Pleas to a Painted Smile

Title: Pleas to a Painted Smile
Time Period: March 19, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: An accidental intervention on Luna's business gives Duncan a glimpse into the dirty world of a whore.

The moon is high and full, the sky isn't quite clouded over but there are enough to shade the streets below. Eerie shadows stretch long over roadways, they're silent except the occasional bark of a dog. It's late and all the decent people of Dornie are tucked in their beds and fast asleep. Of course this means the lights of the Dovetail are still burning, some bedrooms dimmer than others but most have a light of some kind.

Up in the attic room there's a dull glow. A silhouette in the window shows someone in the room, a female with long hair that's as pale as her skin. From below it's easy to see that she's still fully dressed, not in normal daywear but in something lighter, a nightshirt possibly.

Her thin arms bend and straighten as a brush is pulled through her tresses. Then the curls are twisted up and pinned to the top of her head, a golden crown of hair for the princess of the tower. Her movements are a little more sluggish than usual. Fatigue would make a plausible explanation, she is a hard worker. Then she stands, facing a mirror that's black from street level. Whatever is reflected back at her seems to have captured her interest because she goes as still as a marble statue.

These nights have grown longer for some, it seems. For instance, a fellow evening traveller, in a fur-lined coat and hat, making his desolate way in the paved valleys that circumscribe Luna's eyrie. No need to make much of the why. Worries and cares and duties keep everyone up past honest hours sometimes.

The attic window draws this traveller's eye - he seems to already know where to look. The firelit image of the girl before the mirror appears like a tiny golden illumination upon the dark manuscript of the city.

Heels to flanks, he sets his horse forward. When he arrives, he dismounts with a careful lack of haste, but a definite restless energy, visible in the speed with which he takes off his jacket and hat, revealing a dark wool undershirt and a disciplined head of red hair.

His ascent, though, has him slowing his pace, and his heavy boots make surprisingly little noise when he chooses to tread lightly. This seems like courtesy, perhaps, but it's not quite that.

He removes a key, given to him by the proprietress some time ago, from his pocket. He fits it into the lock. Turns.

Duncan eases the door open slowly, just a crack.

Courtesy of the mirror, he can see the young woman. Glazed eyes focused on nothing in particular. The long gown she wears is shapeless, fabric light, airy, and in this light nearly see through. He can make out the curve of her waist and hips underneath without the need to get any closer.

“Cross your arms behind you,” a voice somewhere on the other side of the door. A male voice commands her in an unhurried manner, an order that she obeys as if hypnotized. “Keep them at the small of your back.”

The shadow moves into view, behind Luna, stopping close enough that he’s within arms length but far enough that only his hands might touch her. He reaches to the back of his waistline and slowly pulls a knife that reflects the orange glow of the fireplace, making it look as though it's on fire as well.

“Stand still and tell me what you see," he says quietly and then raises the knife toward her neck.

At another time Duncan would have had the time to linger on the airiness of the dress, the kind of veiled beauty that suits his tastes quite well. At another time, he might even fail to take note of that odd glaze to her usually active, stormy eyes - he’d had written it off as daydreaming.

But the man who commands her, and the fact that the commands are obeyed - this prevent any such distraction from her predicament, and prevent all but the swiftest and most forceful of interpretations.

Duncan does not lunge in. His movements are economical, measured. He moves into the room, into view, and states in a low but carrying tone.

“You’ll want to put that away, lad.”

When the man turns, Duncan will immediately recognize him as local. A merchant from the square who typically draws no notice except to the tittering gossips of the village who flock to his stand daily to flirt. Usually, they are let down with a smile and shake of the head. Presently, the knife is dropped in surprise, tip sinking into the floor boards as the middle aged man tries to stammer an explanation.

"Mister Rowntree, I was— " no words seem to be forthcoming and Luna seems to be of no help.

A small glass bottle rests on the top of the dresser, next to a still steaming cup of tea. The label on it is quite weathered, the word on it barely readable. O—um.

"— I wasn't going to hurt her, I would never…"

Slowly, Luna's chin lifts as she spies Duncan's reflection in the mirror. The corners of her lips turn up, as though she's pleased to see him, and she reaches toward his face in the glass. "I see Duncan," she whispers, presumably to the man caught between them. "I see Duncan and I would like to touch him."

There’s a troubling ease with which Duncan can slip into violence, an almost trifling way to treat the bodies of others - though of course, really skillful violence is trifling with no body or force. Still, he doesn’t make grabbing the merchant by the front of his shirt look terrifically difficult, and while there is a resounding slam as the militia-man pins the presumed intruder to the wall with an extended arm and a rib-compressing fist, the effort Duncan seems to make is very little.

