Title: Objective
Time Period: March 10, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Jorn approaches Algernon in private in search of his opinion on a potentially sensitive matter.

Far beyond the borders of civilized Dornie, nary a broom closet in sight, Algernon is on post along the road that leads inward amidst a scattering of small farms. A conservative fire has been set to burn before a wooden shack fallen into shambles some years ago, where harvestmen and mice huddle out of the cold.

Fogg himself is leaned against a tree with canteen in hand under a sky that is equal parts sheer cloud cover and velvet star field. The usual borrowed horse is tied off to the shack; a cat's eyes flicker wild orange in firelight reflected from the roof.

It's been three hours since the last mule and cart creaked past, and a dry, "Look alive, over there," is probably meant for the horse, who whuffles and shifts his weight out of a sleepy dip of his muzzle.

Jorn gave himself some time before deciding to go to anyone else; while his first choices were wise, the women were not the type prone to know action from reaction. He realized quite quickly that he would need more than a shy healer and a teenager. The horse will likely smell him first, the bitter scent of musk amidst brisk night air and the smoky charcoals. Though vaguely familiar, the scent makes any nervousness more obvious.

The bear makes no move to disguise an approach, perhaps unwise, perhaps not. Sticks snip in two, dirt shuffles, dry grass crackles. Yet when the wide, lumpy white shape appears at the edge of the darkness, it remains there, glittering eyes looking in on the camp from its skirt.

Jorn has hopes that Algernon will not shoot him outright; creeping up like this does him no credit in the first place- doing so as a bear, he is every camper's nightmare.

The horse does. Smell him first — nostrils dished and ears flattened into a nervous dance of hooves once he's awake enough for fear. The cat streaks down a tree into the woods in the same beat, tail puffed thick and breath fogged fast when's finally far enough away to feel safe clawing up a pine.

Algernon is slower to react.

Deprived of a superior sense of smell, he eyes the horse and pauses to think, see, until sticks begin to crack and logical conclusions to come to fall by the wayside. He drops the flask and swings the rifle on his back smoothly down and up to bear against his shoulder, safety disengaged as scotch dribbles gold onto the ground between his boots.

He's oddly still when Jorn manifests in smudgy full across the fire, perhaps especially so with a gelding beside himself with terror screaming against his reins in the foreground. The rotten length of wood he's tied off to finally gives; the beast thunders across the fire, spinning a log and associate fire across damp litter in a blaze of sparks.

Left with his rifle and his hat and the tree to his back, Algernon is hard-pressed to force a breath slow and stiff through his sinuses. "I take it you're open to the idea of being ridden back to town," he tells the bear, "as I have no intention of walking."

On one hand, Jorn can be totally certain they're alone. On the other- well. The bear's nose twitches in the dark, eyes watching the trees where the horse had run off. Unintentional, yes, but not totally unexpected.

"Mmm." The response is a grumble, though its distinct tone is clear enough. Jorn moves forward, one long foreleg going out to swat the loose log back into the fire, where it sparks again. The bear turns himself after, pawpads swishing around in the dirt as he turns a couple of circles in place. When he plants his rump on the ground, the half-turn finds him shifting back, cloak all but sweeping him to a stop.

"Possibly." Reaching out a boot, Jorn heels a stray stick back into the fire, and the charcoals eat it up. "You wouldn't be the first, I digress."

Low burning irritation (or even anger in the process of being bitten back) is easy to read in the break of shadows across jaw, nose and brow. Algernon does not like surprises. He doesn't like constantly having to run around after flighty horses, either — safety switched on with a deliberate tick once Jorn is a man and the rattle about his nerves stiffles and ebbs quiet.

The glare he has fixed on Wartooth lingers.

All the way until he bends a knee to recollect his flask, remaining contents measured with a slosh and weigh of his hand. Could be worse.

"Sorry about the horse. He might come back. It is dark out there." Either it will come back, or, true to form, Jorn will have to be the wagon. He honestly doesn't mind, though Algernon probably does. A little. A lot. Jorn sits under the glare, for the time being, taking it where it is due. The lingering expression is met with wariness, despite presumptions of brotherhood as it is. "I did not show up just to scare it off.

"I wanted to ask your opinion on something. I value your objectiveness on the matter." Sitting on the ground has its comfort, though the nord hasn't found it yet. He shifts, sitting cross-legged and straightening his spine.

It might, Algernon allows with an unenthusiastic tilt of one brow once he's set the rifle aside and screwed the cap back onto his flask. His familiar doesn't reply. He doesn't need to: simmering irritation translates more clearly in sensation, anyway, as he skirts from branch to branch over muddy tracks.

"Of course," he says aloud and down to his belt, where there is a place for his flask alongside the nickle gleam of his revolver in its holster. "I often have an insatiable lust for objective counsel while wandering the roads as a bear in the dead of night."

