Lowered Expectations

Title: Lowered Espectations
Time Period: March 26, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Constance calls for company and goes to the source of gossip to get a little. She ends up imparting some advice.

A summons.

Constance Rowntree likes the idea of of a “summons”. Something royalty or the law issued and it was a requirement to attend. She’s not royalty, nor is she the law, but she’s got a castle to live in and a father who is essentially the law for Dornie, so she might as well be considered both! A summons was issued to one Luna Owens, mostly because Constance couldn’t go herself. Given that her father had restricted her to the castle grounds and she was complying (for the time being), it was about all she could do. Plus there was the added benefit of bossing her father’s men around. It was a good diversion and kept her sane in the midst of her cabin fever. Which was beginning to get quite feverish.

She’s curled up on a chair, no sign of injury or much left of the wolf attack save for the faint pink scarring on her cheek which slowly fades, day by day. A touch of makeup helps her make it appear to fade just a little faster. She’s gotten good at figuring out how to apply it. It seems, as well, Constance has taken up sewing. Unlike the last visit with Luna, she’s gotten much better and has actually moved onto more difficult projects. Perhaps she’s even taken to Luna’s words about a bit of lace being a nice distraction from the scars.

The summons wasn’t quite presented at the Dovetail in the manner it was conceived. In fact, when the woman received the letter, it was in the spirit of invitation. Unfortunately, the invitation came a day after being scorned by a man who asked for space in her heart. Luna could be cruel, but since her accident Constance has been sequestered to the castle with no decent company. Aside from one visit from the courtesan herself.

With basket packed, Luna arrives at the castle a little before tea time. She has all of the necessary ingredients; a book of poetry, dried fruit, soft cheese, jam, and some of her mother’s scones. She is dressed in a rather sedate royal blue dress, fitted at the waist and flared at the hip, long enough that only the tips of her pointed boots show when walking. It’s probable that Constance hears the rhythmic click of the woman’s heels long before she knocks on the door. This time there’s no giggling and gossip, Luna is here to bring the girl’s spirits up again, it’s obvious that she needs it.

“Constance, I brought you a book,” she announces herself, not waiting to be summoned properly.

“Oh, good,” Constance replies, looking up from her sewing. “I think I’ve read just about everything in the entire castle. I thought I’d have to start bribing someone to find me more books. This place gets increasingly duller and duller each day.”

The younger blonde shifts positions in her chair, tucking her hair back behind her ears as she watches her summonee make her way into the room. “Please tell me you have good news, or that something exciting has happened or there’s been a vast quantity of wolves killed in the sake of revenge for my attack. I am sick and tired of these stones and you’re the one out there living life. Is there anything interesting going on in Dornie at all? Please tell me there’s something.” Constance looks pleadingly at Luna.

“Well, I ran away… again,” Luna begins, opening the basket and pulling out all of the various treats that have been brought. A smack at Constance’s hand is ready should the girl decide to take a nip at the scones before the courtesan deems the table ready for their mid afternoon meal. “I didn’t take nearly enough scones for tea and ran out after the second day.” Craning her neck, she spies one of the hovering maids attempting to glean some gossip. “Bring us tea, will you? Be quick, I don’t like waiting.”

Back to Constance, she smiles and dips her hand into the basket again to pull out the book. It’s weathered, blue cloth cover has faded with age and the title has worn clear off the spine. Obviously it’s a treasure that’s been well loved over the ages. “Keep it safe, it’s a loan not a gift. It’s been my favorite since I was half your age.” Straightening, she pulls one last thing from the basket, her spool of thread and needle. Then she sets to work.

“I was telling you I ran away? Oh it was the most wonderful adventure; I found and lost love, I gained a map to buried treasure, I caught the eye of a gentleman, and I am on my way to becoming a proper lady.” The end is said a bit softer than the rest, the soft blush on her cheeks fading almost as quickly as it appears. She may be sincere, for the first time in her life.

“That sounds like quite an adventure. Though I guess tea was miserable without scones,” Constance says, carefully keeping her fingers back from the scones as she sees Luna’s hand hovering ready to protect the delicious pastries. “And the book looks quite well-loved. I’ll guard it as if it was my own child.” She studies the worn cover of the book before she can’t contain her excitement at Luna’s words.

The younger blonde is beaming. “Oh, that sounds incredible. Love and a treasure map? Oh, please tell me you’re going to follow it and find what’s buried. Even if it’s just someone’s time capsule, I bet it will be something marvelous. It’ll be a fantastic story to tell and you can always make up details if no one gets wind of the truth.”

