Better Counsel

Title: Better Counsel
Time Period: June 28, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Luna cheats death, Aislinn speaks of dreams, and Duncan, forced to ask for advice, seethes.

For having such a grievous injury, Luna Owens seems to be in a much better state a day after proper medical treatment. No one could have foreseen what Aislinn had found when the bandages were finally peeled off, no one except for the prostitute herself, but she had been hiding much of it due to her own vanity. Blackened skin had to be cut away in order to stitch what was left back together. The healer physician was merciful when she picked tiny sutures to save from too much scarring. Of course there will be some, it's unavoidable, but the Rowntree woman did her best as she always does.

A dislocated shoulder and sprained wrist were the easiest to deal with, after Luna finally consented to have someone touch her wrists. Even Duncan had a little bit of a time during the night, when nightmares woke her and sent her frightened into the bottom of her closet like a skittish mouse. Bruises from the metal cuffs on both haven't faded, likely after more rest and better health the bright colors will return to their natural palor but who knows how long they'll be imagined there.

In the daylight, after too many hours of sleep, she's happy. The militia leader hasn't been allowed to leave her side, the fingers of Luna's good hand laced tightly with his, she keeps him close. Maybe because she's afraid that if he walks out the door, he'll disappear. Of course Duncan obliges. All of this is what Aislinn is subjected to, plus conversation.

"But Duncan, you can't keep her locked away forever," on the matter of Constance, "she's safe, and she saved all of us."

There might have been some time when Duncan would have mounted a high horse and gone about his Duties, even and especially in the face of Luna's condition. He would have visited, of course - he never had trouble finding time to visit. But no night-long vigil would have been held. Long past that now, this he knows. All night, and he did not even formulate the first excuse. It did not even occur to him.

Not that some part of him doesn't gnash and strain at his self-fashioned chain. All that is brutal and effective in him revolts at being held in this room while out there strangers move about without his oversight. It is a cold comfort indeed that, if he wishes to keep his eye on the foreigners, the castle is just where he ought to be.

And he's not the only trapped Rowntree, as Luna points out. Duncan - eyes shadowed and bloodshot - still manages to smile, though only with some effort, and to agree, though only to a point: "Not forever. When I hand the key over to her husband, he's free to let her out and find his own way to deal with her."

Being the wife of the eldest Rowntree son means that Aislinn should be above basic physical labour. The family has servants for that, and more hands in the militia's soldiers than it probably knows what to do with, but Aislinn is not the type of woman who feels comfortable letting others do things for her if she's capable of doing them herself — it is the way she was raised, and the way she tries to raise her children.

This includes menial tasks like changing Luna's linens and the water in her basin, which she might as well while she's in the room after bringing up a plate of grilled kidneys, toasted bread and fresh, seasonal fruit from the kitchens downstairs. She is quiet as she goes about her current work: preparing a cup of medicated tea for Duncan's mistress to take with her meal. If she has anything to say on the matter, she does not volunteer it.

Duncan's mistress is nice enough not to call attention to the militia leader's sister in law, until she feels she might be losing some ground in their argument. Then Luna's eyes flit to Aislinn, pleading silently before she does the unthinkable and speaks her mind.

"She's not the sort for that, Duncan. She's your daughter through and through," her fingers clench his tightly in an attempt to keep him from ripping away. "Don't shut her up, you've tried it before and she ran away, aye? You're a lucky one, Duncan Rowntree, she ran away for adventure rather than doing something like I did." Which is join the ranks of the Dovetail. Once again, she glances at Aislinn, shifting uncomfortably as she tries to spy what sort of tea is being made. "Aislinn, please, tell him how it all turns out."

Duncan lifts a hand to his - admittedly weary - brow. But he laughs, and it's a true laugh- he's quite past being able to force it. "Luna, lady-" Duncan says, his hand falling from his brow and settling over Luna's clutching hand, squeezing, "I was jesting.

"She will find her world rather shrunk for some time, but I pledge, it is only so she can know that there is consequence, authority and punishment- I have no need to cast myself as an ogre." Maybe because he'd too-well fit the part.

For all that Duncan seems to at least enjoy the cult of true womanhood, Aislinn's refusal to give her work to other hands does not qualify for his opprobrium. Work is something he honors - often rather more than the worker themselves, but then again being a soldier tends to augment one's tolerance for the everydayness of peril and probability of violence upon one's body.

But when he lifts his hand, it's an abortive gesture. And not to ask that Aislinn withdraw her presence. "Sit," he bids, and maybe he knows that this word sounds terse beyond his intentions because his next words are gruff but civil. Ish.

"You rush about all the evening, tending to her wounds, while I sit in place like a block of wood?" Duncan says, and for once the reprove is not mean to be unkind, "you make my love look dim in comparison."

