Knowing Kindness

Title: Knowing Kindness
Time Period: November, 134 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Cruikshank's camp receives another set of visitors with more benevolent intentions than their last.1

It's humid and cool and early in the morning at Cruikshank's camp, a thin veil of fog stirring silken against turf turned up by the hooves of Duncan's horse on its way back to town proper. The sun is still reluctant to show its face and gloom hangs grey around a shanty camp of tents that's only just begun to stir in the latest Rowntree's wake. And plonk. A tin cup glances off of Algernon's turned shoulder and rocks dead to the ground, a hole drilled through one side and split flat out the other.

Tall, hatted and very much awake in the long fawn swing of his coat, Fogg turns slowly on his heel to face the aggressor at however many paces. Rather the way a lion might upon being flicked in the rear.

Then he begins to advance. The target is Fletcher Cruikshank and the blanket he's bound himself in.

Beyond them, the camp's fire has burned all to ash and white coals.

"Thank you," Cruikshank is saying, creakily, by the time Algernon is rounding his way. Thin as a whippet and huddled in layers of wool, he more or less stands his ground if only because he isn't taking note of approach so much as acknowledgment. "Thank you so much for that, back there. Hope you enjoy your lodgings, never mind what me and mine— I've done your favours— "

Stalling out comes on the tail of a tentative step back.

Two horses crest the top of the hillside, rising out of the fog at the edge of the treeline in the opposite direction that Duncan disappeared, and hang suspended there until their riders can be sure that the militia's leader doesn't plan on hooking back with reinforcements. Only then do they begin making their way down the slope through thick tangles of heather, purple with vegetation, and steer toward the camp's perimeter at a leisurely pace.

A pair of dead rabbits swings from the saddle of the smaller rider, damp brown fur bloodied and matted around their necks — the work of a wire snare. Bells jangle cheerfully on the strangers' approach, sewn into someone's leather riding gear with the intention of warding off wolves or bears, who might not otherwise hear them coming until an encounter is unavoidable.

Not. Quick enough. Algernon winds his knuckles into wooly blanket and snatches Fletcher up out of his huddle, close to eye level. Closer, at least. He smells like the fire, woody smoke sunk deep into his coat to choke out a lingering trace of — something slightly more illicit. That he doesn't care to smell like.

"Adapt or die," he growls. Not ruffled exactly. Terse. Voice low. Sentiment kept from prying ears. "You're an intelligent man, Fletcher."

Somehow he manages to make this sound like an insult.

It could be the look on his face. "Use your head. Turn a profit. Lead your people. I have kept you alive and out of the stocks this long but I cannot — " Jingle jangle jongle, and his head swivels hawkishly across his shoulders to narrow a glance after two horses on the approach. A flustered, foggy puff of breath kicked out of lungs translates into a release of one hand so that it can tuck in around and under the back of his coat. A snub-nose revolver is extracted and pushed into whichever of Cruikshank's hands is more convenient while he can still block the motion with his own back.

"If you try to use this on me," he warns, distracted, "I will insure that you regret it."

There are a couple of moments between blanket grab and distraction where Fletcher might indeed have the audacity to argue or insult, but it never happens, if only because the stock he puts in Algernon's effectiveness means he can't quite underestimate the other man, and also the words themselves. He flinches and winces back before actually looking at the other man before he, too, hears the sound of approach. Fucking awesome. But then he feels cold metal nudge in a hand splayed in some defense, rapidly blinking but making little fuss when he realises what he's been given. He simply tucks the weapon into the folds of the blanket he has cacooned around himself without falter.

"You and your cups're safe from me," is a little snippy and damp sounding, but he's lost the sharpness and indeed the petulance that had had him fling cutlery in the first place.

As the horses draw nearer, Cruikshank and Algernon will see that the smaller of the two riders is a woman dressed plain in a long, wool coat, lambskin gloves and a patternless skirt that falls past her knees but still shows stockinged calves while she sits upright in her saddle, reins held loose and relaxed between her fingers.

"Steady now," she murmurs at her horse. "Slow. That's the way, Toirneach." To the men on the ground, she offers a gentle, "Hello," in a voice that isn't much louder. Her gaze dips down to the cup and hangs on the hole in it. "I see you've met Donagh.

"I'm very sorry."

The wider horse, Kuu, is distinctive enough. Her tall rider just as much, due to the white draped on his shoulders, which seeps more starkly through the gloom. Jorn keeps alongside the other horse, his own keeping a relative pace with the other. On the rear of his saddle hangs a heavy burlap sack, bumping along against the mare's thigh as they wander nearer down the incline, picking over stone and brush.

