Gifts from Strangers

Title: Gifts from Strangers
Time Period: January 5, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: A stolen bracelet is a serious matter.

Bedtimes are for young girls.

It's late enough that any young girl should have already crawled into bed, and likely late enough that their parents might have as well. For the young woman seated by the fire, curled up in a chair and a blanket tucked around her lap, she has decided that reading is preferable to bed. While she could have settled by the fire upstairs in her own room, the fire had long since gone out.

Instead, Constance Rowntree sits by the fire in one of the more common living areas in Eilean Donan Castle, the fire in front of her crackling merrily with the addition of a log not that long ago by the blonde. She alternates between watching the warm glow of the flames and the pages of the book in her lap. Despite the book's engrossing words, there's always something enticing about the flame.

There are few places else for one to be at such an hour, if not under covers (like one ought!). A Scottish castle in the winter is as cold as a cavern, and in some places as damp, the cold stone gathering condensation and weeping where it does not pattern with frost. If one is not within a fire's reach, one had better be walking pretty briskly, building that inner fire, the one stoked in the heart by the bellows of the lungs.

So Duncan moves. Briskly. Shoulders gathered up, boots kicking up a consistent cadence, a clap clap clap that heralds him, at least in the hall. But it takes the heaving of a weighty wooden door - one that blocks sound and, more importantly, traps heat - to truly announce him to Constance. He takes note of her - and notes also the time it must be - and since her presence isn't technically sanctioned - something he knows she knows - he doesn't greet her straight away, acts almost as if he didn't know she were there, because she oughtn't to be. In silence he removes his gloves, and then his boots, heavy woolen socks and red-knuckled hands bared, ghosting steam.

He joins her by the fire. Takes a seat, and also seems to be drawn to the flames, at least at first. At length he, too, takes a turn with the book, though it's only a momentary detour on the way to Constance herself.

"What is it you're reading?"

The sound of Duncan's presence startles her only momentarily. All should be in bed, as should she, but Constance isn't the only one up and about. She idly wonders what might have him up and out at this hour, but considering his profession it's no real surprise. With Duncan, being out at all hours of the night means that they can all sleep safer. While they both know she's supposed to be snuggled up in bed, the chiding doesn't need to be spoken. Not even a glance or a word indicates she's done wrong and she'll not do it again. She knows. She only hopes he'll not bring it up. It's much easier for her avoid guilt and move on when he doesn't verbalize things.

"Little Women," Constance says, holding up the book so he can see the cover with a tinkle of four-leaf clover charms from the copper bracelet on her wrist. "It's kind of a coming of age story of four girls and how they decide to make their lives."

Duncan gives a chuckle at this summary. It's not quite derision, though it might be if there wasn't some element of ruefulness. "And what portion of words between those pages name things that no longer exist?" He asks, brows lifted very slightly, but indicating his curiosity none the less.

His eyes catch on the sheen of metal, matching the soft chime of ornament. A moment's pause, a recollection. "Is that from an admirer?" he asks.

"I believe there's a great deal in there that's naught but fantasy now. Places, mostly. Concepts. It's very entertaining, though, what people used to be like. Well, were it not fiction." The issue of an admirer, however, must be addressed.

"Perhaps," Constance replies with a small smile. "I like to talk with some of your guards. I think they think that giving me things will win over my favor. I don't mention to them that I'm likely not the one they need to gain favor with." She smiles a little wider. "But I won't complain if they feel like relieving themselves of their possessions around me."

Oh, a guard was it? This does not well please Duncan. He puts no further questions to her on the subject, but the issue is far from resolve. He will pursue the matter personally. All Constance need know is this:

"Don't accept any more gifts from them," this is a father voice, a voice of unequivocal edict, "it is bad enough that they offer." He's not angry, but he is deadly serious.

"And that," he says, "was no one's to give. It has a proper owner."

"Alright," Constance says after a moment of hesitation. "I didn't think there was any harm in them giving me things." It's his last words, however, that startle Constance and her eyes go to the bracelet. "It was stolen?" She turns the book over to rest on her knee and keep her place while she pulls the bracelet off her wrist and offers it in her father's direction.

"I'm sorry," she murmurs. "I was unaware."

"The harm's in you taking them," Duncan says, still somber, but softer - he still struggles with the proper touch of parental discipline, especially when it comes to an artistic soul like his daughter. The world must be clearer to them, it must hurt their skin, pressing in around them.

"They are not- noble," he says, attempting explanation, achieving only suggestion. "You should only ever take gifts from someone who loves you. Anything else a bribe. And you must be good, Constance.

"I stole it," Duncan explains further, quite the subject change. A beat. "This is a surprise?" With a half squint, canted look.

Constance gives a small nod, understanding his meaning. At least, as much as a young woman can. "I suppose given our family that they may be trying to use me, but I saw no harm in it so long as I gave them no favor, I agreed to nothing and I supposed that would be enough." Her eyes go back to the bracelet, but she shakes her head after a moment. "I'm aware of what you do, Father. It's just the way you said it made me feel as if… it were wrong to have it."

"Understand, daughter- there is no such thing as a gift from a stranger. Much less from someone who's trade is robbery," Duncan says, "and men expect things. Gratitude. What they call a gift, in their heart is a loan, and they count you in their debt."

He leans forward, arms draped on legs, as if set upon by some burden. "You can give it back. That will lead you back to goodness."

"Then I apologize. I'll be certain not to accept anything from a stranger in the future," Constance says. After all, accepting candy from strangers is never good and bracelets may just be her candy. She presses her lips together in a line. She doesn't look forward to delivering a bracelet back, but her father's words seem reasonable. "Of course. Do you want me to give it back the the man who gave it to me, or…" She wets her lips. "Restore it to its previous owner?"

"Her name is Elvira," Duncan says, "you'll find her at the Albatross. She is mannerly, so be mindful yourself. Introduce yourself as befits your station, and tell her your father would be honored to receive her in three days' time- at the Riverless Bank in the Northern reach."

Constance's curiosity has been piqued. It is one thing to return a woman's bracelet. It's another to ask her to meet him. "Well, this is certainly more than just having me restore something improperly given to me. Are you going to tell me why you want to meet her, or is this one of those things I won't be privy to?" There are, after all, quite a few of those.

"My aim is to help her be useful," Duncan states, which is not much of a clarification, "something we should all aim for, isn't it?" He reaches out to clasp Constance's head, and leans over to kiss her forehead, just below the line of her fair hair. "Now go to bed. You'll see Elvira tomorrow."

"A worthy aspiration," Constance agrees, a small smile offered in Duncan's direction before she gets to her feet. The book is closed, blanket carefully draped over one arm, and bracelet clutched with her free hand. She leans in, planting a kiss on his cheek before she turns to ascend the stairs. "Goodnight, Father."