Constance leans forward in her chair a bit. “But a proper lady? That sounds serious! Are you going to have an estate and a castle and have only the finest over for tea?”

“I am going to follow it, quite soon, but it’ll be exciting and dangerous and there’s so much I need to learn and prepare for. I believe it will cost nearly all of my savings to go.” Her needlework slows as she tries to untangle a bit of knotting, all the while not looking at Constance. Stormy blue eyes flit up toward the girl and her lips lift to a false smile. “Of course, you would have to wait for my stories, if I am too wealthy to ever come back you may never hear them. Someday, you must go on an adventure of your own, though I really don’t think you’d be able to have something so grand as mine. You’re a fancy bird caught in a gilded cage, like me, only mine has a broken latch.”

What she means by that she doesn’t explain.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be a proper lady, Constance, you know me better than that, aye? I dream of many things and they never come to pass… through my fault or someone else’s. Last night I was a great disappointment to my gentleman.” The girl is old enough to hear some of the details, just not the gory ones. So Luna nods toward the cheese and scones, indicating that it may be time to indulge as she tells the story. “He’s a new client, I caught his eye less than a week ago. Someone that I’ve been extremely fearful of but he has surprised me, he can be kind when he wishes and terrifying as well.” She stops then, letting the newly formed bit of lace rest against her dress. “I’m not completely sure what I should do.”

Glancing over at Constance, the prostitute puts down the needle and breaks off a bit of scone, spreading the soft cheese on the tear. “You aren’t the person I should be asking either,” probably because Constance is too young and would know nothing about the problems of real women. That has to be the reason. “Tell me about your play, I’m looking forward to taking part.”

“What? We can talk about my play later,” Constance insists. Adventure and gentlemen are a much more interesting topic of conversation. Instead, she straightens up and casually moves to take a scone. “You can ask me about anything. I’m well-read, know nearly everyone in Dornie, and I’m wiser beyond my years. I know what people are like.”

The younger blonde looks intently at the older. “You can be a proper lady if you want to be. The only thing I think you’ll always be lacking, though, is seriousness. I don’t know that they can take anyone seriously once they’ve done any sort of profession that they don’t deem lady-like. Just like Cas couldn’t be a gentleman even if you gave him lots of money and dressed him up and taught him all the proper silverware to use.”

She clears her throat and raises her chin, as if she’s about to give a grand speech. “So, are you scared of this client or do you want to keep seeing him? You’re what’s most important— the man can go to hell if he’s not up to your standards or behaves inappropriately.”

“I’m not a common whore, Constance, I’m a courtesan. My bed isn’t open to my clients until such a time as I choose. Even this new gentleman hasn’t earned the privilege yet. So, I think that if I wish to be a perfectly respectable and serious lady, I can be.” Aside from the smoking to excess, drinking to excess, and carousing to all hours of the morning. Luna Owens lives a hard life. “But no, even if you were the most worldly woman in all of Scotland, I couldn’t speak to you about him. It wouldn’t be right.”

That’s where she leaves it. After all, if Constance was trying to get Maddock into bed, Luna wouldn’t appreciate the news.

Finishing her bit of scone, she glances toward the door just in time for the maid to arrive with the tea. After the tray is placed down, the older blonde gives a dismissive wave of her hand. Not unkindly but in the manner that she just doesn’t wish to be interrupted. “I’ll pour, you take it plain? I would except.. plain.. I much rather things sweet.” Two small teaspoons of sugar for Luna, it’s more refined. “Now tell me about the play, what part will I need to audition for or are you writing a bit in for me? I’m no magical siren but I do believe I can carry my own in prose and poise.”

“Just a little touch of cream, thank you” Constance says. “I like my tea strong and rely on cookies and side-dishes to bring out the sweetness. Much more of a contrast.”

Constance straightens herself in her chair, a conscious effort to keep herself poised— not that she needs to impress Luna, she just likes to feel like they’re both equally elegant ladies. The thought of clients and Luna’s entertaining them in ways only courtesans can is something that the young woman can’t (or perhaps doesn’t want to) wrap her head fully around. So she doesn’t, instead falling to talk about her one true love — acting.

“I know I shouldn’t, but I think I can give you a part without you auditioning. I’ve seen your acting,” she says, a sly grin on her lips. “And I think you’re more than suited for a role. Plus I can trust you to keep things going when lesser experienced performers inevitably fall through. Dornie simply doesn’t have enough people with true talent for the stage. One day, I’ll make sure that Dornie is some kind of metropolis of art and theater. People elsewhere will wish they had the good fortune of living in Dornie.”

