Strongly Worded Letter

Title: Strongly Worded Letter
Time Period: June 30, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: A missive from the Ross matriarch brings conflict, and resolution, to the castle's current courtesy.

You know for certain that civilization reigns in Dornie, because when the brothers Rowntree - strongmen of the city - receive a strongly worded letter, they pay it heed. Certainly it helps that it is composed with eloquent brevity. Nor does it hurt that its demand - to eject the foreign mages from the castle grounds, to drive them back to their ship in the bay with all due haste - is one that Duncan would be more than happy to enact, and in half the time. And it is, after all, impossible to ignore any missive lettered in the severe and unpretentious hand of Dina Ross.

And it really should be so simple. It’s Edmund’s invitation that’s about to be revoked, so protocol demands that Duncan refer the letter to his brother; he goes to him in person so the horselord might understand the situation in its entirety - and not uncolored with the militiaman’s own insular opinion. But outrage this broad has a billowing effect, like smoke spreading, and Edmund will scarcely have time to get as far as the Ross matriarch’s signature before most of the castle knows - or suspects - which way the wind is now blowing.

“Saints bless us,” Duncan says, arms crossed, his smile one of savage and unkind satisfaction, “but this is a gift to us. Truth - I’m moved by Lady Ross’ mercy-” the irony is dripping from his words, “for less, I’d flog them into the bay.”

Sometimes it's called the war room, the shadowy heart of the castle, tapestries and paintings on the walls, the gigantic oak table. The doors can be sealed against prying eyes but they stand open to allow in light, as well as the lantern that Edmund tips the letter towards so he can best read it. It has seen any amount of Rowntree presence, but the older Rowntree patriarch is absent from the head of the table, neither of which Edmund nor Duncan occupy in his stead.

Edmund stands rather than sits, his brow furrowed as he reads; for the record, he reads quick, writes neatly, has a better internal vocabulary than what comes out, but it's not an aspect of himself he freely advertises.

"Where're they now?" he asks.

"In their rooms, I suspect," Luna's voice comes from the doorway, statement finished before she's in view. Bandaged like a mummy from the neck and down one arm, she's chosen to hide it with scarves and a robe that envelops her down to her bare feet. It's well past the time that decent, hard working folk are dressed and being productive, the day has wound down for most. Duncan's mistress, feeling that jolt of suddenly servantless has been forced to help herself. "Or maybe exploring the Albatross."

The cup of tea is still steaming in her hand, she's just come from the kitchens, which is (presumably) why she's here now. "You're not really going to put them out, are you? Tonight? You can't, it'd be horrible."

Were it not Luna saying this- wait how did she get in here anyway? The castle's shadowy heart is, despite its central placement and prime location by the kitchen, not a thruway or commons. Quite the opposite. Another intruder would be repulsed. Indeed, were it not Luna saying this- unkind words would be the softest things hurled in that direction. Instead it's a glance, surprised at first, then confused, then - for a brief flash - betrayed.

Then it's gone and his voice is level and entirely reasonable.

"It is a little thing next to the insult leveled at the other first family," Duncan informs Luna who, being a lady, cannot be expected to understand the goings-on of the war room, "this is a matter of honor and respect."

When Duncan addresses Edmund, some of what he suppressed comes out in the harshness of his tone. "That we can't properly account for them-" is said with an unmistakable hint of accusation, "we ought to have kept them sequestered on their ship. Called it quarantine. Damn! Called it mere common sense."

Would have, could have. Edmund shrugs, this after giving Luna a once over, looking to Duncan to have her dismissed from the room, and when that doesn't come— he shrugs. "It's called giving them rope by which to hang," he says, folding the letter over, offering it back for Duncan to take. "And I'm inclined to do that, but— I'll not see more of their ships in our waters. Could be a warring thing, to kill them."

— because naturally, that is what he thinks of first. Or expects Duncan might. This isn't the rumpus room. (Not at the moment.)

"Nothing horrible in sending people home," he adds, grudgingly acknowledging Luna's words with a glance to her, back to Duncan.

Haste caused her to misspeak initially, a fault. Luna holds her cup in both hands with a dual motive to keep them occupied and warm them. Down at the bottom, there are a few leaves floating, even though she'd ordered them strained out. Help these days. As she stares through the amber liquid, one of the leaves unfurls into the shape of a paw with claws. It could be a tiger's, like the one Aislinn spoke about.

"It wouldn't be so much, no, if we knew what they were capable of." Slowly, Luna gains her own command of what actually happens in this room and it might be a faux pas, but her cup is placed at Markus' place, though she doesn't sit. "What generally happens when parties from Dornie are refused the things they want when they go to other towns?"

She already knows the answer… she's fairly certain they all do.

Sparrows make their nests in the narrow gaps between loose bricks in the castle's parapets, while mice and rats occupy its cellar in the cold months. Orphaned kittens brought inside by the children have grown, bred, and reared litters of their own, populating the grounds with capable hunters tasked with keeping the number of vermin at a manageable level. Marcus' hounds have a kennel attached to the southern wall.

