Not the Plague

Title: Not the Plague
Time Period: December 31, 134 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Preparations for the Yule masquerade experience a small hiccup.

There are only a few hours of daylight left and less time than that to finish the preparations for Dornie's annual Yule celebration. The merchants who hawk their wares at Market Square have vacated it in order to make room for the feasting and dancing scheduled to start at sundown, and the masquerade's organizers could not have picked a better day for it. The coastal skies are a clear, pristine gray, and the wind that blows across the moors and heaths has only enough strength to tousle hair and make leaves tremble.

A goat turns on a spit over smoking coals next to a table set to be stacked high with beef marrow fritters, sturgeon, and thick, meaty cuts of roasted venison, and mutton pies. Children gather around wicker baskets filled with dead pigeons and laugh in high, shrill voices while they rip off the feathers and pile the carcasses with fresh leeks, shallots and parsnips. Not oblivious to what's going on around her, but focused enough on her task that she might seem so, Aislinn stands at the top of a wooden ladder, securing a string of paper lanterns to the edge of an awning. In her plain skirt, gray stockings and wool cardigan several sizes too large for her petite frame, she isn't dressed for the festivities, but neither is anyone else.

Not yet.

Truth be told, Mariah likes it best when the merchants aren't about. Which may be the driving force behind her being out here to help. She stands at the foot of the ladder, one hand steadying it while the other helps pass things upward. She may be the opposite of Aislinn in every visible way; she's brunette to the other's blonde, and her manner of dress is definitely not plain. Her bodice is a little too low, her skirt is hiked a bit too high on one side, and her skirt is a deep crimson with black swirls here and there. But it's fairly normal for her, all the same.

"When we're done here, I think we had better see to that far side. A bit spotty." Since she's not the one up the wooden contraption, she's far more free to cast a roaming gaze around the setting up. With something of a critical eye.

Into the square at a petering trot on a smokey white horse that more or less matches the sky, Algernon slows to take in the change in decor at a distance before he leans to dismount. He's gone for a time afterwards, mount tied off and message conveyed at a growling monotone that fails to impress and may — if he's lucky — cost him the honor of making similar 'emergency' runs in the future.

For the short term, he's free enough to inspect arrangements being made outdoors more closely, scarf and suit and long black coat. And hat. Always.

He looms through and past excited children like an iceberg, eyes lingering on piles of dead pigeon before they turn up and out. Curious without being expressly interested.

Every now and then, there's a break in the peace.

A door cracks on its own hinges, a woman emerging out of it with a bundle held precious to her chest as she goes, it and she wrapped in enough fabric for the child to go almost entirely obscured. Her legs are thin, clad in home-sewn trousers, her face blanched white and pinched in fury and worry, showing her age in hard lines at her eyes and bracketing her mouth. She's dressed and moved in a rush, but stops and turns back towards where the door opens wide - and now the sounds of male aggression are echoing out through the corridor and into the street, an emerging conflict.

It's not the nicest of places to live, too close to the market square to be property claimed by one's self — rental, ramshackle little rooms above shops, only temporary if you can no longer provide the produce and favours to the landlord. Hardly anyone gets kicked out.

Usually.

A window above opens, a third party peering worriedly out. "Are you alright, Chrissie?" is offered, neighbourly and bemused, just over the conversational din of the square.

The woman glances up, mute and stricken and unable to answer, trying to rock and comfort her child. Which isn't actually fussing at all.

She's right, you know, says a voice that only Aislinn can hear, but would come from the rooftop if its owner spoke these words aloud. A raven with snowy white feathers and a bundle of mistletoe trapped in its milky pink beak cocks its head, peering down at the two women.

It does look a bit spotty. With a gunshot-boom of his wings, Hush launches off the roof and glides across to the area Mariah indicated for a closer look, and to hang the mistletoe from a bent nail sticking out from a low beam. This is how he helps. Also: by wishing that two people are able to find each other beneath it sometime before dawn.

Aislinn descends from the ladder one step at a time, careful not to snag her skirt on the way down. She'd been about to turn, hook arms with Mariah, and follow the bird, but the negative emotions clouding around the open doorway and the woman standing outside it pulls her in the opposite direction instead. She looks.

Mariah watches Hush go to help, a smile spreading across her face. There is a certain fondness for the familiars in this one. She, for one, is about to say something to the physician, her lips even part to do so. It isn't the emotion that cuts her off, though, it's that noise following the woman that registers with her.

Her brows furrow and she looks as well. "Uh oh," escapes her softly and she lets her gaze drift over the square again, as if seeing who around might actually be able to help if things go wrong. But at least she doesn't settle on volunteering anyone just yet.

