Cautionary Tales

Title: Cautionary Tale
Time Period: November, 134 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: In need of direction, Elvira is found in Dornie by Duncan, and winds up doing precisely what her brother instructed her not to do. Despite the attempted guidance of his familiar.

The day is still early when Elvira Banes makes her way into Dornie proper, all heavy grey wool and muted denim. Perched on her shoulder is a small, red-breasted bird, mostly concealed by her long, chestnut curls. The sky, while cloudy, is mercifully free of rain on the foreseeable horizon. It just means the patches of sunshine that break through are fewer and farther between than one might actually like, not quite permeating the lingering morning chill just yet.

Elvira's destination, the apothecary, is one of Dornie's well-kept secrets, it seems. While she's overheard that such a place exists, she has yet to actually find it. Frustratedly, she stops between two buildings and lets out a quiet huff. "See anything I don't?" she asks her companion, even if she won't be able to readily interpret the answer.

The bird seems content from where it stands, wrapped in hair on the woman's shoulder. You'd never know it's actually quite annoyed by it. No one would, really, except it's owner - who happens to not be the woman it rides with at the moment. Still, it remains largely quiet, it's tiny little head darting back and forth as it takes in the surrounding area, listening as best it can to both Elvira and the passers-by for anything that might prove a bit interesting. It looks active, attentive, but not really willing to leave it's spot unless provoked by force.

Dark coat, dark horse, dark slacks. Under the cloud cover, there is little about Duncan that is not shades of dark, besides the red brand of his hair, flickering above his stoney features as he surveys his surroundings from his mounted vantage. He's alone once more, quite the show of confidence if not vainglory, and why he is in this particular part of the settlement - no hub of activity this region - is anyone's guess.

And it just so happens that he spies a familiar face. Pretty faces tend to be more familiar - that and truly ugly ones.

Duncan does not speed up, but rather allows himself to gradually approach before giving the reins a light tug and halting, his elongated shadow dipping over Elvira, the cotton-covered lamped of the sun casting his figure in dim silhouette.

"Good morning," he says, civil enough.

"Oh, good," Elvira chimes cheerfully to Fake when she can hear the fall of hooves approaching. "I can ask for directi- Oh no." Her face falls as she turns and recognises the rider. Beneath the heavy weave of her sweater, the woman's shoulders tense.

By the time that shadow is looming over her, however, she's all cordiality. "Ser Rowntree," Elvira greets pleasantly enough. The name is spoken, however, more for Fake's benefit. He hadn't been about when they were initially set upon. "Good morning. Perhaps you could help me?"

If Fake were still in his usual form, he would no doubt be attempting to look somewhat menacing to the approaching Rowntree. Seeing as that's not an option, however, Fake tries the next best available one - hopping closer to Elvira's neck and deeper into her hair, in the hopes of remaining out of sight while he overhears their conversation. Never mind the risk of getting tangle din her hair - it'll sort itself out.

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," Duncan replies, moving from civil right into cordial - assuming he is not being snide, or ironic. It is terrifically hard to tell - the unerring steadiness of his gaze gives little in the way of hints, nor does the low, carrying intonation of his voice. "And there are few better to ask."

"Of that I am quite certain." It would take a bit less frost for that to come of as ego stroking as Elvira perhaps intended it to. "I've lost my way, it seems. I'm told there's an apothecary somewhere in Dornie, but I seem to be having difficulty locating it…" Now she does give him doe eyes, as though warming up to him. Seemingly genuinely so, in fact.

He might just be smiling. No- indeed, that is a smile on Duncan's lips. Not so rare, not always so vicious. Perhaps this is a decent man, in the right circumstances. "I know the place," he says and, without further ado, dismounts in an easy motion and sets his feet down on not yet frost-bound earth. He reaches up to take his horse's reigns, then extends his hand. "I will take you there."

A tip of his head towards the empty saddle indicates that she need not walk.

One hand comes up to cover her mouth, as though surprised by the generous offer. It masks the movement of lips. "Not a word," Elvira mutters under her breath and out of the corner of her mouth closest to the small bird on her shoulder. With an easy enough smile, she then cuts the distance between herself and Duncan to take him up on his offer. She is never going to hear the end of this from Arthur. He'll be insufferable for days.

