At Long Last

Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Mon Dec 16, 2019 9:31 am

Humans were such limited creatures. Fragile. One could be fragile and resilient both. That was one of Burnie's creeds, perhaps his most irritating one: living instead of surviving. He knew it first-hand. Every trauma he survived made it that much harder to live. He spent years, a full half of his time in Myrken Wood, cut off from the very notion of introspection. He had spent the last few years trying to peel his own past, his own memories, his own failings and paltry triumphs apart. That wasn't awareness, however. Self-awareness was binary, and this Burnie, the one who had fallen through this series of worm-ridden holes, would never quite be able to reach it. With her help and with her harm, he was able to reach something meaningful, just there and just then. All banter aside, he would never be able to see how vain or desperate the comparisons to True Tom and his truths might be. In a sea of humans oppressed by gods and kings and fickle nature and apathetic death, Burnie took his own significance as a given; in his mind, any human who strived could accomplish anything at all. In standing against fate, he was as weighty and important as the notion of fate itself. Any human would be (the corollary of that, of course, was that any human that did not, was not; he only expected from everyone else what he exacted from himself: absolutely everything).

A thousand blushes when he was in the midst of his mania would not have mattered. One blush, one with clear eyes and a measured temperament, that was entirely different. It threatened to create a cycle that might drag him down into whatever came next. Hiding one's face? He didn't even know. Rarely did he ever make anyone blush and never did he blush himself. The moment had him frazzled enough that he could hardly remember how it happened and it happened just a few seconds before. It kept him quiet long enough for her to gain something of a minor advantage: he didn't question that she had no expectations.

Instead, as he gained control over his posture and as much colorization as one can master upon one's face (and she best not think that he didn't spend a few hours on one lazy Sunday fourteen autumns hence trying to do just that), he responded to her question directly. "First, we get through whatever got you and Benedict to this point. Then we untan..." his voice faded off as he gave her a curt shake of his head. "Still not fully to the other side; close, but not quite. Not untangle." After a breath, he tried again. "Then we work out what's happened to Catch, who he is now, who he is not, and what hold, willing or otherwise, he has over you. Following hat, we decide whether or not to suffer," literally as he well knew, "your Ainrid again in it's resolution, as, I reiterate and mean it as I say it, we work to help him through this, whatever it is, to an endpoint that we all agree is better." There were no fingers this time, just certitude and the smallest mercy that he had made that two sentences instead of just one. "Then we deal with my affliction. Then it can be archery and enjoyment of Myrken in ways I assure you that you haven't yet, and a mastery of inter-dimensional trade that neither of us have in but an academic sense. With stories and peace in the margins, though I refuse to promise you song, dance, or poetry." The smile now was a hardly wild thing, though it was certainly comfortable upon his face, matching eyes that might best be described as pleased. It was, fittingly enough, the smile a fox might make as it neared upon a henhouse containing months of treasured satisfaction. "We have quite a bit ahead of us, so it's good that we started immediately."

Which would lead them to her requests. The first was easy. "I came invited, as I insist, but by surprise. Do what you must. I'll wait patiently and maybe even ready you a few more chestnuts," spoken in the tone of someone who was not going to actually ready her any more chestnuts. The second? Benedict was his friend. He had few. She must have had a sense by now how far he'd go for them. Instead of speaking further, he shut his eyes, his mind churning in a far more controlled way than before when his mouth far outpaced it. His words came as he was already turning away, turning towards the raven's home. "The morning, then. You'll have your say first, Finn, your will shall be done, but if his words contradict yours to show you as capricious and cruel, I'll judge you all the more harshly for it, as I would judge any queen."
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Mon Dec 23, 2019 1:59 pm

Before he had finished laying out his rambling plan, she was laughing again, astonished and delighted by how fast he would still try to gain the upper hand in spite of everything working against him. Her hands went out to shush him, the way she might have calmed Tintreach.

“I meant where should we go from here. Us. You and I.” Coaxing, cajoling, tentatively tugging him back toward good sense. “That’s what concerns me now. I thought we might have at least a little quiet space together ere we strike out to right all the world’s wrongs, or whatever it is you’re planning. I missed you.”

The words filled up with truth as she spoke them, just as they had when she had written them in the letter. Then as now, it felt like a tiny defeat to admit it. She disguised it with a small smile as she reached for his hand again to give it a firm, reassuring pat. “So let’s get you to the other side first, hm? Let’s see if it can be gotten to at all. And if we can’t—or if you can’t with me, not without yammering off your head and embarrassing us both—then we’ll come up with a battle plan in the morning. All this has been going on for some time and it’s not going to burst into flame all at once just because you didn’t jump on it with both feet the moment you got here. There’s time.”

A fine sentiment for her to say. Here in her own place, in the center of her power, she was timeless. The world stopped at her threshold; even winter itself hadn’t made it here yet. What would it mean for Glenn to stumble into it? Time did not cease here, but it dallied. Morning might take a while.

But her stomach twisted at the thought of talking about Catch. Half of it was propriety—she was not sure how much she could even speak of Him now without it constituting a betrayal. He was different now. He ought not to be talked about behind His back. Half of it was the same fear and burning resentment a child felt for an adult who might forbid its favorite game.

He’s mine now. Not yours. You had your time. Now He’s mine.

With palpable reluctance, her hand slipped from his.

“But. Since you are the guest here, and since no doubt you will not be able to sit still three heartbeats together without we resolve something, your will be done. It is a poor hostess who leaves her guest unsatisfied.” There was too much a touch of wryness to that statement, coupled with a shift of her hip, and a sly, private smile, for the last sentence not to be at least partially innuendo. And what if it was? The end of the season; she was entitled. A fortnight ago and she would have had to run into town to steal a book for him to throw at her head. Then again, a fortnight before, she wouldn’t have let him get further than the swamp. “Give me but one moment to get things started and I’ll explain the whole stupid mess to you. You’re going to think it’s funny.”

She retreated, past the glowing fire, past the upturned smoke-log, into the prickly hedge of brown blackberry vines. Their branches creaked as she picked her way through them, dragging at her trousers until she was hip-deep, then shoulder deep. Then she dipped her head and shoulders downward, and the thorny coils closed over her.

And the raven, never flitting, perched on his peaked roof and huffed a sigh of weary resignation in anticipation of whatever Glenn was about to fling at him.
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Wed Dec 25, 2019 10:37 am

"It's one and the same," he retorted, not quite matching her laughter. He had found his center or, more accurately, whether he wanted to admit it or not, it had found him. Caught up to him, perhaps? Regardless, it made him less apt to jump straight to delight. Did she value these small smiles more? If so, then this one would be worth gold, even if his words felt far more like silver at best. "Something may not be everything, but it's always part of everything."

It wasn't quite mischief in his eyes, because Glenn Burnie did not partake in such frivolities, not even with her; maybe at the height of his lapse, but he was well on his way back down now. "I know what you mean, but I'd put it another way." He had meant to be half way to Benedict's abode by now and the only thing that kept him by her side was a held hand and the pat to go along with it. He had every intention of giving her the temporary leave she desired, a most polite notion, even if he intended to do it in the rudest way possible. Instead, she held him fast with the only shared physical gesture that he seemed to truly regard. If he couldn't escape then at least he could be close enough that he was looking past her, not at her. "Most of what we have done has been to talk about big ideas and ideals, Finn. When we've been together and have had, perhaps, an opportunity to do something else, it hasn't quite gone well. Flying books and doomed carriage rides and names and a perfectly normal street flooding for little more than the sake of your glorious and admirable regal vanity. Good intentions and bruised feelings and a tug of wills if not of war."

