The Common Journey

Title: The Common Journey
Time Period: April 25, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Duncan's already grand aspirations become grander by the second. Less is said that might be said and Lucien and Algernon are forced to think on their feet.

They met at the docks, under the ghostly-sheeted masts of the boats lately arrived in Dornie's harbor. Found first pacing along a pier, parallel to the keel of one of Lucien's vessels, it's not clear just how early he arrived, but as soon as they formed a quorum, he seemed ready to leave - though not after making a single, admiring comment about the craft itself. Otherwise, Duncan remained predictably sparse in his explanation, both in his calling the meeting and in his setting off from the meeting place.

His companions have already been introduced, but a fairly swift pace precludes much further chatter as Duncan leads the way through the town, what distance it takes to get to the gates, then out of the settlement, along well worn lines, hammer by hooves and graven with wheels, up towards the base of the mountains. Here axes and hatches, saws and smoldering pits tear down and break apart old trees, filtering lumber down to Dornie.

Once he dismounts, it is literally upon his taking a stump - boots treading on a fresh-cut span of saw-dust powdered wood - that he finally makes a real address to his fellows.

"We've got- how many new bodies working this plot?" this question is for the recently returned Lucian - the next is for Algernon, since his answer is bound to be more impartial, "did you get a look at them? They in proper shape? Bright eyed? Well fed?"

Lucien has done a few things since his return; fed himself a proper meal, bathed, slept with one Mariah Larke, and gotten himself properly groomed around when the sun was rising. Hair on his head cut shorter, and that on his face razored more precisely. His clothing shaken out, he wears light garments against what he considers to be a mild spring day, and he has yet to form an opinion of Algernon Fogg. But he knows enough about people generally to make sure he can answer first.

"They're the result of a long journey," he says, voice wry, gently sardonic, dismounting off his own horse as he speaks. "Ten bodies to count, and most of them young. I might have your sister healer take a look at them." Because buckets of water is probably only so curing of an ear infection and various marks of hard living.

The question doesn't catch Algernon off guard, but his answer is not instantaneous. He looks first to Lucien, coolly aware of his audience; crow's feet cinch into something vaguely reminiscent of a smile when he eels his way into answering on his own. He eases down off his horse's opposite side while the recently returned speaks, mare's snout turned up and out away from him, ears uncertain.

"They will be, I'm sure," he says, once there's room. "Once they've recovered."

"Ten? That's good-" Duncan says, nodding, "but we'll need more. Children come up too slow. Truth, we need men to spring out of the ground, full grown," a shrug - that's a mythical hope, and he's a mundane man.

"Well, some shock's their right. But they were in fine enough shape when you took them?" this is not a difficult inference, and Duncan builds on it, "how did you keep them under control? Young and strong can often mean brave and stupid. And once they recover," he glances to Algernon at this point, his look a wouldn't you agree? "we'll need to keep them from getting braver and stupider.

"Better for all that they keep their heads, than loose them."

"With a firm hand and otherwise leaving them with very little to go back to, mainly," Lucien answers as he secures his horse, and folds his arms, casual and loose and coming to stand at a conversational distance. He decides that now isn't the time to mention they lost two on the way, even if that had less to do with treatment and more to do with provisions, conditions, and— "It's a harsh world beyond the bounds of Dornie, but they're strong and mostly whole - the youngest is near his adolescence."

"Yes, sir." Algernon agrees. Agreeably. Agreeably English, really, which is something more along the lines of 'compliant,' with his eyes stained glass green and gold turned out to the trees that are still standing. He is last to tie off his horse, immune to hurry and slow to fold his gloves away into his coat even once that's done.

A knuckle scuffed through his moustache after an itch adjusts the sit of his hat over his brow, next. Keeping busy.

"I know the advantage this place offers them," Duncan says, "the question is if they feel the proper gratitude. Axes and pitchforks aren't much against horses and guns, but-" but it really need not come to that, is what his trailing silence says.

"For we need more men, more labor, and more resources. The harsh world is not retreating- past days have made that clear enough. It's due time that Dornie begins its advance. When the paths are clear enough, some day folk will come of their own accord. For now, though- we must think on how they can be brought here."

"You're both traveled, worldly men. I look to you, for the wealth of your experience. I'll do my best to answer with the wealth of this land."

Duncan lifts an arm indicating the dark wall of green that rises up past the outer edge of the lumbering grounds. "How much of this would it take to build a ship?" a slight lift of his brow, "how much would it take to build ten?

"How many souls would it take to build them?"

Lucien is good at taming his expression, so it's probably an overstatement, for him, when the corner of his mouth twitches just so and stark silence follows Duncan's words, which could count as thought and estimate. He glances towards the sprawling forest. He clears his throat.