The Nord imparts nothing, and simply takes note of the setting at his front. Even after Aislinn speaks her greetings to them, and shares her compassion soon after, Jorn keeps his tongue and waits to see the result.

One last bunch of blanket released with a hint of a push, Algernon steps around to survey the camp's latest arrivals with a skeptical eye. The big man is familiar. So is his horse.

Aislinn is not.

Unsure what to think, and not in charge despite being the taller and better dressed (and more dashing) of the duo they've ridden up on, Algernon forces a trace of a smile to garnish a thin, "Morning," for her hullo. His eyes follow hers to the cup after that. No comment.

Is it a test?

What if it's a test.

Push comes with Cruikshank backing up a step gladly, training his attention towards familiar man and stranger woman, unsure of how to respond. He's sorry too. About Donagh, whatever his name is. "Think nothing of it," comes out mild and even, forcing his face to achieve a thin smile that does more to plant lines at the corners of his eyes than display mirth.

"He means well," Aislinn says of Duncan, "only he doesn't understand that too much force breaks more often than it bends." She makes an attempt to return their smiles, but as is often the case when she's discussing her brother-in-law, it doesn't quite reach her eyes.

On a more pleasant note: "Are you hungry? We thought you might like something to eat."

The slight frown on Jorn's face neither assents or dissents. He watches the two men for a time, before shifting on his saddle to check the fastening of the bag beside him. He is more than happy to allow Aislinn to use her feminine charms first. They both know where masculine charms have gotten things, and the potential proof has a hole through it. When she finally gets to the matter at hand, Jorn appears ready to submit something.

"To 'think nothing of it' would be a mistake, I suspect." He leans forward onto his saddlehorn, watchful.

"I'm afraid I have to pack, actually. Having been succesfully bent." A slantier version of that same smile betrays (polite) whisker-framed cynicism and Algernon takes a step back towards his temporary digs. Still well within ear shot, granted — the look he turns after Jorn's input is one of silent agreement once he's stooped to drag a small trunk from out the flap of his tent.

Cruikshank glances after Algernon, then back at the two. It's a good thing he doesn't do "pride" very much, because—

"We're hungry," he states, frankly, with a few rapid blinks. Somewhere, beneath all the fleece, revolver is tucked into a pocket, all significantly more discreet than anyone would usually give him credit for. "What do you want for it?"

"Then have my congratulations instead," Aislinn tells Algernon, taking the reins in her left hand and leaning her weight into Toirneach's neck. "He looks after his own." Her right hand grips the saddle's pommel as she swings one leg over the side and eases herself down off the horse, onto the ground. The move is easy, fluid — this is someone who spends a lot of time around these animals.

The first thing she does is secure Toirneach to a low-hanging branch, not that she's worried about her horse running off on her. A tossed head, a stamped foot and the beast goes still with the exception of the occasional tail-flick.

Aislinn's gloved fingers deftly work the knots that fasten the rabbits to the saddle, and she offers them to Cruikshank by their feet. "It's a gift."

They may be without power over Algernon's fate, though Jorn is not as worried for him, as he is for the people he is being made to leave behind without someone as such he is. Aislinn moves to dismount, and so does he. Jorn comes down harder on the ground, but by no means less easily. He claps a hand to the horse's side, brushing there and watching the young woman with the interest of something intent; he would not have gotten from horseback if he could help it- rankwise, Aislinn calls this shot.

Jorn unties the sack and palms it in one hand, using his other to hook reins over that low branch. He trails one hand over Kuu's shoulder as he moves in beside the woman; should her own offer be taken, only then will he attempt to pass the knot of the bag over as well.

She is a lot better at this sort of thing.

"Thank you." As curt with manners as he is without them, Algernon pops the trunk's latch, peers in at the contents, reaches inside after something small and allows it to fall shut again under its own weight. Hand to pocket and then — on second thought — to the vest he's wearing under his coat, he mutters something along the lines of coming back for the rest later and fishes out his rucksack.

If Jorn feels eyes on him in the process, it's because Algernon glances his way often while he sorts himself out.

Cruikshank stands very still for a moment, as if trying to discern the trick and catch to this. Then, he shifts wool to drape about his neck and shoulders enough to free his hands. They aren't filthy but grit makes darker crescents under his nails. A beaded adornment is lashed around one wrist, clicking a little as he goes to take the rabbits, before darting a look to Jorn's offering as well. This is taken as well after he steps forward to do so, stepping back again just as quick, some measure of relief shown in shoulders gone slacker. Tonight, they can cook rabbit and he can talk about karmic cycles or.