In other words: animals are not an uncommon sight around Eilean Donan. The dormouse that pokes its nose around the corner, whiskers twitching, could just well be in search of a warm, dry place to settle for the evening. It darts a cautious glance up at the sound of Duncan's voice, which must sound like booming thunder to a creature so small, and creeps inside on tiny pink feet. Two skips and a hop carry across the stone floor and to the toe of Edmund's boot where it stops, sits back on its hind legs, and pauses to groom its face with its front paws.

Satisfied that it doesn't have any crumbs trapped in its whiskers, it noses under the bottom of Edmund's pant leg and uses its claws to scale up his trousers from the inside, careful not to prick him, though there's nothing Hush can do about the fluffy brush of his tail.

A little tickling never hurt anyone.

His face pokes out from Edmund's waistband a moment later. Peep, he says.

Duncan's impulses are misdirected. He is gentle with Luna, who is countermanding his wishes, and fierce with Edmund, who is making gallows analogies that warm the darker side of Duncan's heart. Indeed, his wishes, instincts and allegiances tug his mind this way and that, forcing him to will it still.

"They are a man and two women," Duncan says, attention sliding back and forth between Edmund and Luna, "with some kind of magic freak, and a crew that's far from home, who have not the look of raiders." They also have a cannon, but as this doesn't benefit Duncan's argument, he doesn't deign to mention it. He'll… deal with that. Later.

"They are in no position to threaten us," he asserts, "as long as we get them under proper watch. Maybe we don't makes nooses for them- we're not being asked that. We're being asked to send them back to their boat.

"If they stay- if they keep at it like this," he shrugs, "chances are, we can leave the hanging to Adler's people."

The mouse, proverbially quiet, escapes Duncan's notice.

Edmund's expression remains carefully unchanging when he feels a rodent crawl up his pant leg from the inside. He is also very still so as not to inspire in it the need to set tiny claws in his skin, but does offer it a hand by the time its peeking out into open air. "Aye, but we owe a bit to the other family to not see it get so far as that," he says. "I say it's in everyone's best interest to see the Lady Ross gets her way in this.

"It hurts us not at all," he adds, because really, that's the main reason why he'd given an inch to the Rosses, or do as they might command. They're merchants where the Rowntrees are soldiers; they like good trades.

"How is it in everyone's best interest?" It's not in Luna's, not as far as she can see. New friends being banished to the sea, a sea that their leader doesn't find agreeable at all. It all puts a bitter taste in her mouth. "It might not be in their best interest, and it can't be in ours because we don't know what they can do." She hasn't been out of her room long enough to know what anyone knows, so there's a bit of doubt that creeps in. "Do we? They have a cannon, are we going to take it from them?"

Giving enough respect to not sit in the patriarch's chair, she opts for a corner of the table instead, tugging the sides of her robe tight to avoid any embarrassing displays. "Keep them here, under careful watch. You could offer them an escort to make sure they don't go anywhere you don't want them to. You could keep the escort at their doors, for their own safety."

Hush wraps himself around the offered hand, hooking his front toes under Edmund's wedding band so he has something to cling to that doesn't involve pinching the man's skin or drawing blood. He expresses his gratitude for the gesture with a high, purr-like sound that rattles out on his next exhale, but the seat of Edmund's palm is not his intended destination, and he's soon clambering the rest of the way up to his shoulder.

Outside in the hall, Aislinn stands to the left of the door with her back to the wall and her arms folded across her middle. Eavesdropping feels a little dishonest. Intruding uninvited into a room seems impolite.

She and Hush really should have kept walking.

The honest answer is that that cannon would have been seized very promptly indeed had their guests not been deemed just that: guests. Luna was used as a skeleton key then, and now as a doorstop - a device for their devices, either way.

This insistent fact is starting to madden Duncan.

"I would have them gone to keep you safe," he says, appealing to Luna directly; Edmund is already in agreement, "from their influence, already too evident! My lady, you cannot-"

But really, Duncan knows it's not up to Luna. That he's acting like it stings his pride the moment he remembers. He should never have forgotten.

"It doesn't matter-" he says, in curt correction, "I do not wish to displease you, but your displeasure is not too dear a cost. I just wish you could see-" He rounds on Edmund.

"Even your addle-headed wife could see she's being used as a poison gift!"

And we're done.

Edmund thinks so, anyway. Luna's argument annoys him in the inoffensive way that a light rain might, but Duncan giving it the credit to bicker back is somehow worse. This last jab has his expression going like stone, and immediately, his hands fly out, grip onto the front of Duncan's shirt, and pitch him aside to bounce off the table which is probably heavy enough to stand the clash, and has probably done so before. Frankly.

"But you'll let a whore speak for Dornie's protection?" Edmund barks, fists curled in readiness to drive the point home if his words don't take. "It's done, anyway. Repair things with the little miss in the bedroom, Duncan, not here."

"Don't call Miss Ais— " Luna's cut off by the scuffle. She slips off the table and scurries backward toward the wall. The slap of flesh against stone is masked by Edmund's yelling and the prostitute shrinks. She's not high and mighty enough to do anything but be wounded when those words come out.