The tea's composition of dried stinging nettles colours the water a clean, clear green-brown and fills Aislinn's nose with its bite when she pours it into the cup, steam rolling against its sides and billowing off the spout of the pot. A towel held between her fingers and the handle protects her hand from scalding, even if the real danger here is getting burned in an entirely different way.

She sits on Duncan's instruction, choosing a seat nearby, but not before placing the cup of tea within Luna's easy reach. Still clutching the towel, her hands fold in her lap and she looks down at them while thumbing her wedding band.

"Constance is a willful girl," she says in what is probably a gentle attempt to help ease Luna's fears, "and old enough to fight her own battles, besides. If she wants for freedom, she will take it without needing any appeals from either you or I."

"Old enough to fight her own battles and more besides," Luna answers, trying to look between the two without turning her head too much. When she tires of her eyes resembling playground bouncing balls, she settles on the tea by lifting the cup sans saucer and holding it above her lap. "But— she's still young enough to run headlong into danger heedless of her own safety. You should've seen her, she was like a wee warrior maiden from books."

She takes a sip from the cup and the disappointment writes itself clearly across her face. While medicated, it's not the medicinal taste she was expecting and is therefore quickly repulsed by it. Luna doesn't say anything though but shoots a glance toward Aislinn before setting the cup back down where she found it. "I'm just worried that your jest isn't taken by her as such. I wouldn't want her to burn a bridge that she'll never be able to repair."

“Warrior maiden?” Duncan says, and if Constance could hear his tone, she would doubtless be wounded- “Last I heard, the girl was actress, nay? And it seems more that she read one of those damn books, and decided to take up that very role.”

“I will not jest with her. I will be very clear. But-” and his good temper trembles at the brink, perilous as he decides, “-that is quite enough of women telling a father how to discipline his child. We have another matter to discuss. Luna, lady- the vessel you took- the arms aboard, they are late coming?” This is mostly rhetorical; he’s received the details, he can take messages while on vigil, at least.

Duncan’s next question is not rhetorical, however. It is pressing, rather, from the sound. And it is for Aislinn. “Would she have died, had she come that much later?”

It's a simple question and should not require the amount of thought that Aislinn's silence suggests. She worries, instead, about the ramifications of the answer — but she does not lie. "If you were a man who believed in miracles," she says, "I would tell you yes. Otherwise, I caution against indebting yourself to these people.

"I see a red she-tiger in my dreams."

Satisfied and therefore somewhat obedient, Luna lets the matter of Constance drop. A little sheepish about leaving the weapons, treasure, and the rest of Duncan's people behind, she twists a bit of her blanket between her fingers and remains silent for the time it takes to straighten itself out.

"Our ship was slowed, we would have turned around to bring Constance back except we were closer to there than here. The sea serpent took a mast, tore a few of the sails, and put a hole in the hull before it died." Honestly, she doesn't know how far back it is but she can guess based on the time it took to get there. "It should be along any day now, you'll know it because the new sails are made from all the dresses I took." Which was a considerable chunk of her wardrobe.

“It’s not a matter of haste,” Duncan assures Luna, “it is-” he looks up to Aislinn, a citation,”a matter of- credit.”

And what’s this? Dreams? Omens, perchance? Splendid Some lucky lie-spinner or card shuffler might get a job out of this. Duncan’s face seems to regather the shadows he banished before, however briefly, and now they linger. The corner of his mouth twists down and his throat twitches as if readying to spit. He doesn’t, not in this company. But the sentiment emerges as a word: “Mages.”

Purged, he finds an answer quickly enough. It’s a simple matter. “We settle the account,” says he.

“To hand over that shaggy piece of shite is not repayment. It is a gift.”

Aislinn's grip on the towel tightens, fingers transforming into bony white sticks. There is tension in her jaw — Luna can see — as though she wants to say something on the piece of shite's behalf, but she traps her tongue behind the cage of her teeth.

She doesn't have to say anything to communicate the way she feels about this. The unhappiness fills her eyes and makes a mask of her face.

Luna's neck twists so fast to regard Duncan that it threatens to pull a few of her stitches from the skin they bind. Thankfully, that slight tug is enough to send the blonde woman's head back with a pained hiss. Letting his hand loose, she reaches across to her injured shoulder to cup the prickly threads against her palm.

"You can't give them the whole ship!" She protests, believing the shaggy thing to be the broken vessel. "We risked our lives for what's on it, and Constance's children… You can't just give them away."

Constance’s- children? Duncan absolutely is not ready to go down that road right now. It’s a bad idea to try two warpaths at once. “Not your ship, lady,” Duncan explains, “a man who washed ashore, bound in irons, some time past. A man who runs at the first sign of law.“ His look up at Aislinn is… significant. And it also lets him see her expression.