Algernon's glare turns mechanically back over his shoulder to focus upon Hush's contribution without having seen the initial flush of takeoff or landing. One subtle movement in a sea of hustle and bustle — his own eye in the sky weathered safely out of sight. Wary study is cut off short by voices raised and heads turned; his own angles after the ruckus on an automatic swivel.

Which then continues on slightly past the point of interest the woman represents, possibly in search of someone else authoritative. Or responsible. Or. On duty. Anyone not him to take the fall should a public disturbance go awry would be nice, really.

Instead he finds himself reaching for his belt to secure the set of it against his hip, lapels lifted across a long-suffering sigh. People are the same everywhere.

The sounds of the fight rattle out louder over the sound of heavy footsteps. "…told, by the morning," is the first coherent thing that manages to struggle out of the open door, and the shapes of a younger man being rough handled by an older one. The younger isn't putting up much of a fight— or rather, he actually is, quite ferociously, but there's a weakness to his struggle that speaks towards his own paleness, the deep shadows under his eyes.

A boot to the rear sends him spilling out into the street when hands release him sharply. The woman, Chrissie, either older sister or young mother, steps lightly towards him, a hand out to grip his sleeve in the universal tug of let's just go.

"Where the fuck're we supposed to go? You said 'til the end of winter, you heartless cunt!" is roughly spat instead of paying her any mind.

"Take your plague to the castle for all I care," is declared by the older man, turning his back with the intent of headed back inside the building. It will take a sharp eye for anyone to pick up on the blade flashing in the younger man's hand, then, when he abruptly rushes for that expanse of back turned to him — but the woman sees it, and gives a sharp, wordless cry of panicked protest when the sleeve she was holding onto is tugged out of her grasp.

Aislinn has seen a lot of tragedies. Stillborn infants and children dead before their mothers and fathers. Poliomyelitis. Cholera epidemics. Last week, a young farmer fell off his horse, broke his back, and asked her for hemlock when she told him that he'd never walk again.

For some people, that might make being a witness to this a little easier, but Aislinn experiences Chrissie's fear almost as if it were her own, and there is nothing she would wish for more in this moment than to eliminate the distance between herself and the boy— man with the knife.

She might be able to do more than bark out a warning shout.

Mariah doesn't notice the flash of blade or sharp movement, instead, at the mention of the plague, she turns toward Aislinn. "Is there room for their care? I can pay a little— Aislinn?"

It's only the other woman's attention on the little drama that draws Mariah back that way to watch closer. It's too late to do much of anything about it herself, but she does wince, seeing the boy rush the older man. It's very likely she still misses the fact that the younger is armed, given how muted her own reaction is, watching.

Unexpected. Having only just begun to direct himself towards the crux of conflict, Algernon stiffens at the shout and flash, progress stayed by adrenaline push as much as it is the gaggle of locals craning to have a better look.

The only thing to do, then, is to draw and fire — once, directly up past the crook of his elbow and into the sky, the revolver's crack and ring instant cotton in his ears. Someone is manhandled out of his way; hopefully not a child. Most of the rest get the idea to move it on their own, after that.

Effect is instant as it only can be; people duck and scurry, and the young man almost loses his water along with his nerve as attack is stalled out. He twists to confront the thread before his knife can find anything, his face ghost white, mouth cracked and dry and open to shallow breathing.

The landlord looks back as well, a hand gripping the edge of the doorframe for a second to assess what all is going on. No one is lying dead, so he only hustles his way swiftly into the dim of the building, slamming the door behind him in grand ignorance to what he was just rescued in. There's a certain silence descended on the scene, but it can't last — buzz of murmur and the wheels of the town begin to grind along, creep in on the edges.

The young man squares a look at Algernon, knife to gun, and despite this, he starts on forward in shaky steps, the need for confrontation bright in otherwise dull eyes.

He doesn't make it much further than a few paces before buckling at the knees.

Now Aislinn's feet are carrying her swiftly across the square, skirt hiked high above the calf. Her leather boots are light, their soles flat, and laces snug — the only thing that puts her in danger of tripping is her forward momentum, and while her balance is nothing that a cat would be jealous of, she has enough of a handle on it to keep from spilling onto the brick.

She does, however, join the young man on the ground as soon as she reaches him, looping him protectively in her arms in an attempt to hold him upright. Her instict is to feel his chest and gut for wetness and warmth seeping through his clothes.

She only heard the gunshot. Did not see where Algernon's weapon was pointed.

"Mariah!"

Ducking away from the shot, Mariah whips her head here and there to try to get an idea of what in the world is happening. However, she mostly can only see running people, but when that includes Aislinn, she takes off after her. Her pace is slower, hindered by shoes less comfortable and dress more complex. But she is untying her shawl from around her waist as she comes along.

