and delectable foreign sweetmeats.

Several sets of doors at the rear of the lounge lead away to the kitchens; to a stairway ascending toward smaller chambers which may be reserved for private parties; and outside into a courtyard, open in fair weather.


There's a pair of Ephesian dancing girls on stage, oscillating in a mesmerizing fashion to rhythmic Ephesian music, beautiful and sensuous and eye-catching. One of the kahve servers has his attention elsewhere, however. He's brought a cup of kahve to a dark-haired young woman with brilliant yellow daisies atop a diaphanous thin veil, pinned into her hair, which is loosely twisted off her neck so that the top of her still fresh-looking but no longer terribly swollen marque can be seen. He's flirting openly, obliviously, despite a stare from his manager boring into the back of his head; she's flirting coyly, giggling girlishly and dropping her gaze demurely. She whispers something to him, then, and he suddenly blushes and heads for the kitchen, stealing a glance at said manager.

The girl sighs faintly and wraps her hands around her cup. It's not so much that the dancers don't interest her; more that the crowd does. Her gray-green gaze wanders through the room now that her pleasant distraction is back to work.

The sleek dark figures of two Shahrizai guards peel away from Odile, like shadows fleeing by instinct as she steps into the light of La Perle Noire’s countless suspended candles.

She doesn’t seem to see the grandly-dressed Ephesian fellow bowing her inside, or to hear any of the courteous words of welcome he has been polishing for over a year till his accent is perfectly comprehensible, but just foreign enough to thrill the locals.

She pauses a few paces over the threshold to breathe in the establishment’s layered scents and colours and sounds— and after that single breath she seems to know it all, and she passes without faltering through the pattern of tables and divans to the one she has marked out for herself. Her tread is as assured as that of a queen in her own court; the bell-shaped skirts of her azure blue silk gown (well-made, but unusually modest for the d’Angeline summertime) seem to sway gently in time with the melody emanating from the stage, until at last they brush against the edge of the table occupied by the tiny creature half-veiled and crowned with yellow daisies. Their passage uncovers two slippers dyed blue to match, left behind before Odile in her stockinged feet steps straight up onto the other half of Alienor’s long yellow divan.

And she curls up there with all the grace of a pampered and exquisite housecat, smoothing her skirts as the cat might groom her fur. Within arm’s reach of Alienor, though she has not yet so much as glanced at the girl. She lifts her wide sapphire eyes instead to the silk-trousered young waiter who has already come to attend her. “Kahve,” she pronounces.

“Milady,” and he bows, and hops to it with seemly alacrity.

The girl waits until everything is settled and the servers seem dispatched, and she uses this time to study this woman and her beautiful gown and her fine matching slippers and her dark hair so neatly arranged. Demeanor is noted, as Alienor takes the opportunity to sip her kahve delicately, and when she sets down the cup, she puts on a perfect and innocent smile. “My lady,” she greets softly to the woman who has joined her.

Odile is occupied now in unbuttoning and slipping off one of her black silk gloves, revealing a right hand beautifully kept and a whit less sunkissed than her face, or the slender throat rising from her gown’s finely-worked collar of golden lace. One corner of her red-painted mouth lifts toward Alienor, and then she tosses her glove down upon her otherwise empty table and turns her head to regard her fully. Those sapphire eyes are fathomless and cool.

“My lady,” she echoes, and in her pleasant purring mezzo-soprano voice those words have something of the same exotic flavour they’re given by the Ephesians here.

"Thank you, but it's 'mademoiselle,'" Alienor replies gently, more about her own humility than correcting this great lady, and she smiles. "I am Alienor nó Rose Sauvage," she explains. A simple, basic sort of name that describes who and what she is in just a moment. Her gray-green gaze studies the lace at Odile's throat for as long as she thinks she might get away with it, and then she drops her eyes demurely.

“Then you are a courtesan of this city,” Odile pronounces coolly, and the same slightly foreign lilt persists. “I understand, mademoiselle. There are so few d’Angeline women who wear veils.”

Her smile deepens just a fraction, as if inviting Alienor into some secret sorority with her; it fades as a waiter lowers himself to his knees at the other side of her table, his head bowed over his heavy tray. They have instinctively brought out the best Anatolian pottery in which to serve her Ephesian delight, and one of the prettiest glasses for her water, painted with summer flowers. Her kahve is served in a copper cup so elaborate that holding its handle for long might well pain one’s fingers. During the ritual unloading of the tray Alienor has moments more to study the golden lace, and to put names to some of the flowers incorporated into it along with patterns of chains, and locks, and keys. It only grows more intricate the longer one looks— it’s an almost unimaginably costly addition to a gown otherwise created to be unassuming.

When the waiter bows to her again and begins to rise, Odile halts him with a crisp gesture of her bare hand, which then turns over in the air and reaches for her cup— to offer it, unexpectedly, to Alienor. “Will you drink first?” she asks her, with a tiny, teasing smile.

"Yes, my lady," the girl replies to the first part, delighted for the moment with the level of service that her new strange friend receives, attempting to watch everything at once without missing a single detail. And that lace! Ah, such lace. Its intricacy and beauty makes the simple gown altogether more enchanting.

Yet Alienor is surprised at this question, and she motions to her own cup of kahve, contained in a simple stock mug. "I have some, my lady," she points out with mild confusion. "What is it that you would like? I am pleased to serve, of course." Just a little bedazzled by the different culture.

Suddenly Odile’s smile blooms brighter, her reddened lips parting over teeth even and very white. The faint creases about her sapphire eyes deepen. “It is a custom,” she disclaims, still holding out her cup as if for Alienor to drink; “I would like you to take a sip, that’s all.”