Finally, he withdrew to the full outstretching of their arms' possibility, now far enough that there was nothing to do but to look at one another or to absolutely know that the other was consciously looking away. Quite mercilessly, though honestly enough, he stared her dead on, eyes not nearly as wild as before, but still thoroughly consuming. He was unmistakably Glenn Burnie had she any lingering doubt, "Much of what you 'miss' then would either have to the the abandon in which we throw about our earnest convictions, the well-meaning mishaps and mayhem that occur whenever we come together, or the idea of what might yet to be between us. Or perhaps just how I cross my t's and sign my name? For you, always just a tiny extra flourish there."

She would finally release him, and it would seem that he might give her the final word, hostess that she was. As she freed him from this welcome, inviting, even kind, trap within a trap, he did not follow her towards the greater trap still. Instead, he turned entirely away from her and began his tardy advance towards the bird's lair. Only when she was mostly gone, would he return his head slightly to the side, not so much that it would even be considered a look back; it didn't need to be. The words would more than mark it as such and more. "I missed you too."

Were she to actually give him those last words of mutual surrender, he would continue on to where he'd last seen the bird perched. Anything else he had to say was for the emissary and not his lady. "Deals are like names." He said, wank certainly, but brief at least. "If I made one here, for this, because of her pride, we'd go round and round and never get anywhere. You don't want that." Not quite as brief now, but still to the point. "I'm sorry I didn't do better by you though," and maybe worth it for a direct apology because when did Benedict ever hear that from Burnie? "And you'll have your say and my attentive ear come morning. Her royal muckety-muck will just have her say, and as best she can achieve it, her way, first."
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Wed Dec 25, 2019 2:37 pm

Below:

They were talking up there.

Even with the raven silenced (and that would be like a dam, wouldn’t it; you could block it up for a little while but when it broke the flood would be more violent), that
Glenn might be telling him something that she is not there to refute forces a spring in her step. Snatch a basket from the hook on the wall. It might take two baskets, and two baskets will be impossible to get up the steps, but it’s better than making two trips and giving them a second opportunity to conspire. Peek under the cloth and poke the curd, see if it’s firmed up. Still a bit oozy. Give it a little longer. Bannocks could be browner but better to yank them out now and slide the next pair into the alcove. Crackling spareribs rest on the board. Fling bannocks, butter, cheese and honey into the basket, along with a pair of cutting knives, might as well grab an extra eating knife too since he hasn’t brought even that, the idiot, toss in a pair of cups as well—the good cups, silver-rimmed, because how often does she have excuse to use them?—and the stone chopper because if he thinks he’s getting out of chestnuts that easily...

Frenzied domesticity. If she pauses too long, she might have time to acknowledge that the real reason for haste is not what he might say while she isn’t there but that he will be gone before she returns.

He won’t get far

But excitement, too, much more than anything else. Tucked out of sight, she’s grinning like a fool. How long since she had a guest? How long since there was anyone to feed and fuss over? True, Glenn is not the sort to appreciate fussing but he still
eats, for pity’s sake, that much she can offer. How long since she’s even had company for a meal? Not since she stopped going to the Dagger, better than a year now. The raven was a good companion, but sometimes…

Hair tangles in her scarf while she’s trying to unwind it. The bloodstains in her trousers really need to be soaked or else they’ll never come clean, but so much for it—off they go, flying to the end of the mat where all her other unwashed clothes slowly molder. The place is not untidy, there’s not enough room to be untidy, but nothing is more tedious than doing the washing in cold weather and hanging it indoors where it will dry musty and she’ll have to duck under the lines for days, so she let it go for longer than she intended. Wryly she hopes that Glenn will not choose this very instant to explore the thorn hedge while she hops one-legged, half-in and half-out of a pair of trousers with no shirt and the door wide open.

Short pause to eavesdrop under the doorway while she plaits her hair. She hears his voice if not his words, which means he’s still
there, anyway, so she feels safe in stealing a few seconds to scrub her face and hands before she yanks on a scarlet shirt, laces herself into a brown jerkin.

Then back up the steps,
did you remember the basket? Back down the steps, snatch the basket, how in sin are you going to get the meat up without dripping all over everything? Wrap the spareribs in a freshly-boiled cheesecloth. Far too many for two people but better that than too few, and the raven is good for a couple if he relents enough to accept food from her.

The thought of the raven sobers her, one foot on the steps. Long sigh, a wary glance above, wondering what awaited. She had been hoping they could be alone, to discuss things, to beg pardon in private. She hadn’t expected Glenn. He was sure to force the issue. She doesn’t expect him to give up so easily.

A shrug. Things would fall where they would. They would make amends or they would not. Most likely there would be a long, uneasy truce where neither of them trusted each other for a long time, and they would both deserve it.

Thinking this, she resigns herself and starts up the steps. Her bright head appears above the bramble, the basket bobbing on her arm.




Above:

The raven couldn’t help but wonder if this might be Glenn’s notion of a perfect conversation: a captive audience. Not going anywhere and couldn’t talk back. But he gave Glenn credit for fair play. Plus it was probably as frustrating for him as it was for the raven, talking to someone what couldn’t give him an aye or nay.

He sidled to the roof’s ledge and fluttered to a rough branch conveniently tacked halfway down the side of the structure. She’d added it because he asked for it. They both called it his talking-branch. Glenn meant the apology, which hurt. More than anything he wished he could say something. Reassure the wanker that it wasn’t his job to negotiate on his behalf. Glenn was never going to accept that she was the Queen. Maybe that was good for her, in some ways, but it made things hard to explain.

He shook his head no, agreeing with Glenn that he was right; he didn’t want Glenn trying to bargain on his behalf. No bargains. Benedict was counting on Glenn’s very presence being a bargain. She would play straight with him. Glenn, in his weird way, had a form of immunity. Benedict wouldn’t like to put that thin protection against the lady’s loyalty to Catch, but here, now, it was good as a geas.

He dipped his upper body up and down, a oddly graceful bobbing, and hoped it expressed understanding, if not appreciation. Abruptly he straightened, neck ruffled, and leaned to one side to peer pointed around Glenn to where the lady had just emerged.

“Please tell me you eat meat,” she was saying. “I’m used to Catch. He doesn’t.”

Kneeling by the fire, she pulled wrapped bundles out of a woven willow basket, arranging them in a half-circle upon the grass. “To answer, I missed them all,” she announced grandly, but kept her eyes on her arrangement, which gave the proclamation a certain distance. “The mishaps and the good intentions alike. I missed you poking holes in all my best ideas, I missed making mock of you when you think you are most serious, I missed you acting ambassador for your silly species, I missed us trying to outdo one another, I missed your insight, I missed your ignorance, I missed your company, I missed your cleverness, I missed your wit, I missed your voice, I missed you. How’s that?”