"I'm here," comes not too long after the call of her name and she kneels down on the other side of the young man, apparently not minding her pretty dress getting dirtied by the market ground. She came ready to help with bullet holes, but seeing no blossoms of red against his clothes or seeping out from under him, she gives a puzzled shake of her head before she reaches out to help hold him upright. "It's alright now," she speaks a soft mantra, words aimed at the man, but the comfort spills over anyone who happens to be near enough to hear her, "We've got you, it's alright…"

Algernon, in relatively dapper dress and decent health — with gun — lifts only one brow when the young man wielding the knife rounds on him. Apparently not measuring him enough of a threat to be worth the effort of raising both, he keeps his pistol pointed skyward in bland expectation. Of acqueiscence. Or assault.

A collapse is fine too.

He holsters the revolver when the man (boy?) hits his knees, gunpowder and lead exchanged for the polished wooden length of his nightstick. There's a degree of suspicion to the lethargy with which the exchange takes place. Generally people need to be shot before they keel over before him, and all.

"If you put that knife in her," he warns from afar, no hurry to the pace of his approach, "you will spend the night having my truncheon removed from you." He doesn't specify from where, exactly.

There are only so many places one might go.

Boy, man, somewhere in between. He certainly looks younger when one squints passed the fact he isn't well.

Comforted though he may be, it can't replace whatever 'plague' he was being accused of having, flicking a bleary glance in an Algernon-like direction and letting his hand loosen around the knife in submission. His hands plant against the ground as if to stop himself entirely going face down, and Mariah's hands assist in this too. His head hangs heavy on his neck. "I'm alright," he agrees, voice weak but sober.

Her face dry of tears but twisted in anxiety, the woman moves closer, hovering at the edges. The wool has slipped to show the dark haired child resting head against her shoulder, damp and feverish, her hand steadying it there. "He's not putting his knife in anyone, now," she says, looking to Algernon, with the obvious fear of the lower class in relation to the Man. "We'll leave as he wants." He, being the man that bullied them out.

Once Aislinn has established that the young man isn't bleeding from a bullet wound to his torso, she cups his face in her hands and turns it up and toward her, forcing his eyes to meet hers— or as close to forcing as Aislinn comes. Her touch is cold but gentle, and through her palms she feels the clamminess of his skin, but she doesn't find what she's looking for this way either.

"No cochlear bleeding," she murmurs to Mariah, "and his lymph nodes are normal. It isn't the plague. I've never felt—" Her lips pinch shut and she presses her teeth together, sudden tension like metal wires holding her jaw shut. When she opens it to speak again, her voice is quieter, but it's also hoarser. "Isibeal's. They can stay the night there."

She lifts her eyes to Algernon next, initially uncertain of what to say to him, only to discover that her response comes naturally when she stops thinking about it. "Thank you," she says.

For his words. For aiming high. Both.

Mariah lifts an eyebrow at Aislinn's explanation, particularly when it cuts off, but she nods to the eventual direction. "Glad to hear it isn't the plague. Would have put a real damper on my evening," she says with a wan, crooked smile across to Aislinn. She knows it's not the time for joking, but sometimes it just hops right out. She turns to ask one of the onlookers to find them a cart or something so the boy doesn't have to walk all the way there.

But when she turns back, she unfurls her shawl to wrap around his shoulders, but her attention turns up to Algernon as well, herself nodding an agreement to the other's thanks.

"Wonderful," drolly repaid the woman's reassurance that there will be no stabbing in addition to falling in line with the wishes of her landlord, Algernon pays her about as much heed as the Man deems she is worth. Which is to say: none. He doesn't even look at her.

He looks at the boy instead, drawn up short as he is, some three or four feet behind Aislinn and Mariah. Far enough to be out of arms reach, near enough to see pallor and sink for himself and decide that 'some three or four feet' is quite close enough. About ready to blend back into the square after lingering for long enough to hear the word plague more than once, he puffs up unconsciously on the verge of argument for Aislinn's generous housing suggestion — maybe let's see about some place he isn't living, thank you — he catches himself when she looks up. To thank him.

Resignation sinks the furrow out of his brow and relaxes the hardened angles of his chops. He glances from Aislinn to Mariah and…nods. Unspoken, near reluctant welcome on his way to turning to poke truncheon to sternum for a gawker riding up too close on his shoulder. "Back to your business." He is going back to his.

As Algernon sets about his business and Aislinn and Mariah arrange what to do next, the boy's hand clutches at the added warmth. It's winter, after all.

And he's cold.