She watches as the teacup teeters on the edge of the table and then falls. The smash of porcelain is the exclamation mark on the end of Edmund's ranting. Her tea is all over the floor. It'll dry.

Blinking back the water that threatens to break the dam of her pale lashes, Luna straightens her posture and raises her chin proudly. "You put them back on their boat, then I'll go with them." She's sure that Edmund will welcome the ultimatum, so she directs it straight at Duncan. "I dunno what they've done so terrible to make anyone act this way but I'm tired. I'll pack my things in the morning."

It's a little like standing on top of a mountain that's decided to abruptly uproot itself. Hush's tail snaps out, each and every last bristle of fur standing on end, and he only manages to hold onto his perch by snagging the collar of Edmund's shirt in his jaws. It leaves him dangling there like an untied cravat — only when Luna is making her ultimatum does he haul himself back up and press his flank against the man's neck.

Edmund will feel the dormouse's racing pulse, heartbeats so close together that it's impossible to separate or count them.

His addle-headed wife, meanwhile, decides that this is a good opportunity to occupy the doorway, if only to keep Luna from leaving on a bad note.

The bulk of Duncan makes a great hollow thump against the oak table. He issues a short grunt of pain, no more - he's long since inured to incidental sibling brutality. And let's be honest, he can't not have been expecting that. Nor can Edmund fail to expect Duncan's reprisal. Up from a momentarily kneel, he hurls himself up into his older brother, driving him up against the wall.

He snarls, low: "What is a whore compared to a piece of plunder?"

From the timbre of his voice, it sounds like Duncan might almost be having fun.

But then girls have to go and ruin it. Luna's words reach him after a delay, imposed by the ringing of blood in his ears. His lean on Edmund eases- a tacit offer for truce. Not that a punch to the gut wouldn't still fall within the rules of engagement.

"Don't be daft," Duncan says to Luna, "you're nae well enough to be walking about. Get you to bed. Sleep will restore your sense."

Edmund is very tempted to drive his fist into Duncan's gut, but it is one of the differences between them, what personal satisfaction they gain from when they come to blows. Instead, his plants a hand on Duncan's arm, another on his chest, and shoves his younger brother back with a growl. This is a long conversation, he can see that now, one that won't conclude in this room.

One he doesn't really want to have in front of the girls. "See the price she puts on herself now?" he mutters, stalking around Duncan, getting out from between he and the wall, and keeping him more or less in his sights lest Edmund spark more violence. "'s what happens when you give 'em castles."

It's a measure of respect that he doesn't, actually, place his ire directly on Luna, and avoids doing so by keeping his focus on Duncan; he is not comfortable with yelling at ladies, generally, especially not when their mate is present. And he'll not see the same treatment put upon Aislinn.

He glances to her. He has a feeling he knows her argument, if she were to offer it. Instead, he puts up a hand, a sort of splay palmed offer of further truce to Duncan as he says; "The matter's settled?"

Luna still has a good arm, she could use it to push past Aislinn if she actually felt like wounding the other woman. But she doesn't. Instead she slinks along the edge of the wall close to the door and keeps her gaze to the ground. Dipping her hand into her pocket, she feels for the cold metal of the coin and finds it quite easily.

"I'm sorry Miss Aislinn," she addresses the physician with a respectful bow of her head before raising her eyes. "I'm sure Duncan didn't mean to disparage you as he did." She glances back at both Duncan and Edmund, her eyebrows knitted together in a sharp vee. "I hope that both of you have better manners when escorting your guests back to their ship. If they haven't heard all of this already, I'll save myself the embarrassment of having a daft whore wish them good night."

Aislinn reaches out to take Luna's hand in her fingers and give it a reassuring squeeze. It's a promise to be there if she needs a shoulder to rest her head on later, but also a plea that she not make any hasty decisions in the meantime.

"He did," she says as she enters the room, though her words meant only for Luna and murmured against the other woman's cheek in passing. "He meant it very much." Her hold on Luna's hand grows lax and she drifts from her side, crossing to her husband and the familiar still gathering his bearings on his shoulder.

Let the women cluck retreating reproves and clean each other's feathers. It is nothing time and treatment won't soothe. Duncan - having regained himself - concerns himself with his brother's hand, which he takes. Grips. He meets his brother's gaze.

"Aye, 'tis so," Duncan says, and in so saying means it was settled from the start, "they'll have the night- come morn, they're gone."

He lets the space between them grow to one comfortable after conflict, a respectful buffer zone across which he asks: "Am I to give them the boot-tip? Or would you like the honor, seeing as you extended the hand?"

The clasp done and completed, Edmund considers this a moment, it being one of those questions that the world deems important he does not, glancing towards where Aislinn approaches. "Have men watching the building, and see no one leaves 'til then," he says, moving away from Duncan to meet her half way, his hand finding the small of her back.

"I'll take a few of your men, but I think it best if it were us both."

Luna's head turns from the doorway to watch Aislinn as she passes over to Edmund. Then her eyes flit toward Duncan, and finally the broken cup on the floor. Let someone else clean it up. Without another word, she slips into the hallway and patters toward the stairs that lead her not to her own room but ones reserved for guests.