(1310-11-01) Professional Failures
Summary: After almost a month at sea, Isabelle de Valais returns to Marsilikos, riding high from an expedition that has proven tremendously fruitful. However, she learns that disaster had struck while she was away from her beloved province and duchesse, and finds herself burdened with the knowledge that there might be a connection between the terrible events to which she is privy.
RL Date: 07/11/2018
Related: Everything in this page and some from this page and this page.

Loft Salon - Courtly Couture

She could hear the noises in the square clamoring for Yeshua's vengeance.

The preacher stood on a pedestal, dressed in nondescript robes, each rallying cry echoed by members of his congregation that had spilled into the streets. Religious zeal sang in the already tense and heavy air as she watched from her corner, swathed in light furs in an effort to keep herself warm from the faint chill. Summers in Vralia were unlike those in Aragonia or Terre d'Ange where one could anticipate humid and almost sweltering heat, but here, the characteristics of northern climes held sway. Even the hottest days of the year were cool in comparison.

Her command of Rus and Habiru were passable, two of the most-spoken Vralian languages, but not on the level that she preferred, making a silent note to find a tutor. Still, she was able to understand the gist of what the preacher was saying, silently marveling at the differences between the Yeshuites here compared to their more mild-mannered cousins down south. From what she was able to learn, most of them considered Vralia their country and it wasn't long since its founding that it became a stronghold for their religion, their very own kingdom in the northernmost parts of the world that could still be considered inhabitable and a breeding ground for their fanaticism. Here, worship of the One God was predominant; Yeshua was a vengeful deity who regularly dispatched non-believers with fire and stained his hands with their blood, a warrior and conqueror of nations - a far cry from the image of the teacher and savior that she was taught to revere, born as she was in the land founded by his angels.

Admittedly, it was precisely the conqueror aspect that concerned her. Over the years, hostilities between this kingdom and her own have only increased.

She turned away from the preacher and his flock as she followed the alleyways of Vralgrad. Its size, nothing compared to the grandeur of Elua, rendered them narrow and crowded at all times of the day, but the walled city was impressive regardless, situated along the twisting lines of the Volkov, which provided the city's fresh, cold water. It didn't take long to find her destination, booted feet walking up pristine white stonework, the smell of incense faint in the air, and growing stronger the further she walked within the construct. It was just one of the many monumental temples devoted to Yeshua in the city. While one wouldn't be able to determine it by sight alone, it was actually one of the smaller ones. Most of the locals patronised the temple close to the Tsar's imperial residence.

Dark eyes shot with gold roamed over the pews, passing over the altar to take a quiet accounting of those present. It was mid-day and she had stayed in the city long enough to know without being reminded that peak hours of worship were during the early morning and early in the evening. She wasn't surprised to find the temple mostly empty. Pivoting on her heel, she moved towards one of the confessionals at the other end of the room. Only one was lighted by a candle, the agreed-upon signal.

Her gloved hand opened the door, stepping inside. She lowered herself on her knees at the small pew within, feeling the padding depress under her weight.

"Rabbenu," she murmured through the wooden lattice separating her and the shadowed figure beyond. "I have intentionally sinned. I have sinned out of lust and emotion. I have sinned out of pride. Will the just and patient Yeshua listen to my confession, so that I may acknowledge my faults and earn his forgiveness?"

There was more to that, by tradition, but she withheld the rest of the words. Any actual rabbenu would prompt her to speak more. Instead:

"Yeshua will not, for in these lands he is no savior. But his only and beloved son, Elua, will."

She exhaled softly at the verification. "Sparrow," she identified quietly.

"Shrike," came the low acknowledgment. "A most holy day is it not, with the citizens calling for the One God's justice, beating their fists against their hearts? I wonder, in the face of all this religious fervor, whether you feel closer to Yeshua upon witnessing it?"

"An execution where the subject is found guilty of treason can galvanize any kingdom, including ours."


Sparrow's shadow shifted from behind the screen. "You are to return to Terre d'Ange posthaste," he continued. "Do refrain from strangling the messenger, however. I know that you are occupied here, and invested, but it can't be helped. For the time being, I am to replace you."

Isabelle frowned. "What do you mean?" she replied lowly. "You know I'm better situated out here, I've spent a good month attempting to…"

"Something has happened."

It wasn't just the words themselves, but the tone. The ducal agent furrowed her brows. "At home?"

"The Marquise de Chavaise is dead, and all of her children, save one. Her husband lives."

Ice rushed through her veins. Fingers gripped tightly on the pew in front of her. "Her Grace?" She was unable to keep the demand from her tone. "What of her brother, her other sisters…the Lady Emmanuelle?"


"I think you better tell me what you know, if I'm to return."

The details were nothing short of fantastic, and horrifying. While she was never one to place much stock on sorcery and superstition, the facts were harrowing enough to make a believer out of a natural born skeptic such as herself. With the tale spun and passed onto his colleague, Sparrow fell back into his customary silence. Through the screen, Isabelle shook her head.

