Good at Pretending

Title: Good at Pretending
Time Period: February 3, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Constance is found in a state, a story is told to calm her but there's no happily ever after. It's back to pretending.

The woods near Eilean Donan Castle are not the kind of place one wants to be at night. With the sun just dipping its toe into the horizon, the woods aren't somewhere that anyone should be venturing towards — darkness would be falling soon and who knows what kind of creatures might be prowling. It's curious, then, that at the mouth of woods, there's something in the snow.

Constance Rowntree lies, just off the side of the path, the snow seeped with blood, staining a red outline of her. It's easy to see her injuries, even from a bit of a distance. An arm and a leg are clearly bitten and mauled by some creature, straight to the bone, and the young woman's face is covered with blood. Her cheek has been bitten, skin split and jaw fractured, teeth visible through the gap in her cheek. Still clutched in her good hand is a splintered stick, likely her only defense against her attacker.

One's night off is a fairly important time; what you choose to do with it says a lot. It is true that Mariah hasn't explained to her walking partner just what brings her along to Eilan Donan, but it's probably best just not to ask. All things considered. But for all her beloved privacy, she is, at least, a merry companion.

"You'll be in your shop tomorrow, won't you, Sorcha? I have a mending project I want to propose to you." Another mending project. "It just a little—" Mariah trails off as she spots something up ahead, her brow furrowing. It only takes a few more steps before her leisurely walk turns into an out-and-out run.

"Constance!" A hand comes up over her mouth when she gets close enough to really see, and she drops down to her knees in the bloody snow at the girl's side to check and make sure this one is still alive.

Prostitutes and seamstresses neither, should be venturing out into the woods tonight. There surely are no teddy bears having a picnic. But with an order that was due today, feverishly worked on to try and get it done on time for someone out in Eilean Donan, Sorcha wasn't about to let woods, Teddy Bear picnics or whatever might be lurking, ruin her promise to have this order to the residents there by the end of the day.

It just meant that she brought protection.

You know, a wicked sharp knife, and a prostitute. Prostitutes know all about protection right? Right? Hopefully, as boots crunch through snow, a twine wrapped package in her arms and forging a path to the castle in question. "Hey Em… What's that?" One hand unwraps from around the package to point to the crumpled and bloodied shape up ahead. "Is that…"

The young Rowntree isn't dead, and the cry of her name is enough to rouse her. Constance's eyes open, lashes blinking back a few flakes of snow, and she slowly releases the wood clutched in her good hand. She tilts her head just slightly to survey the damage visibly, unwilling to move either limb unless absolutely necessary. The snow, at least, has helped numb the pain. She doesn't attempt to speak, unwilling to move her jaw unless she needs to talk for the moment. Instead, she's moved just enough to assure them she's alive and instead just lies there, looking at them.

The thing with knives is that most ill-meaning men in Dornie have guns. And the thing with two young women wandering off down the road together at night is that there are a number of ill-meaning men in Dornie.

Having caught the tail-end of their shadows fading down the beaten path towards the Rowntree residence, Algernon waited long enough for the unhurried plod of his horse's hooves in pursuit to be muffled silent by their head start. Occasionally murmurs of conversation carry unintelligibly back to him on the wind between whisks of grey tail and ears swiveled after a shape low in the brush — reassurance enough that they're both still alive for him to maintain his distance in his hat and his coat. And his moustache.

A sharper cry stirs man and then horse into a stutter-step that doesn't manifest into a lope until the cat by the wayside confirms suspicions of distress. Within seconds, he can be seen (and first heard) as a tall, indistinct figure riding up on them out of the dark. How reassuring.

Mariah manages a smile down at the girl when she opens her eyes, and she puts a hand gently against her cheek. "You're going to be alright, luv. We're going to get you some help." Being on the girl's wounded side, she doesn't reach over to take her hand when she drops the stick, but she counts on her voice to take care of the comforting.

She looks up then, toward Sorcha, "We need to rouse the house." But she isn't making a move to head that way, instead her attention moves just past the seamstress, to the shadowy figure making a appearance. It seems she, for one, didn't bring a weapon, because there's a distinct swallow before she whispers a word of understated warning, "Sorcha." It comes with a nod that way.

