Encouraging the Process Along

Title: Encouraging the Process Along
Time Period: June 19, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Aislinn seeks the solution to one of Sorcha's problems.

It isn't very long after that she'd requested his presence that Aislinn Rowntree is told that Fletcher Cruikshank is waiting for her in the library. His back is to the door after getting out of the seat he'd first claimed, keeping his hands to himself and standing with his head very tilted so as to best scan book spines, perhaps in vague suspicion of any of them being his— but also plain interest.

He isn't as nervous as he would be had it been any other Rowntree doing the summoning, but it doesn't relieve him entirely of anxiety; it could be a trick, or Aislinn could be as much a monster as anyone, because for all that he's seen nothing but kindness from her, he doesn't believe in the inherent good of people. He has brought with him his familiar, and Keeps-to-the-Shade has found a high perch to clean her wings while waiting as he does. His feet are bare but haven't left any more tracks on the ground than shoes might, even if the bottoms of them are dark from use, almost animal-like.

Adorned, too, in a customary amount of wood and glass finery, even the glint of metal here and there. Fingernails scratch through the scraggle at his jaw, and he inches along the length of shelving.

Aislinn sometimes forgets how much power the Rowntree name wields. This may be because she makes a point to avoid passing the settlement’s gallows when she can, deliberately sparing herself from the reminder that she’s married into a family of murderers. She does not like to imagine, either, what her brothers would think of her if they knew - the whispers spoken from the mouths of Rannoch’s other survivors are hurtful enough even though she knows they aren’t ever meant to reach her ears.

Any occasion when she can use her influence to help others rather than harm them is a welcome change from the feelings of guilt she’s struggled to suppress since her wedding night, and although giving Sorcha and her absent husband a babe does not atone for the sins she fears she’s committed through her complacency - it’s better than complete ambivalence. She sweeps into the room in a plain dress of white muslin with a loosely draped wool shawl to protect the bare skin of her throat and long, pale arms from the draughts the castle’s architecture makes it so prone to.

Like Cruikshank, she isn’t wearing any shoes, but her feet are freshly washed, nails trimmed and skin rubbed down with a beeswax cream that smells of peppermint. The sound of a porcelain bowl filled with wild blackberries picked from the wood on the edge of the loch announces her presence as she sets it down on a table beside one of the high-backed leather chairs positioned in front of the hearth.

Keeps-to-the-Shade will like them, Hush had said, and so here they are.

A sudden flap through the air says that Hush was quite correct; black and white wings, tinged metallic blue, fluster and flap until the bird lands squarely on the table. Cruikshank turns in time to see Shade stick her beak in the offering without much in the way of hesitation, and he lets protest flicker undisguised across angular features but he lets it go. Of course she would feed from the bowl of a woman whose family kept her prisoner and threatened clipped wings, and then turns around and calls Fletcher unwise.

His empty hands flutter, to convey he hasn't touched anything, then sort of points an elbow towards the table and his feasting bird. "Cheers."

"It's all right," Aislinn says. "Donagh's not in, and Marcas is down at the stables telling my husband how handsome he thinks the new foals are." She sits down on the arm of the chair, warming herself by the fire, and folds her hands in her lap while she watches Cruikshank's familiar bleed blackberry juice into the bottom of the bowl.

"I used to take my sons foraging in the wood. We'd fill baskets with berries and nettles, pick through the leaves to find the best mushrooms, but those were all my littlest was ever interested in - blackberries and staining his hands and teeth." She reaches out as if to stroke the magpie's back with her knuckle; instead, a wood mouse pokes its nose out from her sleeve and, whiskers twitching, joins Keeps-to-the-Shade at the bowl.

Hush picks up a large, plump blackberry in his pink-toed paws and offers it up to the other familiar with a polite squeak.

"Do you have any children?"

