Once For Yes

Title: Once for Yes
Time Period: February 26, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Duncan has questions for a thief, and a way to get answers.

The cage is made of woven willow, sturdier than it appears. The outside word appears to the captive through a meshwork of quadrangles, taping to long triangles above, given it an almost ecclesiastical appearance. But this is a cell for a familiar, not a monk, and it is a wizard, rather than a priest, that marked the warding circle that serves as a second barrier.

This added precaution was, Tobin assured Duncan, not strictly necessary. Familiars cannot just resolve into mist. But suspicion and superstition often tryst together, and Duncan's sardonic response - 'You can at least do something, if only to justify your expense' - comes on the heel of two of the Rowntree's house mage's inconclusions: that Shade's owner cannot be scryed, and (unrelated, but still very present in the middle Rowntree's mind) that little more can be said of Constance's injury than that it was done by a skinwalker. Or a familiar.

Which does nothing to ease Duncan's suspicions, hostility brewing as mage's pets link together a number of separate attacks on the family - the bone token of the kidnapper, the jaws of a wolf, the curiosity of a magpie.

There is something of a dormant threat to Duncan's loom as he enters the dark, windowless space in which Shade is being held. The old guardrobe's hole is covered by a slab of stone, and the cage rests just above where many ancient asses once did their dirty work. An undignified holding cell, by most human standards.

Whether or not this would occur to a bird - if this is indeed a bird, as such - is a question not neglected. Duncan arrives with a dim-lit lamp in one hand, and two gleaming metal objects in the other. As he sets the lamp down, turning it's flame a little higher with the lift of the wick, he free himself to place the first of the gleaming tokens on the cage's upper curve: a small silver bell, on a wire.

A proper peer gives hint of what the second object is, still held in his large hand. Visible between thumb and curved index are two curves of metal; protruding under the pinky is the sharp, spit point of twin blades.

She is quiet and still, as if pretending to sleep, until the light spills closer. The glimmer of something metal almost forces her glance, and there's a fluster of wingtips as Shade abruptly flaps to cross the distance of her cage. Which is very little, a tiny storm of flurried feathers as grey talons hook onto the woven prison sides. Prey animals always seem fearful, so it's difficult to gauge what the familiar might be feeling, but if she truly is sentient then perhaps one can make an educated guess.

Shade twists enough to get a glimpse of the bell and then the man beyond the cage, eyeing the glimpse of shine in his hand.

Most companions might get anxious at the departure of their familiars, and she sure hopes Cruikshank is the same way despite all their pettier arguments. Not because she anticipates a rescue, but because it's only fair.

Duncan hunkers down into a squat, forearms resting on either knee as he examines the bird through the barrier. Less than a quarter of a minute is spent in silent perception, though it may well feel longer, the emptiness of the moments hollowing them out, making them echo. At last he speaks. In essence it's a question, but it's stated as a conditional command.

"If you can understand me, ring the bell."

There is no bell ring.

Shade isn't sure the likelihood, immediately, of getting out alive if she makes like she's an ordinary magpie, but it is probably a guarantee that the cage will stay shut for longer if she makes like she is anything else. It is indecision and a desire to— well— keep to the shade that has her refusing to respond like she understands him at all, remaining perched and watchful.

Duncan gives Shade a little time to think it over, if it's actually thinking. He has a dim view on this sort of thing. Magic is the reason they live as they do now, holed up by their hearths, walled against the wild. There used to be empires. He's read of them.

Once enough time has elapsed however, his hands get restless. He shifts his arms, hands meeting before him and between his knees. A line of reflected light dances back and forth in the idle swap of a pair of scissors from hand to hand.

There's a low creak of bird sound from Shade. Disgruntled.


He isn't opening the door.

Slowly does it, she hops into a position better for bell dinging, and with a pause that, if she were human, would be filled with a bracing breath of inward sighed, she taps her beak delicately against the wee silver bell.

Duncan's very slight nod might qualify as appreciative. "I thought as much."

The blades of the scissors are pressed between his palms, thumbs tapping against the curving fingerguards as he peers over his hands. "Once ring for yes, two for no." He doesn't wait for confirmation of this system. If it understands the order to ring the bell, the affirmative/negative distinction can't be beyond its scaley grasp. "Do I know the one you belong to?"

It would be nice if humans weren't so stupid that they couldn't simply understand her like her companion does. But that isn't the case. A minor hesitation passes, before she gently taps the bell once. Her eyes are beady and intent, and maybe hold keener intelligence than one would expect from a little black and white bird.

"Does he know where you are?" In a single pronoun choice, Duncan has made a judgement founded on instinct and implication.

And this time there is no response. Indecision. Or maybe Shade isn't sure. She can always seem to find him. She jerks her head to ding the bell but doesn't wind up touching it at all, hesitant.

Duncan discerns the outer meaning of the gesture. Not a no, not quite a yes. They're linked, of course. Tobin spoke of a strong empathic bond, a link of knowing and feeling. But obviously it is not crystal clear - and perhaps the wizard's ward is causing interference.


"This conversation is private, then?"

Ding. Shade honestly isn't sure if the 'yes' is in her favour or not - she cannot read him like she does her companion, or even men made of less sterner stuff than this one - but she errs on the side of honesty.

This seems to please him, at least, though what pleases Duncan is not necessarily a reason for reassurance. He taps the cage with the grips of the scissors, making the bell chime very faintly, a ghost of a ring.

"I need details bells can't tell me," Duncan says, "but you can answer me this next - and understand that your well being and that of your owner depends on your honesty. The token you tried to steal from me - does your keeper know anything about its last bearer?"

It the world of Cruikshank and Keeps-to-the-Shade, honesty does not mean what they think it means. What people want to hear is more their trade, and so it's for that that Shade considers every question, but she never asked enough questions about the little bone necklace to know either way.

Ding. Ding.

Duncan gives a small sigh, one too pointed and too uncharacteristic not to be at least somewhat performance. "Then I'm dealing with theft. A common crime," he says, conjuring an air of disappointment about his words and visage, "with simple punishment."

He's on his feet, lamp lofted once more, skeletal shadow of the cage shifting with the wobble of the flame. "I needed help, you see, with a much more uncommon infraction. If your master had known something…" this trails into a meandering 'if only', which Duncan doesn't deign to follow further.

"But perhaps he'll surprise me. I wouldn't wish you a liar to me, but you should wish him a liar to you. If this is just a common crime, I'll clip your wings."

That gets a warbling gurgle of bird noise, protest, said wings flaring wide before folding tight against her body. For lack of anything else, she calms herself enough to snip her beak against the bell again in a jingly signal of no.

"I'm afraid that's nae your bailiwick," Duncan says. A light toss sends the scissors skidding over next to the cage, where they gleam with oblique light.

"Give it a think."

His back turns, body blocking out the light.

The clatter of scissors has Shade hopping to the other side from them on instinct, and if her next squark could be a swear word, this can only be known in its screeched edge and echo off the walls.