Twine is being ripped apart after dropped in the snow, the easier to get at the fabric inside the package so that she can thrust the warm woolen jacket and the shirts to Mariah so that she can use them to staunch any wounds that might still be bleeding freely. "Use this" She offers, looking over at the warning. Any comments to mending clothes will have to wait as her gaze drops upon the horse borne individual and her hands drift towards her knife, dragging it out from it's sheath even as her breath curls out into the air, looking over from under the brim of her knit hat. "Your name!" This to Algernon. "Your name!"

Constance doesn't seem to be too worried. The fear left long ago, now she's just cold. Cold, tired, and trying hard not to hurt. The last part she's not so successful at. The sound of hooves are tied to her deepest fear: she's worried it's her father. Her free hand pushes her body to sit up a little, head turning to see who exactly the figure is.

Horse and rider jostle to an ice and mud-flecked halt, steam billowing in mechanical turns from muzzle and thinly parted teeth. "Fogg," is the answer, growling accent and blunt imperative force sublimating any question to the contrary. "Sheathe your weapon and lie yourself down on the ground before I put you there."

Tension on the reins translates into an irritable stamp of horsey hoove; Algernon twists knuckle still further to taut-drawn leather to stay further protest, pulling the poor beast's chin nearly to its neck.
"What is this?"

The name that cuts through gets a sigh of relief from the prostitute, even as her hand moves to stop Constance from moving too much. She might be a little worried. Her face doesn't show too much, but the girl can feel a tremble in her hands that's not entirely from the cold.

"Algernon," she greets, perhaps a little too familiar, but she tends to do that. "It's Constance Rowntree, she's hurt." Difficult to see how with the clothes covering the wounds, but there enough blood around to prove it.

"You need to ride, for the castle. Get help. You'll be faster than either of us on foot" Down on the ground, Sorcha does not go, but the knife is slid back into it's sheath and no longer a threat. "We just came across her."Sorcha looks away from the man on horse and to the downed girl. "She's hurt bad I believe" Sorcha's hand rests on Constance's leg, some place where there's no blood or wounds. "stay down, please, till we get you some help yes?"

It probably looks bad, given there are two women bent over an injured body. Constance reluctantly eases herself back against the ground, then points in the direction of the woods before she speaks. Speaking, though, is more like her lips moving carefully to avoid having to aggravate her jaw. "Wolf," she says simply, good hand pointing towards the woods.

"Mariah," returned quietly and more curtly than the standard doff and nod, Algernon eases up enough for the gelding to breathe, if only so that he may navigate a few careful steps nearer the scene. From above, things look as grim as they do at eye level. Even once he's seeing it in periphery upon taking a deliberate moment to size Sorcha up sideways. It isn't a very nice look.

In the next breath, he swings down out of the saddle and hands her the reins, only explanation a flatly (politely) condescending: "I fancy my odds better against local wildlife in the event of a second attack." And then: "Tell them I sent you to speak to Mister Rowntree directly." Wolf.
In the surrounding forest, a pinkish nose touches delicately to loose snow and faded pine needles.

And maybe looks a little worse that this is the second of these Mariah has been at recently. It's just a spot of bad luck is all, really. As Algernon dismounts, she looks back to Constance, brushing some of her hair back from her face. She doesn't look surprised to hear it was a wolf.

"Brave girl," she says gently, with a smile to match. "I do believe I would have just fainted dead away. When you're back to form, I shall request the tale in full." Yes, this is all terribly normal.

"That, I can do, now that I have the horse" Conceding indeed that he would be better equipped to be dealing with any wolf that might decided to revisit the scene of it's attack. "I'll bring people back, quick as I can" She promises, gathering her self and with a foot in the stirrups, pulls herself up into the saddle, allow a few seconds to get comfortable astride the strange animal before carefully maneuvering around the small scene and urging the horse onwards as quick as she dares to the Rowentree abode.

The blonde offers what could be a smile up to Mariah, but Constance makes no move to sit up again. She was instructed to stay put and she will. Her eyes go to the forest, then back to Algernon before an attempt at speech again. "Hit it once and it left," she says. "Don't think it's injured."