She could jump in the bay and get it over with, couldn't she?

"Thank you so much," is far more polite than what her brother will suggest she should have said. "It is so good of you to do this for me." Feigning a small amount of helplessness, she waits for Duncan's assistance, rather than simply mount the horse on her own.

A bumpy horseback ride where one is likely to get caught up in the woman he's watching's hair is not Fake's idea of a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, so it is with a sudden burst of energy that the bird flutters out from under her chestnut hair, tugging gently for just a moment as he predictably gets cause. Yes, he heard what she said. Will he comply?

The history between them says no.

No longer bound to perching on Elvie's shoulder, Fake first flutters up to the top of her head, and then off to settle on Duncan's shoulder, head twitching about as the bird looks up and around, almost as if inspecting the man.

The helplessness was assumed from the start. That hand is for her. He gives his callused palm up as support, assisting her ascent into the vacant saddle, and guiding her into a lady-like side-saddle. When she is secure, he takes the reigns firmly in hand, and begins to walk them in a half-chivalrous procession towards a narrow side street.

"I'll accept gratitude," Duncan says, "but I'd just as soon have your name."

He's looking up at her, awaiting a reply, when he find himself the object of avian investigation. There is a momentary flattening of his features, an emptying of affect that suggests he is maybe not the biggest fan of surprises. But a bird hardly seems a looming threat. Unless… "Yours?" Duncan inquires. His voice is carefully neutral - a tone of suspicion gets defensiveness from innocent and guilty alike.

"Oh, goodness. Yes. That's mine." She could cook Fake for breakfast right along eggs and bacon for this stunt. "Darling, come back here." She holds out to her hand toward the wayward familiar, keeping the warning edge in her tone dull. "Still training him. He's just so awfully cute," she offers by way of defense. On both their parts.

"I'm Elvira Banes, ser." If Fake doesn't start plucking her hair out to build a nest for this, it'll be a miracle. "And you do have my gratitude, I assure you. I apologise for my creature's behaviour."

If a bird could properly glare, then he would be doing it at this moment; he ceases his hops and looks along Duncan's shoulder (but not without one peck at his clothing) to stare at Elvira, his way of letting her know that he's dangerously close to flying off and leaving her on her own. Not that he's really doing much to help, apparently. Seeming reluctant, the small bird hops a time or two towards it's "owner" before taking back to the air and on to the top of her head/

"And what is your trade, Miss Banes?" Duncan says, assuming unmarried status to a woman so young, and lacking in visible signs. He appears to take her 'pet' bird in stride - Fake receives only a brief investigative glance when he alights upon Elvira's head - unless of course the question as to her vocation is itself an implicit interrogation. His stride is long, but the pace is leisurely. He doesn't seem to be in a rush. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"Are you a songbird trainer?"

Is he making fun of her?

Elvira will be so many shades of apologetic later to her brother's familiar. Both truly believe they're helping the other in this case, however. "I'm a storyteller, actually," she corrects as she reaches up to ruffle Fake's feathers affectionately. Sorry. If Duncan is poking fun, she's choosing to ignore it entirely.

The bird stretches out it's feathers, though it's hard to tell if this is really acceptance of Elvira's apology or not. He pecks once at the top of her head, as if to make a point, before fluttering gently back down to where he was originally perched on her shoulder, as if nothing had happened at all.

Duncan's brows lift - how could he have forgotten? "Ah yes- you brother mentioned that." So she's kept to her story - something a storyteller would do. Which is the trouble with storytellers, being only a more honest kind of liar. "I'd ask you for a story, but you might think I was asking payment. I'm giving this freely. But if you have charity enough to spare a tale- we can both be virtuous today."

There's a wince at the peck to her head, but it could be worse. Elvira welcomes Fake's return to her shoulder. "It may be my livelihood, but I don't mind a freebie now and then." That's what she said. If Arthur were here, she's sure he'd be snickering at her choice of words. And then she'd have to throw something at him. Probably Fake.

