(1312-06-26) New Suppliers
Summary: Philomène finally gets her meeting with Chimène, to plot the supply of cured meats from Gueret and Ferrand to the navy and/or the purchase of shoes. (It’s called multi-tasking, people.)
RL Date: 26/06/2020
Related: Sausage Trading, Imagining Sea Shanties, and Cover My Name.
chimene philomene 

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 brisk and businesslike letter stamped with a red bull and sent by one vicomtesse (dowager) to another (regent), proposing to act as a proxy in the affairs of a third (another regent), goes unanswered for ten days or so before a seahorse arrives in response.

It’s an elegant little fish, pressed into blue wax in a shade subtly more suggestive of Courcel than Rousse; it appears to be wearing a crown, or at least a coronet. The message it seals is an invitation, tendered upon fine vellum in a secretary’s sloping and exquisitely legible hand, for Philomène to wait upon Chimène at House Rousse’s city residence at a date and time still some while in the future— at least, that’s the gist of it, nestled in epistolary courtesies.

The antechamber to the lady’s favourite salon is cluttered with others seeking her favour or just her attention, some bearing papers and others parcels, some making deliberately light-hearted talk with one another and some silent, focused and inward, wrestling with problems they obviously think it will take the next duchesse de Roussillon to solve— but being a vicomtesse, and a punctual one at that, Philomène is shown straight past the queue administered by Chimène’s secretary and enforced by the finely-matched Rousse lackeys in their powdered wigs who stand two by two framing each set of paired doors in the enfilade and who sense as if with some psychic power when to open and when to close them, in practiced unison.

The lady herself is seated upon a chaise-longue placed subtly in shadow, out of the direct sight of those waiting beyond, and in between other doors left open to admit something of the whiteness of her terrace and the summery fragrance of her garden. She is likewise in white, her gown as plain and exquisite as only one of her station can afford, with her brown hair loose in a perfect sleek fall down her back. Her large white hands bear their usual assortment of costly rings, sapphires and emeralds and diamonds suggestive of Rousse colours as well as Rousse riches; her large white feet are presently just stockinged, and the only other person in the salon is a lady-in-waiting kneeling at them, surrounded by neatly paired shoes.

“The rose-coloured satin, I think,” are Chimène’s first audible words, uttered with mild indifference; and then as her minion lifts one foot and then the other to shoe them, she herself lifts her clear hazel gaze to the approaching Philomène, and then her hand, in a gesture of languid welcome. “Vicomtesse. How good of you to call,” she says serenely.

In deference to the heat of the day, and perhaps as a quite deliberate ploy, the tall Camaeline hasn't even bothered to unhang her coat from its hook this morning. Where most of those waiting in the antechamber are doing so in quite considerable discomfort, in full petticoats, jackets, fichus, skirts, stays and slippers, even the women, Philomène makes her entrance in what appears at first glance to be a plain ivory waistcoat, pale breeches and a loose white shirt with suitably wide sleeves to allow for airflow. As she approaches, the one foot swinging oddly sideways before it's set down, giving her a very distinctive walk, the light catches on the fine white embroidery around each buttonhole and framing the seams and pockets, a dense pattern of oak leaves and acorns that gives the otherwise rather dated cut of the garment a certain elegance. From head to knee, it's all subtle, pale colours - blonde hair, the grey-blue eyes, white shirt and loosely tied cravat - but the tall utilitarian boots are a very dark brown, and the click click of bright brass spurs on the heels makes a sound on the parquet flooring.

"My lady," comes the understated response. "How good of you to have me. I understand my cousin has appraised you already of the business we had in mind?" No wasting time on pleasantries. It's either an affront, or it's a recognition that time is valuable, and a Vicomtesse's time, dowager or regent, even more so.

Whilst the lady-in-waiting rises from her knees and moves undirected toward a lacquered chinoiserie cabinet, Chimène simply regards the Aiglemort on parade — the faded grandeur missing a layer, the painful limp betraying the notorious wound, the set of that chiseled jaw — with her own impeccable Courcel features composed in a mask of polite unconcern.