This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean it stops hurting. Duncan applies steady, building pressure to the merchant, a physical urging that belies his level, unhurried tone.

“Best explain quick.”

Luna is acting strange. This Duncan realizes quickly enough. But as best he can tell she’s safe, and so attending to her - and thus answering her wish - falls second to the interrogation. He’s not about to turn his back on the man.

The steaming tea, and the bottle with its label of elided hesitations - oh… um… - fall even further to the back of his perceptions. For now.

Duncan Rowntree doesn't require his reputation to precede him in this case. The hold and the pressure applied have the merchant subdued in a matter of seconds, there's only one warrior in the room. Luna's client bends inward, trying to ease his own suffering as he attempts to comply to the militia man's request. "I don't know what you wish to hear!" Still Luna is of no help to him as her fingers trail the contours of the soldier's reflection.

"Luna, tell him I wouln't hurt you!!" Frantic now, he lunges one arm toward the woman. It misses but captures her attention enough that she turns around.

Head lolling to the side, Luna watches the two of then for a moment before parting her lips. A soft breath is taken in before a small sound escapes her throat. "You should go now," she advises the merchant. Her words are slow and deliberate, as if she might be having a little trouble stringing them together. "Before you make Duncan angry, he doesn't know your game." And she's in no condition to explain it.

Duncan lets the merchant twist and bend for a few moments longer than it takes for him to actually decide what to do with him. In the end, it’s nothing so awful. Without further ado, without further warning even, he yanks him from the wall and drags him to the threshold of the room before hurling him, sans ceremony, out into the hall.

“I know you now,” is all Duncan has to say to him, before stepping back, and swinging the door closed with a unequivocal clap. He pockets his key before he finally turns to Luna, brow furrowing slightly as the pervasive peculiarity of her affect has the chance to properly sink in.

He’s at her side, in the mirror and in the world. Catching her lilting head with a hand on her fair cheek.

“What’s been done to you?”

There's a clatter of boots to wooden stair as the merchant scrambles away from Duncan and the room itself. Like a villain from children's picture books, he pauses at the landing to yell back his final word. "I'm not paying for this!"

Luna stares at Duncan for the better part of a few minutes before her eyes drift toward the steaming cup. "I don't like it when they touch me, then I need my tea." Sluggish, as if wading through mud, her hands come up to either side of Duncan's face. Her eyelids slide closed as her fingers and thumbs map the lines of his cheeks, jaw, ears, and hair by touch. Soon, they slide down to his shoulders and she cranes her neck up, tilting her face close to his. "You're a pleasant surprise, are you really here or are you simply a figment?"

He tilts her head a little, trying to get a proper look at the state of her eyes. A deeper darkness has swelled in those stormy eyes, and even what was clear before looks cloudy. Duncan’s eyes cut over to the steaming cup for a moment, and then to the bottle in the next.

“Ask the man I just sent hence how real I am,” Duncan says, with a near inaudible huff of breath. Then, upon further consideration, he leans forward to plant a kiss upon her brow.

“I’m here. And staying too.” He says this in part because he is going to pull away - not for long, only as long as it takes to get the tea she spoke of - but if she doubts the presence of a man she can lay her hands upon, then he trusts she may appreciate a little more than the usual reassurance. At least while in this state.

What state that is may come clearer in moments as he moves to the dresser.

The tea is still quite hot, it couldn't have been prepared more than ten minutes before his arrival but the dosage of opium inside the porcelain lets off it's telltale scent. When he picks it up, she reaches toward it and then stops with a slight shake to her head, possibly to provide herself with a bit of clarity. "I shouldn't, I promised to give it back when I didn't need it anymore."

The bottle itself is empty, apparently the young woman wasn't good on her word. "Tell her that I'm sorry, aye? I've been naughty, I was just supposed to keep the pain away."

Finding the soft mattress, Luna sinks down into it and let's loose a long sigh. Her bare feet are pulled up and tucked beneath the coverlet to keep the chill away.

Sniff sniff.


Duncan holds the teacup, the porcelain shell looking diminished in his hands. Then, without explanation, he moves to the window and tugs it up and open, letting in a howl of chilly nightwind. With a flick of the wrist tosses the contents out, over the sill, in a brief, murky cascade.

He shuts the window again before placing the cup back in its place.

“This is beneath you,” Duncan says, not yet looking at her. He’s short on sympathy it would seem. Short on demonstrable emotion of any kind. Save for the distinct tinge of disappointment.

“The hophead whore - it’s a cautionary tale.” As opposed to an aspiration.