So yes yes, Duncan is aware of Aislinn’s disapproval. So lucky for her that no one managed to save her loved ones, and spared her the burden of a similar debt. “The jumpy bastard put a man in sorer shape even than that of the woman these shifty outlanders saved from perishing,” he says, making what maybe he thinks is a good effort to sound patient.

“You say I should avoid a debt, lest I’m e’t by a dream beastie, isn’t it so? Fine- if we can’t give them what they came here to get what shall we do to see them gone henceforth and forthwith, and both right quick?”

Aislinn stops fidgeting with her ring long enough to appreciate its weight on her finger. "I know only my heart, Donagh," she says, and although she can feel Duncan's eyes on her she does not look up at him, having no desire to see what is on his face as he sees what is on hers. "Seek better counsel."

"They don't seem beastly to me," Luna states quietly, an opinion not meant to shed any shadows on the conversation. A small statement to keep her conscience clear in the case of her rescuers. "But, if Aislinn feels poorly about giving them what they want then I might have a suggestion." A slight incline in tone at the end of her speech turns it into a question.

Licking her lips, Luna clears her throat with a little hem before continuing. "Send them off chasing a wild goose. Set the man free, if he washed up in irons then he'd be good at running, aye? Put them on a trail that's false, how many times does it happen in a hunt? And it could bide the time you need to think of something better. They may never double back to Dornie at all."

If Duncan had known that forcing that first rather bracing choice on Aislinn would make her so bullheadedly determined to never make a… challenging decision ever again, perhaps- ah but what’s past is past. Only the dead live there.

The time it takes for Duncan to answer means he did in fact hear Luna. More, it means he’s thinking about what she said. And when he does reply, it is with - cautious - consideration. “Mayhaps-” he says, admitted that the idea is being entertained, “but- it maddens me- one never quite knows the measure of a mage.”

Oh, but is he being insensitive. His eyes rise to the party present who might take offence to his generalization. And then it occurs to him.

“They might find it harder to mislead one of their own kind,” is a rather pointed suggestion.

Now Aislinn does look up. Although simple, she isn't slow — she knows what Duncan means before she's seeking confirmation from his eyes. The stigma attached to her gift is one she has lived with for as long as she's had it, and if she forgives Duncan for anything it's for the way he feels toward her and those like her, so it isn't indignation or offense that dictates her expression.

It's wariness. Tigers are not known to be discriminating in their taste for flesh.

"What would you have me do?"

Luna's brow furrows and her head twitches as if it's about to shake no. Aislinn's expression bleeds into her own and she glances up at the soldier. Parting her lips, she grabs Duncan's hand again and looks up at him. "Nothing dangerous," she quickly interjects on his behalf, welcome or not, "perhaps we could have tea together. They've been good to me and I'd like a chance to further talk with them, thank them."

It's a hope that Aislinn won't risk herself to comply with Duncan's request but given this visit, Luna's not quite sure. "I can blend some lovely tea, fit for talking."

Duncan meets Luna’s eyes, her imploring her face. Feels her hand on his. “Very well-” But don’t think this is the end of it. Not by any means. Luna will have a whole list of caveats and concerns that Duncan will ensure she is mindful of. Don’t drink anything they prepare. Don’t accept any gifts from them. If they start speaking an unknown language, cover your ears. Don’t look them in the eye. Carry a mirror over your heart.

“We can discuss the extent of your ability,” Duncan says, in answer to Aislinn, “- and the limits of your comfort - when we’ve the rest needed to assess.”

Aislinn is thankful that she has the opportunity to consult with her husband before she consents to anything, and consent she likely will, regardless of the danger Luna promises she won't face.

She has a responsibility to this family.

"Aye," she says, rising from her seat. She folds the towel and lays it on the nightstand. "If the lady has no further need of me, I should like to make sure Ariel eats before his riding lessons."

Were it anyone else in the castle, Luna might puff out her chest with pride at being addressed in such an important manner, but it's Aislinn— a woman who has come to her aid countless times over the years to cure all sorts of ills, real and imagined.

"Not the lady, Ma'am, just Luna, same as ever." Disappointment rules her countenance, something that the mage doesn't need her gift to feel or see, evidenced by the fact that Duncan can likely sense that something's a bit off with her as well. The hold on his hand grows slack and her fingers curl slightly, almost withdrawing from his completely. "Thank you for everything you've done, for bringing me back." Back from death's grip.

“She may call you lady, if I do,” Duncan says, his fingers chasing hers. None of that. She’s been away long enough, in body and spirit. “And I would not mind having some moments-” Yes, this means- Aislinn may feel free to go.

But before she does- “Aislinn-” his way with her name is to almost never use it, and when he speaks the sentiment, he covers it as if a shadow to Luna’s, an addendum. But still, he says, “thank you.”

"Tá fáilte romhaibh," says Aislinn as she sweeps out the door. You're welcome.