She pauses for a moment. “Isn’t ‘metropolis’ a fantastic word? I read it in a book once.”

In present company, Luna has no difficulty playing the part of an elegant lady, simply because she believes she is one. At least at present. There’s tea, scones, berries, soft cheese to stand in for butter (it’s more expensive anyway), they’re in a castle; life couldn’t be better than this, especially when Luna is reminded by the mistress of the manor how wonderful she is. At acting. That part dismissed, the prostitute passes over the tea prepared to Constance’s liking and then picks up her own.

A silver spoon clinks against the edge of the porcelain. The cups are so old that they might as well have been from the beginning of time but that makes them valuable. And prestigious. Like the younger blonde’s word.

“It is a wonderful word, Constance,” Luna doesn’t dare admit at having to piece together a meaning for it based on the context. There’s just things that teenagers don’t need to know about some adults, they already assume too much. “Do you think that Dornie will ever be a place where people come to by choice and not because they must?” It’s her perception, and since she’s spent her entire life trying to run away…

“Of course it will,” Constance insists. “We’re already ages ahead of any other city. We’ve got so much more than all those little farming villages out there, we’re well-protected and powerful. Once you have the needs of the people covered, art can flourish and where art flourishes, society becomes beautiful. Fashion, culture… can you imagine how grand Dornie will be? I bet we can accomplish so much in only a matter of years.”

The younger blonde sips delicately from her teacup. “If I’m stuck in Dornie for good, I think that I will make sure that it is the most entertaining and delightful city in all of existence. There’s no reason not to try, right? All that’s needed is to direct people into the right places, just a little leadership and encouragement… and all will be well.”

Grand hopes for such a little Rowntree.

Canting her head to the side a little, Luna studies Constance for a moment before parting her lips. “Why?” It occurs to her a sip of tea later that she didn’t formulate her entire thought into words, the girl confounded her that much. “I mean, why are you stuck in Dornie for good? It’s so… Dornie.” The last word, the name of their hometown is said as though a bitter poison coated the prostitute’s tongue.

“I just mean— I know that we have more, I’ve been told that the northern parts of England haven’t the same aspirations that— that your family and the Rosses have.” Not the rest of Dornie, Luna separates them from the cream of the crop, which would be the upper crust. Rowntrees and Rosses. “But what about other places? Like France or Germany or somewhere else entirely?”

Constance smiles, though it’s a bit of a sad one as she looks over the rim of her teacup. “Perhaps they’re fantastic, but I don’t know that I could survive. I’ve got no money of my own, no survival skills whatsoever, and I’m young which naturally means I look like good prey for wolves— and not just of the canine variety. Besides, I have a good enough life here, don’t I? I live in a castle, I’m respected and fairly safe, and I don’t think I have a great deal of enemies.”

There’s a small pause. “Plus there’s always the issue of my father.”

Speaking of wolves.

A sip of tea is interrupted by inhaling instead of swallowing and Luna chokes, spilling a little over the edge and into her saucer. Trembling hands place the porcelain back on the tray as she rushes to clean her chin and dress by dabbing with a cloth napkin. “Y-your father? Yes, I suppose..” The older blonde’s voice has taken on a breathy quality and her cheeks flush pink suddenly. “He wouldn’t like it if you went on an adventure? What if you were to take a husband in a different place?” She hasn’t thought much about Duncan’s family in the time they’ve spent together, his focus is usually somewhere else as is her own.

“If you were to take a husband of similar standing to your own, you’d have to leave, wouldn’t you?” There’s nowhere, economically or socially, for Constance to go but downhill. That’s the gist of her question. When Luna finally finishes with the napkin, she sets it aside. The teacup is not picked up again.

“I suppose. But it won’t matter, because my father will likely pick someone from Dornie or make them come to Dornie,” Constance says, admiring her teacup for a moment, as if just noticing how delicate the china is. “When my father has an asset, he makes use of it. I’m a valuable asset for making alliances, so he will wait until he has seen something useful and then take advantage of a marriageable daughter.”

There’s a small sigh. “I do love my father, but I’m afraid that he can be…” Constance trails off, trying to put the man into words. “Manipulative, for one. Duncan gets whatever he wants. He always seems like he’s one step ahead of everyone, like he has this grand plan that none of us see. It’s a little terrifying and takes some getting used to.”

The younger blonde purses her lips gently. “He’s like fire— it can protect you, keep you warm, be beautiful to look at, but so very dangerous. You let fire touch one thing and it spreads everywhere. It burns and can hurt and destroy, it all depends on how it’s used. He knows that and he makes others know it. Perhaps if I ran away my father might not come after me— because he knows I’ll come back. I’d be too afraid not to. The only way I can really leave for good is by his bidding.”