He follows suit, edging a chair around so that he can take a seat on the other side of the table. The castle retains the chill, and settling by the fire is good, watching a little the antics of shared familiars, particularly when Shade sweetly takes the offered berry to gulp down. His listening to Aislinn is of half-interest - he isn't sure he has much feeling towards the antics of the privileged children of clan Rowntree, but he has interest for why she might be telling him.

"Pardon?" Fletcher's more physical attention veers back towards Aislinn once her story of children diverts towards questions about his hypothetical ones. "Oh, no. Not here— or anywhere, I'm sure." He doesn't add that he usually makes sure of such a thing; some women are inclined to clutch their pearls at the idea of birth control, while others see it as necessary.

"This family's seed is strong. Eamonn gave me Ariel before I was sure I wanted him, but not all mothers and fathers are so lucky." The corners of Aislinn's mouth tighten around what looks like it could be a smile, but her expression is a little wan and her eyes sad, for as much as she treasures her two sons she still mourns for her lost daughter.

"I have a friend," she says, "who asked me to speak with you on her behalf. Her husband is out at sea for most of the year, and what little time they spend together hasn't been as— fruitful as I think they might have hoped.

"Can you help?"

For a moment, Cruikshank is blank as to what Aislinn is asking of him. Help how? Does Fletcher want children? But his own diverting thoughts with regard to what his magic could prevent is what has that puzzle piece click into place before he can ask something embarrassing.

A hand goes out, brushing his knuckles against the folded curve of Shade's wing, and she tolerates it, too busy eating. It probably won't occur to her to return the gesture that Hush showed her, but she will, at least, share room with the little mouse. "Something to encourage the process along, you mean?"

Hush seems not to mind. He busies himself with grooming his paws, tongue licking at the blackberry juice stuck to his fur and between his toes. When he seeks out a berry for himself, it's much smaller than the one given to Keeps-to-the-Shade, which is just as well because he opts to eat it like an oddly-shaped ear of purple corn.

"Aye," says Aislinn. "A fertility charm, if you can make one. I'll see that you're rewarded for your efforts."

"I can make one," Cruikshank says, after a second of consideration, because he does try, sometimes, to think before he speaks. "With pine needles, and a lock of the lady's hair, to be worn after her bleeding time and hung above the marriage bed when they're in it." He actually curbs his words a bit, mostly so as not to speak too commonly in front of someone of a more refined way of life than his friend the prostitutes or his own neighbours. "She must, of course, be certain she wants it. It will work, and she won't like what comes to her if she decides to poison it out of her again."

"What woman does?" asks Aislinn, maybe rhetorically, or maybe not - it's no secret that she doesn't condone abortions, and those who have come to her door asking her to terminate their pregnancy have been told to search their hearts and turned away with the rare exception of women whose conditions are a death sentence.

There have been one or two since the Rowntrees brought her to Dornie. She tries not to think about them very often, or very hard.

"Will you need anything else?"

That first question has Cruikshank hesitating, before deciding not to address it head on. "It's just that a lot've people might see what I do as peasant superstition, something that might only work by chance and coincidence, that offers no repercussion if used unwisely," he presses. "But it's a tool, as certain as anything." He hesitates again, but leaves it there: guaranteed payment implies that Aislinn and the woman she's speaking for is being responsible.

Guarantees that Cruikshank doesn't actually care that much either. "Only a bit've time to collect what I need myself, and the woman to meet with me to receive it."

Aislinn rises from the chair, scooping up Hush in the palm of her hand - who is a little put off at being separated from his friend, but she apologizes by bringing him to her face and touching her nose to his. The tiny mouse presses a whiskery kiss against her, and gives Keeps-to-the-Shade a chirp of farewell before disappearing into Aislinn's sleeve.

"Then thank you. You'll make a young family very happy."

The bowl trembles when it's hit by a wing, Shade launching off the table to land on Fletcher's shoulder. At her instruction, he goes to take a handful of berries without really thinking, nor mind when the dark, staining juice of it prints stickily on his palm and fingers.

"I'll have a message sent, when I'm ready."