"Oh-ho-ho." Jorn snorts once, though his small laugh forces it to be light. Mantled shoulders tilt back, and he all but scoffs the rest in a tired rasp. "You make it sound so unlikely." A great many things are not as unlikely on this side of the island. "Believe it or not, it is getting quite difficult for a bear to find objective counsel these days. So many shoot or run first. Nobody wonders why the bear is white, or why it comes peacefully, or why it is there…" But Jorn's disappointment in man's lack of attuning to nature and the supernatural is not what he wanted to discuss.

"Before I go any further, I want to know what you thought of the kidnap-ransom situation in January. Generally speaking."

Algernon's stare is one of milder consideration once he's straightened the lapel of his coat and it tracks back onto target. Reading after intent. The question Jorn's posed is misleadingly sensitive.

"Little that I know of specifics, I thought," he answers after a pause that is neither long or particularly off-putting, "that it could have been better managed. By both sides."

Intent is not yet written on his face; it is by nature a question that is only leading into another.

"And what would you have done, if you were Duncan?" The northman's voice smoothes out now, helped by a coughing clear of his throat. This seems to be the more important half of his first round of questions, and part of Jorn is hoping that Algernon doesn't immediately turn Quid Pro Quo while he fishes for answers.

"If I were Duncan." Algernon echoes. Or muses. It wasn't the followup he was expecting, somehow. He chides himself with a near imperceptible squint, crow's feet cinched tight at the corners of his eyes while he fishes behind his lapel for his pipe.

Sweet time is taken once he's found it, a tin of tobacco and his box of matches; he organizes himself and the process with a deliberate kind of precision while he decides.

On honesty, that is. The answer requires roughly no thought at all.

"Upon the recovery of my child I would systematically destroy those responsible. And their supporters."

While waiting, Jorn's arms cross in front of his ribs, and for a moment the posture seems out of place in that it is more guarded than usual. His eyes are paled against orange light, although the darkness of his pupils have ease enough watching Algernon.

"Even if they were like your companions from the road?" Jorn intones an element of desperation in these hypothetical rivals. Hungry, unhealthy, cold. Disregarding what did end up happening to the gypsies — Desperate enough to think of ransom to be the only way to make things favor them.

Pipe puffed on at a thoughtful distance, Algernon settles more comfortably back against his tree, right elbow seated in left hand. When he speaks again, watchfully, it's simply to ask: "Do you have children, Mister Wartooth?"

Jorn can tell that Algernon probably knows the answer before he asks, or can at least make an intelligently accurate guess. His arms uncross, and his hands on his knees bend into fists. The question itself gets a stubborn glare into the charcoals, and Jorn's jaw grinds in the light, mouth flat.

"Not by blood, no." He finally replies, posture still tensed and brows still creased.

A crook at the corner of Fogg's mouth at Jorn's expense is accentuated (perhaps exaggerated) by the cut of his chops. He did know. Tension is marked with a glance. There's little to be found around his person in turn; he'd been drinking a bit before the bear arrived and he's smoking now. More or less in his element, as far as sketchy outposts in the middle of nowhere go.

"My answer stands," he reiterates, despite (clearly) feeling that it shouldn't be necessary. "Of course, Cordelia is not Duncan's daughter. She is his niece. So." He exhales a great puff of smoke, like a shrug. One that supposes that some minutiae therein may be what's made the difference for Lord Rowntree.

"You feel sorry for them."

"The tribe? Yes, I do. Methods aside." Jorn bares his honesty with no shame. "The woman that took her is still alive." As opposed to dead, or even half-dead, as she ought to be. "And she aims to 'take what belongs to her'. I am inclined to not allow such a thing again, and simply give them what Duncan did not." Negotiation with terrorists is never on anyone's smart list, but this is not the old world. Jorn takes what chances that he sees as having worthy outcomes.

"It is what I wanted to do the first time. To avoid any of this. It runs the risk of putting weapons into enemy hands, certainly-" He scans the air habitually. "-but that is not where the priority lies." It lies on feeding and supporting a community.

"I have given a rival the means to hurt me before. That does not always mean they use it so." Favors reaped in kind, it sounds like.

"What is it that they asked for?" Weapons, obviously. He must mean more specifically, with a grunt for the effort it takes to sink himself down into a sit next to the prop of his rifle. Closer to Jorn's level partway across the fire. His pipe follows him.

"This time she means to take Cordelia for good, I think. I'm not even sure that bargaining now will work, but I am not one to lie down for a second kidnapping. Not when I know it could come at any time. Days, weeks." Jorn nudges at a loose spit of charcoal with his boot, snuffing it under the sole. "It is pride in her heart, I think? Perhaps a grudge-" A short pause.