“But you and your sister, you’re the only ones he’d keep in Dornie? He wouldn’t expect everyone to stay, Baizey left for so long without notice…” Luna’s pale face has taken on a sickly pallor, her skin around her lips and forehead shine a little with nervousness. “If it were someone he’s shown a bit of interest in but pledged to aide in an expedition to a different place… He’d let her go, aye?”

The napkin is taken up and pressed against her face then cupped to her mouth as Luna takes a long, deep breath, in and out.. Another, in and out. “Constance, before you hear anything from the gossips,” a glance is shot toward the door, the maids might say something if they haven’t anyway, and then back to the girl. “I caught your father’s eye, he’s spent some time teaching me to ride a horse and we’ve talked.” Among other things. “But I’ve nothing to offer, not really. Nothing he could want except something pretty to look at.” Which isn’t necessarily true, she is an Owens.

“Oh Luna, you didn’t!” There’s a tone in Constance’s voice that hints that she’d like Luna to laugh and admit it was a joke, but the sick feeling in her gut tells her otherwise. “My father is a great man— he is strong, powerful, influential. He can care, in his own way. But life doesn’t shape Duncan Rowntree, Duncan Rowntree shapes life. He takes things and makes them into what he wants.”

There’s some kind of pleading look in Constance’s eyes as she sets the teacup down and looks at Luna. “There are people my father controls, and there are those he doesn’t. But the people he does, there’s no escaping. Even when you think you’ve got away, you haven’t. I know some of his tricks because I use them, I’ve watched him and then tried them myself and it’s amazing how trapped up you can get in his words and his actions. Nothing is coincidence. If my father has decided to look upon you like that, then I would wager you all of my worldly possessions that he has a plan. You may be pretty and not seem like you have a lot to offer, but you’ve made yourself something, Luna. You can act, you can be strong, and you don’t know what he can do— by all accounts he is your most dangerous enemy.”

Luna’s perfect posture rolls inward at both shoulders and her chest caves a little as all the air escapes her lungs. “He’s been a perfect gentleman,” she argues, knowing full well that if she can act, so can he. “…There’s no plan he could have, Constance, what could he possibly gain by giving me gifts and visiting me?” Her blue eyes flit toward the window and then down to the floor, eyelids sliding down halfway to mask whatever’s inside.

Proving the younger blonde right, her chin lifts and a false smile of bravado is painted prim on her lips. “Not to worry though, aye? I’m just a Dovetail girl, they all tire of me and leave eventually. This jewel will lose her sparkle soon enough.” Self depreciating as it is, she’s right.

“Perfect gentleman or not, my father does have a plan. In my father’s own words, no man gives a woman a gift without expecting something. He warned me against it, and he’s right. I mean, aside from the fact that you’re a Dovetail girl… he wants something else. If he just wanted someone beautiful to have for…” Constance doesn’t finish her sentence. There are some things she doesn’t want to think about.

Anyway,” she continues, “he isn’t the type to just give attention to someone on a whim. And you’ve said time and again, you’re a courtesan. You are no common whore, not just some Dovetail girl. You’ve made yourself the jewel and the treasure and now you’ve gone and the dragon wants you in his hoard.” She sighs, glancing down at her tea. “If he were just after your ‘sparkle’, he wouldn’t take you riding or just sit and talk, now, would he?”

“I have rules,” Luna ekes out her tone sullen and voice lacking in any strength. Suddenly pulling her shawl closer around her shoulders, she glances over at Constance and pastes the smile on her face again.

“I should go,” it’s said as if it were an apology, maybe it is. “I’ve so much to do and tonight to prepare for. I have an appointment that I can’t possibly miss, you understand, aye?” She stands, moves to Constance’s side and kneels down beside her, taking the girl’s hands and holding them tightly in her own. “I’m sorry, please believe that I didn’t mean for anything to happen that might hurt your feelings in any way. I’m trying quite hard to change, you can ask your auntie.”

Constance nods slowly, but she squeezes Luna’s hands in response. “I just want you to be careful,” she insists. “I don’t know his plans and I can’t begin to, but men are men. They always expect something from their gifts and you should be sure you’re alright with whatever it is he wants. Some things you can never get back once they’re given.”

She gives a tiny smile, releasing Luna’s hands as she retrieves her tea. It’s cold. “Just remember, Luna, you aren’t his pawn, you aren’t anyone’s pawn and don’t ever let them forget it.”