One hand clutched the stems of two chased silver goblets as she paused, watching both him and the raven with amused caution. Glenn seemed to have cooled. She felt it like a charge of lightning in the air. Not diminished, but more contained. “Now learn to take a damn compliment for how it’s meant and go fetch the chestnuts. Will you have beer, wine, or cider?”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Fri Dec 27, 2019 3:23 pm

Glenn never did anything for the sake of doing it. He was driven maddeningly by purpose. As such, talking was never just to hear his own voice. He spoke to learn, to pry secrets and take in perspectives. He spoke to convince, to sway. Often he spoke to test his own ideas against the brutal and jagged rocks that compromised the minds of those he associated with. Even his own journal, when he spoke to no one, had been structured as a conversation with himself.

In many ways, Fionnuala had replaced that second inner Burnie in Glenn's questing and testing. The raven was different. By dismissing most of what Glenn said with the word 'wank,' it meant that despite the quite hefty subjects that often riddled their conversation, their interactions had to be closer to conventional friendship; there was just no choice. His Queen saw herself loftier, however, and would never give ground so freely, let alone the entire notion of battle.

Ultimately, she would win a war of attrition, but could she win any other?

One thing was true, certainly. There was no need to reassure Glenn of something he had already said. He had stated clearly that the raven would not have wanted him indebted on his behalf. It meant then that Glenn was likely apologizing for something else, perhaps that he hadn't been clever enough, in the moment, to win him absolution without any strings. Glenn was not a perfect advocate; as barristers went, he had too much of his own stake in the matter at hand.

Benedict knew a lot and suspected even more, more than any emissary might want to suspect of queen and human. In this case, though, he could only be sure if Glenn actually said it and without proper prompting, that might be difficult. What made it all the more difficult was the hostess' unexpected haste. She was back and the window had shut. The raven's time waned and the queen's moon shined bright and Burnie turned. He would not look back for many long minutes.

Instead, he took in her voice as if it was the very air he needed to breathe. Such earnest praise was one way to get him to ignore raven, dove, or even swan. "It's lovely. Were it half an hour ago, I'd wonder if I didn't hallucinate every word. In return, know that I meant what I said: I missed you and know again that there's no one that I've said that to and meant it in near a decade." How near might be up for debate, but then his sense of time had been stretched and skewed long before he ended up in her interminable lair. "Further details, such as those you gave so freely, I think you'll have to earn." He waved that thought away with his left hand, more dismissive than dramatic.

"Let us pretend," even so, he'd moved a few steps into her sphere now and out of Benedict's, closer to her but not again in hand's grasping range, "that there's some meaning to that question deeper than mere preference of libation. Beer would mean one thing, wine another. Therefore, I choose cider, for I think it would fit this night better than any other, and that this night ought to fit it as well."
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Mon Dec 30, 2019 10:02 am

And if she told him it was still half an hour ago, would he be able to say for certain that it was not? Would she correct him if he were wrong? If he were right?

Time passed with its own mischievous consciousness. Here hung the possibility that she might yet unwind the past year like a spool of wool and tell him that they had never gotten out of the carriage after all.


Glancing from unloading the basket, she caught his enraptured expression and beamed back at him. A sweet and genuinely happy smile, taking pleasure in his pleasure, it reduced her nearly as much as dropping her glam had done. With one knee bent and her forearm propped atop it, she might have sprung from the soil itself, common as mushrooms. One nice advantage of being on her own ground was that she didn’t have to worry about giving up an inch of it; it was already hers.

“We’re in danger, you and I,” she warned—but still smiling, not entirely serious. “A man who likes nothing better than to hear himself praised and a woman who likes nothing better than to have someone’s complete attention. We’ll be like the hare who raced himself ’round a tree until he melted.”

With food arranged, she brushed her palms together to knock off the crumbs, then unfolded herself to full height, beckoning him nearer from where he seemed rooted to the ground. “Go on, get started an you’re hungry. I’ll fetch the cider.”

She trotted around him, braid bouncing on her back as she slipped around and merged incompletely into the soft, murky boundaries just behind the raven’s house. Since the weather turned, it was just as well to store things out-of-doors when they needed to be kept cold, and she had never picked up the taste for warm cider, the way the tultharian liked it in winter; to her it would always be a summer drink. Glass clinked and leaves shifted softly as she sifted through bottles, while her light voice echoed back to him: “There are plenty of things you haven’t done in a decade.” The innuendo was only conspicuous if one was looking for it. “When you start doing them with other people, I’ll start being curious.” A faint, hollow clanking. Then she was solid once more, with a brown earthenware jug hugged against her hip. “Till then you’re naught but another moonstruck mortal, drunk on the liquor of my presence.”

It was the sort of world-weary, self-depreciating and yet seethingly vain statement that usually set the raven scoffing. Combined with her current unglamorous (in most senses of the word) state, the arrogance was even comical. She sneaked a glance at Benedict to see if he had any reaction. He was hunkered down on his talking-branch, head drawn into his own ruff, a squat pillar feigning sleep.

“I do wonder, though.” The jug nestled gently into the grass beside the fire, but she did not join it. Instead she straightened again, looking thoughtfully and with evident fondness into Glenn’s face. “I have been Here just shy of eight years now. That same near-decade. I wonder where I was when you were here. Might it have made any difference had we known one another then? Would we be further along than we are now, or would we be somewhere else entire?”

The question was purely rhetorical. The paradox puzzled her. She could not have been here then or they would not be here now, and if they were not here now then the question itself was utter nonsense since there could be no asking it. The act of contemplating the matter erased the very notion of now, a concept so impossible as to be absurd. Was this how tultharian thought all the time, always doubling back? It made her eyes cross.

“Never mind it. Let us pretend,” now she settled herself back on the grass and reached for one of the goblets as she imitated his tone if not quite his actual voice, “that there was an outcome riding upon your choice of drink. It’s no accident that there were three. And I suppose it’s no accident that of all you could choose, you were clever enough to avoid anything made by mine own hand and instead chose cider made from Myrken apples on a Myrken press by Myrkeners, purchased at a Myrken market—for Myrken money, an that matters. Myrken to your very teeth, you are. And now you are going to wonder all night long what might have happened had you chosen something else, and no doubt you’ll wonder what you chose when you chose this, too, but you’ll have to figure it out as we go along. I have confidence in you. Though I would like to know why you feel cider fits the night best, if you care to tell me. I’ve a feeling there’s a story there.”

She offered him the filled silver goblet. “Welcome home.”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Thu Jan 02, 2020 3:40 am

Humans were powerless. In the grand scheme of things, the ability to wield iron was a small thing. It was external, petty and paltry. It paled in the face of ideas and perception. Their sheer numbers? That was worth even less for it dehumanized each and every one of them. It might win them the war but at the cost of making none of them matter as individuals. No, the only equalizer was knowledge and he had gathered it to the best of his lofty abilities.

Therefore, were he to blink and realize that a year had passed in his mind but not in reality, he would make the best of this, would cling to the gains, real or imagined, and move forward with the truth of it. Whatever footing he found himself on, the single choice was always the same: to walk. This was the man who emerged from Underdark without a soul and from Golben without a life. He had precious little left to lose and barely wanted all that he had to gain, even though it was so very much.

"A melting hare," he played with the words as he so often did, before deciding that they were better left discarded. The thought behind them though? Well, that was precious. His smile matched hers. His tone did as well. Was that unsettling? Was it a true harmony or a false changeling one? If they enjoyed it, did it matter? "Is it the praise I enjoy or is it simply nice to finally meet someone who can appreciate the finer things in life as I do?" If it was harmony, was it earnestness as well? Just a few moments later, she would lean into the same sort of line-blurring, off-putting, balance-shattering arrogance. He just beat her there. For two creatures who were so wholly different, when together, they almost seemed to resonate. Pity the raven or anyone else who had to tolerate their reflected light.

Then there was food. "I did help with the chestnuts," he reminded her. It was the smallest part of the meal and he had done it poorly, disastrously, but it meant that he was not eating their food but that they were sharing in a meal that both prepared. It was a dangerous, mad notion, the idea that all of their fairy laws hinged upon belief and perception. It took something simple and wrenched it to its most complex eventuality. Again, did he do it to outfox her or to amuse her? Or did he try to amuse her by overdramatically outfoxing her?

There was an element of performance to both of them that did not exist in the letters. There his flourishes had been entirely natural, his thoughts and truths and innermost being. If there was a filter hanging over any of it, it was one that improve clarity. If it obscured, it was because the reality of him was obscured as well. Real life was always more complicated.

"I'm not even yet drunk on the liquor of your liquor let alone the liquor of your presence." He focused on the food and not her, as if to prove a point. "As for your presence, I suppose people might throw books at skunks as well, were they to demand a kiss."

He had raised a similar question to her through the letters, similar but not the same, for their experiences had been different. For him, it was running away from the 'monastery' that had been the key moment and for her, being forced to leaving home. The timing of the two did not sync. Regardless, because he had previously raised it, it meant that he did mind her question. "If I knew you when I first arrived in Myrken, we would have been rivals but maybe you would have gotten that kiss eventually. A decade is longer for me than you. If i knew you a few years later, we would have been enemies and I would have ended you," nonchalantly said as if discussing the weather, "and a few years after that, you would have provided me a fitting and horrible comeuppance. Now we get to banter again, and a sight more cleverly than we would have a decade ago."

"Cider." When he tried to make it a game for her and for him, they ended up in that carriage, going towards a dance and a scheme they never reached. He came on this night, immediately upon his return solely because of Benedict, but he's glad he did, because it means whatever she's come up with now isn't entirely what she planned. She had months to prepare for his arrival and even though outside elements such as Catch or whatever caused this rift with their feathered friend may have interfered, his premature arrival was the only thing that could throw her. "It is the drink that I first had when I arrived in Myrken. Ariane put me onto Derry Red, Cinnabar brandy, which was not one of the options, but cider was first for a reason which you hit upon well enough. There's an innocence to it, I suppose.

"That's half of it," said as he took the goblet but right before her charming welcome. "The rest is just the feeling of you and here. Not grapes and not grain. Apples. Feelings, I shamefully admit, may be wrong, but I don't think this one is," and with that, he'd raise the goblet to his lips.
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Fri Jan 03, 2020 1:01 pm

“Hm. And what are they, your finer things? I bet they’re boring.” Grinning, she dragged the pile of chestnuts nearer. “Paugh, I should have soaked these first, they’ll take ages—” With quick, precise hops to spare her shirtcuffs, she arranged them on a flat rock almost but not quite in the flames. “I think it’s the praise, of course. You wouldn’t give a toss if anyone else appreciated the thing or not, so long as it was something you approved of them having. That’s what got you into trouble. And that’s where you and I differ: I do care if they appreciate it. I care too much, actually. I like giving people things, but nothing irks me more than ingratitude. I don’t know which of us is worse.” Another row of chestnuts glowed in the coals. “Either way, that’s more a question you’d have to answer, isn’t it? I’d scarce know.”

He remarked on the food, wriggling out of a trap she hadn’t even bothered to set. Of course they all knew about fairy food; that much they remembered. Knowing Glenn, he probably had it all written down somewhere and cross-indexed with three colors of ink: what she might offer, what he could safely accept, and the line between. It was both amusing and exasperating that he must always have the upper hand, even now. He had not brought iron into her clearing, but he had brought his wits, which were quite as sharp, and which could skewer her just as neatly if she didn’t watch out for them. That was an observation he might appreciate hearing aloud, and she thought herself clever for having come up with it, but she had just finished paying him a compliment and there ran the risk of fattening him with flattery until he was entirely insufferable. She tucked the opinion in her pocket, to save for after supper.

“The trouble is that I appreciate a great lot of things that you find coarse and common and you appreciate things that I find dull and stupid. The difference being that I don’t particularly mind you liking dull, stupid things even when I don’t understand them, so long as you enjoy them. But sometimes, I wonder if you do.” The chestnuts formed a wider and wider ring. She took the stone chopper to some of the incompetently scored ones: a gentle tap to split their skulls, then pinching them off the chopper’s keen edge. “Enjoy them, that is. To enjoy you must give yourself over, and I do not know that you ever would. Is it ever more than appreciation with you?”

Her nose crinkled playfully at his remark over skunks, as if she could smell one. In truth she had no idea what one was; her impressions presented her with the image of a small, bushy-tailed badger. “You know perfectly well that the pleasure you get pestering me about a kiss that never happened is as much as the pleasure I would get from actually kissing you. A good kiss lasts…what? five heartbeats? We’ve wrung a whole year of japes from the threat of it.”

From the heap of crispy pork and greasy bone, she sorted out two end pieces, small but with a goodly chunk of tender meat on them. She stretched her neck upward and over, her sharp eyes searching over the tips of the fire for a separate black blob amongst the swarming blackness at the darker side of the clearing. “Benedict, will you sup with us?”

She thought he was going to ignore her out of pique, but slowly, the raven’s head extended upward, and he looked about, blinking sleepily, for whoever called his name—still playing the game of not caring about whatever was happening. His gaze scanned right past them both. Nevertheless, after another lazy moment, he hopped to the ground, pretending to be on his way to somewhere else before he happened to notice them. He settled on Glenn’s side of the fire, sliding down his beak a cool, diffident look to let her know that he was here purely for the food, not the company. She did notice he put himself between the two of them, as a chaperon—or mayhap to break up any spats that might flare. Poor raven. Always the sentinel.

Only once she had run out of things to do with them did it become clear that she had been keeping her hands busy to conceal awkwardness. Always there was something a little performative about playing hostess, present in the very notion that one was playing hostess. A role, a highly formalized series of gestures, stock phrases. None of which he would appreciate. None of which were even applicable here. Here she was queen only by virtue of bearing the title. Gradually, listening to him explain his past, her shoulders relaxed. Her eyes brightened attentively, drawn to his face as though by a magnet.

“You would never have ended me. I’m too charming.” The way she said it made it an established and irrefutable fact, as it would be if she said I am too tall or my hair is too red. She stretched her legs comfortably in front of her, leaning against them. “I would have dismissed everything as more mortal nonsense and rounded to the far side of it. I really have no particle of interest in Myrken business, mo sionnach. You would have had to convince me to be invested in it first. Then I might have been interested enough to interfere, and then you might have tried to end me…except you wouldn’t be able to, by virtue of the aforementioned charms.”

This might have been the perfect moment to punctuate the statement with a smile, dismissing it as more banter, but the smile did not manifest. She was too good an archer not to sense when an arrow had struck true, and this arrow had come very close to a mark of truth she had not realized was there until she spoke aloud. She watched him carefully, with a sense of dawning wonder. “Save that you really have, haven’t you? Gotten me invested, I mean. The gods know I would not have come up with the idea of trading with the tultharian on my own without that you planted the notion. Much less reached the point of seriously suggesting it to Mactíre.”

One of the chestnuts tried to roll away, sacrificing itself to the fire. She fetched it back out, then sucked a burned finger as her gaze temporarily left him to regard her handiwork, and to take up her own goblet. “I promised I would show you some Tuatha ritual. And now you’ve come right on the eve of the Nine Nights, the most dread and solemn feast of them all—not even a feast, really, but a funeral.”

Beneath its sweetness, the cider had a potent, heady bite. The fire crackled peaceably. She stretched out her leg, leaned over her knees, and sighed, contented. “By rights I should kick you out to go do your mourning with the other menfolk, as they are not allowed to see what we do. Nor are we meant to intrude upon them.” Her chin lifted, mock-imperious. “Being queen, I am allowed to go right into the men’s circle an I please and they’re not allowed to turn me away. But I don’t. And sometimes the younger boys will try to sneak up onto our hill and spy on us, but if we catch them, we gang up and smack them with reeds.” She slouched again, with a roguish look toward him. “I should really give you a smack for intruding, but you are a guest, so I suppose you may consider yourself witness to that which men may not witness.”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Sat Jan 04, 2020 12:44 pm

His laughter was no longer a wild thing, but that was primarily because he was no longer a wild thing. The wildness had a novelty but it was earnestness that would stand the test of time, even hers. It was still that. "Finn, I can appreciate some cultural difficulties in the letters. You can't hear the sound of my voice, can't see the way I look when I'm making fun, that sort of thing. I'm not about to say aloud that the finer things in life, in that particular scenario, was me." He watched her with the chestnuts but not with any great sort of interest. There were limits to his intellectual curiosity and they generally came down to the mundane necessities of life. Food preparation, even with potential societal significance, was well past that limit. Yes, he was watching her as if she was the only thing in the world: the way she moved in this place, in this moment, but he didn't pay much heed to what she was actually doing. If anyone could manage that contradiction, it was Glenn Burnie.

"As for the rest, I would rather someone be passionate about something than nothing at all, but that being equal, I would rather someone care about my notion of self-betterment: learning, reading, organizing, trying to understand the world around them, than just focusing on enjoyment or distraction." It was an easy admission, a diatribe that was at the end of his tongue before she even asked for it. She rarely seemed to make him really strain for an answer. Did anyone? He'd thought of much of this already, constantly thought of all of it and more. "That's for humans, mind you," he spoke like he wrote too. Overly ornate, five words when one might do, though there was a bit less of an artistic flourish. "You'll live for dozens of our lifetimes. You have the time and the luxury to enjoy yourself more and more need to distract yourself, I imagine. You can pick wholesome and degenerate distractions and still have enough time left over to," and here he paused, paused and shook his head. Rarely did he trail off, but here he did. "I have uncomfortable allies, at times, in the pious and stern, but I don't think enjoying one's self, even in profane ways, leads to any great harm. Taken to excess, maybe, but not the act in and of itself," and that meant that other things, taken to excess, might not cause harm at all. "My issue is entirely that of our limited time and our great disadvantages."

All of that clarification didn't actually explore the difference she had raised, let alone resolve it. "So for me, enjoyment doesn't really enter the equation. If I live long enough and come to regret it as an old man, I'll be sure to let you know that you were right. I'd like for your last original memory of me to be one where you get to cackle with satisfaction."

She spun things forward to the lingering satisfaction of the kiss or of the non-kiss. Her nose had crinkled and he gazed at her, at it, lazily, somehow looking down upon her despite her superior height. "I'm fairly certain it would have left a bad taste in your mouth. At least with the book, if it hit you particularly hard in the skull, you might have absorbed some of the knowledge."

She brightened and dove headlong into the notion of her own charm, as he had only indirectly agreed to do previously with his own wonderful qualities. In this moment, however, there must have only been so much brightness in the world to go around; her stealing an inordinate amount to drape about her face caused all of his to seep away. That must have been it. "You are charming," he admitted freely though soberly, "but it wouldn't have mattered. I wouldn't have wanted your investment, solely your capital. I was empty, cut off. I would have squeezed the charm out of you, bottled it, and sold it for humanity's sake, keeping but one bottle for myself to sup on cold nights." There were things he said to challenge her, to play a game with her, to laugh with her, not at her. This was not one. It was quite the opposite, deadly serious. "Not even to warm me, but simply because I could and you could not. Whoever I was then, whatever creature," he said with an assurance that he certainly did not have two years ago, "it is no one that you know now."

She was intent to drag them back to the present, however, and he had no reason to resist the pull. Wherever one could or could not travel, going back to there and then and that was impossible for him, at least without somehow tearing himself asunder once more (there was a ring for that and a ritual but he seemed unlikely to reach for either; why would he ever have to in her presence anyway? Why would anyone?). "I made it something of interest: something in the interest of your people and something interesting to you. The world is a better place when we all win, especially if we're all solving the challenges before us in the process. Somewhere, down the road, our interests would diverge, but if we were to make it that far, then we'll all be so well off that we'll be able to find some way through that trouble as well." To him, it was the work of generations. It always was.

When she burned herself, it was that notion which he suspected drove it. To apologize would be far too presumptuous however. Having a fixed hand might have led to carelessness. Having a fixed chest had led him to mutilation once upon a time. "On the one hand, I could see why your people might have a ritual for every night, what with your neighborhood gods and endless time for it. On the other hand, what's a year for any of you? One would think your rituals would be once a decade instead, just because if not, how could you ever keep track of them all?" Especially without the written word. She threatened him the cheekiest sort of violence, and he held up his even neutrality, which in this case, meant his chin. "I am invited, not intruding, both summoned and guest all at once, and even then, you've already noted that I'm hardly like any man you've come across." She did not quite note that. Chin led to tongue and tongue to ridiculous declaration. "So you can just consider me a neutral party when it comes to that."
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Wed Jan 08, 2020 1:40 pm

The thoughtful quiet that followed was broken by the crackling of burning twigs and the thick, snotty rip and snick of meat as the raven hunkered over his meal. He ate the way he had approached the meat to begin with: in sneaky guzzles, between which he glanced around, pretending there was no ribbon of flesh dangling from the side of his beak. Both feet gripped the denuded bone in a way that reminded one his talons were not merely decorative.

“I never knew that man,” Fionn confessed at last, more soberly. “But Myrken will remember him, sure enough.” With a stick, she pulled some of the orange cinders nearer to the chestnuts. Their shells were just starting to curl from the yellow meat. “Have you given much thought to that, Glenn? What they’ll do once they know you’re back again?”

She had no doubt that he had given it thought—probably enough thought to have a tidy summary and a plan of attack already prepared. It was less a true question than an invitation to share his thoughts with her, and an admission that her own thoughts had turned in that direction as well. Catch was, if anything, an acute danger, and one that she, in her arrogance and confidence, believed wholeheartedly that she could mitigate. Myrken was a chronic one, and he would have to face it alone. She had her own ways of dealing with Myrken, but he would never agree to any of them; he would go bare-faced into the world he had left.

It occurred to her that she had no idea how long he planned to stay. He had never mentioned it, and she had never asked. So far as time here was concerned, he might have been back months already, and the two of them discussing all that had happened since. Now that he was here, though, things would have to move forward. Her idyll was ending. She dreaded it. All the thousand footholds that being a Niall had carved for her well before she was born no longer existed. The path ahead was smooth and slippery and somehow she must find a way to walk it.

She set aside the poking-stick in favor of her drink. Her wrist rocked, so that the cider spiraled in the goblet, and she chuckled softly as she contemplated its spin. “It’s going to be a right pain in the arse for us both, you know. They don’t know what I can do, but you…they know exactly what you can do, what you’ve already done. I don’t know which of us will have it worse, really—me suffering under your reputation or you suffering my lack of one.”

Her goblet lifted in a sardonic salute. “I am resigned to solidarity. And to honesty. Even if I don’t feel it will be very effective politically.” And she took a sip.

The cup settled down in a depression in the grass near her knee. Her head turned to watch the raven feed, and a tired, slack smile crossed her features. She reached into the basket, broke a bannock, and tossed Benedict a chunk. “A year’s a year no matter who you are. Isn’t it? Your folks have the same midsummer and midwinter we do. They’ve forgotten the names but they still light the fires. I’ve seen them. Mayhap we all of us need rituals, just to keep the days and seasons from blurring together. Or to remember we are still part of the world. The seasons turn and take us with them. One day we’ll be gone.”

Contemplatively, she broke another wedge from the bannock, with a little shrug of her shoulder. “Or mayhap it’s just an excuse to have a bit of fun. Even a funeral’s fun when it’s not your own. You get to try and outdo everyone else with the keening and the breast-beating and there’s no shame in it because everyone’s cavorting and acting the fool, same as you. It’s a bit liberating when everyone else is doing it. Plus with us there’s always the Truce, and the gods know we need it once in a while. You can’t kill everyone all the time. It’s tiresome.”

With a toss of her head to flick back the braid, she glanced to at him, curious what he might have to counter that, just in time for his grand proclamation. Her smile spread, a bit cheekier in counterpoint with his own. “You’re right. I’ve never met a man such as you. Likely because the rest of them have long since choked to death on their own pricks.”

With a sudden vicious twist at the waist, she flung the chunk of bread at his chest, then burst out laughing. “You’re not much of one but you’re still a man, Glenn Burnie. Did I tell you about the girl at the wedding?”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Sat Jan 11, 2020 3:59 am

Burnie ate, yes, but he ate like a man who treated most primary human needs as a burden instead of a potential source of joy. Food, shelter, and clothing were necessities to be resented and scowled upon. It explained the simplicity of his clothing, his general disinterest in food, his outright ignoring of design both interior and exterior. He could be impressed by particular clever and ingenious solutions to overcome nature's constraints in any of these areas, but that was different than appreciating the end product for the sake of its own merit. Drink was different and he actually seemed to take some time to savor the cider. She had built it up, in her own backwards way, as something that he would enjoy.

He took his time with that, at least, more so than the food, and in doing so, gave her the floor to voice her grievances and concerns. Given how he dominated a conversation, his general lack of manners, except for when they suited him, and his obvious lung capacity, she should have no question that he would have spoken with his mouth full if he felt the need. Or with anything else in his mouth, even, as she put it, his own prick. It helps to be able to hold your breath, apparently.

When he finally spoke, he attacked her points backwards, the least important first because it was what interested him the most. "It's not the same," and because it also provided him an opportunity to be contrary and enjoy it (as opposed to the other). "You and yours sprint through the year. You have to live it as we live it but you remember it as far more a blur. Looking back, it must feel like you're celebrating every day. You're looking at an endless book and there are bold words on every page. You'll see nothing else." He wasn't even necessarily disagreeing with her, just taking it from a slightly different angle. "Ritual organizes your memories in your mind." Somehow he could say this sort of thing, a theory that just popped into his head about something he could never truly understand, as if it was a truth. "You'd have no way to catalog and understand the memories in between without all of these as framing devices. We have rituals to make sense of our lives and our world, to try to pretend there's order in the chaos. You have rituals to make sense of yourself, to force an order to the chaos of yourselves." He could take the fun out of everything and be all the more happy and satisfied for it.

Speaking of such order, she could ravel and unravel the perception of time as she willed. He had to force it, and he forced it now but raising his goblet to match hers, far after the fact. "It'll be the same ploy I tested in Razasan," he said simply. "Each and every one of them will expect me to take back power. To take a position, to muck about. I won't do it, not even if asked. No Councilor. No Governor. No speeches. They'll be so busy staring at me and preparing for what they expect me to do that they won't be seeing what I'm actually doing.

"I told you. No more unilateral action. Not for me and maybe not for humanity," he allowed himself another sip for one could hold a goblet out for only so long, even in delayed solidarity. "You've laid out the rules on your end. If a human makes a case to your people or is the symbolic figurehead for such a thing, it cannot be a man. We've qualified candidates here in Myrken." He refused to admit, to them, to her, to himself, that he dragged one or two there himself. "We start small. We choose things that will help both sides but won't necessarily be missed by either. We secure quick benefits, even as a private enterprise if necessary, and publicize them before pushing further. Your people need not know much about my role. My people need not know how exactly much hinges on one of their own women. I work with you and others on the ideas, but I am not going to be a major part of the execution. Honesty takes us exactly that far, in my mind, keeping me from being involved." She knew of him when it came to truths. He did not lie to her or himself or anyone else, but that did not mean he ever told the whole, most-meaningful, truth.

He placed the goblet down, finally. He turned his eyes away from her. "And if I have to distract people in the meantime, I suppose I can do that much. Let's use their feelings for me, both good and bad, to a positive effect." Apparently, honesty took them no farther. Forgiveness instead of permission, after the benefits started to become apparent.

Proclamations and thrown bread came after, and even distracted, he managed to swat at it. Unfortunately, distracted, grand reflexes swatted it right into his own face. He gaped as it passed, an attempt to catch it with his mouth, but that failed as well. That failure, more than her cheek, brought a small scowl to his face and willful obtuseness to go along with it. "She's the one you turned into a bear?"
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Thu Jan 16, 2020 3:05 am

With a bare rib bone in one hand and both cheeks bunched around a mouthful of meat, Fionn applauded his fumbling with the bannock. Just when she thought he might actually catch it, he bonked himself in the face, and the scowl he shot her tipped her over the edge: it was either spit out the mouthful and laugh, or choke. Franticly she chewed faster to clear her mouth.

“No, no, my mother is the bear, and she does it whenever she pleases; it’s nothing to do with me.” Then context caught up with her. “Oh! You mean the livery fellow.” She shook her head. “This was on the road to Razasan, back when I still had your name. The day before, I’d crossed a ford with a family who said they were on their way to a wedding. I had never seen a tultharian wedding before, so I followed them to see what it was about, though it took me a day out of my way. I went as you, for I could not very well turn up as myself there.”

Her head tipped to her shoulder as her fingers rubbed wistfully against the hinge of her jaw. Though her eyes fixed on his face, his reflection was nowhere in them; she was elsewhere, on a summer’s day in a town whose name she had never bothered to learn. “I kept waiting for them to go inside, but they didn’t. They stood on the chapel steps. And there was a very old woman who trembled and sobbed so, I could scarce hear a thing, and a little baby who likewise sobbed through the whole thing, with its mother trying to shush it, but no one tried to shush the old woman, which I thought very funny. Everyone in glad spirits save for the very youngest and the very eldest, and they both weeping fit to split. I remembered what you wrote about tears, but it didn’t seem to apply.

“And then the man took the bride’s hand and the groom’s and stuck them both through a little braided wreath of oatstraw, and that was that—they were married. I thought there would be a bit more to it than that. You talk of rituals, but other than the weeping, they scarce made a sound, the whole pack of them, but for the cheering afterwards. I expected something to happen, but nothing did. No ordeal, no offerings. Your folk can just say words and then they are married, just like that.”

It struck her now, as it had then, as far too effortless, almost cheating, and she gave him a quick piercing glare, as if Glenn were called upon to answer for the shortcomings of his entire tribe.

Anyway, the part I wanted to tell you was the girl.” She beamed in triumph, having finally reached the gist of the story. “I went to the feast afterwards—still being you—and all at once this pretty little dark-haired thing became very, very interested in how far you’d travelled, and what the weather was like on your journey; she kept finding excuses to touch your sleeve and ask if you wanted more punch. ’Twas plain she’d never done such a thing in her life but she tried her level best, bless her. Those are the ones I never have anything to do with; one kiss and you’ve broken their hearts. I didn’t even dance with her because you would not have danced, and because I’d never be rid of her if I did. But still I was much kinder to her than you would have been. I meant to tell you all this before, in Razasan, because I thought it would annoy you, but somehow it never got mentioned.”

Cheerful and smug, she picked up her drink once more. “But the important thing is that even though it put me one whole day further from seeing you, I should not have missed that wedding for all the world. I will remember that day long after the bride and the old woman and the wee babe and the dark-haired lass all go under the hills. They are all a little bit mine now. It would be most rude not to remember them.”

Her head lifted to look out over the lake, where the lights from Myrken—the few there were at this hour—seemed dimmer and more distant than the very stars. The town lay in the shadowy, shallow bowl of its walls, small enough to cup in a hand: her unwitting neighbors, all gathered together pissing in corners and fucking in alleys and snoring betwixt flea-ridden sheets while dreaming of ways to rob each other blind. Every light a life. The line of her mouth turned tender.

Then she tossed her head and shot him a roguish grin. “But the really important thing is that if people find you off-putting, it’s nothing to do with your face.”

She took a triumphant swig of her cider before she hefted the jug in both hands and topped off the cups again. Through the veil of her lashes she watched his reaction, fully expecting a chiding about propriety or autonomy or more nonsense about violation, but too high-spirited to care. It was, in its small, childish way, revenge for his presumption. “I refuse to have an argument with you about rituals. You think yourself above them. The truth is you are beneath them. You are not the sort of person who could ever find meaning in them. You are like a wee ant, toiling to carry single grain of truth all by himself.”

Unlike Glenn, talking did not equate to action for her, did not fulfill the same need, even when telling a story. Sitting still so long made her start to squirm a little, her eyes darting away for a distraction. The way he ate—rather cheerlessly—moved her, hostess-wise, to wonder if she oughtn’t bring out something he might enjoy more, perhaps some of the pickles, except that would require going inside again. The chestnuts were not quite ready; no diversion to be found there.

She uncoiled her legs and stood up, stretching her back. The raven abandoned his ruthless concentration on his meal to blink up at her warily. He had reason enough to be suspicious. The amends she would make later awaited like the morning's hangover, but morning was still such a long way off that it might as well be happening next winter.

The way Glenn turned his eyes from her gave her a moment’s sympathy. His restlessness manifested in other ways; his fingers ever itched to be in the thick of any prospects. She paused in her pacing, half-smiling at him.

“The plan’s not ideal,” she admitted. “The plan is barely a plan, at this moment. I know not even where to begin. An I had come for the purpose of trade, there would have been a process—we send a messenger inquiring, you send one back stating conditions, we all tug back and forth trying to get the upper hand and everyone feels they’re accomplishing something. The paths would be in place well before we were set upon them. As it is, the closest thing to an authority figure ’round here is old Treadwell, and the very thought of undertaking a serious conversation with him makes me want to tie a rock around my waist and jump in a river. You are the only person I really know Here.”

Beneath the lilting, near-infuriating calmness of her tone was a vulnerable catch, like a thorn that snagged the bright, gay gown of her confidence. A different woman of the same age would have lowered her eyes at the admission. Out of respect for him, she kept her gaze fixed on his face. “I shall still need you.”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Fri Jan 17, 2020 3:00 am

Burnie organized. He catalogued. He sorted and reduced. He expanded and made connections. Was it like him, truly, even in the face of his last few hours, to casually forget who was turned into a bear and who could turn into a bear? His defiance was, much like the rest of him, an obtuse thing, one that could sprout up passively and quietly, as much as it could with chest-thumping speeches. This was especially true when he was defying something that was beyond him as so much was.

To put it another way, this was likely not the last time he might conveniently forget who she had turned into a bear, especially when she was being playful or boastful.

For now, though, she was nothing but genial and delighted with her own story, and he listened to it, even as it weaved this way and that; it was all very different than her storytelling in writing and that difference, more so than the story itself, held his interest. It spoke to the entirety of her, not just one simple incident, and it was the entirety of her that interests him the most.

"For weddings, note our easy limitations," he'd finally begin, his voice even easier than their limitations. "Our gods don't come down and visit us, not often at least. Many of these rituals are written down. It changes the dynamic. In general, it's more about control than anything else," and these were old words, some of the oldest he had. "The old lady's power, the families' power, the priest's. I'm not sure I care much for marriage really. And not because I deeply desire to be promiscuous, so cease your sniggering before it starts." He let a smile trickle through, though it was for what he was about to say, not for what he just said. "Maybe if I liked parties more?"

There was a point somewhere in her story and she eventually got to it. In this, he'd be more amused if she hadn't made him the butt of her game, long ago that it was, and also if he didn't get the sense that every one of her stories might meander so; once it was charming, once. "Great beauties intimidate people. I'm am," he began to list off, though not without any fingers to accentuate; those were only for things that mattered to him, "an inch or two too short, with a face that is only memorable for how forgettable it is, a voice that cannot capture great melody but that comes with the good sense not to sing, eyes that are only bright in their utility, and a profile that some, if pressed, might say, does in fact exist." Save for those elements he could hone, his agility, strength, dexterous skill, his body was much like the food he put into it, a means unto an end and a vessel for what was contained within, and thus he was quite dispassionate as he drew her a map of his qualities of little quality.

"Of course she was emboldened." Even here, his voice did find emotion, despite his matter-of-fact tone. "My face is not off-putting; it's a font of courage for those who lack confidence. How long did you have with her?" The tiniest spark emanated from him finally, a flicker in his gaze, the slightest touch of hesitation upon his tongue, a nearly imperceptible shift in his posture. "Five minutes? In that time, I would have taught her to read instead."

It wasn't enough to deny her satisfaction outright. She deserved less than that and far, far more. A year ago, she would have received a scowl. Now she received all of this instead, all this and more. It wasn't until she likened him to an ant that he outright laughed however, not a belly laugh but something rich and warm and only a little exasperated. "You can't have it both ways, my lady of avarice. You can't press me about our weddings without having me dissect your rituals as well. There's use in what I say. What you are afraid of is what you are always afraid of, that there might be truth in my observations as well, and what you hold deal, what you cling to so far from home, may unravel in your grasp."

She had risen, but he did not. Instead, he gave her all of her height and the extra foot or to as well. It was more than his face which offered confidence. He could have pressed his perceived advantage, pressed it all the way down her throat. Instead, "I think, I hope, I believe truly, that in examining and understanding these things, you will bring yourself closer to your people and their ways, and not farther apart." Was his kindness worth more or less because of the obtuseness? Because of the precise lack of awareness in certain areas that was precariously balanced with a hyperawarness in others? Or did it leave a sour taste in her mouth? If it did both at once, what did that say about any of this? Of him and of her and of them?

As it was, she had her own advantage to press, the seeming flimsiness of the plan. "We begin by working with potential allies in Myrken, in identifying a few small but not inconsequential things your people would appreciate and a few that our people might need without creating burdens or dependence on either side." He knew how it sounded, but this was the work of years. She lived by those terms, no matter whether she thought by them or not. He had tried so many other things. "Early benefit is important. For us, it is also important to keep things unofficial; for your people, it is the opposite." He had walked a careful line immediately before, but now there was something of a guilty, conspiratorial smile on his face. The carriage ride had been disastrous but the intent had been pure enough (though perhaps something worse). "I admit, reluctantly, that some small and well-meaning level of subterfuge may have to come into play on one side or both." And what, ultimately, did she expect, over time, in rebranding him as her sionnach? She knew the power in that far better than he.

As Glenn Burnie finished, he offered her the tiniest glimpse of a crafty, fond smile, but then, as she admitted her need, it became something else entirely. For a moment, a brief, eternal moment, the floodgates strained. Had it been an hour earlier, they would have burst but with water slightly tainted. Now the water was crystal and clear. She silenced him, sent his gaze churning inwards, straight on to his own heart. At the end of yet another interminable moment, the smile returned, small but true, fond as before, this time wry instead of crafty. "I think..." his voice would fade; first silenced and then hesitant, though smiling all the still. "You are fortunate then, Queen, that I desperately need your need."
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Wed Jan 22, 2020 2:32 pm

“You’ve a funny idea of ‘fortunate,’ Glenn Burnie.” She hunkered down on the far side of the fire, face aglow through the flames, rocking hypnotically on the balls of her feet. “Oh…there’s that look again. I say something sincere and your eyes start shining. You know, around this time last year, I wrote that you were the sort of man who needs to be needed—to feel himself necessary. You denied it. Now I wonder. Was I right then or have I become right since, hm?”

She let herself rock backwards, thumping on her behind in the grass and startling the raven, who very pointedly glared up at her before dragging his remaining rib bone further from the fire’s light, out of her reach. Oh, he was being snitty. She might have felt sorrier for him had he not dragged Glenn into his snit. Dragging Glenn into things was what had gotten his tongue stilled to begin with.

She raised her eyebrows, a cool pout for his glowering, then shifted on her palms until she was more comfortably facing Glenn once more.

“And you would not have taught her to read. You’d’ve scolded her first and probably been so rude with her that by the time you got around to mentioning reading, she’d be running for the hills with her hands clapped over her ears. Not all ladies are so patient as I. And even I am less patient than persistent. The difference being the difference between working with and trampling over.” She grinned. “I confess, you do best me in persistence betimes, and me being a Niall, that’s a rare thing. But there’s something to be said for reading your audience, mo sionnach. That is something else I missed about you: we neither of us give a hang about our audience. We talk over one another willy-nilly, each clutching our own wee patch of ground like a badger in a ditch, and eventually, occasionally, when we have no other options—or when you are at last on the verge of passing out, which has been the case twice with you—we concede a point.”

She tipped her head, a bit sad, a bit serious. “We will not have time for much of that anymore. Not when it’s other people’s time we barter with. There will be times when I will concede for the sake of moving forward. But I do not want to be forever squabbling with you at the expense of a decision. That is my chief concern for working with you.”

But she nodded in acquiesce. It felt a very heavy nod indeed, heavy as a stile over a fence, marking a newly crossed boundary. “You say true, though. My folk will not budge a finger’s-width without they believe and never doubt that their queen has a firm hand over all of this. If we but play the thing aright, they’ll follow.”

For all its possibilities, it was a gloomy prospect, and it made her uneasy in her guts. Like treachery. As though she plotted to trick them. Her long arms wrapped around her knees, and her eyes slid sidelong, toward the raven. One hand scooted out and rustled the grass to get his attention, but though he had finished his meal and was now only scrutinizing the curved bone for scraps, he kept his distance, which only made the cavernous, hollow feeling in her lower belly worse. Despite the fire, she felt chilly. She wished for her cloak. Or for Catch, to lean her back against his chest and be enfolded in his greater heat. Idly she fiddled with the fire, turning it from orange to green to purple in much the same distracted way a mortal woman might have played with a spoon or picked at a splinter in a tabletop, but glamourie did not make the flames one whit warmer.

“Ach, I’m being moody. Season’s still on me, a little.” She straightened, though her smile remained lopsided. “Banter? You tell me how long you’ve been back, where you’re staying, how many times Genny threatened to toss you out of the carriage, all of that? Did you get to meet with your stern-faced lady after all?”
Anything can be magic if you're gullible enough.
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Thu Jan 23, 2020 2:14 pm

The 'hm' in her statement could have well been her shouting "check" as she placed her rook down upon the board, and it certainly brought forth the sparkle in his eye. If the shining had faced inwards with her earlier words, now she truly had his attention. Fortunate, indeed. "That's hardly the only axis for this, Finn. What if it depends on how someone needs me? What if it depends on how many? Or, if it is one person," the smile tugged at his lips and there was just enough of a lingering mania to him that all of his honed control couldn't keep it entirely off of his face, only mostly. "Then I suppose it depends on just who that person is."

Given the choice between her first glance at the raven and the words that followed, he gravitated towards the words; they were about him after all. "If they run for the hills, perhaps they're not worthy of such esteemed tutelage. You'd be surprised how many don't in the end." That control had finally overcome the smile, if only to prove a point. "I can be practical. If I was at a loss for students, I would be," which led, of course, to her concern. "When it becomes the difference between us winning or losing the day, I will be downright boring. Letters allow us to argue to our excess. Gorge yourself on song and drink all you like, woman; you've allowed me to devour ideas and perspectives. You've given and you have received, and look at us now. We've grown strong and fierce upon one another and starved out our solitude. When I must show restraint, I will. When I do not, I'll give of you all that I am and take from you everything there is." As reassuring statements went, that was downright incendiary.

He and Rhaena were of one mind. He and this wild fairy queen were not. They were familiar, but that was hardly the same, especially when they faced each other in person. He did not know her thoughts and thus he could not account for them. "So then, it is as you say, when we cannot feast, we will play. Either way," and as reassuring statements went, this was right in the wrong ways and wrong in the right ones, "we will be fortunate for the company."

There may have been more, but her penchant to become melancholy for the very things which sent chills down his spine (such as challenging, benevolent subterfuge) had turned her guilty focus to the raven, and this time, his eyes followed. She tried to recover, but the damage was done. "Genevieve was a earnest and patient companion and yes, I returned with Egris, and I will tell you all about her once our other work is done."

There was persistence and then there was resilience and his stare straddled the middle in the most intrusive manner. "By your queenly right, you get to go first and Benedict second, but going first means going now. Why did you silence him? What did he do, and just as importantly, what did you do to force his wing?" 
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