"What sort of story would you like to hear, Ser Rowntree? When I was younger, I used to make up stories about the constellations." Constellations she could never recall the proper names of, but at least got somewhere close. And her audiences are generally children. Or her brother, who's still fairly childish if you ask her.

"I have," she adds after a moment of consideration, "heard tell of a wandering dragon slayer while I was travelling. But it's a new story to me, and I've not given much consideration yet to how I would embellish and elaborate on it to make it as spectacular as it should be."

Uneasily steadying himself on Elvira's shoulder, the bird's gaze seems to stay mostly focused towards Duncan, save the occasional twittering around and head darting and bobbing as it pecks at specks on Elvira's shoulder. Mostly because it doesn't want to look too focused on Duncan - looking natural is part of the whole point after all, isn't it? A chirp thrown in now and then just for added effect, Fake seems content to listen to the pair's conversation for now.

"Watch your head, lass," Duncan advises, as he walks the bird upon the lady upon the horse under some laundry lines, their linen and flax burdens fluttering like glum pennants beneath the overcast sky.

A man of the barracks and the brothel, Duncan may not be beyond making Arthur's observation in absentia. But he doesn't snicker. He doesn't even smile. He merely comments: "If you're skilled enough, generosity now may encourage business later." An economic insight that applies across all professions, including the oldest.

Fake doesn't receive so much as a glance from Duncan, though it's likely that a career strongarm has a way of keeping an eye on things he's not looking directly at. Still, it offers Fake the advantage.

"A storyteller should make measure of her audience, shouldn't she? Show me the full range of your craft. Tell me the tale you think I'd like best." He looks over his shoulder at Elvira, then glances down at himself, gesturally. "Do I look like a man who enjoys dragonslayer stories?"

Ducking her head, Elvira also instinctively cups a hand around the little bird on her shoulder, as if the shroud of her hair weren't enough obfuscation. Or that somehow he would still be in danger dismount by fluttering cotton. "You look as though you would be the subject of the tales of dragonslayers," the woman observes. "Now, the question is whether I surmise that you're the sort who enjoys stories about others like himself, or if you're the kind that prefers to hear of experiences that you don't otherwise have."

Green eyes narrow, as if assessing Duncan. "But are all other experiences too mundane for you?" Whatever her decision, she begins her tale. "There was once a laundress, young, unremarkable, and also so very alone, who would do her work at the nearby river. She felt at one with the serenity of the rushing water and the forest, and so though she was quite burdened by her work, she found a great deal of solace in her surroundings…"

The story carries on, and becomes a cautionary tale about the dangers of magical creatures, as a river sprite befriended the lonely laundress. With the best of intentions, the sprite attempted to bring its friend into its world, only to drown her. "The peace sought in the company of magic," Elvira concludes, "rarely comes without a price."

Duncan keeps his head pointed forward, listening with face hidden from the storyteller, denying any access to his reaction beyond even the usual stoicism of his mien. The tale unravels the time of travel, taking the presence of mind from stride and step and leaving the body to go about its ambulatory business. By the time the story's cautionary end comes 'round, Elvira and her avian companion can see a storefront, hung with garlands of fragrant herbs. Their destination, surely.

Duncan brings the horse to a halt and steps around to the creature's side, one hand still on the reins.

"A story with a lesson well informed by experience," Duncan says, tone one of agreement - in that respect, at least, the tale seems to have been well chosen, "did you encounter magic on your travels?" He offers his hand to help her dismount, even as he poses another question, "did magic travel with you?"

It's another one of those times where if Fake could properly make a human facial expression, he would, this time in the form of a scouring look in Duncan's direction. For a bird who often plays at inconspicuous, his reaction to the question is noticeable in the way he stills, wings stretching out to their full (but very short) berth, a series of chirps - intended to be angry ones, but not nearly coming out that way - following. It's an odd display for such a small songbird, assuredly, Fake burying himself a bit deeper into Elvira's hair afterwards, regardless of any tangling risks. Maybe, it would seem, he just doesn't like tales of magic? Hard to tell, or so he hopes.