"It will be," muttered to an adjustment of his glove before Algernon crouches at Constance's opposite side, eyes squinted into a near wince for his assessment of the damage to her cheek at closer range. A glance skyward to judge the light later, he pushes back upright and slips his revolver from its holster.

"Can you describe the animal?" isn't the most important question to ask before her father arrives. "Did it appear to be ill?" is.

Mariah looks up at that mutter, but she doesn't speak up her own thoughts on the subject. Instead, she looks after the horse and rider, as if she could will them to move faster.

However, when the questions start, she looks back to Algernon, concern crinkling her forehead. "Can't this wait until she's been seen to?" She asks softly, without admonishment. She's gauging, and perhaps a little curious as to why he would ask after the animal's health. Wolves are not her specialty.

The questions, though, give Constance something to focus on. "Black around the eyes," she recalls. "But it seemed off. Not sick, but it just jumped me, even when I backed away… but I only hit it once and it left. It didn't take much to retreat…"

"Attacks by lone wolves," and she did use the singular form, "upon humans are unusual," Algernon explains (and half-lies), sparing all present the inconvenience of mentioning the word 'rabies,' in the presence of the potentially afflicted. Point made to his own satisfaction, he doesn't have much more than that to say. Except: "You're welcome to choose an alternate topic for discussion, now," after a beat of claustrophobic silence.

"That's a relief, because to be honest, I'd rather be talking about boys," Mariah says, defaulting to humor to defect whatever upset she might be feeling at the moment. She looks to the girl with a broader smile as she plants her hands on her hips. "Might leave Mister Fogg with little to add to the discussion, though, hmm?"

"It felt unusual," Constance agrees, her free hand reaching up, for a moment, to feel for the hole in her cheek. She can't see how bad it is, so fingers gently touch the skin. She squeezes her eyes shut in a wince. "I'm sure he knows something about gentlemen, being he is one…"

Eyes narrowed out into the woods, Algernon declines to comment further on the unlikelihood of Constance's situation, smothering speculation with silence until the subject turns. And he's still tangled up in it somehow, a brow lifted back at Constance's assessment without immediate comment that terminates into a sigh that's clearly visible despite an effort made to keep it quiet.

Mariah laughs gently, possibly more so for the sigh than for Constance's comment. "That is the rumor," she says, amusement in her gaze — if forcefully put there. "But I am personally hoping for some secret roguishness tucked away under his fine hat." She's kidding. Probably.

Constance offers a weak smile, her eyes going between Mariah and Algernon. "Maybe you're right. A hat looks like a good place to hide things." She shudders, however, having used a bit too much jaw in her conversation.
In the tradition of English guards, Algernon fails to flinch at teasing beyond a tolerant sideways glance at Mariah, but he does lean into the start of a retreat. Just a few feet away. As if they might be more likely to forget about him if he's not directly within arm's reach.

Her smile may deepen a little at both Constance's reply and Algernon's reaction, but if doesn't last too much longer. When the girl shudders, Mariah's demeanor dims somewhat and this time she does reach over to take the girl's hand on her good side.

"Shall I tell you a story? I've just remembered one I particularly enjoy," she says, as if the wince has nothing at all to do with her sudden subject change. "It is a love story, of course." Because whores know all the best ones, right?

"A story would be nice," Constance murmurs, finding it a lot easier when she doesn't have to talk. The hand is squeezed gently, and she shuts her eyes for a moment to try and regain her focus. "Tell me one."

Mariah nods at the murmur, her fingers moving to pet the girl's hair again while she returns that squeeze with her other hand. "Well. Once, there was a fairy queen, and this queen had been considered the most beautiful creature in existence for centuries. She was so beautiful, men would travel across endless wilderness to die at her feet, for but the chance to look up her face in the last moments. And she enjoyed the worship. Hoarded it, even.