It's that one word that has Luna's head turning altogether too quickly for her eyes to keep up. When they finally focus on Duncan, there's a quirk downward of her brow. She doesn't say a word in her own defense against it or the disappointment so massive that it clouds the air in the room with thick tension.

"It's likely something you could never understand," words that she'd never utter when sober. She knows that he's felt loss, at least he should have if he loved the mother of his children. It's been a debate amongst the gossips.

Turning onto her side away from him, the nightshirt shifts to hug close to her willowy figure. The material is so light that in closer quarters, he's able to make out the beauty marks that dot her back and haunt her.

“What is there to understand?” Duncan’s words confirm as much as counter Luna’s allegation. “I thought I understood: you wished to become someone of consequence.”

Now he looks at her. As he suspected, it is a difficult sight. The ambivalence he feels- the jarring disharmony in feeling- it feels sour in his stomach. His voice is not kind.

“Did I mistake pipe dreams for ambition?”

What is clear is that Luna is not in any sort of frame to have a conversation of consequence. Or a conversation that carries consequence. "I will," she affirms, her tone resolute as she speaks to the wall instead of the man in her room. Staring at the pattern where the darker paint bleeds through the recent whitewash, she reaches out to scrape a face to smile at her, rather than frown in disappointment.

Wee Duncan or Algernon, Beisdean or Maddock, it could be any man that has been disapproving of her actions. "I'll show the lot of you, I'll return without any vices." To her credit, she's been sober or at least functioning for all of their previous visits. "I've already been trying, I have, but it’s difficult with all of this…" She pleads her case to the smile in front of her rather than the scowl behind. "And he wished to touch me this time, I couldn’t face it."

Duncan is not graceless enough to ask what happened to her choice in the matter. Luna is a dope user, and a woman fallen far - such creatures are always verging on madness, and who wouldn't be, in such a state?

The map is real, however, existing outside Luna's mind and in Duncan's hands for the allotted time, and no more. The goal is real.

"You talk a great deal," Duncan says, standing his ground, in both mundane and metaphor, "and comb your hair, and take callers. You want to prove something? Prove it."

Finally, Luna twists at the waist, lying on her back to gaze at Duncan. Her eyes meet his and her face transforms from upset and worry to a calm and line free, youthful beauty. It's easy to see the influence her mother's lineage has had on the prostitute's comeliness.

Her head tilts just a fraction as she considers him, rather, his presence. Her hand lifts to her neck where the medallion shines at her throat and beside it, the key to the room. She touches it, just to make sure it's still there. "You're here," she reaffirms, even throughout the accusations and her own feeble defense, she can't quite believe it. Her room is a fortress. "But the door was locked." As it always is.

Duncan sees her face, and in the effortless of her calm sees an easy path to reconciliation, at least for the evening. What would it mean to chastise her in this state, after all? She's numb to pain, so punishment is pointless.

Oh, about the door.

"You think a lock would keep me out?"

Which isn't a proper answer, but who knows what she will remember, or where her mind will wander next. And he's smiling now, very slightly. Moving to her side.

"Yes, I'm here. Are you?"

"I might be, I can never be certain." There's a coy smile on her lips in response to his own smile. Her finger trails the length of his thigh and her eyes flit between it and his face. The foggy behavior isn't the only change in her demeanor. "I could be lost in a dream, where I am rendered senseless. After all, you are here."

The same hand travels to the token around her neck, tugging it playfully. "Did you come to offer your services as a body guard this evening?"

"You are," Duncan promises, a hand reaching to catch her chin, this thumb brushing against Luna's lips, "I can feel you."

His hand moves to press high on her chest, catching the faint, lazy percussion of her heart.

"My intervention was accidental," Duncan says, "but it needn't always be. Does your body need protection? It seems like it must. And I'm not well pleased that such a man could earn it, while I remain foiled."

"Right now you perch on a precipice that he could never hope to reach," Luna murmurs in response. Her lips follow the trail of his thumb, landing a small kiss on its calloused pad. She shifts, trying to push herself to a lean against the pillows and the sudden action makes her heart flutter under his hand. Dizziness causes her to stop and lay back again, half propped against the cushion. "That man will never lay in my bed. This space is reserved for more precious things than a man who simply enjoys watching what is in front of a mirror, instead of experiencing it."

"I think, Duncan Rowntree, that if you would like, my body could use guarding tonight." Not her virtue, which has long been spent on other endeavors.

"I'll stay a while, and keep guard," Duncan says, but already his voice carries the hint of apology, "but I'll not lay next to you- though not for lack of want." That point he must be clear upon.

"I can feel you," he repeats, leaning down close, so their lips brush, "but I want you to feel me as well."

And he rises back, to a more comfortable viewing distance. A gentle turning of tables.