“Yes, of course… Won’t you sit?” she murmurs, as she herself rises— her bearing and her posture so exquisite that she might have been drawn up from her flower-embroidered chaise by a string passing directly through the crown of her head and into the hands of the angels. In her own hand she holds a fan, taken up from somewhere amidst her feather-light white skirts. Her arms and shoulders are beautifully bare and her ivory brow smooth and cool. “I’m so pleased,” she adds, stepping across the shoe-moat, “to be in a position to aid you both.”

The other lady meanwhile is pouring chilled white wine from some Corsican vineyard into a pair of seahorse-engraved goblets, the first of which she delivers to Philomène with a murmur of, “My lady,” before lodging the second in the usual place for Chimène.

Philomène does not sit, but she does accept the wine with a very brief but heartfelt smile and a murmur of thanks. She absently swirls it in its goblet as she watches the Rousse rise with every bit of effortless grace that she herself can only display on horseback, then lifts it to her lips for a sip. Well, it wouldn't be polite to just down it and demand another, no matter how hot the day. "I'd like to think that any agreement would be mutually beneficial," she notes amiably, lightly pressing her wrist to the cool goblet and the condensation just beginning to form on its outside. "For both of our families, but also as a duty to support the country in some small way."

Nor does Chimène alight again upon another of her thoughtfully placed and richly gilded seats. She makes instead a slow promenade through her salon, her lithe pale figure weaving around and between, straying not too far from her visitor— or from the wine. Despite their dimensions her feet move with an inordinate daintiness beneath her white gown’s diaphanous hem, which just brushes the rose-hued satin of her new slippers as they whisper across the parquet… She walks, in fact, rather like the ballet girls Philomène so admires — as if the whole world were a court ball — unconsciously turned out, and halfway already into a pavane.

“Yes, I’ve no doubt such concerns were very much upon your lovely cousin’s mind when she approached me,” she answers with airy mendacity, her shoulder lowering gracefully as she glances back over it to meet Philomène’s eyes, “though you understand of course my concern about recommending that Ferrand should supply viands to our brave and gallant seamen…” She turns, to face her. “But I see no reason I could not recommend Chalasse meat in general, shipped via the Marsilikos warehouse of the new vicomtesse de Gueret, and overseen by so noted a veteran and partisan of d’Angeline interests, as her lady mother.”

Philomène watches the woman walk, expression unreadable, but lets her eyes flick back up to Chimène's face when she looks back. She takes another steady sip from her wine, under no apprehension that mere wine might dull her capabilities to bargain, then absently allows her thumb to tap the rim of the goblet. "I'm a little surprised, if I'm honest," she admits, turning to admire a vase as she speaks. "I didn't have you pegged as the superstitious sort, but then perhaps if we're catering to sailors it's best to keep them reassured. There will be little issue in shipping bacon and dried sausage under the Chalasse name, and sealed in Gueret casks to be distributed from the Gueret warehouse. And," she adds, glancing over to the other woman, "I am confident in the quality of our meats, and that providing them to the Royal Navy will allow our ships to travel further and more quickly. Inferior stock rots - it's improperly cured, stored, or the meat was on the turn to begin with. On the other hand, the reputation of our pigs is such that I don't allow anything but the best to leave the slaughterhouse."

There's a lot of 'I', but then it can be difficult to make the transition from running everything to being permitted to arrange a small warehouse on the sufferance of the new vicomtesse to keep her out of trouble.

Passing the table where her crystal seahorse goblet awaits her Chimène unfurls a long and shapely alabaster arm, and catches it up in a graceful glitter of gemstones. She sips, and sips again. “One need not be superstitious,” she murmurs faintly, setting it down once more, “to wish to guard one’s own name and reputation from associations as unsavoury as those which have come to be attached — rightly or wrongly, I know not enough of the matter to make any pretense of judgment — to the name of your kinswoman of Ferrand…”

Her next two steps leave the rose-coloured satin slippers behind, and upon stockinged feet she arrives again at the chaise where she began. She seats herself in a light rustle of silken skirts, and flicks open her fan and plies it lazily through the air. “The silver,” she remarks to her lady-in-waiting, who kneels to perform the same office with a fresh pair of slippers. She looks up to Philomène and adds absently, “Gifts from a local shoemaker who desires my custom.” Half a dozen pairs, each a slightly different design, all of them flat or low-heeled and made for dancing. “Not,” she pronounces, “as flexible as one might wish. I have no qualms about the quality of your meat, Lady Philomène, or the care your family affords its pigs. You’ll find on that table,” and she nods to where a sheet of parchment is lying face-down, “my counter to Lady Aurore’s kind suggestion to me, which I trust you’ll find likewise unexceptionable.”