Duncan's hand remains, awaiting her own, until the moment she takes it. His assistance, just like the 'escort' to Dornie, appears to be more expectation than offer. "A storyteller's answer," he comments, dry but not unkind, "being no answer at all. Be careful, lass. Elusive answers can arouse suspicion in some people, however baseless."

As he assists Elvira descend from her perch, her pet bird's commotion cannot fail to draw attention, nor comment. "I've upset your friend," he notes, still holding Elvira's hand in his, "does he object to my being so familiar?"

Elvira reaches up to rub one finger over the songbird's chest reassuringly. She'd be telling him to calm down, and that she's got this if she could. Surely he must trust her by now. Surely. "It may be a storyteller's answer, but it is something I also firmly believe. Whatever the world was like before the Exodus, there is no going back. Magic is not to be trifled with, but it cannot be ignored."

Taking Duncan's hand, she accepts the assistance on the dismount, whether she required it or not. "I suppose he must be jealous," Elvira supplies with a shrug of the shoulder opposite the creature in question, so as not to upset Fake's perch. She has to wonder if he chose the word familiar deliberately. "Do you find me to be suspicious?" she asks playfully.

The gesture isn't entirely calming, but if anything, it and Duncan's comment are sign enough that he's acting out of place, and so Fake returns to his previous demeanour, curious and inspecting as he looks around the immediate area from Elvira's shoulder. Though if he still had talons, he'd be digging them into the woman's shoulder after that question - asking for trouble is exactly what he's supposed to be keeping her from doing.

"He oughtn't to be. I'm no competition. I'm a poor singer."

Duncan seems to be taking Elvira's evasion in stride, along with her playfulness. No further questions regarding magic seem immediately forthcoming though, yes, that was a suspicious choice of words.

"Suspicion is an ugly, masked thing," though, as Duncan avers, "I am-" his smile is such a subtle thing, his features granting it only a hinted, half-presence, "curious."

Something churns in the pit of Elvira's stomach, but you would never know it from the faint smile on her face and the light in her eyes. "You've been very kind to me, ser." And she rest her free hand over the top of the hand he holds her other with. "I wonder if you could do just one more favour for me?"

Suspicion is a sentiment that Duncan and Fake have in common, at least, the small bird peering out from where it has hidden itself in her hair, before taking back ot the air, this time choosing to land on the saddle of the animal they have just vacated. Wings flutter, eyes looking around as he tries to watch Duncan and Elvie carefully.

"I've lived long and learned well enough not to promise favors before hearing terms, especially when petitioned by a beautiful woman," Duncan says. This is not a refusal, but any means. His hand remains clasped between hers, and his expression is attentive. He's listening, at the very least.

"There's a bracelet that I seem to have misplaced on the journey here." Elvira believes she knows better than to accuse Duncan or any member of his militia of taking it. "A simple copper thing, with charms shaped like four-leaf clovers. It was my mother's, so I'm incredibly distressed by its loss. I was wondering if perhaps you or one of yours may have spotted it."

This clarification earns a small exhalation, a soft huff of breath indicating- what? The reaction is minimal, ambiguous, but present. It also marks a pause before his answer.

"I will look into it," is all he can pledge - that bracelet may be most anywhere by now. It could have been traded for a round of drinks, or bartered away for some more practical object. It might well be fastened around a favored whore's ankle.

"If I find it, you will have to tell me its story upon its return, as well as your own. You'd be kind to sate my curiosity."

"Certainly." Hope brightens her face artificially. "I will be more than happy to tell you any story you like if you can find my mother's bracelet. It would mean a very great deal to me." She squeezes Duncan's hand in both of hers before withdrawing. "I should set about getting my errands run," she murmurs, as though the idea that she must take her leave is regrettable. "But I imagine we shall cross paths again soon."

Reaching out toward the horse's saddle, she extends one finger for Fake to hop onto. "Come along, darling. We mustn't tarry." Before she turns away, Elvira drops into a curtsey. "Ser Rowntree." Only once she disappears inside the apothecary does her face fall and her stomach properly drop. "Not a word to Arthur," she begs the familiar in a whispered hush. "Allow me to confess my own failings."

Lingering fear is swallowed down. Tea sounds awful good at the moment.