Whatever. "Thank you," he says, in echo, then twists a look back to campfire. "Would you— we've not got much but if you wanted to sit down— "

"Another time," sounds like more of a promise than polite dismissal. Aislinn's tone is soft but it's also sincere. "If there's anything you need, come into town and ask for Cas Blackburn. He's a good boy, kinder than most. Clean soul. He'll see that you find it." She reaches into her coat and slips open a pocket with her fingers. Although the knife her hand comes out with could be used as a weapon, that isn't its purpose — it's used for cutting things like rope, or sprigs of green holly from the tree to which Toirneach is tethered. The smooth lambskin of her gloves protects her from the leaves and their prickly edges.

Knife still hand, she steps forward and tucks one of the sprigs into the weave of Cruikshank's blanket. "For protection," she explains.

Algernon receives the same, pinned to the front pocket of his coat, and as she affixes it, she leans in close to add in a low whisper, "You'll need it here."

The sack that Jorn offered out has various doses of bread, cheese, and reddish potatoes. It is not much, at a glance, but neither are the rabbits.

If he takes note of Algernon's inspection, Jorn does not immediately say anything; he does, on the other hand, find himself catching one of the few glances put his way from the man in the bowler. The northman's pale blue eyes flicker in return, before turning away to watch Aislinn give her answer. He looks to be with her on this one, following the plucking of the holly and the sticking of cover and of coat. For protection? Nearly too late for that, dear Aislinn.

Eyes stained greenish gold in queer morning light regard the space just past Aislinn's shoulder at an inscrutable remove when she leans in to whisper. But that's all the pause there is, and his next look up is stammered enough to be caught by Jorn.

Of course.

A dip of his chin will have to suffice as a second, less enthusiastic thank you in lieu of an offer like Cruikshank's — he has places to be, people to see and stoops to hoist his pack up onto his shoulder accordingly, with Aislinn still standing there. "I'll keep up contact as well as I can. If I can."

"Pleasure meeting you both," Algernon adds more inclusively, already stepping back, "but I'd best be off."

"Right," Cruikshank says in response to assurance of contact, hesitant and reserved but not insincere, he's just having a hard day. Ghost words have him opening his mouth to say more and make it a proper farewell, maybe sorry about the cup and your shoulder, but he doesn't achieve this either, reluctantly looking back at Aislinn, and then down at the wee sprig of holly. He doesn't think this gesture is particularly unusual.

He frees up a hand enough to touch the little token, a speculative feel between thumb and forefinger without removing it. He can confirm, at least, that she isn't wrong, and he feels moved to add, "Especially in the winter.

"Blackburn, was it? And who're you?"

"Good bye," Aislinn says to Algernon, raising a hand — not the one with the knife in it — in a gesture of farewell. "God be with you." Bowing her head, wispy tendrils of blonde hair tugged free from her braid by the breeze, she folds the knife shut, puts it back in her coat pocket, and pats it through the wool.

When she lifts her eyes again, it's to watch Cruikshank toying with the holly. She glances up at Jorn, then, uncertain — revealing identities wasn't a part of their plan, but it wasn't something they discussed either. "Names aren't very important," she decides, fastening the topmost button of her coat just below her chin, "not unless you're an unchristened baby."

Jorn gives Algernon a single nod of his head when the man signals his departure. He looks down to Aislinn, then, giving her the same gesture when she settles on her own answer. The bodyguard's hand hovers at his belt and hooks there, elbow tenting the side of his cloak on Aislinn's side. His words come to mimic hers. "Names are not important-"

"-but you seem smart enough to figure some things out on your own." Possibly. If they are stuck here for long enough.

And it's funny how only important names are unimportant.

Is.

Something that Cruikshank does not say out loud, of course. He sets down the sack of food and the rabbits atop this, so as he can best press his hands together in a gesture of gratitude. "Then I shall only know your kindness and generousity until such a time you'd have me know more," he says, because he is a better people person when he is getting rewarded for it, really. "You're welcome any time, empty handed or otherwise."

It's getting lighter, out. The camp bathed in the sun coming sharp down the mountains, having gained and lost along with Algernon's exit for Dornie proper and the arrival of strangers bearing gifts. Smoke ebbs off the campfire as the fire dwindles to embers.