The document is straightforward and differs little from the terms Aurore proposed a month ago and reported in turn to Philomène. It seems that in return for her services as a go-between, the Rousse lady prefers her percentage of their naval trade to continue for five years, rather than three, and at a slightly higher rate than she was offered— this in the same secretary’s hand, along with instructions for how quarterly payments might conveniently be made.

The silver slippers meanwhile undergo the same trial as the rose-pink.

Philomène absently licks her thumb and forefinger before taking up the paper to read over, sipping steadily from her wine as she scrutinises the offer put forward. "Do you think you might send for a pen and ink? I have one or two countersuggestions to offer based on a stratified system of return on investment. I can sketch out the predicted dividends under either system, and you can decide if you'd rather the more profitable option, with greater risk, or the safer, perhaps more modest version." Again she looks over to her hostess, expression unreadable. "Either option will turn a profit, but the exact amount would vary based on demand."

<FS3> Chimène rolls Economics: Great Success. (3 8 7 8 8 6 5 6 3)
<FS3> Philomène rolls Economics: Good Success. (6 1 2 6 6 3 7 6 2 7 7 1 4)
Philomène spends 1 luck points on Nope. Take the damn offer..
<FS3> Philomène rolls Economics: Great Success. (6 1 8 3 2 8 5 1 5 3 4 8 8)
<FS3> Chimène rolls Composure: Great Success. (2 7 1 6 6 3 8 2 7 7 7 1 6)

As she listens the future duchesse appears aloof, imperturbable, untouchable— making her light-footed way along the broad empty avenue in the middle of her salon, her steps are guided by the rhythm of a stately court ballet only she can hear. At some distance from her visitor she pivots upon the ball of one silver-slippered foot and spins slowly in a full circle and half of another. Her skirts waft weightless and white about her until she comes to a neat halt facing the other woman. There’s something alert, now, in her hazel eyes — as she promenades toward Philomène she seems fractionally more present than she was before.

“Of course I could make no assumptions regarding the volume you would be in a position to supply,” she murmurs as she draws nearer, “particularly in light of other trade arrangements you might already have entered into elsewhere… If you would care to elaborate?”

Her lady-in-waiting is already producing the required implements from the chinoiserie cabinet, which is kept well-stocked with all that might be wanted during such meetings as this.

"It's reasonable to assume," Philomène replies, nodding thanks for the pen before dipping it in the ink and beginning to sketch out several tables, "that we can provide something in this region." A few figures start to be filled in along the top, incremental numbers and tonnage of goods, each filled in with a quick, practiced hand. It's almost as though making deals for the produce of the Gueret farms was entirely the reason she was married to the Chalasse in the first place. "We can offer a reasonable flat percentage of profits here," and she begins to fill in numbers based on the numbers of ships supplied in a year, "and you'll see a steady income, obviously the more ships we supply, the more you'll have in your coffers as your cut for enabling the trade. Alternatively we increase the percentage at each of these levels here," she suggests, filling in what appear to be significantly smaller numbers to begin with, increasing to a considerable sum at the top end. "Which provides an incentive to see our meat provided to the ships instead of any inferior meat, and more closely ties your goals with ours."

A few more numbers go on the page, three iterations with different break points and percentages. "If within these five years we end up supplying every cask of meat to every ship, you walk away with considerably more than this." She taps the initial counteroffer.

She doesn't at any point mention that if for any reason Chimène is unable to arrange more than a few paltry ships to take the bacon and sausage, she barely walks away with ten ducats. It's not important, clearly.

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

By now Chimène has on a third pair of dancing slippers, these ones dyed a rich and vibrant and ingratiating Courcel blue— and her steps in them carry her straight to Philomène’s side, where she stands working at that circular table the top of which a master marquetière has covered in a pastoral scene composed of a dozen differently coloured exotic woods brought back to Terre d’Ange in the hulls of Rousse ships. She leans nearer to the other woman and touches her closed fan to the sheet of parchment to orient it towards herself; the scent of her is lightly floral, summery, with a hint of fresh citrus in it… Her laughter rings out, silvery and fine.