"For a ship akin to the Kraken Prince," he says, "made scratch from oak, you would need, perhaps, six hundred trees to sacrifice, with the finest of conservative engineering in mind. For one ship," he adds, for clarity. "And truly, the amount of souls required is as many as you can afford for the task to be done quicker. I believe my family's ships took some few months to become seaworthy, although our documents say little of the workforce. The Gaelic Harp was a restoration."

Tall and lean Mister Fogg in his bowler stands off to the side slightly, putting him in decent enough position to study Lucien's face, rather than Duncan's. He is intent — his own expression sleekly interested after an impassive fashion, no hairs ruffled out of place that aren't the wind's doing. If there is even any reason that they should be ruffled: Rowntree might be discussing the implementation of a golf course on Dornie's lawn for all the impression it makes on him.

Very mmm, yes or that's an interesting proposal, sir in the slight furrow at his brow. If cell phones existed he might have his out. As things are, he has Lucien to study instead and he makes the most of it, breaking his eye line only at the mention of restoration. Curious.

"You might borrow loyal labor from your father's factory to expedite the process," he suggests. Mildly. "Temporarily, of course."

"Aye, a little outdoor work might lift the spirits of some of the whingers," Duncan says, approval twisted by a certain callous humor. Such rewards for loyal labor. "We'll see what we can spare. A waste to build a fleet, just in time for winter storms to lock up the bay."

'Fleet' is a word of some volume, though vague as to the actual quantity it contains. A fine line between vision and talking big. But so he talks. "I've never counted the trees, but I'd wager we could sink six hundred into it many times before we ran out."

He folds his arms, now gazing less at his imagined horizon, and more at the men before him."Fogg- I want you lending a hand in the search for likely recruits. You must have passed through a settlement or two, might still be standing. Lucien-" the man's last name is too lengthy for easy address, "is there anything along the coasts you saw, but held off from, for lack of forces?"

"A fortress on the eastern coast of Raasay did, fleetingly, seem promising, and we heard some hearsay of a coastal settlement at Achnahaird, but we had not the time or resources to see for ourselves," Lucien says, this time precisely answering the questions directed to him. "I've marked a map for… your perusal." That might have been your father's, but times are changing, of course, and he can't actually picture Edmund giving a fuck about what those more north than they happened to be doing.

Fogg remains in his periphery, and glanced at in polite inclusion of conversation, and looked at in between. "Balmacara, east from here, as well, further inland, and a bit closer. A possble trading partner, I thought to myself."

Duncan looks at the Fogg and the Fogg looks back, feeling distantly as though he should be taking notes. Balmacara, Forge echoes in his skull. Achnahaird.

Yes. That's very helpful. Thank you.

He nearly works his jaw, a flex to one side stifled into a glance aside to Lucien and then and back again. "'Recruits,' sir?"

Fogg is polite, when he asks. Genuinely uncertain. There are a great many possible lines to read between.

Duncan is perfectly comfortable serving as his father's proxy. It is a benefit of the venerable that they need not get muck on their hands, or weary their minds with the tedium of governance. And reading maps can be hard on aging eyes. It's simple filial piety that drives Duncan to opt for delegation.

"Make time, and I'll see to the resources. Give old maps new marks," Duncan says, "and be clear- a trading partner, or a tributary?"

"Yes, Fogg," apparently broadness, vagueness, may be apropos, "whoever and however. Where there are restless young men and women, ready to travel. Where there are too many mouths for too little grain. Where there are no walls, and no arms, and a meager way of life. And have a surgeon's mercy, Fogg. Anyone helpless to us would be helpless to worse men."

"With enough men to man their farms for them, who is to say it cannot be whatever you like?" Lucien says, breezily, and certainly he seems perfectly comfortable with the conversation, which speaks of a remarkable ability to adapt to discussing high clearance subjects with a man he is loyal to, and a stranger. That, or simply good at masking his own unease. "Until then, while we require the men to chop down and split trees, there are other forms of pillaging that do not involve fire and brimstone."

Or bad weather and sunken ships, but either or. "Time you shall have, of course," he adds, in case that wasn't clear.

Algernon's underbite has a tendency to show itself with his teeth on the rare occasion that he is not immediately sure of what to say. Aimless hesitation coalesces into another look at Lucien, which is in turn enough to stave off whatever it is he might have said — his mouth closes and he works to ease out the lines between his brows. This appears to be a serious conversation.

Neither of them is giving him any indication otherwise.

"There were some — settlements," he agrees, hedging, as if unsure if they mesh with Duncan's projected ideal. "I might be able to reason my way back with the aid of a map."