"Do… you want to take a sip of mine?" Alienor wonders, as she reaches out to take the cup from Odile, still confused but willing to indulge the eccentricity of the rich. Really, her whole life thus far has trained her to do exactly that. She cautiously sips the kahve. It's delicious. "It's delicious," she declares, offering the cup back to Odile, and she's not even wearing lipstick to make a mark.

The smile remains sunny, for Odile is enjoying her little game. “My thanks,” she says solemnly as she receives the returning cup from Alienor, and sets it down near to the inner edge of the table, well within her line of sight whether she turns to the courtesan or the waiter.

But it’s Alienor, of course, the daisy-wreathed and the sweetly obliging, to whom she proffers her glazed pottery dish of Ephesian delight. The pattern partly visible beneath its cargo of fresh, lemony treats is in shades of blue and green and glittering gold, suggestive of peacock feathers. “Will you please eat a piece?” she inquires solicitously of the young courtesan. “How do you find the flavour?” she inquires of her then, as if genuinely concerned to know.

"Oh, thank you, my lady," Alienor says as she samples the candy, still completely bemused but not about to turn down sweets. "It's very good. They're so pretty, aren't they? I prefer the kunefe, though. It's got that rose water and lemon syrup on it that's just incredible." She tilts her head curiously at Odile. "Are you recently arrived to Marsilikos? Or returned, perhaps?"

The kneeling waiter — who understands what’s going on far better than Alienor, for Odile isn’t La Perle’s first paranoid patron — regards this interplay between the two women with mild unease. Not because he suspects that unauthorised ingredients have been added in the kitchens, but because without turning her head away from her pretty little poison-taster Odile keeps flicking him sidelong glances to gauge whether he’s inclined to intervene. He would very much like not to be looked at like that. Scrubbing the privies, that’d be more comfortable…

Good,” says Odile, smiling, encouraging, approving of Alienor’s acquiescence. “I’m so glad the flavour of it is pleasing.” She puts down the dish just next to her cup; and with one elegant long finger, the nail lacquered a deep red to match her lips, she indicates a specific piece of it. Her gaze shifts fully to the waiter. “Why don’t you have a piece too?” she suggests.

There’s nothing for it. He murmurs, “Milady,” and helps himself to that piece.

Odile watches him chew and swallow and then awards him the same approving smile. “There. You may go now,” she decides, speaking quite kindly to him.

To Alienor she adds, belatedly, “I have passed through Marsilikos several times, but I have never lingered here so long before… nor found real Ephesian kahve waiting for me,” and having dismissed the third party to their colloquy, she takes at last a deep draught from her cup.

"I have met those who had no taste for it, which is a pity. It's really quite excellent," Alienor replies with a little shake of her head, and she smiles one of those secret little smiles that young girls like to smile. She sips her own kahve comfortably. "You have made the server very nervous," she observes. "Who are you?"

One mouthful of kahve irresistibly becomes two, and then three or four, poured scalding and cinnamon-fragrant down Odile’s throat before she lowers her cup and, thus fueled, smiles even more brilliantly at Alienor beside her. “Oh,” she says easily, as if she hadn’t earlier decided to withhold this information as long as plausible, “I am Odile Shahrizai de Cantacuzène. The kahve and I,” she suggests, nodding in the direction in which the waiter was so glad to retreat, before her eyes come back to Alienor’s face, “are perhaps both an acquired taste.”

"Well, I have acquired a taste for the kahve, my lady, and for many of the Ephesian treats, as well," Alienor replies with a pretty smile, watching this woman with great interest for the moment. "I hope that you very much enjoy your time here in Marsilikos, and I am glad to have made your acquaintance, Lady Odile."

Odile’s ungloved hand commences to journey between her plate and her mouth, interweaving the admittedly excellent (and, she gathers, entirely usual) lemony flavour of the Ephesian delight with the rich bittersweetness of the kahve already singing in her blue Shahrizai veins.

“And I yours, Mademoiselle Alienor nó Rose Sauvage,” she murmurs in answer, and then smiles warmly at the girl as she chews her next piece. Caffeinated, she simply exudes good nature. “This is delicious, isn’t it? The lemon so crisp, and not made too sweet upon the palate… and the perfect froth on the kahve,” she marvels, lifting her cup again as one rejoicing. “There must really be Ephesian women in the kitchens as well as the boys to serve. What a jewel of a house. If you’ve a taste you must come here often,” she teases; “I am sure I shall too.”

Alienor is delighted by this, though she is easily entranced by new experiences and sensations. "I love lemons," she agrees with a brilliant smile, for she is a beautiful girl. "And I do believe they do. I forgot the name of the very nice woman who owns the place. She is quite authentic, I think. And the boys. Well, at least one of them wishes I came by more often, but…" She giggles and shakes her head slightly. "I can only drink so much kahve! I would never sleep."

She studies Odile for a moment through her lashes, demure and charmed at the same time. "I hope that I shall have the pleasure of your company in the future, my lady," she says sincerely.

Odile’s cup seems already to be emptied down to its bitterest dregs. She has been ignoring the glass of water as superfluous to her own tastes, but now she dips her sticky fingertips in it before wiping them upon her handkerchief. Understanding flashes in her wide sapphire eyes. “Ah,” she murmurs, nodding, “but boys are only useful to come by and deliver the kahve— they’re never good at making it,” she teases. “In Ephesium it is only the women who are trusted with so essential a pleasure.” And she catches up her discarded black silk glove.

Her last words to Alienor as she uncurls from her place upon the divan are, “Perhaps you shall.” But when the young courtesan attempts, later on, to pay for her kahve and kunefe, she finds that her tab for the day has already been settled by the departing Shahrizai.

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