"-against yours truly has something to do with it." Jorn is not ready to test these waters, but for the sake of context it must be done.

"And so you see, I cannot make this work on my own, regardless of what I choose to do. That does not mean I have- or wish to- tell every able-bodied man."

"A virulent combination," Algernon agrees conversationally offhand across his pipe, re; pride and grudges. Encouraging. Maybe. However inscrutably so — he narrows his eyes slightly when the grudge in question is specifically framed around Jorn. Curious.

"You realize," he hazards, once Jorn has tempered himself off into quiet, "that my position within this settlement is more precarious than your own, should whatever… alignment?" he isn't sure that's the most accurate word, "you're proposing become public knowledge."

"I've been playing these games a long time. Or it …feels that way." Jorn sighs, chest falling heavy over his heart. "That is why I am not asking you to do anything outright. And if you decide this information is valuable, you would not be the first man to ever betray my trust." Laying the guilt down just in case. The Nord makes zero pretense while doing it, too.

"Your path is your own, svoger-armer. If this woman returns, someday, I will need a plan- To handle her without killing her. Again." Since technically, that woman was already dead once, and Jorn gives the impression he does not want her dead.

An indistinct noise in the base of Algernon's throat is hazy acknowledgment of games played and the nature of his own path. So it goes.

"She will," he assures next, coolly matter-of-fact. Searching again, as well. What's the connection, there?

"If it's arms she's asked for, and arms you need, I may — theoretically — " he punctuates with a tilt of his pipe before he tips it back into his mouth, "be of some assistance."

"Which is a hard thing to say, is it not?" He remains truthful, even though as Algernon assents the return he gets a sour taste in his mouth. Almost caustic. "But I hope not said without cause?" Jorn has reservations about some things, but Algernon overestimating himself does not look to be one. Finally, Jorn gets that sense that Algernon desires more context; what he gives is mostly helpful.

"She thinks that I murdered her father. I did not. Her wanting me to prove my words is going to be even more difficult than having arms that she needs…" Ah, a woman scorned. Close enough.

"'She,' did not orchestrate the kidnapping of Cordelia Ross to get at you." Lest we forget the start of all this trouble in Dornie. A lazy turn of pipe in hand loops smoke around itself in a slender line. "Whatever her grievance is with you, it is secondary to her cause. How long was she with you, besides? A month? Two?" Algernon does not speak much. When he does it's with an innate self-assuredness that is difficult to question, even when it's on the subject of things he shouldn't know. "Whether she recognizes it or not, she's been primed to accept that you are not as terrible as she might have previously imagined."

Finished smoking, then, he goes about the process of packing the paraphernalia away in much the same manner as he initially retrieved it.

"As for my end, I do not offer lightly, Mister Wartooth. You asked what I would do if I were Duncan Rowntree, but I am not, and seeing as Cordelia was returned alive as promised under inexpert conditions, it seems likely to me that your perception is correct. The group you wish to stay is civilian in nature. And desperate."

Algernon is able to pinpoint one of Jorn's concerns even though it goes unsaid; that he holds some blame over his own head for inviting someone like that into the midst of Dornie in the first place. It soothes him only somewhat to know that a practical man thinks it secondary. However, the fact that he also knows who 'she' happens to be, well- that is another matter entirely. One that puts a terribly disgruntled expression on Jorn's face when it is mentioned and expounded upon.

Still, Jorn feels that he could be right on both accounts, and is silent throughout, and afterward. Jorn sighs, shard and short, before picking up again.

"You know how I feel. I will give you plenty of time to think it over, if you would like. I have no reason to believe she will return before she is… fully healed."

"Sorry," says Algernon, upon giving Disgruntled Jorn a mild up-and-down, "but the timing is rather suspect. Without frame of reference, I doubt anyone else you approach will jump to the same conclusion." If he approaches anyone else. Dubious reassurance is delivered with half an apologetic wince regardless.

"I am keeping this matter close." Jorn refrains from telling him who else he has told of this; he will either find out in time, or not at all. "I do not regret helping her." The man's voice holds a note of sadness, and he looks to the grass, frowning. "I do regret that it has come to what it has." Nothing he can do but prepare and wait.

"For your hearing me out, I am grateful."

Fogg nods, vague respect for limited details automatic in the lines etched in over his brows. Too many seconds later for it to be related, tension flinches in across his side where muscle bites against rib and he swallows, Don't, groused in silent reproach to the wildcat who's slithered back into range and laid into him. Also silently.

He's recovered before it's a thing, twitch easily written off as an old ache muffled by a shift in his slouch against his tree. Someone did recently push him off of a mountain, after all. "Dornie is fortunate to have you," he says aloud, rifle reached for for lack of something better to do with his right hand when it lifts unconsciously after a brewing headache. "But some warning before your next visit would be appreciated."

He still has to collect his horse.