It's not that Duncan is opposed to Lucien's suggestions. Far from it. But what he begrudges most is that he is forced to agree. That's the trouble with people like Lucian. It is a certain kind of individual who always manages to make themselves indispensable. Something about it disquiets Duncan's abstract orthodoxy.

"The one thing we won't be trading is weapons," he says, with a touch of counterpoint, "though time may come when we can offer them protection. Rule of law."

"Any place with able bodies," Duncan says, determined to be happy with anything and nothing in particular, "I won't send you alone, of course. And it's to be a matter of scouting at first. Not even talk of violence. You're there to look and listen."

Lucien watches the conversation between Duncan and Algernon as attentively as he does words paid his way; and he does consider the two streams of conversation somewhat separate, for all that their aims make them a bit of a two-headed hydra. He dips his narrow chin in a nod. "We'll leave the farmers and merchants to open up communication," he suggests, on the topic of Balmacara. "Grain and livestock. And the time will come when they will require our protection. They might even ask for it.

"Not a requirement if they don't, of course." He is tempted to make further suggestions, but he is nothing if not a little subtle. And the day is young.

"Of course," Algernon echoes, receding from suggestion at more or less the same time as Lucien only to weave warily back towards it a moment later. To no end. For the second time, a jut at his jaw is rubs to nothing once he's had an opportunity to think twice. Instead, he notes:

"I don't wish to impose, but." But. "I would like to request the return of my horse, if I am to travel." There's a pause where he seems to be searching for a way to best explain why without. Offending. "I have yet to find my stride with any of Dornie's stock thus far."

"If they are civil people, we'll be civil," Duncan replies, even-handed, "but we'll need to know if their first families are people of moral fibre." It's important to know if your prospective 'allies' condone foul acts - blood rites in the woods, ritual cannibalism, matrilineal primogeniture.

Algernon's request is all the more acceptable for his speed in accepting the task. Will and way are what interests Duncan. Things are things, and preference personal. "Take your horse. Will a party of three do?"

Lucien simply nods at this condition; his genuine agreement portrayed in silence and no protest. It is probably the mode that the Rowntrees think suit him best. Silent for this part, too, simply listening, focus matched back on Algernon.

"Given that I prefer to travel alone, a party of three will more than suffice," says Algernon, who nods acknowledgment and gratitude alike for the easy return of his horse. Meanwhile Lucien is looking at him again and he looks back, study cool of any competitive edge. Merely curious.

Duncan gives a short sound, like laughter, at Algernon's statement of preference. "I wouldn't send you out alone. Need someone looking out for you. No man's an island, after all."

He descends from his stump, footsteps traced in a mingled mash of sawdust for the first few treads. He's still speaking to Algernon. "How long should I expect you away? If you think a radio would help, you're welcome to one. Just keep the thing safe."

Lucien gets a glance in turn. Assigning tasks, setting up expectations. "I'm not going to pry for your family secrets, but I trust you can see the advantage in being a little free with your knowledge." And that would be that. He approaches his horse, setting his foot in the stirrup and vaulting into the saddle. "You two should take the time to get acquainted. You're both worldly men, but I think we've a grand common journey in store. Better to know. Easier to trust."

"Unless I expect to be constructing your fleet with my own two hands, I'd best be," Lucien agrees, so very evenly - it is not exactly unfriendly, especially, seeing as his tone and his face is just constantly like that anyway. At the prospect of having quality time with Algernon Fogg, well, if this is his thrilled vibe, then it perfectly matches a if I must sort of mood as well.

Slowly, he goes to untie his horse, not expecting to follow the younger Rowntree heir back to town. "Quite so," he agrees. The common journey sounds a little like conquering the Highlands, but it isn't his task to split hairs.

"I suppose that depends upon the reliability of my memory," says Algernon, "and the accuracy of your maps." Half a smile is managed with some effort before he glances down and turns. They're preparing to move on. Apparently, so should he, even if he is of a similarly let's not and say we did mindset for lightly enforced quality time.

He was the last off his horse and he is the last back on, creaking leather and teeth champed to bit marking the thoughtful quiet he's sheltered himself in. He hasn't answered on the radio. It's possible he's as enthusiastic about them as he was the bits of wire and tin he watched Rowntree fish for last time he was dragged out on an adventure with him.

It's just that kind of rhetoric - war as journey, scavenge as adventure - that Duncan wholly ascribes to. Pragmatism has its own justifications, but most people get to enjoy sausage because only a chosen few have to make it.

His eyes cut back and forth between the two men, not so indurate as to miss their reluctance to buddy buddy bond in proto-nationalistic frater-fest. "One drink." That would be the light enforcement, but at least one that comes with a limitation. "We are civil men, after all."