"The affair seems concluded regardless," she whispered, finally. "I don't see how my recall is necessary. It isn't as if I can prevent anything now and if I'm to remain indefinitely, it'll take plenty of work to make it convincing. The sheer monetary investment alone is…"

"It doesn't change the fact that the local network needs to be replenished, and the switch makes sense. Until more are recruited, you are needed back home and among us, your dominant skillset is the easiest to re-insert without arousing any suspicion. And besides…" Good humor simmered in the unseen man's tone. "…my Vralian is better than yours, among other reasons."

"Such as?"

"Your mother is gravely ill."

~ * ~

What did it say about her, upon stepping foot back into the heart of her sartorial empire, that she missed the churning, dangerous seas already? Dropping her pack on the wooden floors of her loft salon, Isabelle rolled her shoulders back and stripped off her gloves, her thumbs rolling over the healing rope burns evidenced in her palms. Under the light of her salon's roaring hearth, she inspected her skin carefully and couldn't help but frown. Without a chirurgeon's help, they will scar, and that she couldn't abide - for many reasons aside from her insurmountable vanity.

Nothing appeared out of place, the further she ventured into her private space on top of Courtly Couture, making a beeline for her desk. Ledgers and business correspondences, left open and categorised in their designated piles, filled the surface. Guillermo had been keeping the plates spinning since her departure to Kriti, and it wouldn't be long now until he returned from his evening's errand to update her on a few matters which she had sent him to tackle. For now, however, she ignored the press of design business, though that, too, will find her accounting in the very late hours of her evening. The Longest Night was upon them all, one of her busiest seasons, and she had a venture to make succeed. A glance at her personal calendar left her satisfied, finding all the appointments in Kusheth that her right hand man made in her absence, and the few that would require her to remain in Marsilikos for at least a couple of weeks, not in the least because of the final fittings for Gemma Renault's gown, in preparation for her consortship ceremony with Thaddeus de Trevalion.

She finished pouring herself a snifter of brandy, and took a breath, left watching through the windows overlooking the Market Promenade and beyond that, the port district, the now-familiar sails of The Myrmidon beckoning from a distance. Undoubtedly, Alcibiades Rousse and Jaime Daur were taking the next steps forward in their current venture. That would have to be set in place preferably before the inevitable sojourn to Kusheth.

But certain things took priority.

She was on her second glass of brandy when Guillermo finally returned, his stoic facade grimmer than usual. Isabelle turned towards him expectantly, her smile lifting at the corners of her mouth. At the sight of his expression, however, her own faded.

"Our arrangements in Kusheth?" she wondered, in an attempt to anticipate.

"No," he replied, moving towards her and handing her a rolled up strip of paper. "Chavaise."

Long, elegant fingers reached forward to take it, Isabelle's lips pressing together in a thin line. "What…"

"Armand Morhban de Mereliot is dead."

Parchment crinkled under her hurry. The couturiere stepped away from her manservant, quickly reading the scrawling message on the sheet. The life giving vein threading up the side of her neck pulsed in agitation, a tic manifesting in her jaw where the tender hinge met her neck. Tremors rippled over her grip. For a while, she said absolutely nothing.

And when she finally did, her words were low and quiet: "If this is a coincidence, it's a terrible one. If it isn't…" Then the implications were worse and worrisome, reminded of the fates of Lords Venetien and Richard de Morhban, the truth of the latter's having fallen to her attention just a few days ago. Unable to help herself, she crumpled the message between her fingers, nails digging hard into the meat of her palm, biting enough to draw blood. Her teeth clenched behind closed lips.

It happened while she was away.

It was a conceit, to be sure. There was no way anyone in her line of work could prevent every disaster, but Guilt was often irrational, like any human emotion, and at the moment, it yawned before her like a chasm, threatening to consume her. Memories of the day she was recalled assaulted her at every vicious turn and for a moment, she found herself unable to breathe. What else could she have done? Was there anything she could have done? The parchment tore in her grip, her fist bundling tighter, blood seeping into the ruined sheet.

This was all she was. Everything that she was devoted to, all that she was so willing to deny herself for the sake of it. In the back of her mind, Reason howled for her to listen, unable to be fully heard through the growing storms of her temper, shaken to the core. Unreasonable, yes. Unnecessary, perhaps. But she couldn't help herself from taking it as a professional failure, and to a woman like herself, it was quite possibly the worst of its kind.

"Leave me," she whispered towards Guillermo.

To his credit, the tall Aragonian man didn't even hesitate. He bowed from the waist, she didn't look at him while he exited the room. The door closed behind him securely.

She whipped the crumpled message into her fireplace with a sharp swipe of hand and wrist, storming over to her desk and the amount of work piled on top of it. Setting her snifter down carefully, she reached for her letters, but the tremors grew. She tried to read them, but ink blurred in nonsensical splotches. Noise, crackling within the confines of her skull, only grew more unbearable, every synapse lit with aggression, and with nothing upon which to direct it.

Her arm moved without a thought, backhanding her sitting snifter violently into the wall, the crystalline receptacle shattering into dozens of glittering shards.

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