Outside, the sun is setting, the sky glowing molten rose-gold as the sea reflects the fading light into a glorious prism of shimmering water and illusion. There are worse things to watch as one waits for her husband and for dinner, Nicola thinks.
Though she is rapidly tiring of waiting. She is not a woman who best loves to be alone or to have nothing to do, and her thoughts so rapidly turn to strange and ponderous things. Nicola tries to combat this by looking at her hands, but they end up touching her hair instead.
She wraps a lock of her hair around her finger over and over again. It never ceases to please Nicola, the play of color in strands of hair, some the rich brass of old teapots, some a dull red that does not have the flame-glow of copper but yet earns the phrasing red. Some strands (a very few) look brown, a fine amber color, quite obvious in the light of this dusk.
Singly, they are brittle and easy to seize out and snap into irritating little bits that collect into dusty masses on the stone floors of Amílcar's consulate. Together it would take a knife to sever them, and it would dull the knife in the process. Perhaps there is some larger lesson to be got from that, but Nicola mostly takes amusement from the memory of Raoul dulling a pocket-knife, trying to cut a lock of her hair for a birthday gift.
It had been quite touching, really. He had braided their hair together, put it under glass, and decorated the gold around the brooch with the symbols of House L'Envers and the House of Aragon.
Sometimes, Nicola considers what it would be like to have hair the color of Phèdre's, a hundred hues of dark browns, walnuts and chocolates and sables, with the occasional strand of nutmeg or cinnamon. Or perhaps the pale, shining gold of her cousin Ysandre's hair. Sleek and smooth and completely unprone to the habits of Nicola's thick, wavy hair.
Neither would suit her personality, Nicola suspects. Though she loves Phèdre dearly and well, she is no god-chosen anguissette, the hidden strength in the shadow. Nor is she the pale and perfect steel of Ysandre de la Courcel. There is no irony to Nicola's beauty, nor truly to her strength. Had she been an adept of the Night Court, Nicola would have been neither Mandrake nor Valerian, though algolagnia was among her favorites. She is too...she hesitates to say complete, but there are only so many words to describe what she is attempting to think of. She is not beautiful in her transience.
Nicola cannot quite think of how to describe her own beauty and strength. She is D'Angeline, even in her endless Aragonian exile. She ought to be able to describe beauty, make compare of it to something, but she can only think of herself as bronze-haired, violet-eyed Nicola, niece of Barquiel L'Envers, lover of Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève. There are few so honored as Nicola l'Envers y Aragon, cousin of a queen, scion of Naamah and Elua and even Kushiel.
Honored and beloved, she reminds herself. Her life is rich in love and she rejoices in that.
Yet she combs through her hair idly with her fingers and a mass of weaker strands come free, brittle and ephemeral in her hands. A tangle of dead hair that Nicola regards with a humorous eye instead of a melancholy one.
She blows them away with one puff of breath.
Perhaps this is Nicola's strength, to be able to know when these things are important, and when to be able to dismiss them as inconsequential. To fight melancholy when it is unneeded; this, too, is strength.
Though when Nicola touches her hair again, she sees a single strand of silver amongst all the bronze and gold strands of her hair. She pauses a moment, separates out the hair, and plucks it, letting it wander off in the breeze to distress her no further.
She is, after all, D'Angeline. Beauty is sacred and its discomforts a small and passing nuisance.
Cassiel was perfect in the ways Joscelin wanted to achieve perfection. The Perfect Companion, who chose companionship over all other temptations. Elua knew, Joscelin understood the pain of Cassiel's choice, and the unending nature of it.
It took an endurance that was more than discipline. Though Joscelin wondered on occasion if Elua were more like Phèdre, whether or not Cassiel could have endured. Blessed Elua's presence would be a powerful lure.
Enough to lure Cassiel from the service of Adonai, though Joscelin still suspected that Elua might be less trying than Phèdre in her most whimsical or determined moods. Then, Elua was a near-scion of Adonai.
Then, Elua wandered from place to place, singing songs and being in love with all he saw. Perhaps there were challenges to being Elua's perfect companion that Joscelin Verreuil can only imagine.
And his path was not without its rewards, even at its most austere and Cassiline. Poetry had been written about the harshness of Joscelin's training regimen, but he thought that perhaps the poets and laymen misunderstood the beauty of it.
For example, this morning had dawned sweet and slow, with the first light of the sun turning the wispy clouds white as snow and the horizon the palest of grey-blue-whites. Hints of rose and orange tinged the top edges of the clouds, and made dark and flowing lace of the branches of the trees.
Spring was on its way, when the white blossoms would fall on Joscelin's head as he flowed through the katas, the motions of the dance of the servants of Cassiel. He would smell the first grass as it broke through the somber black earth of their garden, Eugènie's pride and joy. For now, his breath still steamed as his daggers became extensions of his arms, weaving through each motion of the kata.
He was D'Angeline, even if he was a Cassiline, and the hypnotic beauty of motion in the dawn cut Joscelin to the heart, invigorated him when he might rather bed down closer to the radiant dark beauty that was the center of his life.
Light fell upon on his daggers, reflected on the stone walls that protected his morning exercises from curious eyes, a focus white light.
Joscelin closed his eyes, dazzled. He could hear the soft creak of wheels and hoof on the cobbled streets beyond him, the song of a bird, the smell of the bakery's first bread on the thin cold wind of very late winter.
Truly, there was beauty and grace all around him in the stillness, and all of it flowed together as he moved, each step in imitation of Cassiel. And the love he felt made his choice for the day easy, even as he made the final step and finished the exercise.