Every cask of meat,” she repeats in an amused drawl. “And what if a murrain strikes the pigs in your part of L’Agnace? What if the Ferrand mine ceases to produce sufficient salt? What if a local war of succession breaks out and disrupts your trade to the south? What of our navy then? And what of House Rousse’s own modest surpluses of meat, which we customarily supply to the navy?” One can hardly expect her to sweep her own family’s naval contracts under the carpet with everybody else’s. “You can’t possibly become the sole supplier,” she deems, dismissing the idea with a quick shake of her head, “but a major supplier, yes, I can assure you of that,” and she raps the end of her ivory fan twice against the table. “You ask more of my influence than your cousin did,” she remarks frankly, “and so I suggest—” She exchanges fan for quill and wields the latter as deftly as the former, her ladylike hand superimposing over Philomène’s more practical script another counter-proposal that is not without its own element of risk balanced against the likelihood of reward… but lacks the assumption that the Chalasses of Gueret and Ferrand might in time corner this lucrative market entirely.

Philomène considers the counter for some time, tongue running over her teeth, then finally gives a nod. "I think this could be mutually beneficial," she eventually agrees, straightening and rubbing the fingers of her right hand together to dry off any inadvertent inkstains before she ends up staining one of her few items of clothing on which stains would be an issue. "Have your girl draw it up formally and send it round, and I'll sign it," she assures her, going so far as to offer a small, satisfied smile. "The light pink, by the way," she suggests. "If they're comfortable. The style and the colour suit you well. The red detracts from your own elegance. Too garish."

This Chimène answers with a triangular little smile of her own, feline and slightly coy. “You’re quite wrong, my lady.” A beat. “I,” she pronounces airily, “look very good in red. But the contract, yes,” and speaking in a different voice, matter-of-fact and cool, she affords their draft a casual gesture of her reclaimed fan, “that should suffice. You really can’t imagine,” and she lowers her voice and leans nearer, but with the closed fan held between them as a subtle barrier, “how happy you’re about to make a certain gentleman of my acquaintance who is not unconcerned with naval procurement,” she confides, lifting her finely-drawn eyebrows. “He has never in the entire course of their marriage given his wife a moment of pleasure to equal what she will experience when he presents her with an invitation to one of my receptions.”

"Either your receptions must be exquisite, or the lady in question really needs to find a good lover," Philomène suggests lightly, quirking a faintly amused smile. "Or at least a hobby of some sort. Flower arranging. Riding. Painting. Something of that kind. I'll leave the negotiations with the officer for procurement entirely up to you, however. I'll provide the meat, see to its delivery, storage, accounts and quality, and I'll rely on your charm and exquisite receptions to butter up the appropriate parties. Will you need a sample for the man?"

Hazel eyes widen at Philomène. “Up to me—?” she repeats, in a tone of refined incredulity. “My dear Lady Philomène, had I thought for a moment that you wished me to conduct the negotiations entirely on your behalf, I should have expected a percentage thrice that.” And though her gaze never leaves the other woman’s face, the fan clasped between her long white fingers describes a graceful arc to indicate the parchment on the table next to them.

“No,” and she shakes her head, “what I offer you is my personal introduction to the one man whose signature counts in such matters, of whom you yourself have no knowledge at all, but whom— when I have acted upon him with, as you say, my charm and my exquisite receptions,” though one might distinguish a note of airy sarcasm there, as if she herself doesn’t rate them as highly as one might expect, “you will find primed and ready and indeed eager to replace the navy’s current supply of preserved meats with your own, as quickly and smoothly as possible, so that we all might begin turning a profit now and not at the end of protracted negotiations. I shall have you welcomed, vicomtesse,” she explains drily, “like a long-lost piglet. But I have neither the time nor the expertise to drive the bargain for you. That you must do yourself, on your cousin’s behalf and mine as well as your own. Do we understand one another?”

"I shall have to dig out my finest jacket," Philomène notes with a hint of amusement, dipping her head. "I generally try to avoid these sorts of things, but in this case I'll grant you it may make the negotiations run more smoothly. Very well. I'll take as much information on the man as you're able, of course. It never hurts to go in armed with a knowledge of one’s opponent."

“One’s new friend,” Chimène corrects her silkily, and then she offers her jeweled hand to the other woman in a formal agreement that swiftly becomes a leavetaking.

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