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Elza -- Proper Attire

Several readers have asked me lately about Elza's scenes with Lebrun's seances and his fake lodge, or asked me about whether Elza will ever learn to control her sight. Yes, she will definitely learn more in the next book, but not easily! I thought I'd share a little piece with you from early in the next book, when Elza is for the first time working with a legitimate Lodge rather than Lebrun's fake one. (Also Lost Things readers may enjoy the look at the Hermetic tradition a century before the Aedificatorii Templi!)

Subervie was one of the few who had already discarded his uniform for something more atmospheric, an ankle length robe of heavy white silk like the sorts worn by choirboys in churches, the high neck fastened with a white silk frog. It should have looked ridiculous, but instead it looked formal and seemly, like a priest clad in white instead of black. His waist was cinched by a white silk sash, into which he had incongruously tucked his dress sword.

"All right, Madame?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "But I haven't a robe of my own. Do you perhaps have one I could borrow?"

"I don't," Subervie said, "But let us ask M. Noirtier."

We found Noirtier by the big table, his white robe tied with a black sash weighted with gold bullion fringe, fussing with the charcoal in a censer.

"Do we have a spare robe for Madame St. Elme?" Subervie asked. "She hasn't got her own."

"She won't need one," Noirtier said without looking up. "Doves work nude."

"Oh for Heaven's sake!" I said. It was worse than Lebrun's amateur theatricals, with the pretty elemental maidens.

Subervie looked shocked. "What?"

Noirtier straightened. "Doves work nude. Wearing clothing, particularly heavy silks, interferes with the ability to leave one's body astrally."

"I've never heard of any such thing," I said.

"It is the tradition of the Pleiade," he replied stiffly. "It is not for prurient purposes. It is merely because it makes the work easier."

"For me to sit about naked among the crowd of you? All dressed up in your robes like anti-priests? It is like something designed by the Committee of Public Safety for a ridiculous spectacle!"

"Those spectacles were not ridiculous, Madame," Noirtier said. "I had the honor to work on several of them with Jacques-Louis David."

"That may be as it may," I said, "But I have never before needed to be nude to see things."

"What are you talking about?" I had not seen Michel come up behind me, now dressed in his robe with a sash of crimson silk.

Noirtier, of course, had heard none of our previous conversation, and had no idea we were not mere acquaintances. "Madame is protesting the necessity of proper dress. The Dove must be nude."

Michel's face turned as red as his sash. "I should think she would! How can you even suggest that?"

"It is the tradition of the Pleiade," Noirtier said stubbornly. "We are trying to do this right, for maximum effectiveness. I would do it myself, if it were necessary."

"But who cares about seeing you nude, Noirtier?" Michel demanded. "It's not the same thing at all. That you should ask a lady to disrobe completely in a room full of men is incomprehensible. Apologize to her immediately."

"I will not," Noirtier said. "This discussion is between me and Madame, about the role she is taking tonight. You are not her husband, and you do not dictate her dress."

I had to admire his tenacity, and he had a point. It was a bit rich, seeing Michel acting proprietary when he had no cause to be. "Michel, M. Noirtier has made a request which I am considering. Pray stay out of it," I said.

"Elza, I will not allow this!" His face was scarlet.

"You will not allow it?" I felt the blood rush to mine as well. "You will not allow me to take my clothes off if I so choose?"

"No, I won't! Not in front of all these men!"

"You don't get to tell me who I can undress in front of," I snapped. "You have no right." I cast my shawl on the floor and put my hands to the buttons on my back just above the waist.

"Lannes!" Michel bellowed.

The entire room stopped and looked at him, Subervie with a jug of water in his hands.

"What?" Lannes asked. He had been across the room, and heard none of it.

"Will you permit your woman to strip like a harlot in front of your friends? As though she were nothing to you but a ten sou whore?" Michel stormed around me, his hands clenched.

"My what?" Lannes glanced from him to me. "Madame St. Elme? She's not my companion, and it is entirely up to her to dress as she likes."

I reached for Michel's arm. "Michel, don't carry on this way."

"The Dove is supposed to be nude," Noirtier said. I was beginning to think him quite a terrier, with an idea in his teeth that he would not let go of no matter how unwise.

Michel spun round. "And do you want to be?" he demanded. "That's not what it sounded like. It sounded like Noirtier bullying you in to stripping in a room full of men."

"I should rather wear a robe like yours," I said. "I do not wish to disrupt the atmosphere, but I am quite capable of doing what I do while wearing some clothing. Or if you do not have a spare, I am content to work in my chemise as I have done in the past."

"I don't think we've got a spare," Subervie muttered. "I can go look though." He hurried out through the door to the dressing room.

"Then I will wear my chemise," I said. "It's fine."

"You're going to stand in front of all these men in your underwear?" Michel still looked murderous. "So that they can look at you lasciviously, imagining what they'd like to do with you?"

"Is anyone having that problem but you?" I demanded.

"How about a sheet?" It was Reille who spoke. "If you put a sheet about you like a toga, nobody will be able to see anything. And linen is not a conductive material. In terms of not interfering with the ability to project her soul, a linen sheet should be materially neutral."

Noirtier threw up his hands. "If we are abandoning the principle of nudity, I suppose so."

"A sheet would be fine," I said. "I would be happy to wear a sheet."

"A sheet," Michel said.

Reille met his eyes, entirely unintimidated. "A sheet. She'll be covered from neck to ankles. She'll be more covered than we are."

"I suppose," Michel said. It was clear that Reille had more chance of calling him down than anyone else. He must respect the young general as much as Corbineau had said.

"Gervais! Grab a sheet!" Reille yelled through the door.

"Can we get started?" Lannes asked. "If we are through arguing about Madame St. Elme's clothes?"


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 8th, 2013 02:39 pm (UTC)
Ha! Oh, Michel, you are totally putting your foot in your mouth and shoving it deeper and deeper down.

But seriously, I want to bop Noirtier on the head. What a cow.

(Incidentally, I have decided my goal for our five month stint in France is to get fluent enough to read Ida St. Elme's memoirs in French.)
Jan. 9th, 2013 08:59 am (UTC)
A sheet is always the solution! :) And dear Michel -- totally failing to be broken up and just friends!

(Oh she's a hoot! But quite long winded!)
Jan. 10th, 2013 06:18 pm (UTC)
Hah! What a brilliant scene, and how realistic this concern over trappings are. :-) Thank you. Bonne chance et bon travail, cadenzamuse!
Jan. 12th, 2013 02:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you! And oh yes, the arguing over the letter of the rules rather than the sense of them!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )