A Balancing Act

Title: A Balancing Act
Time Period: July 24, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: A newcomer is greeted at the inn by one of the less likely to tout Dornie's charms.

The common room of the inn is quiet enough this time of day; it's just late afternoon, so the throngs of people coming to drink ale late into the night have yet to leave the docks, the factories, or their wives and children back at home. Only one of the tables is currently occupied; what looks to be a journal is open beside a bowl of stew and a pint of cider. The food and drink are being ignored as the man who occupies the seat hurriedly writes with a small, worn-down pencil, the words rushed and scrawled across the page as if he's chasing them before they disappear.

Once in a while he'll shake his head and look up and wait, then write again. His hair, too long and in need of cutting, is a bit unkempt, and he looks too thin for his tall frame. Perhaps because he isn't eating his stew.

The door opens, and for a moment it seems like the sunny day might have gone cloudy. That is, until a rather large man passes through the doorway and the light shines behind a much smaller man in his wake. The large man is pulling a wheeled trunk and dressed in shades of tweed with a bowler hat.

The man in his wake - that would be Malachy - is dressed in expensive-looking fabric that hardly seems touched from the road they were both clearly just on. He walks up to the counter to speak with whoever is manning the counter (likely the same person who is manning the bar.) A mumbled conversation ensues, and then the large man is directed off to one of the rooms while Malachy steps towards the common area, one hand resting in the pocket of his trousers. His footfalls make conspicuously loud steps against the wooden floor. Those are not the footfalls of a working man in well-worn footwear. His gaze comes to rest on the man and his book. He displays faint interest, but it seems, at least for the moment, he's not going to break the ice.

Realizing he's being watched, Beisdean murmurs something quietly — though it's clearly not to Malachy — that sounds like, "Enough. For now." He finishes the sentence he's working on, then closes the journal, using the pencil as a bookmark. A hand, shaking just slightly, goes to his glass and he takes a long swallow of the cider, his eyes on a spot a few feet in front of him, but focused. Finally, he turns to look at where Malachy stands.

"Afternoon," Beisdean says with a nod, polite and not overly welcoming, but there is a hint of curiosity in his expression.

Malachy slides his thumbs beneath the edges of his jacket lapels. It seems to be an habitual movement rather than any practical wardrobe correction. He cants his head and more formally acknowledges Beisdean. "How large is this settlement? How many people?" The question is calm and polite, despite the lack of preamble. He's verly clearly Irish - even with only a few words out of his mouth.

A brow tics up at the abrupt question with no real greeting prior. "A couple, three thousand maybe? Give or take," Beisdean says with a shrug, picking up his spoon and beginning to stir his stew. "More than most, anyway." His own words are Scottish but a little less overtly so than most of those Malachy has probably encountered in his travels on Scottish land. "You from Ireland, then? We've a few of your countryfolk here. Is life so dire there that everyone finds it so much richer here in Dornie? I've never been, myself."

Malachy seems pleased by the answer, whatever his reasons for asking it. A tiniest hint of a smile plays across his lips. He seems lost in thought for a moment, then turns his attention fully to the other man. He strides towards Beisdean's table and stops a conversational distance away. "I've been away from home for a good long while. I couldn't speak to its current conditions."

Beisdean lifts a hand to gesture at the chair across from him, to indicate the man can sit if he wishes. "I'd been away from mine too for half my life, but it seems fate is determined I should not only come back, but remain." There's something irritated in the words, but the man doesn't elaborate. "It's not a bad town; cleaner and safer than most, anyway. Most newcomers seem to like it — perhaps if I were new to it, I'd like it, too."

He smiles, and offers the hand to the other man. "Beisdean Skye."

Malachy pops open the button on the front of his suit jacket, then takes a seat. "I've spent far too much time in small places, full of people who are suspicious or overly curious about outsiders." There's a note of annoyance in his tone. "This town has more people gathered than I have come across in a good long while." He eyes the hand a moment, then reaches across to shake. "Malachy Lynch." One might expect his hands to be soft and uncalloused, but it's the opposite. He might dress like a rich man, but he has a working man's hands.

"Oh, people are still suspicious and overly curious here," Beisdean warns. "I think you'd need a city the size of those lost to us, full of people who don't know one another's names, business, or what they ate for dinner yesterday. D'you know, I used to work in a bookshop, down in England when I lived there, and one of the books I saw there was something they called a 'yearbook.' From a school, aye? There were as many people in that book as we have living here in this town, and those were only a small part of the population, children in their last four years of childhood, from just one of several schools in the city at that time. I read that thing backwards and forwards, it fascinated me so. Imagine a city where just a small number of the children would make up the size of our entire town."

Beisdean shakes his head, and there's a wistful tone to his voice. "So what brings you here?"

Malachy listens politely, but there's something in rather expressive dark eyes that gives away the fact that he might not actually care very much about the yearbook business. If that's so, at least he has the manners not to say it outright. "I grew up on the outskirts of Dublin. What's left of it, anyway. It's easier to imagine how many people used to be about when you see the remnants every day." He folds his hands in front of him and regards the other man. "I'm searching for new clients."

"Aye, I've been through a few ruined cities myself," Beisdean says, though he doesn't elaborate on which. He lifts the glass of cider for another swallow, before nodding to the other man again. "And for what sort of business?" he asks.

"I make deals. I give people what they want or what they need." Malachy's voice is even and soft. He holds eye contact if Beisdean will give it. "In exchange for what I want and need. I'm hoping this town will make use of my services."

Brows knit as Beisdean's blue eyes study Malachy's brown. "What they want or need," he echoes, as if he doesn't believe it. "They don't have any lads down at the Dovetail, but you could be the first," he quips. "The town's a bit backward in that sort of thinking, but maybe it's time to shake it up some, aye?" His tone is joking; he clearly doesn't believe that's what the man means by "services."

That makes Malachy crack a smile. It flickers off quickly enough, though amusement remains in his eyes a moment longer. Then he clarifies. "Magical favours. My ability is rather hard to explain. I've never encountered anyone else who can do what I do."

Beisdean raises a brow again. "I've only met one with my brand of curse, but even then, his was a tad different than my own. I wonder if anyone has quite the same as another, or if it's something like snowflakes or fingerprints or anything else that's theoretically unique in its method and its madness. How's it work?" There's a slight pause, and then he adds, "Could you take away another man's magic?"'

Malachy considers that for a moment. "Possibly. I've never tried. But the way it works is like a pair of scales. They must be balanced." He holds his hands out, palms up, as if they were scales. "So if you add something," one hand drops, "something else must be taken away." The other hand raises. "If I take something away, you might not like what gets added. Taking away gifts, for some reason, seem to command a higher cost."

Malachy's hands are watched, and Beisdean continues to stare for a moment at the table as if to consider the two piles, the gain and the cost. He shakes his head. "I cannot begin to imagine," he says with a slow shake of his head. "But apparently you get enough of a call for it. I suppose either greed wins out or selflessness, depending on what they need?" He finally reaches for the spoon again to take a few mouthfuls of what must be lukewarm stew at this point.

"But if the want is small, so is the cost," says Malachy. He lets his hands drop. "I'm willing to grant small exchanges. It doesn't have to be things that change your life. Fixing a bad knee might mean you go gray faster, for instance." He folds his hands in front of him again. "When I start the process, I can sense what the cost would be. I can control it for the most part. Except when I try to give too much while taking too little. It will either self-correct or take it out on me."

There's a rueful and vain smile as Beisdean's hand goes to tuck a strand of hair back behind his ears; the temples there are already gray, though he doesn't seem to be much older than Malachy. "Interesting. And how does it take it out on you?" he asks, now curiosity for curiosity's sake — whatever he was considering about losing an ability seems to have been set aside.

Malachy works his jaw to one side, as if he's considering whether or not to actually reveal anything to the other man. His teeth clack together. "It varies. But let's just say that it's not pleasant. And not something I would endure for my average client."

Beisdean nods. "Something like that would cost more, I imagine." He finishes one last spoonful of stew and sets the bowl aside. "I imagine you'll find some takers, at any rate. Some of the folks are a bit touchy about magic — Mrs. Ferrier, the seamstress, for example. But the town's aristocrats, so to speak, they're not completely adverse, I don't think, though not very heavy in the magic sorts themselves. The Rosses, the Rowntrees, that'd be."

He picks up his journal and rises, offering his hand once more to the other. "Welcome to Dornie, Mr. Lynch. I've some things to sort out, so you'll excuse me?"

"Of course. I should see to my accomodations. Thank you for the primer, Mister Skye. This town may be larger than most, but it's not a place to get lost in. I've no doubt I'll see you again." Malachy stands and re-fastens the clasp at the front of his jacket and straightens the lapels again. Seems the hulking man was waiting obediantly for him to finish, because he reappears now that Mal is standing. He nods towards Beisdan and heads towards Stanz.