"However. There was a young girl who lived at the sea side, and as she grew, her own beauty came to surpass that of the fairy queen. Tales of the girl spread and mens minds turned to a new destination. They traveled over seas and across country sides to find that sea side village for the chance to see this reported beauty." She chuckles a bit as she adds, "You can imagine how the queen felt when her worshipers turned their fickle eyes to a new face, aye?"

Constance's eyes flicker open, looking back over to Mariah, studying her face as she rests in the snow. "Jealous," she replies, but her head tilts a little and she casts a gaze expectantly back towards the castle. The story has her interest, but the castle's still in view. "I want to go home…"

"As soon as Sorcha fetches your father, darling," Mariah says, her voice sympathetic while she keeps her expression carefully controlled. If she isn't worried, there's no reason for Constance to worry, right? Of course. "He'll be along." She's not about to leave her to go check, so it's a matter of distraction until the cavalry arrive.

"But you're right. She was jealous. But she had plan. She sent her son with the task of making the girl fall in love with the ugliest, smelliest, cruelest man they could find by way of a bit of magical potion. But the prince came upon her sleeping in a meadow, the grass as her pillow, the sun kissing her face and the flowers paling in comparison to this precious blossom. He trip over his own feet and spilled the potion over his hands and from that moment, he was helplessly in love with her. Could you imagine?"

She does glance in the direction of the castle, her lips pressing together for a moment before she looks back to Constance. "He found it impossible to leave her, and yet, could hardly bring her to his home, lest his mother find out. So he set up a palace on a lonely hill and came to the girl cloaked in shadows to declare his love for her. And so honest and piercing was his declaration, she fell in love with him straight away, agreeing to be his wife and promising she would never try to find out his true identity, even though it meant never seeing her husband outside of the shadows. I can't possibly imagine what he said to her, but it must have been fantastic."

"Oh no," Constance murmurs. "She's going to see him by accident or get too curious and peek at him while he's sleeping or something like that. This doesn't have a happy ending, does it?" The girl's eyes move to look up at the sky. "I guess the tragedy makes the story more realistic."

"And less boring," Mariah says, with a soft brush through the girl's hair. It's a bit of a disconnect, that someone in her profession has an almost motherly style of comfort. "Happily ever after is only fun for so long." She sort of makes her living on that concept, after all.

"But don't be too hard on the girl. It wasn't entirely her fault. See, she lived happily in the enchanted palace the prince constructed for her, waited on hand and foot by the build itself and seeing her husband in the dark of night. But the queen was not fooled, even by her son's magic and she sent an imp to plague the girl. He tormented her with doubt, told her that her husband was a monster using pretty words to keep her there while his palace fattened her up for the slaughter. To her credit, she demanded proof from the imp, but he could only bid her look upon her husband's face as he slept to see for herself.

"She tried not to listen, to keep in her heart the love he showed her and the promises she'd made him. But the imp was too good at his craft, and doubt and curiosity got the better of her. One night she lit a candle and came to look upon the prince's face. But she didn't find a monster, did she?" Mariah pauses there, shaking her head a little before she goes on. "She found the handsome face of the fairy prince. And while she'd hoped to blow the candle out before anyone was the wiser, a bit of wax dripped and landed on her husband's shoulder. And when he woke, seeing her broken promise and feeling the sting of her distrust, he vanished, leaving only a single tear to fall and hit the bed they'd so often shared." Her words trail off there, as the distant sound of hoofbeats cuts through the otherwise quiet night.

"At least she got to keep the house," Constance murmurs, trying to look on the bright side of the not-so-happily-ever-after ending. The sound of hoofbeats gets her attention and she uses her good arm to push herself up. Even now she tries to be more presentable, to compose herself as much as possible for whatever awaited. "I think I would have risked the monster, myself." She says, looking in the direction of the horses. "Then I could at least pretend there's a good ending."

"That isn't the end. But I'll have to tell you the rest another time, 'ey? We're supposed to spend all that time together for your play, if you remember. Still looking forward to it." Mariah helps her this time, moving to suppose her as she sits up instead of keeping her down. Maybe she understands a little about when it's time to look your best.

Those last words get a wry, almost sad smile, though, and she tightens her hand around Constance's. "Something your profession and mine share. We end up terribly good at pretending."